Updated: May 25
The Miami Dolphins were a really good team in 2020, going 10-6 and If not for a loaded AFC, they would have made the playoffs.
Heating Up in Miami
The great thing about the NFL is that every year is different. Statistically, nearly 50% of playoff teams miss the playoffs the next year. Sure, we see dynasties like the New England Patriots, but the vast majority of teams are completely different year to year. Therefore, I am going to give you two sleeper teams for the upcoming season that no one is talking about: The Miami Dolphins and the Carolina Panthers.
Miami reloaded their offense this offseason, adding elite WR Will Fuller and WR Jaylen Waddle. Fuller was spectacular in 2020 with Houston but has had an extensive injury history. He'll miss the first game of 2021, suspended for PED's but Waddle, drawing comparisons to WR Tyreek Hill should be ready for action. A breakdown of Waddle's game is provided here -> NFL Draft 21' - TE's and WR's Go Early.
Miami - had a solid foundation on defense, special teams, and running the football in 2020. HC Brian Flores is defensive minded and brought the heat to opposing offenses with elite secondary play last season. His DB personnel is led by All-Pro CB Xavien Howard and CB Byron Jones.
CB Xavien Howard led the league in INT's with 10, shutting down opposing receivers.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick now in Washington, 2020 5th overall draft selection Tua Tagovailoa will take over a loaded Dolphins offense with WR Davante Parker and TE Mike Gesicki returning. 2021 additions at WR include Will Fuller and rookie Jaylen Waddle, so If Tua can take a step forward and be more consistent, the Dolphins are definitely a sleeper team for 2021.
The Carolina Panthers were rebuilding in 2020. They finished 5-11 but were competitive in nearly every game.
Carolina Panthers to Make Biggest Jump in 2021?
In the offseason the Panthers traded QB Teddy Bridgewater to Denver, making room for QB Sam Darnold from the New York Jets. Darnold, the #3 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, had a rocky start to his career in New York but never had any help on offense, and struggled to win games.
Joe Brady (OC) and Matt Rhule (HC) will look to resurrect Sam Darnold
If Darnold can reach his potential with Carolina, the Panthers are in a prime spot to compete for the playoffs in 2021. They have arguably the most electric player in the league in RB Christian Mccaffrey. Darnold also has a great duo on the outside with DJ Moore and former Jets teammate WR Robby Anderson. OC Joe Brady has had a fast rise to stardom in the NFL and I fully expect him and HC Matt Ruhle to have a high powered offense in Carolina with Darnold in control at QB.
Carolina's defense is filled with young studs at every position. LB Jeremy Chinn had fantastic production, acting as a safety/linebacker and rendering 117 tackles in his rookie 2020 season. 2nd year DE Brian Burns is quickly turning into an elite pass rusher, combining for 16.5 sacks in his first two seasons. The team selected CB Jaycee Horn with the 8th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft so fans should Look for the Panthers defense to be exciting in 2021.
With good QB play and improvement on defense, the Panthers could be a sleeper in 2021.
While the SB LV champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still in the division, I think the Panthers are the second best team in the south. With Drew Brees gone in New Orleans and Atlanta going 4-12 in 2020, the Panthers may be in prime position to compete with the Bucs in the NFC South. Look for a massive improvement in Darnold's game which may transcend the Panthers into playoff contention, or possibly more.