First off, I swear I had this brewing before the "I believe" fanpost that Steev707 shared (but thanks Steev). I find myself doing some version of this every year around this time, just usually in my head. This is how I tend to think about my teams.
I try to admit I don't really know much. This league routinely confounds even the most well-grounded expectations from people who have played or followed it for a living.
I try to maintain a healthy skepticism of short term trends, either positive or negative.
And I embrace that I'm a fan! I like imagining what success looks like! Much more fun for me than expecting the worst until proven otherwise. That doesn't mean expecting the best, either. Just understanding what I think would need to happen for a happy scenario to play out.
In other words, I ask myself what I need to believe in order to picture my team making a genuine run. Some years this is a very long, depressing list. Like that time it included the prospects of Drew Henson panning out. Sometimes it's blissfully short. This year it's in the middle.
I would probably need to believe...
1. ...that health issues will be manageable. Not asking for perfect, just manageable. No cluster bombing of a single unit (esp the O-line), no getting down to 4th stringers and street FAs, and minimal time lost by key starters (most obviously QB).
2. ...that the offense can regularly deliver early game success. I'm not a "garbage time" truther. But if offense is the strength of this team, then we need to consistently see that strength not only when digging out of holes, but while building leads and putting pressure on the other guys to keep up. Being crisp, aggressive and creative out of the gate.
3. ...that either the pass rush or secondary can be somewhere between above average and very good. This is probably the toughest swallow. But if QBs either have forever to throw, or don't need forever because everyone's open, then it's probably a bad year.
· Pass rush seems like the better bet, but there sure is a lot more "hope" than "believe" that our DL can be wrecking QB timing regularly. So a lot will depend on how the front 7 are collectively schemed.
· A core assumption at CB is that Diggs is ready to be The Guy, and we just need to pull together CB2 and slot. There are certainly some good reasons to think that, and I'm bullish. But if he is just ok this season, it could be rough back there. And safety is riding on a lot of ifs.
4. ...that our LB corps is in fact dramatically improved, with the potential for being great. That a new IDL scheme and players will be at least average (shout out to Coach Gregory for making me feel marginally good about this one!). And that those two things combined mean a critical step forward for run defense.
5. ...that we will do better in net "I went to the bathroom" plays. Where you come back from the bathroom and you're like "whoa, what the heck did I miss?". Field flippers. Big returns, turnovers, long offensive plays, blocked kicks, defensive touchdowns, etc.
6. ...that it's hard to make deep runs and win Super Bowls. And that Quinn and McCarthy have done that and had successful coaching careers because they are in fact talented coaches. That we'll see more of that this year after a real offseason. Like many fans, McCarthy doesn't fill me with confidence, but that's why this is "need to believe" and not "already believe".
Bonus: I don't believe, but I do hope that we hit on a lottery ticket. Seems every season there are a few players whose ceilings are far higher than their "reasonable expectations" (which are different than "floors"). Most fall well short. But sooometimes they hit. I'll call this the "Laurent Robinson Corrolary". My lottery tickets this year are: Malik Hooker, Damontae Kazee, Maurice Canady, and Tarrell Basham. Randy Gregory is probably here too, if I could figure out what my "reasonable expectations" for him are. Not surprisingly all tied to pass rush and coverage. Any one of these guys reaching "best case scenario" dramatically changes my feelings about our defense.
$5 extra bonus scratcher ticket: Zeke. Obviously "reasonable expectations" for him are really high already. But the absolute ceiling? Peak Zeke? Fountain of Youth Zeke? I feel like that guy can be a game wrecker. Most RBs don't find the rejuvenation machine in year 5, but that's why it's a lottery ticket.