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Five NFL teams poised to rise in 2018

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Following the Philadelphia Eagles first Super Bowl championship in team history, we look ahead to next season. The 2017 Eagles are a testament to the unpredictable nature of NFL football. Philadelphia won 13 regular season games, clinched the top seed in the NFC and hoisted the Lombardi trophy despite finishing last in their division in 2016 and an eight year stretch without a playoff win.

The Eagles have proven that quality drafting and savvy veteran acquisitions can propel teams to the top quickly. In this vein, five teams that could make dramatic improvements in 2018:

The Texans won just four games last season, in large part due to crippling injuries. Franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson, All-Pro J.J. Watt and productive edge rusher Whitney Mercilus will return to the field. DeAndre Hopkins grew into one of the best receivers in the league last year, and Houston’s front seven is a bonafide strength with Benardrick McKinney and Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans traded away their first and second round draft picks, but have approximately $57 million in cap space to bolster their offensive line and secondary.

San Francisco ended the season on a five game winning streak and are excited about the potential of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo will be a priority free agent, along with safety Eric Reid and tailback Carlos Hyde, yet with roughly $113 million of cap space, they can easily retain their prized free agents as well as bring in additional playmakers. Pierre Garcon will return from injury to pair with the promising Marquise Goodwin at wideout. The 49ers also boast an exciting young core of defenders led by DeForest Buckner, Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas. With the ninth overall draft selection and three more Day 2 picks, San Francisco will also aim to buttress their offensive line and secondary.

The Chargers just missed out on the playoffs with a 9-7 record. They will return a full complement of weapons for Phillip Rivers to work with, including Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, Melvin Gordon and Mike Williams. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram comprise an excellent pair of bookend pass rushers on the other side of the ball. Tre Boston is their only notable impending free agent and they maintain nearly $23 million in cap space. With the nineteenth pick in the first round, Los Angeles will probably target an offensive tackle or cornerback to play alongside Casey Hayward and Desmond King.

The Giants have brought in head coach Pat Shurmer to right the ship after a an eight win regression last season. The return of superstar receiver Odell Beckham will give Eli Manning ample offensive weaponry when combined with Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. New York also has talent on defense, namely the premier nose tackle in the league, Damon Harrison, as well as cornerback Janoris Jenkins, safety Landon Collins and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. $22 million of salary cap space should be enough to retain the three free agents on the interior of their offensive line. The Giants will probably strive to improve their rushing offense by selecting a running back and offensive tackle with their draft resources that include the second overall pick.

The lowly Browns have won just one of their last 32 games, but possess the assets required to add top shelf personnel across their depth chart. Cleveland currently boasts more than $110 million in salary cap space, which could be used to lure an established quarterback or impact defender. They also have the first overall, fourth overall and three second round draft picks. Despite their winless campaign, All-Pro Joe Thomas may return to one of the better offensive lines in the league. Josh Gordon made an impactful return from suspension and will be joined by the promising David Njoku and Corey Coleman in the receiving corps. Emmanuel Ogbah will also return to a defensive line that features Myles Garrett and Danny Shelton. If Cleveland can upgrade at the quarterback and defensive back positions this offseason, they could legitimately contend in 2018.