As the 2017 NFL season inches closer all teams have an even record. There are reasons to believe any of the 32 franchises can succeed and have a productive season. Some a bit more than others, obviously. But rather than look at those reasons, we are going to play Debbie Downer here and extract the biggest reason to doubt each team approaching the 2017 campaign.
It could be suspect coaching that already spells doom. Some franchises are anything but stable at the quarterback position. On the other side of the same coin, some stellar quarterbacks are saddled with awful defenses. Looming suspensions and injuries stand to serve as some teams’ Achilles heel.
Let’s get on with the negative and take a peek at what could possibly go wrong with each franchise in 2017.
Buffalo Bills: Planning for the future leaves today in doubt
The Bills are stockpiling draft picks to prepare for the future. It is a depressing sign that the team has already thrown in the towel for 2017. Various trades have resulted in the Bills securing six total picks between Rounds 1-3 next April. No. 1 receiver Sammy Watkins was traded away and quarterback Tyrod Taylor had a tough preseason. The current roster of players would be hard-pressed to produce a 50-percent win record. The future might be bright, but what about 2017?
Miami Dolphins: Can Jay Cutler deliver the goods?
The excitement level has gone up in Miami since Cutler was lured back to football. He was the clear-cut best choice to fill in for the injured Ryan Tannehill. But Cutler will be challenged to duplicate last year’s second-place AFC East finish. The 34-year-old quarterback is garnering all smiles and praises now. But, will Cutler stay healthy all year? He hasn’t played a full 16-game campaign since his first year with the Chicago Bears in 2009. Here’s to hoping those pesky pick-sixes won’t rear their ugly head either this fall, too.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady missing his jack of all trades
There is not much reason anyone doubts the Patriots these days. Last year was the prime example of the Patriots overcoming many obstacles only to rise and win the Super Bowl ‒ again. But a guy that made some fantastic plays in that game is now lost for the year due to a torn ACL. Quarterback Tom Brady will be without Julian Edelman, who can do it all. Edelman has averaged 9.67 targets per game the past four seasons. He rocks at returns, receiving and can pass on trick plays. Now it is time for the next man, or men, to to step up.
New York Jets: Can the Jets successfully tank?
It is no major secret that the Jets don’t care about winning this year. Multiple talented players departed earlier this year and more are up for trade. With the season already clouded with doubt, can the Jets successfully finish in last place? If so, they stand to earn next year’s first-round pick. That is if the Jets are intentionally aiming for last place, which is the only logical move here. Perhaps dumb luck kicks in the the Jets don’t sink to the bottom. Josh McCown might just do the unexpected, foil the plan, stay healthy and put some wins on the record.
Baltimore Ravens: Gambling with Justin Tucker
Tucker was the man to score when it came to crunch-time last year. He tallied a league-high 38 field goals. Now in three preseason games, Tucker is already 7-for-7 in field goals made. A 59-yarder was his best. A Joe Flacco-led offense really needs to find ways to seal the deal and not force so many field goal tries. Baltimore averaged just 21.4 points per tilt last year. Tucker being responsible for putting the most points on the board is not the ideal way to make the playoffs. Come on, guys.
Cincinnati Bengals: Injuries, suspensions
The Bengals will look to rebound with a healthy roster this season. One of the biggest-name guys who dealt with an injury in 2016 was wideout A.J. Green. He is now healthy and but will potentially be missing his partner in crime, rookie John Ross who is doubtful for the season opener. Ross was not the healthiest in college as the trend looks to continue. On the troublesome side, the Bengals open the season without Pro-Bowl corner Adam Jones, who will be suspended one game. Worse, linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be serving a three-game suspension due to a preseason illegal hit. Is it December yet?
Cleveland Browns: DeShone Kizer hoping to buck history
There is finally a feeling of hope in Cleveland. But relying on yet another rookie quarterback to lead the Browns to the promise land is a pie-in-the-sky story for the Dawg Pound. A saga that typically ends in disaster. Johnny Manziel was the last rookie quarterback to attempt to change the face of the franchise. Instead, he fell on his face. Kizer is a breath of fresh air in comparison. The rookie will start, and he vows to not become part of that list of bust quarterbacks from seasons past. Can Kizer get the Browns safely out of the woods this year?
Pittsburgh Steelers: Locker room discord
Running back Le’Veon Bell returned to the Steelers as promised on Sept. 1. But his social media antics might have rubbed some on the team the wrong way. Things have been tense, to say the least, during his preseason holdout. There were conflicting stories as to whether the Steelers actually offered Bell a deal he turned down. Bell is one of the highest-producing backs in the league and he is seeking a huge payday. For now, he needs to put that aside and be a team player. Will he actually help keep the peace or continue to create drama?
Houston Texans: Quarterback woes could continue
The Texans have a mighty defense, and fans are hopeful when it comes to the quarterback situation. Either Tom Savage, the designated starter, or rookie Deshaun Watson will be under center putting together drives that end in touchdowns. But seeing the Texans post a goose egg in one of their preseason games was somewhat disturbing. They did so against last year’s 27th-ranked New Orleans Saints defense, which is even worse. Maybe it was just a case of preseason jitters. But a shutout is an ugly way to prepare for the season, no matter what the circumstances are.
Indianapolis Colts: Team hiding details on Andrew Luck
The latest buzz in Indianapolis is that head coach Chuck Pagano has not seen Luck throw since his January surgery. This is extremely alarming news and somewhat hard to believe. For months, the Colts have not really had any answers when it comes to Luck’s timeline to return. Now, he is on the team’s PUP list and looks nowhere near to being ready to suit up in Week 1. Luck’s eventual debut is anyone’s guess. But, there may be more serious concerns about Luck the Colts are hiding, which darkens the season with doubt.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles is a disaster waiting to happen
Bortles’ performances this preseason were nothing to write home about. He started out terribly bumpy and his regression was obvious. Bortles was benched in favor of Chad Henne, who stunk things up too. Since, Bortles has regained his starting job and is now being lauded by head coach Doug Marrone as “the best I’ve seen him,” per the team’s website. What exactly are we to believe? Bortles has not suddenly turned in Aaron Rodgers. More than likely, Jacksonville will be wasting another season as Bortles fumbles his job away for good.
Tennessee Titans: Do we really trust Mike Mularky?
The Titans have had an all-around, low-scoring, losing preseason. In the team’s dress rehearsal contest in Week 3, Mularkey made his starters play until quarterback Marcus Mariota finally connected for a three-yard touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter. Last year, Mularkey took over when Ken Whisenhunt was fired. He surely could find his own butt on the hot seat soon enough if the Titans starters still look like rookies to open the season.
Denver Broncos: Can the defense carry the offense again?
The Broncos are still sputtering offensivelly with quarterback Trevor Siemian as the winner of the quarterback competition. Siemian and the offense need to kick their performances up several notches starting Week 1. Denver’s offense ranked 27th last year, and there was not playoff game in sight. Only 20.8 points on average were scored per tilt. That won’t cut it again. Siemian and Co. need to produce in order to complement the team’s outstanding defense. The postseason is at stake.
Kansas City Chiefs: Rushing game goes to the rookie
The Chiefs are a run-heavy team that just unfortunately lost their starting running back, Spencer Ware for the season. Head coach Andy Reid says third-round rookie pick, Kareem Hunt will be the “featured back,” per ESPN. The Chiefs’ run game could be in deep trouble if Hunt doesn’t come through. Fortunately the rookie has looked sharp in the preseason, having rushed for an average of 4.4 yards per carry. During his four years at Toledo, Hunt tallied 5,500 total yards and 45 touchdowns. Can he now play with the big boys?
Los Angeles Chargers: Do fans even care?
The Chargers have a lot going for them, except for huge fan support. Preseason attendance at the Chargers home games at StubHub Stadium was a joke. The team really could use more support to claw its way out of the 5-11 record posted last year. Sadly, fans are just not showing the love. At times last season, Chargers home games were dominated by road fans. At this point it seems clear that Dean Spanos made a grave mistake moving his team to Los Angeles.
Oakland Raiders: Ability to live up to huge expectations
The Raiders are already an early favorite to play in Super Bowl 52. Quarterback Derek Carr recently received a much-earned mega payday. Marshawn Lynch joined the squad after a tedious process to bring him to Oakland. This all follows a trip to the postseason last year, which occurred for the first time since Beast Mode was 16 years old. For now, the Raiders taking things one game at a time is of the utmost importance.
Dallas Cowboys: Proving 2016 was not just a fluke
Two rookie superstars emerged last year when the Cowboys won the NFC regular season. Quarterback Dak Presocott came in a close first against Ezekiel Elliott and won Rookie of the Year MVP. Elliott now faces a looming six-game suspension. However many games Elliott ends up playing, can he meet or top last year’s rock star production? There is a lot of stiff NFC competition out there. Teams would love to knock the Cowboys off their high horse. The pressure will be on, especially for Prescott, to keep the ‘Boys looking legit in 2017.
New York Giants: Fixing a broken run game is not easy
Quarterback Eli Manning might just keep committing those disastrous interceptions the more he attempts to pass the ball. If only the Giants could rediscover their run game. Second-year running back Paul Perkins has looked anything but spunky having averaged just 2.7 yards per attempt on 17 preseason carries. Last year the G-men managed a league-low six rushing touchdowns. This needs to improve if the Giants plan to be contenders.
Philadelphia Eagles: Trusting Carson Wentz
Wentz performed adequately during his rookie season considering the original plan was for him to sit for a year behind Sam Bradford. A lot of the team’s success this year will happen only if Wentz takes the next step. The team finished fourth in the NFC East and sported the worst passing offense in the division. This year, Wentz will look to connect for more than 14 passing touchdowns. New wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith should help fans trust Wentz just a bit more in his sophomore campaign. A first-place divisional finish will be a stretch, though.
Washington Redskins: Loss of veteran pass-catchers
The preseason has not treated Washington too kindly. But the show must go on for quarterback Kirk Cousins, minus veterans DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. The duo drew 214 total targets from Cousins in 2016. Now, Cousins has to work with Terrelle Pryor, still trying to craft his talents as a receiver. Jamison Crowder headlines a roster of younger pass-catchers. Cousins really needs tight end Jordan Reed to stay healthy to supplement this cast of less-experienced receivers. The quarterback has looked anything but solid this preseason.
Chicago Bears: Risky investments at quarterback
The Bears kicked Jay Cutler to the curb and invested quite heavily in Mike Glennon and rookie Mitch Trubisky. A trade up for Trubisky and an annual $15 million dollar paycheck to Glennon was the hefty bill. The two quarterbacks aren’t officially competing to start. But, Trubisky’s preseason performances were strong enough that Glennon should be shaking in his cleats. Glennon has 18 career starts and Trubisky is, well, a rookie. More wins, no matter who is under center, are a must for a Bears squad that has not seen the postseason since 2010.
Detroit Lions: Wild Card playoff hurdle
Speaking of the postseason, the Lions cannot escape getting past the Wild Card Round. This easily paints a shadow of doubt over the upcoming season. Since quarterback Matthews Stafford was drafted first overall in 2009, the team has achieved, and lost, three wild card playoff games. The Lions are capable of making smashing plays and winning games under all types of pressure in the regular season. But everybody caves when it counts most. Will their 2017 campaign be any different?
Green Bay Packers: Suspect secondary
The Packers finished 2016 with the worst pass defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed per attempt. Cornerback Quinten Rollins was the top player at his position on the team and was rated 87th according to Pro Football Focus. The Packers’ top-rated safety was Morgan Burnett, who ranked 14th. Both Rollins and Burnett defended 17 combined passes and managed three interceptions. The rest of the team’s defensive backs tailed behind. Green Bay has since added safety Josh Jones, who was picked in the second round. This unit needs to keep up with the high-scoring offense for the Packers’ best chance to succeed in 2017.
Minnesota Vikings: Executing a successful run game
What run game? There was not much of one in 2016 when former running back Adrian Peterson became injured in Week 3. Instead, Minnesota’s tag team of fill-ins for Peterson coughed up the worst-ranked rushing offense in the league. The unit scored just nine times at an average pace of 3.2 yards per carry. This is why the young Dalvin Cook was chosen in Round 2 this April. He will look to make an immediate impact after rushing for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns at Florida State in 2016. We see a glimmer of hope.
Atlanta Falcons: Super Bowl hangover
We saw it happen with the Carolina Panthers last season after they had a successful run and lost Super Bowl 50. Could the same be in store for Atlanta? If the team performs anything like it did the latter part of Super Bowl 51 and this preseason, things might go sour. Many are predicting that quarterback Matt Ryan will not keep up with the lofty career highs he set last year. The team needs all its components healthy and in sync to rock it again this year.
Carolina Panthers: Protecting Cam Newton
Newton is a big boy who got knocked around hard last year after taking 36 sacks. He put up several career statistical lows as a result. His inefficient play led the Panthers to a 6-10 record and a last-place divisional finish. Keeping Newton protected and not seeing him risk plays that make viewers cringe is key. Fortunately, the Panthers splurged and drafted running back Christian McCaffrey to help in all kinds of ways on offense. Will the Panthers’ plans to keep Newton safer pay off?
New Orleans Saints: Defensive improvements?
The Saints featured the No. 1-ranked offense last year. Unfortunately, the success of the Saints can’t rely entirely on future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees’ throwing arm. The guy needs his defense to step up. New Orleans’ defense gave up an average of 28.4 points last year. Trying to ramp things up, the Saints spent five draft picks and have rookies — cornerback Marshon Lattimore and linebacker Alex Anzalone — slated as starters. Preseason play from this unit might be a good sign things are looking up.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston’s turnovers
Winston is an ultra-talented quarterback and one ranked as a trustworthy fantasy option. But the red flag of doubt here stems from his costly turnovers. In 2016, Winston had 18 interceptions and 10 fumbles, of which six were lost. These numbers were sadly up from his rookie year. He also tossed an ugly preseason almost-interception (he was ruled down) that occurred from a blindly launched pass while Winston was on the ground. This where the buck needs to stop if the Bucs are going to build on last season’s success.
Arizona Cardinals: Longevity of Carson Palmer
The Cardinals would be fortunate to get one more healthy and hopefully peak season from Palmer. He stands the best chance for being productive with help from his offensive line. The team’s offensive coordinator issued a harsh warning to the guys that protect Palmer, saying keeping their quarterback upright is a must. No quarterback in the NFL should be sacked 40 times, especially a guy Palmer’s age (37). Next stop could be back to the playoffs if Palmer’s health holds up.
Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff’s development
Goff is a work in process who needs to launch his performance to the next level. Preseason struggles are typical, and Goff is certainly having some. His play in Week 3 of the preseason in particular was scary for Goff, who turned the ball over twice in less than one half of play. If he struggles to sustain drives, fans will be watching more punting than scoring once again. The Rams managed a pathetic 14 points per tilt last season. That’s not playoff material folks.
San Francisco 49ers: Rebuild could backfire
The goal this year is not so much to get to the Super Bowl as it is to create a team that eventually will be a contender. Of course putting up more than last year’s embarrassing two wins would be ideal. New head coach Kyle Shanahan and many fresh, new 49ers faces will hopefully start turning things around. First-round pick, rookie linebacker Rueben Foster, is already dominating his role. Will the rest of the 49ers pull their weight?
Seattle Seahawks: Keeping Russell Wilson healthy
When every Seahawk is healthy, this team is one of the most lethal in the league. It all starts with Wilson, who played through many nagging injuries in 2016. A poor offensive line that already is ranked 32nd approaching the season by Pro Football Focus had better pony up. Wilson took 41 sacks last year, and it was obvious when he was gritting it through his aches and pains. A healthy trio of running backs will also help Wilson be his most productive. If Wilson starts getting banged around early, that will spell doom.