Every single year, the NFL features an interesting array of teams that end up unintentionally tanking just one year removed from making the playoffs.
Last year the Carolina Panthers went from a Super Bowl appearance to the NFC South’s basement. The Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals both took serious nose dives as well.
It’s an annual event, and we’re always surprised by at least one terrible team nobody saw coming.
So who’s it going to be in 2017?
The Legion of Boom is one year older. Earl Thomas is doing everything he can to get back onto the field (watch here), but who knows if he’ll be the same player he was before breaking his leg so horribly that he contemplated retirement? Heck, there are even substantiated rumors that Richard Sherman could be traded if a team offers some serious compensation.
Remember, this is a defense that was absolutely abused in the playoffs without Thomas on the back end. And the defense has long been the team’s strength. Additionally, aside from their top three guys — Sherman, Thomas and Kam Chancellor — the secondary isn’t all that great.
Offensively, the Seahawks still don’t have an offensive line capable of protecting Russell Wilson, who’s endured 128 sacks the past three regular seasons and another 23 in the playoffs.
And they’re so desperate for a running game that they brought in Eddie Lacy to become their Marshawn Lynch replacement. Good luck with that.
Look, Pete Carroll is an amazing coach who always gets the most out of his players. He has built a tremendous culture up there in the Pacific Northwest, and if any team is capable of overcoming its deficits because of pure gumption and mind-over-matter determination, it’s this one.
But there are some serious holes on Seattle’s roster. At some point the LOB is going to deteriorate into an average group of defenders. At some point Wilson won’t be able to tough out another injury. This year, the Seahawks are in danger of missing the playoffs altogether, even playing in the relatively easy NFC West.
The AFC South, once among the worst divisions in the NFL, is suddenly very competitive. The Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans are both going to challenge the Texans in a major way for the divisional crown, and if the Jacksonville Jaguars can get Blake Bortles to stop throwing picks, that team could be sneaky good, too.
The big issue for Houston, as it’s been since the team entered the NFL as an expansion team back in 2002, is that it has no quarterback. I mean, getting rid of Brock Osweiler was a great move that could result in addition by subtraction. But despite Bill O’Brien’s excitement about working with Tom Savage, he’s not the answer either.
Even if Houston finally does use up a top pick to land a quarterback in this year’s draft, whoever it is wouldn’t be ready to start games, let alone lead the Texans to the playoffs. And heck, say Tony Romo does end up with this team. Does anyone believe he’ll stay healthy? And in that case, Savage is going to be coming off the bench again, which is worse for the team than if he’d been working with the starting lineup all summer long.
Sure, this team features a fearsome front seven. Especially if J.J. Watt comes back healthy and can play all year long after back surgery. But losing A.J. Bouye will hurt, as will losing safety Quintin Demps.
All this adds up to the Texans losing momentum in their division and missing the playoffs in 2017.
There are a number of factors at play here that lead us to believe the Falcons are in danger of collapsing after making it to Super Bowl LI.
First off, losing their entire offensive coaching staff and their top two defensive coaches is a huge blow to the team’s ability to get back to the playoffs in 2017 (more on all that here).
Secondly, as good as Matt Ryan was last year we have to believe a huge reason for his success was that he found his groove in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Remember, he struggled mightily in his first year under Shanahan. Now he’s going back to square one under a new coaching staff. And making things even spicier on this front, it’s none other than Steve Sarkisian who’s calling the shots on offense.
That’s not a recipe for disaster. Not at all.
Defensively the Falcons might be even better in 2017, which is a good thing. But we don’t expect the Carolina Panthers to win just six games again this year. Furthermore, Tampa Bay Buccaneers are charging hard for the divisional crown and you can never count out the New Orleans Saints, who have improved their defense up front.
Atlanta could very well end up being this year’s version of the 2016 Panthers in the end.
One wonders if Ben Roethlisberger’s heart is really in it any more. The Steelers expect him to return after he threatened to retire following the 2016 season, but it’s clear he’s on his last legs — figuratively and literally.
Then there is the Le’Veon Bell situation. He threatening to sit out the 2017 season without a new deal (April Fool’s joke, people). On a serious note, we sure hope he stays out of trouble after being suspended to start the past two seasons because he loves to smoke weed.
The Steelers still have no backup plan for Roethlisberger. If he gets hurt (again) it’s going to either be Landry Jones or Zach Mettenberger — a couple of guys whose career record combined is 2-12.
Defensively, Pittsburgh is lacking at both the pass rusher positions and cornerback. Only two of the most important spots in today’s NFL. Though the Steelers did manage to post solid overall defensive numbers last year, they gave up more than 27 points six times last year. That’s a clear sign of a problem that will only get bigger if these defensive deficiencies aren’t fixed pronto.
Finally, we must acknowledge that the AFC North is no picnic. In fact, the Baltimore Ravens appear geared up to take over as the dominant team in this division, and the Cleveland Browns look like they finally have a solid plan to rise out of the basement in the coming years.
Mike Tomlin’s team is in trouble, especially if Roethlisberger is injured early.
Don’t get us wrong. We love the moves Detroit made to acquire offensive tackle Rick Wagner and guard T.J. Lang. If these guys play up to their potential, then Matthew Stafford should continue to ascend. He was playing some tremendous football last year before a painful finger injury derailed his season.
That said, the Lions still don’t have a running game — both offensive linemen landed in free agency are better in pass protection — and are still searching for a defense that can hold up against the pass.
Throw in the fact that we can almost bank on Green Bay making it to the playoffs (eight straight years, plus, you know, Aaron Rodgers), that Minnesota improved its offensive line and has a very good defense, and that Chicago isn’t going to be a slouch in 2017.
It’s definitely no given the Lions will be back into the playoffs this upcoming season.
Then there’s some simple history. The Lions haven’t made it to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since the 1995 campaign. Since that time, they’ve made it to postseason play just five times total and three times in the past six seasons. And in the past six years, the three years Detroit didn’t make it into the playoffs it was a below-.500 ball club.