Andrew Luck takes a seat in first preseason game
Every year there are always some surprise teams that make the playoffs. It is just something that is unique to the NFL that the teams that had poor records the previous year are generally rewarded with an easier schedule than the teams that finished ahead of them in their divisions.
That easier schedule is supposed to allow for teams that were down to rise up the following year, creating an ebb and flow of teams riding momentum and then stumbling the following year.
However, there are some teams that just have too many holes or are just beginning to rebuild their franchises, leaving the outlook for the 2012 season rather bleak. The following are the seven teams that I am projecting to have absolutely no shot at reaching the playoffs this season.
To fans of these teams, keep your chins up: Better days are ahead.
The St. Louis Rams knew the franchise was struggling after the 2011 season, so they made a number of changes to overhaul the team, which including hiring new head coach Jeff Fisher.
Fisher made a number of trades to secure additional draft picks, because the Rams had so many holes on the team to address. The strategy allowed them to draft some intriguing players with upsides like Michael Brockers, Brian Quick, Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead and Trumaine Johnson.
However, there are just too many weak areas with the Rams overall.
Sam Bradford gets sacked way too many times. The wide receivers are not very good, which is why the Rams passing offense ranked 30th last year. The overall offense ranked 31th, and St. Louis was dead last in average points scored per game, with just 12.1. On defense, the Rams were 31st against the run, which is another major problem that has to get fixed.
The Rams will be a better team in the long run as a result of what Fisher has done, but they are going to be relying on young players on both sides of the ball. There will be many mistakes made by the rookies, but they will eventually learn from their mistakes.
As for their mistakes this year, they will be plentiful enough that the Rams will be hard pressed to be a .500 team, which means that they again won't be seeing the playoffs.
With star players like Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen, the Vikings have players that fans can identify with, but with respect to the rest of the team, the Vikings are missing too many key pieces to realistically think about making the playoffs this year.
For the 2011 season, the Vikings ranked 28th in passing offense and 26th in passing defense. They ranked 31st in points allowed, so, having to get into shootouts with the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and the improved passing attack of the Chicago Bears, the Vikings aren't well-enough equipped to contend in their own division.
The Vikings offense relies heavily on Adrian Peterson, so the team will have to be careful how it decides to insert him back into the regular season, based on the severe knee injury from which he is recovering.
Drafting Matt Kalil will help the offensive line, and he will serve as a security blanket for Christian Ponder.
Minnesota retained its head coach, Leslie Frazier, so that he can continue to grow the team and implement his plan.
Sticking with Christian Ponder will help this growth, but playing in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford just seems as though it will be too difficult a challenge for the Vikings to overcome this year.
The Vikings will make some positive progress this year, but not enough to be contenders for the playoffs.
The Cleveland Browns are another example of a team that is trying to rebuild, and you can see, by the large number of rookie additions that are being inserted into the starting lineup this year, that they are serious about making over their offense.
The Browns had to do something, since their 2011 offense ranked 29th overall, their passing attack was 24th and their rushing attack was 28th. They scored only 13.6 points per game last year, which ranked them 30th in the league. The defense was 30th against the rush, which is another area that has to be addressed.
This group of rookie starters—quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Trent Richardson, wide receiver Josh Gordon and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz—will grow together in the future.
It isn't helping the Cleveland cause that Richardson has knee issues already, as he had his knee scoped. But if we keep an open mind in thinking about the big picture, the Browns just want Richardson to acclimate himself to the NFL and start learning what he is expected to produce on a weekly basis.
While it is conceivable that one or two of these young players might grow faster than the others, the point is that all of the rookies on offense should be feeling comfortable working with one another and looking for a serious uptick in production when they hit their third year in the league, circa 2014.
The defense was a top-10 unit in 2011, so it is up to the defense to try to stay in that range if it can, allowing the offense time to grow and develop into a more dynamic unit. It will be difficult chore to replace Phil Taylor, though, who is probably gone for 2012.
As for the playoffs in 2012, I just don't see it happening for the Browns.
Another team that I just don't get a very good vibe from for the upcoming season is the Jacksonville Jaguars.
For starters, this is a team that ranked dead last in the NFL in overall offense and passing offense in 2011.
The Jaguars averaged only 15.2 points scored per game, which ranked them 28th in the league. That was with Maurice Jones-Drew, so just imagine what they will do if he decides to extend his holdout into the regular season.
The biggest issue I have with the Jaguars is the play of quarterback Blaine Gabbert. He will need to take a major step up not just in personal production, but also in maturity and his ability to stay composed in the face of pressure.
Jacksonville seems committed to playing Gabbert, but frankly I would like their chances more if they showed more willingness to plug Chad Henne in at QB.
To their credit, the Jaguars did attempt to upgrade the dreadful passing attack by drafting Justin Blackmon and signing free agents Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans.
Evans, however, wasn't panning out, so the team released him. Blackmon had a DUI incident which prompted a holdout of his own as the team tried to work in some clauses in his rookie contract to prevent future repeated incidents.
Jacksonville's defense was solid last year, but the offense is still a major problem. You have to score points on a regular basis to win in this league.
I am just not convinced that Gabbert will be ready to take any team to the playoffs in 2012.
Pop-quiz time. Who are Legedu Naanee, Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt and Roberto Wallace? If you didn't already know, don't feel very bad.
They are the names of the top six receivers for the Miami Dolphins.
Following the trade of Brandon Marshall to Chicago and the subsequent release of Chad Johnson, the Dolphins are void of any star wide receiver or somebody that could lay claim to being a true NFL No. 1 starting wideout.
It doesn't matter that Reggie Bush had a good year in 2011; defenses around the league will now be stuffing the box with eight defenders and daring Miami to throw the ball to beat them.
In 2011, the Dolphins had the No. 22 overall offense and were 23th in passing. Their offense scored an average of 20.6 points per game, which ranked them 20th in PPG. I believe their scoring average will be dropping lower this year due to the passing attack.
As for the Dolphins pass defense, it also had its share of issues, as it ranked 25th last year.
As we watched the first episode of Hard Knocks on HBO, the Dolphins offense was struggling in the preseason opener, so this could be another rough year in Miami. It will be interesting to see if the Dolphins bring in any other veterans to bolster their passing offense, but time is starting to run out on training camp.
The knee injury to David Garrard is a setback, but only a temporary one. He was making good progress, but it further delays the chemistry he was building with the rest of the starters.
With respect to the playoffs in 2012, I don't see the Dolphins offense being strong enough to compete in the AFC this year.
Miami needs to develop some other weapons before it can contend.
The Indianapolis Colts suffered through a nightmare season in 2011, finishing the year with the worst record in the NFL, ranked in the bottom five in points allowed, overall offense, rushing defense and points scored.
When the dust settled, Peyton Manning was bidding farewell, and the Colts were ushering in the start of the Andrew Luck era.
The Colts admitted that they were going to rebuild the franchise. Hiring head coach Chuck Pagano was one step in the right direction. They will be a more physical defense this year and will begin taking steps toward respectability again.
Plugging in Luck at quarterback will allow the Colts to be more competitive this year, but I just don't believe that Indianapolis has the required firepower to win the AFC South, especially with a team as complete as the Houston Texans at the head of the division.
Can the Colts win a wild-card spot? I just don't see their defense as being solid enough to make the playoffs this year.
Noticing that their leading tackler, linebacker Pat Angerer, broke his foot in the preseason opener is just one more strike against a defense that didn't need any bad news. It is going to be hard enough for veteran defensive stars like Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney to learn new positions.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had one of the best offseasons of any NFL team in 2012, but was it strong enough for them to go from a team that lost its final 10 games to becoming a team that can make the playoffs in 2012?
I just don't think they improved enough.
How much did Tampa Bay need to improve? The Bucs gave up the most points in the NFL last year. Their overall defense ranked 30th. They were dead last against the rush in 2011, and their rushing offense ranked 30th. They basically got beat up on both sides of the ball at the line of scrimmage.
In addition, the Bucs have to compete against New Orleans and Atlanta, which have proven to be annual contenders in the NFC. Carolina is looking to take a step up behind Cam Newton and an improved defense.
In a stacked division, reaching the playoffs this year just doesn't seem very likely.
There is no doubt the Bucs improved their team. With the addition of Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and a draft class that included talented Mark Barron and Doug Martin, the Buccaneers are going to be making more noise in a year or two.
The team needs to learn how to win again, and the direction and discipline that it receives from new head coach Greg Schiano will be a positive.
I see the Buccaneers as being ready to contend in either 2013 or 2014, but this year is just too early. They have too much growing and learning to do this year before they can make that big of a jump.
Thanks for checking out the presentation.