NFL training camps are incipient as August approaches, meaning hype for every team will be at a peak. Why shouldn’t it be? Rookies have flashes of brilliance and veterans are repeatedly talked up by their coaching staff. But every team has their fatal flaw, and I’m here to tell you why your team can’t overcome their flaws and live up to the hype this season:
Are the Cardinals the oldest team in the NFL? Certainly a core of Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are past their prime, and may not be able to endure the brunt of a full season without physical decline or injury. Also, David Johnson, their star, will not live up to his potential behind the league’s 25th ranked offensive line, according to PFF. With the poor combination of aging veterans and a weak offensive line, the Cardinals may struggle to finish the season .500.
Atlanta can’t recuperate the magic of last season’s Super Bowl run. After holding a 25 point lead in the second half, the momentum is gone. More importantly, Kyle Shanahan, the architect of Atlanta’s historic offense, has moved to San Francisco; his replacement, Steve Sarkisian, most recently lost the College Football Playoff as the OC at Alabama, making for an ignominious debut. Without a historically great offense, this team doesn’t have enough to get to the playoffs.
Joe Flacco may dub himself “elite,” but there’s no doubt the Ravens’ offense is sub-elite. That starts with Flacco himself, who finds himself near the top of the interception rankings and the bottom of the touchdown rankings every year among quarterbacks. Flacco certainly isn’t benefitted by the loss of Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta, Kamar Aiken, and others, though, as more than 300 targets vanished from last year’s receiving corps. How can a team with such a poor quarterbacks and depleted receiving corps even start to contend for the playoffs?
The Bulls’ front office didn’t show much confidence in quarterback Tyrod Taylor last season. Though that seems to be misguided, Taylor will struggle to find any weapons this year. An already thin offense lost some of its best players in Mike Gillislee and Robert Woods (not to mention Stephon Gilmore on defense). Also, Sammy Watkins has been chronically injured. Without these elite playmakers, Tyrod Taylor will be hung out to dry as the Bills endure a rough season.
Like many teams above them, Carolina will struggle on offense again this year. Reigning MVP Cam Newton slipped quite a bit last year, and there’s no reason to think he’ll improve. Number one target Kelvin Benjamin has seen his weight shoot up to nearly 300 pounds, while number two Ted Ginn now joins the Saints. The Panthers drafted two short yardage receiving threats in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, but Cam Newton placed last among qualified quarterbacks in completion percentage on throws under five yards. This mix of talent is not a recipe for success.
Where to start with Chicago. Quarterback and running back are stable, but every other position is fairly weak. The receiving corps of Kevin White, Markus Wheaton, and Kendall Wright is a nice trio of draft busts. The defense, already one of the league’s worst, did not see much improvement in free agency or the draft. The front seven is still weak against the run, and Prince Amukamara can only help an ailing secondary so much. This defense has lost the teeth it had from the mid-2000s, and it will show in the win-loss column.
Even my hometown Bengals have a kryptonite that cannot be overcome this season. An offensive line that was once a strength now becomes their biggest weakness as Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler have both been poached in the offseason. While the Bengals have talent at the skill positions, they won’t be able to take advantage of that talent without the proper protection from the offensive line. Yet another year for Marvin Lewis without a playoff victory.
This team went 1-15 last year. While I admire the offseason this Browns had, these acquisitions won’t add more than four wins, much less eight. The problems obviously start at quarterback – Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer won’t imbue confidence in the fans – but the defense is equally as flawed. Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, and Jamie Collins will all make an impact, but the Browns were the second worst defense in the league. The defense will not turn around immediately in Cleveland, and this season will end in disappointment once again.
Can you spell “suspension”? It certainly seems like one is headed Ezekiel Elliot’s way – up to eight games – and his loss will hurt the Cowboys immensely. Zeke is the centerpiece of the offense, racking up the second most carries in the league last year, allowing the Cowboys to eat game clock and keep their defense off the field. That defense was incredibly mediocre last season, ranking in the bottom half in yards allowed and sacks, while forcing only six interceptions. Zeke’s legal troubles are a hindrance, but the Cowboys’ defense is the real issue.
The same issue that plagued the Broncos last year will haunt them again this year. Since Peyton Manning retired, Denver has not found its next franchise quarterback. Trevor Siemian was passable in the role last year, but he was incredibly conservative and still did not throw for a high percentage. Siemian’s ceiling is still relatively low, though Paxton Lynch still does not seem to be posting much of a challenge. Lynch may still be too developmentally behind to start for Denver, meaning another year of Siemian and another year of mediocrity.
It all starts with the run game for the Lions. Last year’s team ran the ball poorly with the combination of Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, and Zach Zenner. Instead of beefing up their backs, though, the Lions decided to bring back the exact same core. This year will likely be equally as dismal running the ball. On the defensive side, the Lions are also one of the worst at stopping the run. Against the Seahawks in the playoffs last year, the Lions were demolished by Thomas Rawls. The front four looks the same for the Lions again this year, and the run will still be Detroit’s bugaboo.
Green Bay Packers
It’s hard to imagine an Aaron Rodgers led offense that isn’t successful in the NFL, and this year should bear that out. However, the run game is still an issue. The Packers had one of the lowest percentages of snaps ending in a rush last year, and the running back personnel actually worsened. Ty Montgomery, a wide receiver, still leads the core, and rookies Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones aren’t talented enough to overtake him. Moreover, the secondary is a major hole, especially after Sam Shields was cut following multiple concussions. If the Packers can’t defend the pass, they’re going to sustain multiple losses to high powered offenses this season and miss the playoffs.
Like several teams, Houston has a solid core, but no quarterback to lead them. At least some franchises have a passable shot-caller; Houston can’t even claim that. Career backup Tom Savage will likely start the year, but it would shocking to see him stay in that role all season. Last year, Savage was benched in the playoffs for Brock Osweiler, the laughingstock of quarterbacks last season. Rookie Deshaun Watson will get a crack at the job this year, too, but his turnover-prone game will take a couple years to iron out. For this year, Houston will be wishing they had acquired Tony Romo as they sit out the playoffs at home.
For once, it’s not just the Colts’ horrific defense that will hold them back (although it definitely will). Andrew Luck has spent this offseason being genuinely injured, and has not been able to participate in any football-related activities. His shoulder has been in a lot of pain, barring Luck from even throwing a football for almost half a year. Luck won’t even participate in the preseason this year. Combine Luck’s inherent rustiness with a bottom-five defense, and you get a team that will struggle to reach eight wins this year.
The Jaguars are a popular sleeper pick for the playoffs, but don’t be so fooled. The defense is solid, but it is not elite by any means. The Jaguars yielded more than 24 points a game last year, good for 22nd in the league. If that doesn’t improve, the offense has to respond by passing more, and the last thing the Jaguars need is more Blake Bortles. At his best, Bortles is still inefficient, and at his worst, Bortles is downright unplayable. Most importantly, the Jaguars only get one home game a year – in London. They have to play the other 15 in the States, which spells many losses for Jacksonville.
Kansas City Chiefs
At what position do the Chiefs have upper echelon talent? Kansas City really doesn’t win matchups at any key positions outside of Tyreek Hill. Alex Smith doesn’t move the needle for the Chiefs, and the same goes for Spencer Ware. The wide receiver corps actually may be one of the worst in the league after cutting Jeremy Maclin. The defense should still be very good, but many of the Chiefs stars, like Derrick Jones or Tamba Hali, are one year older, and they may lose a step. It’s easy to see a large regression coming for the Chiefs this year.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers seem to have all the pieces of a playoff team, but what is radically different than last year’s 4-12 team? They even lost to the Cleveland Browns. First round pick Mike Williams looks to be out the entire season, and new guards Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney may only incrementally stop the Chargers’ offensive line woes. The defense also doesn’t have much depth past Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Casey Hayward. While the Chargers might improve upon their record last season, it won’t be enough to make the playoffs their first season in LA.
Los Angeles Rams
The Jeff Fisher era has passed, but this is still a Jeff Fisher roster that Sean McVay inherits. McVay was tapped by the Rams’ front office to change the offensive culture, but this will not happen overnight. Jared Goff is still light years away developmentally, and his supporting cast won’t help much. The offensive line has improved, but most likely to league average, and the receiving corps of Robert Woods, Tavon Austin, and Cooper Kupp will rank near the bottom of the league. Sean McVay is a good coach, but not a miracle worker.
One of the more surprising teams last year, the Dolphins are now set up to disappoint. Of the least discussed losses from this team was defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, now the coach of the Broncos. Joseph was able to cobble together a respectable defense last year with relatively poor players, so the Dolphins aren’t likely to repeat that success without him. A Ryan Tannehill offense isn’t powerful enough to make up for a below average defense.
Does Mike Zimmer even have control over his own team? Last year, nearing the end of the season, the secondary seemed to have staged some sort of a coup against Zimmer, or at least openly disobeyed his instruction. Even if Zimmer has regained control, this team may not he talented enough to make a run to the playoffs. The offensive line was terrible last year, and there’s no reason to think that will change. They created the fewest yards before contact in the league last year, which will hinder Dalvin Cook from developing. The Vikings can’t win with five turnposts on the offensive line.
New England Patriots
Yes, even the Patriots could miss the playoffs this year. This storyline has been buried, but Tom Brady will be 40, and no quarterback has ever been elite into their 40s. If Tom Brady slows, the Patriots will falter as a team, and there are plenty of very solid teams in the AFC ready to take their spot. For more on the Patriots, check out my article “The Patriots Are No Sure Thing,” where I discuss potential downfalls in more detail.
New Orleans Saints
The same issues that the Patriots have apply to the Saints as well. Drew Brees, like Tom Brady, has blown away traditional aging curves and played unbelievably through his 30s. However, Brees has an offensive line worse than Brady’s, making him more susceptible to hard hits from defensive linemen, and therefore more catastrophic injuries. Also, the Saints defense has been a joke over the last few years, and their personnel has not improved much since last year. The Saints will have the same problem as always: they score points, but they give up many more.
New York Giants
The Giants spent the offseason adding to their wide receiver corps, acquiring Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram, but ignored their greatest weakness. New York’s running game was historically bad last year, with the lowest total rushing yards per game in NFL history. The team essentially replaced Rashad Jennings with Wayne Gallman – a net negative – so the offensive balance will be tilted heavily in favor of the passing game, allowing opposing defenses to key in on the Giants’ playcalling.
New York Jets
The Jets have a few developable pieces in Leonard Williams, Darron Lee, and Jamal Adams. Outside of that, New York has a miserable roster. Their quarterback play will be horrendous, regardless of who starts behind center, while the playmakers around said quarterback will be equally as dismal. While this year will go poorly for the Jets, the future is much brighter; check out “The Darnold Effect” and “3 Reasons Jets Fans Should Be Happy Their Team Sucks This Year”!
Oakland has been a fast riser, but there are plenty of reasons to think that season was an anomaly, not the norm. Derek Carr shaped up as an MVP candidate, but his touchdown and interception percentages were abnormal. For his career, Carr had never had an interception percentage below 2.5%; last year’s was 1.2%. His touchdown percentage was also up almost a full point over his career average as well. Carr is headed for regression, as well as the running game. Marshawn Lynch could be a major bust after coming out of retirement at the age of 31, especially considering his final year production. Combine this seeming regression with a mediocre defense, and Oakland will sadly miss the playoffs.
The Eagles added a bunch of new pieces to the offense this year, so cohesion will likely be at a premium. Philadelphia’s offense should be a case study in inconsistency this year. Carson Wentz flashed his rookie year, but it is apparent he still is not fully getting through his reads, which is essential to dissect top level defenses. LeGarrete Blount had a career season with the Patriots last year, but in the four years before he didn’t crack 800 yards or 7 touchdowns once. Alshon Jeffery is a bad bet to play 16 games with his injury history, and Torrey Smith has disappeared from receiving corps since leaving Baltimore. This does not paint such a pretty picture, and Philadelphia will not be able to get to January with this offense.
Here’s a fun fact: the combination of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Martavis Bryant have not played together since 2014. The Steelers are an injury waiting to happen, on both sides of the ball, and this year is no different. Big Ben’s reckless style of play puts him in harm’s way quite a bit, and he will be banged up at some point this year. Bell is no stranger to the IR either, and one bad cut could derail the entire Steelers’ season. Other key pieces, like Maurkice Pouncey and Senquez Golson, are also big injury risks. With such volatility, the Steelers just won’t find their way into the playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers
A sieve would be too generous of a classification for last year’s 49ers defense. They were probably more like a hula hoop in their effectiveness at stopping the run, putting up historically miserable numbers. That number may not improve much as NaVarro Bowman is recovering poorly from last season’s devastating injury. The pass defense wasn’t much better, finishing in the bottom ten in the league in passing yards allowed. Kyle Shanahan may be an offensive guru, but he will not be able to resurrect this lifeless defense to make a postseason run.
It’s been said before, but offensive line issues will hold the Seahawks back as well. Last year’s five man core was paid a measles $6.4 million to protect franchise QB Russell Wilson and open holes for Thomas Rawls. They couldn’t do either last year by any stretch of the imagination. Seattle didn’t even bolster the line in any meaningful way, so that same dismal group will trot back out next season. Without good blocking and seemingly poor chemistry in the locker room, the Seahawks appear to be on a downward trend.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay occupies the same division as two MVP-winning quarterbacks in Matt Ryan and Cam Newton. The third? Drew Brees. Therefore, Tampa Bay’s abysmal secondary will not stand the test of six division games against high powered offenses with dynamic QBs. Since Darrelle Revis and Alterruan Verner have busted, the Bucs have not figured out how to replace those two in the secondary, and they have faltered. Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes can manage, but will get battered my many of these elite offenses.
Like Tampa Bay, the Titans were just roasted last year in the secondary. Perish Cox was a laughingstock as a cornerback last year, and his counterparts couldn’t do much better. They added Tre’Davious White, but White won’t play more than snaps in nickel and return kicks, making him a minor addition. Tennessee has decent parts on the other side of the ball, but without a reliable secondary, the defense won’t be able to effectively keep the Titans in games this year.
For a team whose offense is their hallmark, the Redskins certainly lost a lot. The Bengals clearly struggled after losing Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu; imagine how much the losses of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon will sting. Jordan Reed also opens the season on the PUP list, causing major concern for the Redskins’ passing game. Most of all, Kirk Cousins is locked in contract negotiations again, and the tension between him and the front office could boil over onto the field, especially if he gets benched at any point. Washington’s offense is going to get worse this year, spelling troublesome times ahead for the Redskins.