Skip to main content

Bears, Eagles, Steelers among nine most improved teams ahead of 2024 NFL season

We're nearing the final month of the offseason, so it's a good time to start thinking about where things stand around the NFL. There's been the annual free agency frenzy, all the hype surrounding the draft and the next items to follow will be the post-June 1 cost-saving cuts. We have enough information to start making some decent evaluations. It's not hard to see which teams have done the best job of improving themselves over the past few months.

This piece will focus on exactly that -- the teams that have enhanced their chances for success this coming fall with their offseason decisions. That doesn't mean all these squads will end up in the playoffs, because some need a little more seasoning. This is mainly an attempt to identify those teams that should be markedly better in 2024 after the moves they've made. They're heading in the right direction, which should result in more satisfying results.

So here are the nine most improved teams of this offseason. I could've listed 10 but we must leave some room for more livelier debate.

Chicago Bears

The Bears came into this offseason with high expectations and they delivered in all ways possible. They traded quarterback Justin Fields to Pittsburgh instead of giving him one more year to prove himself. They added more veteran help on offense -- running back D’Andre Swift, wide receiver Keenan Allen and tight end Gerald Everett -- and signed blossoming star cornerback Jaylon Johnson to an extension. Of course, the home run came in the draft. By taking quarterback Caleb Williams first overall and wide receiver Rome Odunze eight picks later, the Bears now have an offense that could become the most exciting in franchise history. This is a team that saw its defense grow considerably in the second half of last season. If Williams can make an immediate impact -- which he needs to do -- the playoffs are a real possibility for this bunch.

All the chaos that festered around the Eagles late last season has been eclipsed by another strong offseason. Let’s start with the coaches. Having Kellen Moore calling plays on offense and Vic Fangio running the defense will make Nick Sirianni’s job as head coach much easier. The signing of running back Saquon Barkley gives the offense another dynamic weapon while the defense added a disruptive edge rusher in Bryce Huff (to replace Haason Reddick) and a critical leader in the secondary (safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson returns to the team after a spending last year in Detroit). Philadelphia also killed it in the draft once again. The squad needed more help for a woeful pass defense and ultimately landed two stellar defensive backs with its first two picks (Quinyon Mitchell and Cooper DeJean). The Eagles still need to figure out how to avoid what led to their implosion in 2023. But they have enough talent to think a return to the top of the NFC East is a likelihood.

New York Jets

It was a humbling season for the Jets in 2023. They probably didn’t figure they’d be making substantial roster moves to improve their championship chances at this time last year, not after quarterback Aaron Rodgers arrived in a trade with Green Bay. Now here they sit, after a frustrating season that basically ended when Rodgers tore an Achilles tendon in the opener, hoping to rebuild optimism about their potential. The first good news is that Rodgers is healthy and back in offseason workouts. The second thing that should excite Jets fans is the commitment the franchise made to improving an unreliable offensive line. Not only did GM Joe Douglas add veteran talent -- in guard John Simpson and offensive tackles Tyron Smith and Morgan Moses -- but he also used a first-round pick on left tackle Olu Fashanu. This is called throwing numbers at the problem, and I love it. The acquisition of wide receiver Mike Williams is another solid move that should add a vertical dimension to the offense. Yes, there are real questions about keeping players healthy (especially Williams and Smith). There also should be real hype about what the team could accomplish if injuries don’t derail it for a second straight year.

Detroit Lions

There were no secrets about the Lions’ fatal flaw as they moved through last postseason. They needed serious help with their defense -- especially against the pass -- which they overcame for most of the year until a loss to San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game. Detroit once again has Super Bowl dreams, and those hopes are even closer to being realized because of how this offseason has played out. Even before the Lions found two highly regarded cornerbacks with their first picks in this draft -- Terrion Arnold and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. -- the team improved the position with a trade for Carlton Davis. The defensive line received serious help with the additions of DJ Reader and Marcus Davenport while the offensive line made up for the free-agent departure of guard Jonah Jackson with the arrival of Kevin Zeitler. The Lions even managed to hold onto star offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, who many expected to land a head-coaching job before he announced his intentions to remain in Detroit. The Lions haven’t made too many mistakes since GM Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell arrived three years ago. This offseason just put them one step closer to a championship.

The Steelers are a no-brainer for a list like this for one obvious reason: They finally have some decent options at quarterback. They’ve been searching for that since Ben Roethlisberger retired after the 2021 season and it’s cost them. Few teams have been harder to watch on offense lately than the Steelers. They at least have a chance to be more functional with the additions of Justin Fields and Russell Wilson to the roster. Both of those quarterbacks are best suited to operate with strong running games and it looks like Pittsburgh has every intention of returning to that identity. The Steelers used their first two picks of the draft on offensive linemen -- offensive tackle Troy Fautanu and center Zach Frazier -- and even wide receiver Roman Wilson, a third-rounder, is as talented at blocking as he is at catching passes. The other third-round pick, linebacker Payton Wilson, could be a steal as well. A long injury history knocked him down most draft boards but he’s a legit baller if he stays healthy. Remember, the Steelers made the playoffs last season despite a collection of issues, primarily on offense. All these new faces can make another postseason appearance much easier for head coach Mike Tomlin to achieve.

The Texans clearly understand the first order of business once a franchise realizes it has a burgeoning superstar quarterback on a rookie contract. You need to spend like there is no tomorrow because the time to win big is now. Houston made substantial strides in 2023, when it won the AFC South and reached the Divisional Round of the playoffs one year after winning three games. The Texans will be even tougher to handle this fall after upgrading the talent around second-year quarterback C.J. Stroud. The offense improved with the additions of wide receiver Stefon Diggs and running back Joe Mixon, two difference-makers with extensive postseason experience. The defense will be more disruptive, both with the signing of edge rusher Danielle Hunter but also because other veteran acquisitions should make key contributions (defensive linemen Foley Fatukasi and Denico Autry and cornerback Jeff Okudah). Head coach DeMeco Ryans and general manager Nick Caserio proved they knew how to create a winning culture last season. The next step is making a run at a championship with a better supporting cast around Stroud.

You want to know the smartest move the Chargers made this offseason? It was the decision to hire head coach Jim Harbaugh. He brings instant credibility to this franchise and more importantly, he’s a proven winner. There isn’t a team that Harbaugh has coached that hasn’t won immediately and at a high level, as he led Michigan to the national championship last season and took the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2012 campaign. Whatever jokes have been made about the Chargers in recent years -- “The Chargers are going to Charger,” as the saying goes -- are about to end. Harbaugh and general manager Joe Hortiz already have made it clear that this is going to be a physical team. Their first draft pick, the fifth overall selection, was massive left tackle Joe Alt. Hortiz also added a couple running backs he knew from his days in Baltimore (Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins). The decision to keep edge rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack says plenty as well. Hortiz and Harbaugh could’ve let go of those players in the same way they said farewell to veterans like Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler. However, this team is going to be about running the football and beating teams up on defense. Don’t be surprised if the Chargers start making serious noise in the AFC West real soon.

The Bengals have been making plenty of smart moves over the last five years, and this offseason was no different. They’re obviously going to improve with the return of a healthy Joe Burrow at quarterback, and the work they did on a championship-caliber roster should also help their cause. The most critical move was upgrading the offensive line, where free-agent signee Trent Brown moves in at right tackle opposite left tackle Orlando Brown and first-round pick Amarius Mims begins his career as a backup. The defense also received a huge boost with the return of safety Vonn Bell (who spent last season in Carolina) and the signing of safety Geno Stone (who finished second in the NFL with seven interceptions for the Ravens in 2023). Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s defense declined drastically last season after Bell and Jessie Bates left in free agency. The addition of two veterans at that position should allow Anarumo to regain his mastery of frustrating opposing quarterbacks. It also wouldn’t be surprising if rookies like defensive tackle Kris Jenkins Jr. and wide receiver Jermaine Burton make key contributions in 2024. It’s true that everything isn’t totally cool around this team -- as wide receiver Tee Higgins and defensive end Trey Hendrickson requested trades this offseason -- but both are expected to be playing for the Bengals this coming season. Add the new faces and a healthy Burrow to the already strong core of position players, and it’s hard to see Cincinnati missing the postseason for a second straight year.

New GM Adam Peters is making a strong impression in his first year on the job. He inherited a mess but has quickly bolstered a roster that could be better than people realize with new head coach Dan Quinn leading it. Quinn has coached in a Super Bowl (with Atlanta) and also revitalized the Cowboys’ defense in recent years. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Commanders respond quickly to his uplifting coaching style. Quinn will have talent to work with as well. The headliner is quarterback Jayden Daniels, the second overall pick in the draft, but this rookie class is strong. Peters found three quality players who could contribute immediately in the second round in defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton, cornerback Mike Sainristil and tight end Ben Sinnott. The Commanders also clearly went shopping for veteran talent that could immediately plug into Quinn’s defensive schemes. That group includes edge rusher Dorance Armstrong, safety Jeremy Chinn and linebackers Frankie Luvu and Bobby Wagner. Yes, the Commanders have a lot of work to do after winning just four games in 2023. It’s also fair to believe they won’t be nearly as bad as that this fall.

Related Content