NFL training camps are starting and rosters have changed. This makes it the perfect time to size up which teams could easily go boom or bust in 2017.
We are not covering the obvious candidates such as the high-flying New England Patriots. There is not a bust meter in sight that would label them as a team that could tank big time this fall. We will also refrain from suggesting any struggling teams with a suspect quarterbacks are suddenly going to boom.
Instead, each of the teams discussed here has the potential to rack up double-digit wins, or manage the absolute opposite of that. Quarterback play, improved defenses, head coaching and health will all factor into whether these six teams will rise or fail this year.
The Panthers are the perfect example of a team that could go postseason or completely fall of the face the universe. Two seasons ago, quarterback Cam Newton led his team to a nearly flawless 15-1 finish and to an appearance in Super Bowl L.
Then the ceiling collapsed in 2016. The Panthers as a whole looked like a bunch of kittens after finishing with a 6-10 record and in last place in the NFC South.
What will 2017 bring? Which version of Newton will be under center? The three-time Pro-Bowl quarterback struggled significantly last year, putting up just 24 touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions. He also completed a career-low 52.9 percent of his passes.
Former general manager Dave Gettleman was highly to blame for Newton’s lack of protection and the 36 sacks he endured throughout last year. As a result, Newton only recently resumed throwing in practices.
Newton also now has a couple of intriguing new rookies to work with on offense. The team spent its first and second-round picks on the multi-faceted, Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel respectively.
On defense, the healthy return of All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly should make a world of difference.
Will all of this help fix last year’s broken down team? We will get a sneak peek soon enough by observing the Panthers in training camp.
The Bengals missed the playoffs for the first time in the Andy Dalton era that launched in 2011. Head coach Marvin Lewis enters 2017 on the hot seat as result of the team producing a lowly 6-9-1 record last year.
Can the Bengals get their mojo back and suddenly return to double-digit winning team this year? Overcoming some of the club’s significant injuries will play a part in answering that question. Wide receiver A.J. Green led the list of those whose season was cut short to injury. Green was sorely missed on offense after straining his hamstring in November.
He has since been fully cleared to play. But the four touchdowns Green scored in 10 games last season was troubling. He has to be more effective in the red zone. The Pro Bowler must also help his quarterback out more by not consistently dropping easy catches.
The Bengals will also have to hope that their players stay out of trouble. Cornerback Adam (Pacman) Jones will open the season on a one-game suspension.
Rookie running back Joe Mixon, who has also had off-field issues, will need to keep his nose clean off the field. Of course it was none other than Jones who took in Mixon under his wing during the offseason. What could possibly go wrong there?
The Bengals don’t possess any shortage of talent. Putting all of their collaborative efforts into one bag and improving of last season’s disastrous effort will be the biggest key here.
Jacksonville failed to meet the lofty hype that surrounded the team last preseason. They were expected to be the team that grew leaps and bounds from the previous year.
Instead, after adding some remarkable offseason weapons, the Jags crashed and burned. One of those enhancements was linebacker Malik Jackson, who predicts the Jaguars will win the Super Bowl this year (more on that here). That thought is about as erratic as quarterback Blake Bortles’ throwing arm.
Bortles regressed significantly last season. Coming off a 2015 campaign that saw him throw 35 touchdowns, he tallied just 23 scores to go with 16 interceptions en route to seeing his team’s win total drop by two. The Jaguars have since put him on notice moving forward.
Thankfully, the team made a “win now” draft pick and selected running back Leonard Fournette. He should help level what was a terribly imbalanced offense that often caused Bortles to make mistakes.
Despite the issues on offense, the defense ranked a stout sixth last year. Perhaps the Jags will make up for disappointing their fans and produce that tremendous performance everyone expected last year.
During quarterback Matthew Stafford’s tenure with the Lions dating back to 2009, the team has finished all over the board.
The Lions have played in and lost all three wild card matchups during this stretch. Stafford and Co. are also famous for those last-moment fourth-quarter comeback wins that could very easily have been losses.
It is close games such as these that can make or break a season for the team. Here we see Stafford tossing a Hail Mary touchdown pass to former Lions wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
Matthew "CLUTCH" Stafford!
— NFL (@NFL) October 23, 2016
Coincidentally, Boldin led the Lions with eight touchdowns last year.
Minus Boldin, the Lions really need running back Ameer Abdullah to return healthy. Detroit’s rushing attack ranked third-worst, despite the Lions’ second-place finish last year.
There are a lot of variables here to consider especially playing against a competitive NFC North. The Green Bay Packers have already gone on record and claimed they are going to the Super Bowl this year. With the Minnesota Vikings slated to improve, it will be interesting to see what comes of this Lions team.
The Colts were a very exiting team once quarterback Andrew Luck was selected No. 1 overall in 2012. That lasted three victorious years with Indy making the playoffs each season.
Then the bust took over. In 2015-16, Luck fell victim to various injuries and produced a 10-12 record. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback underwent surgery on his throwing arm in January and will open training camp on the PUP list.
According to this report, Luck may not suit up until the Week 1 regular season opener.
Chris Ballard's presser is over. My takeaway: Luck will play in the opener but you won't see him in the preseason.
— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) July 24, 2017
Is it time to panic or will everything turn out fine? When Luck is not at 100 percent, the team struggles. Behind Luck is backup Scott Tolzien. If Luck cannot get back to full health, it could be another bust year.
He is clearly the glue that keeps the Colts together.
Los Angeles Chargers
The newly relocated Chargers could finish 2017 with nine or more wins. Or, things could continue to tank as they did when the Chargers combined for nine wins in 2015-16.
Maybe a fresh start in a new location will help the Chargers have a breakout season. Or perhaps the hex has already been cast. The Chargers recently found out that that first-round pick Mike Williams may require season-ending back surgery.
Though, Williams denies the claim, citing false information was reported.
Moving on from Williams, quarterback Philip Rivers remains resilient. He has one of the most loaded offenses at his disposal. If everyone can stay healthy, the Chargers only stand to improve on an offense that finished 14th overall in 2016.
But, which version of Rivers will show up? The quarterback who threw 21 picks in 2016 or the one who had only 11 in 2013?
On defense, the Chargers yielded an average of 26.4 points per game last year. Perhaps the addition of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who coordinated the Seattle Seahawk’s Legion of Boom from 2009-12, will help the unit improve.
Taking all of this in, there much to suggest the Chargers stock could soar or plummet in 2017.