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NFL bandwagons to hop on in 2024: Chicago Bears top list, but don't prematurely abandon Buffalo Bills

We're in a transitional stage of the NFL offseason. Free agency has gone from "THAT guy went THERE?!?" to "That guy's still out there?" All 257 picks of the 2024 NFL Draft are in the books, and report cards are out. So, as the Northern Hemisphere shifts from spring to summer, the football world moves on from roster reconstruction to …


Yep, with the 2024 schedule release apparently imminent -- Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay revealed that he caught the scent on Tuesday -- we're heading into an annual period of propaganda. Over the next couple months, no games will be played, roster moves will be minimal, and the football news cycle will enter a general state of calm. But the TAKES? Oh, those babies will flow with relentless fury. And with every team eyeing the clean slate that a new campaign provides, optimism abounds across the league.

Long story short: Bandwagons are forming, people. Which ones will offer the most satisfying ride? That's what I'm looking to spotlight today. Here are 11 bandwagons -- of the player, coach and team variety -- you should hop on immediately.

Chicago Bears
2023 record: 7-10

This isn’t just about Caleb Williams, but that’s the natural place to start. As a raw thrower of the football, the No. 1 overall pick has every club in the bag. Which is why he draws lofty comparisons to Patrick Mahomes. But the question is how deftly he’ll be able to deploy -- and, at times, rein in -- his explosive arsenal. That’s what makes Mahomes so special these days: his ability to shape-shift from gunslinger to game manager, depending on what each game/drive/play calls for. Mastering this nuance of the position will take time for Caleb, but one thing that could expedite the process is Chicago's supporting cast on offense. Williams is flanked by versatile playmakers at running back (D'Andre Swift and Khalil Herbert), receiver (DJ Moore, Keenan Allen and fellow rookie top-10 pick Rome Odunze) and tight end (Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett). The offensive line is more of a question mark, but there’s reason for optimism. LT Braxton Jones, LG Teven Jenkins and RG Nate Davis each missed at least a month of action last season due to injuries. With better health luck -- and a potential upgrade at the pivot in trade acquisition Ryan Bates -- Chicago’s young O-line could blossom in 2024 under new coordinator Shane Waldron, who’s no stranger to inexperience and injuries up front, having dealt with both over the last three years as Seattle’s OC.

Defensively, the Bears really hit their stride in the second half of last season, which is probably the biggest reason why head coach Matt Eberflus still holds his post today despite a 10-24 record on the job. And the major impetus for that uprising appears to have been GM Ryan Poles’ savvy trade-deadline acquisition of defensive end Montez Sweat. When that move was made, Chicago ranked 28th in scoring defense (27.3 ppg) and 23rd in total defense (341 ypg). From that point through the end of the regular season, Chicago ranked sixth in scoring defense (17.9 ppg) and 10th in total defense (309.2 ypg). With most of the band back together for the coming season, Eberflus and Co. should field another stout defense.

What’s stopping me from coming right out and predicting Williams and the Bears will go worst to first like the C.J. Stroud-led Texans just did? The division. The AFC South was there for the taking last season. In 2024, the NFC North very well could be the best division in football.

Anthony Richardson
Indianapolis Colts · QB

Shane Steichen significantly burgeoned his reputation in Year 1 as a head coach. Not only did he field a top-10 scoring offense despite losing his starting quarterback for the season in Week 5, but his old offense in Philadelphia took a step back without his steady hand on the tiller. With all due respect to everyone’s favorite swashbuckling slinger, Gardner Minshew, I can’t wait to see what kind of play Steichen can induce from his handpicked signal-caller, who just so happens to be one of the freakiest athletes we’ve ever seen at the position.

Richardson’s injury-abbreviated rookie campaign consisted of just 173 snaps, but within that small sample size, he flashed the kind of dual-threat ability that's something of a cheat code, in fantasy and real life. Packing elite arm strength and explosive running ability into his 6-foot-4, 244-pound frame, AR feels like some kind of superhero. But that’s the rub: He might actually think he's a superhero, playing with the devil-may-care attitude of an invincible entity. But the man is indeed mortal, as we saw in his debut season, when injuries sidelined him during three of the four games he played and a concussion caused him to entirely miss a fifth contest. Richardson MUST protect himself better or the tantalizing traits will waste away in the training room. If he does learn to rein in the recklessness? He could follow in the footsteps of Trevor Lawrence and C.J. Stroud, giving the AFC South a first-time Pro Bowl quarterback for the third straight season.

Jim Harbaugh
Los Angeles Chargers · HC

Let me get one thing straight right off the bat: This is not a call to hop on the CHARGERS bandwagon. Could the new head coach flip the script in Year 1 and get this team to punch a playoff ticket for just the third time in 15 years? Sure. Might it take more time to exorcise this snake-bitten franchise’s demons and field a legit contender? Also possible. I’m not here to express a strong opinion on which way that will go in 2024. What I’m imploring you to do today, dear reader, is buy a ticket to the Jim Harbaugh experience. Hop on the Baugh bandwagon! It’s a wild ride. Just ask his former fan bases in the San Francisco Bay Area and Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

I don’t intend to overlook his proven track record of winning and undeniable talent as a turnaround artist -- all of that is self-evident. But at the end of the day, sports are entertainment, and this is just a fascinating human being. From the old-school approach to the deliciously absurd quotes to the sui generis controversy, Harbaugh is a content machine.

Trent McDuffie
Kansas City Chiefs · CB

Remember Revis Island? How about Darrelle Revis’ beef with Richard Sherman? Or Sherman’s beef with Patrick Peterson? Maybe it’s just me, but it sure feels like yesterday’s star cornerbacks used to drive more discussion, routinely engendering debates over shutdown supremacy. No disrespect to young studs like Sauce Gardner and Pat Surtain II, but the position just isn’t moving the needle like it used to. So, I’m here to sing the praises of a talented CB who could be on the verge of superstardom.

McDuffie isn’t as outspoken as many lockdown corners of the recent vintage, but his play speaks volumes. A scheme-versatile cover man who can blanket receivers in the slot or out wide, as well as rush the passer, the 2022 first-rounder absolutely stuffed the stat sheet this past season with 80 tackles, nine QB hits, seven passes defensed, five forced fumbles and three sacks. He just started -- and won -- his second Super Bowl in as many seasons, masterfully eliminating Deebo Samuel in a transcendent performance on the game’s biggest stage. While McDuffie earned first-team All-Pro honors as a slot cornerback, his dominance isn’t just limited to nickel duties. And in the wake of L'Jarius Sneed’s free-agent departure, I can’t wait to see how Steve Spagnuolo deploys the 23-year-old eraser in his third season. Dark-horse Defensive Player of the Year candidate? The campaign starts here!

Nico Collins
Houston Texans · WR

Stefon Diggs is the fun new toy in Houston’s receiving corps, but I believe he’ll complement Collins in the Texans’ aerial attack. With better quarterback play and health than he experienced in his first two NFL seasons, Nico broke out in Year 3, snagging 80 balls for 1,297 yards (a healthy 16.2 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns. PFF grading isn’t a perfect measurement -- what is? -- but it’s a helpful tool for contextualizing individual performance in this team sport. Check out this past season’s top 13 receivers according to that metric:

  1. Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins
  2. Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers
  3. NICO COLLINS, Houston Texans
  4. Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions
  5. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
  6. CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
  7. Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins
  8. Puka Nacua, Los Angeles Rams
  9. A.J. Brown, Philadelphia Eagles
  10. DJ Moore, Chicago Bears
  11. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers (now Chicago Bears)
  12. Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
  13. Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

That’s a who’s who of the receiver position, and Collins took home the bronze medal. It’s not a coincidence -- 6-4, 215-pound wideouts don’t typically move like this. Or boast this kind of route polish. C.J. Stroud should make sweet music once again in 2024, with Nico playing lead guitar.

Arthur Smith
Pittsburgh Steelers · OC

Some coaches are just better as coordinators than head men, and that could be the case here. Hailed for his play-calling in Tennessee, Smith fielded a pair of top-10 scoring offenses in two seasons as Titans coordinator. But he didn’t come close to replicating that success during his three-year tenure as the head honcho in Atlanta, with the Falcons’ scoring offense ranking 26th, 15th and back at 26th this past season.

Now, part of Smith’s struggles in ATL can be attributed to subpar quarterback play, but that’s why I’m bullish on the coach's new marriage with the Steelers. In Russell Wilson and Justin Fields, Smith has two options that are vastly superior to the signal-callers he toiled with over his final two years with the Falcons. And speaking of tandems, Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren comprise one of the better 1-2 RB punches in the league. Not to mention, Pittsburgh just spent its first two draft picks on Troy Fautanu and Zach Frazier, a pair of plug-and-play maulers who fortify the offensive line. 

Simply put, Pittsburgh's fully leaning into Smith’s vision of a quarterback-friendly offense that pounds the rock to set up the play-action passing game. And I see this working well in the Steel City.

Brian Flores
Minnesota Vikings · DC

While offensive-minded head coach Kevin O’Connell rightfully earned widespread acclaim for keeping Minnesota in the playoff race deep into last season despite starting four different quarterbacks, Flores deserved more flowers for his inspired effort on the other side of the ball.

The 2022 Vikings went 13-4 in spite of their defense, which finished 28th in points allowed and 31st in yards allowed. After replacing Ed Donatell last offseason, Flores swiftly slashed those rankings in half to 13th in points allowed and 16th in yards allowed. And the defensive lineup didn’t even change all that much from 2022 to ‘23 -- the difference was Flores, who aggressively flummoxed opposing quarterbacks with an evil stew of exotic formations and personnel groupings, mixing all-out blitzes with simulated pressures while employing a potpourri of zone coverages in the back end.

This offseason, Minnesota’s defense has seen significant roster turnover, including what essentially amounted to a full line change in the edge-rushing department: out went Danielle Hunter, D.J. Wonnum and Marcus Davenport; in came Jonathan Greenard, Andrew Van Ginkel and first-round pick Dallas Turner. At inside linebacker, the Vikings swapped out steady veteran Jordan Hicks for a younger model in Blake Cashman, who’s fresh off a breakout season for the Texans. How will these changes affect Coach Flo’s game plan? I don’t know, but I’m sure this mad scientist has something interesting up his sleeve.

Brock Bowers
Las Vegas Raiders · TE

Las Vegas’ selection of Bowers at No. 13 overall raised some eyebrows, considering the Raiders just spent a high second-round pick on tight end Michael Mayer in the 2023 draft. Personally, I loved the pick, whether or not it was the result of a literal coin flip. It made plenty of sense for two simple reasons:

  1. Bowers was the best player available.
  2. Bowers doesn’t play the same position as Mayer.

Put me in the camp of those who believe Bowers is a special prospect, offering supreme spatial awareness and extraordinary burst at a touch over 6-3 and 243 pounds. This man is an offensive weapon who can absolutely coexist with Mayer, the traditional in-line tight end. I see this as a statement of intent from Antonio Pierce: His Raiders will look to bully opponents with a whole heap of 12 personnel. That said, Bowers is a better blocker than you might’ve heard, so he will not be a scheme-specific gimmick. Vegas can -- and should -- move him all over the field, fully exploiting the mismatches he'll spawn. And remember, the Raiders released Hunter Renfrow back in March. Brock Bowers, BIG slot? Yes, please!

Xavier Worthy
Kansas City Chiefs · WR

In my first mock draft back in February, I predicted that Worthy would blaze the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and then land with the Chiefs on draft night. I love it when a plan comes together! 

Mr. 4.21 arrives in Kansas City with plenty of fanfare and a diverse game that provides far more than simple field-stretching. Concentration drops were a knock on his prospect résumé, though some of Worthy’s most high-profile flubs could be attributed to him playing with a broken hand in 2022. But given Kansas City’s bout with butter fingers last season, it was unsurprising to see a small-scale freakout in Chiefs Kingdom after Worthy opened rookie minicamp with a drop. Let’s clean that up, X. The bigger concern with the No. 28 overall pick -- acquired via trade with the Bills, of all teams -- is his slight frame. But the guy has some undeniable dog in him. And today’s NFL isn’t as hostile to smaller pass catchers as it used to be.

Honestly, I’m just smitten with Worthy’s ability to separate -- especially considering he’s now joining forces with the best quarterback on the planet. Pairing Patrick Mahomes with this kind of home run hitter is a dream for the Chiefs … and a nightmare for everyone else.

Cordarrelle Patterson
Pittsburgh Steelers · KR

At first blush, a 33-year-old return specialist doesn’t seem like a leading candidate for this list. But lest we forget, the league just approved a new hybrid kickoff rule for use on a trial basis in 2024. So, with this significant alteration promising to bring kick returns back from the verge of extinction, it’s only natural to spotlight the all-time leader in kick-return touchdowns. Patterson, who’ll be playing for his sixth NFL franchise in his 12th pro season, has nine such scores. I want double digits!

Yeah, I know Jaylen Warren just spilled the beans on QB Justin Fields potentially being an additional option for the Steelers on kick returns. Fun idea, but I’ll believe that when I see it. For now, we’ll just have to settle for an all-time great in the role.

Buffalo Bills
2023 record: 11-6

Wait, what? Isn’t this the bandwagon everyone’s hopping off? Yup. But the mass exodus seems rash -- and it’s opening up all the premium seating!

Look, it’s not hard to see why the vibes are down. In January, Buffalo was knocked out of the playoffs by Kansas City for the third time in the past four seasons. In March, the cap-strapped Bills hemorrhaged a number of longtime core players, including C Mitch Morse, WR Gabe Davis, CB Tre'Davious White and S Jordan Poyer. In April, the Stefon Diggs drama ended with a trade to Houston.

Despite all that, though, Buffalo still has two major assets: an elite quarterback and a head coach who annually fields a strong defense. Josh Allen and Sean McDermott have another thing working in their favor, too: AFC East ownership, with the Bills boasting four straight titles. And looking around the division, they still feel like the cream of the crop to me. The Jets could certainly make a push, but that roster’s full of potential pitfalls. The Dolphins ultimately proved to be a paper tiger last season, and now they’re hollowed out in the trenches. Lastly, the Patriots are clearly rebuilding.

It’s been a difficult 2024 for the Bills thus far, but hopping off the bandwagon feels premature. After all, if you’ll allow me to close out this offseason hype vehicle with a good old-fashioned cliché, it’s always darkest before the dawn.

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