NFL

NFL AM: Which Five Teams Are Primed For A Fall?

on

On average, we see roughly five new NFL playoff teams from the year before.  We think that we know about some of the teams that were left out last year that are primed to make a push for the postseason– New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills– but what about those teams that could be primed for a fall?

We’re going to make a case for these five teams having a considerable dropoff in victories from the 2015 season.

Washington Redskins

So Kirk Cousins is firmly planted as “the man,” and Jamison Crowder believes that the ‘Skins have the best wide receiving corps in the NFL.

We don’t think so.

Washington hasn’t made the playoffs in back to back seasons since 1991-1992.  That was before there was a salary cap and mugging wide receivers was legal.

With an improved New York Giants team in the NFC East, as well as a healthy Tony Romo, it’s difficult to imagine Washington repeating their 9-7 campaign, or even nine wins being good enough to qualify for the postseason.

To put it simply, the Redskins need a whole lot of things to go right again and color us skeptical about Cousins.  Washington doesn’t have much depth in their backfield and if you’re asking their franchised quarterback to throw 45 times per game there isn’t going to be a lot of success.

Sure, cornerback Josh Norman should help a sub-par secondary, but the ‘Skins are depending on too many questions to be answered positively to have a solid defense.  Where will the pass rush come from?  Junior Galette?  Will he be able to stay healthy or out of trouble?  Who is going to play safety?  DeAngelo Hall?

There’s a lot of questions as well as a pretty big scheduling detriment, as Washington will have to play a first-place schedule against the likes of Arizona and Carolina.  Good luck with that.

Carolina Panthers

Speaking of the Panthers, how in the world are they going to match last year’s success?  Carolina had a dominant running game behind the MVP season of Cam Newton.  Superman didn’t look like the MVP against the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, and all of the Panthers question marks all season came to a head in their biggest game.

How many times can this team really run the ball to protect a mediocre passing offense and a pair of pretty bad offensive tackles?

The Panthers were great when they were up two scores, but so is every NFL team.  Can they trade punches with teams who will game plan to keep Newton in the pocket?

As we mentioned above, All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman was allowed to leave in free agency, as well as safety Roman Harper.  That’s one great player and one great veteran leader gone from the NFC Champs.

Sure, the Panthers will have wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin back, but can you really expect him to be a No. 1 receiver coming off a torn ACL in what will realistically be his second NFL season?

Carolina still looks like the best team in their division, but if you’re not getting better you’re getting worse, and it’s very tough to see how the Panthers 2016 version is better than last year.

Cincinnati Bengals

Outside of the New England Patriots, the Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the most consistent teams in the NFL’s regular season over the past half-decade.

So what’s different about this year?

The Bengals customary January meltdown came in excruciating fashion as they grasped defeat from the jaws of victory in the playoffs, and head coach Marvin Lewis is still tied with you and I in the all-important statistic of playoff victories as a head coach.

That has to have some carryover.

Andy Dalton had a really good regular season, but now he has to replicate it without wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.  Jeremy Hill had a sophomore slump and his talent level is now being questioned.

Gone is Hue Jackson, “the quarterback whisperer” and he left for in-state rival Cleveland.

To sum it up, some of the more important pieces and keys to the Bengals success– Jones, Sanu, Reggie Nelson and Jackson– are gone, and some of the pieces that they needed to replace that cost them a playoff victory– Adam “Pacman” Jones and Vontaze Burfict– still remain as “leaders.”

The Bengals still have a solid roster, but the rest of the division is expected to be improved over last season– Browns with new leadership and quarterback; Ravens with a healthy Joe Flacco; Steelers with a healthy Le’Veon Bell– and Cincinnati will have a tougher time in those AFC North games.

Minnesota Vikings

How tough is it to win a division in the NFL without a functional passing game?  Really tough.

How tough is it to win a division in the NFL without a functional passing game two years in a row? That’s nearly impossible.

The Vikings won a lot of games with smoke, mirrors and a really good defense last year.  Although the defense figures to be pretty good again, there’s no signs that the offense will be significantly better.

Although quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was a “Draft Twitter” darling, his refusal to take chances down the football field severely limited the explosiveness of the Minnesota offense.  Maybe it was the play calling, maybe the outside targets, but the fact of the matter is the Vikings had a 1980’s style passing game and that won’t cut it two years in a row with gunslingers like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler in the division.

Adrian Peterson was a huge reason why Minnesota was so good last season.  He’s back in the fold, but he just turned 31 years old.  Are the Vikings even prepared for an offense where he isn’t the sole focal point?

As we said, the Vikings defense is good to go, but winning games 14-13 isn’t a great formula in 2016.

Houston Texans

The main things on Texans general manager Rick Smith’s and head coach Bill O’Brien’s offseason to-do list was to upgrade the quarterback position and get a receiver to complement the great DeAndre Hopkins.

Check and check.

We think.

Quarterback Brock Osweiler is probably better than Brian Hoyer.  We say probably because the only thing we know that he’s better than Hoyer at is being really tall and making lots of money for not doing much.

The reigning AFC South champs are banking on Osweiler being the “missing link” in an offense that has a lot of question marks and has to replace a couple offensive linemen.

The main reason why we believe Houston will take a step backwards in 2016 is because of everyone else in the division.  The Colts will start the season with a healthy Andrew Luck, and they still nearly won the division last year with Luck missing half the games.  The Jaguars look to be the most improved team in the NFL and it’s far from a lock that the Texans will be able to sweep Jacksonville as they’ve done each of the last two years.  Even the Titans have a year of seasoning under Marcus Mariota and the rest of the roster has been strengthened with a solid offseason including the additions of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the backfield.

Houston might actually be a better team than they were last year, but everyone else in the division is so improved that it might not matter.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.