Every NFL Team's Worst Nightmare Next Season
While hope tends to spring eternal in the NFL, so does pessimism. Every season a team will live out the dream of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and becoming Super Bowl champions.
However, that fact only highlights the realization that for 31 other teams something went wrong. Perhaps it was an injury to a star quarterback, an incompetent coaching decision or an overall lack of talent in key areas.
Dreams turn to nightmares awfully quick in the NFL and at the midpoint of the 2012 season it feels appropriate to take a glimpse towards 2013.
What is the worst nightmare possible for each franchise next year?
Let's find out, starting in the desert...
Arizona Cardinals: A Skelton-Kolb QB Battle
While the Arizona Cardinals have one of the top defenses in the NFL, they are consistently held back by the quarterback position.
Kevin Kolb and John Skelton form a duo of increasing incompetence and it is imperative that the Cardinals find a new signal-caller for next season.
If Arizona is forced to go through another season with Skelton and Kolb battling for the top spot on the depth chart the team is destined to fail.
Atlanta Falcons: Having to Answer for Playoff Failures
The Atlanta Falcons are consistently one of the most exciting teams in football. This fact has again been evidenced in 2012 as they have jumped out to a 7-0 record to start the season.
The problem with the Falcons comes from their inability to perform in the playoffs. Matt Ryan has this stigma of not being able to step up when it matters (not winning a single playoff game will do that).
If Atlanta enters next season having fallen apart yet again in the postseason it will be almost unbearable. This is the best roster the Falcons have produced in years, and 2012 is Atlanta's best chance at postseason success.
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis Retires
When anyone thinks of the Baltimore Ravens they immediately think of Ray Lewis. He is the undoubted heart and soul of the team and the organization.
At some point Lewis will have to retire, and after a season ending injury this year, the finish line is clearly in sight
The 17-year veteran is one of the greatest linebackers of all time, and while he must inevitably move on, it will be a tough day for Baltimore when he does.
Buffalo Bills: Chan Gailey Returns as Head Coach
Chan Gailey has proven on multiple occasions that he cannot succeed as a head coach in the NFL.
His career record sits at 31-40 and his record with the Buffalo Bills is a paltry 13-26. Buffalo has failed to rise to the top of the AFC East crop despite great depth and the added talents of Stephon Gilmore and Mario Williams this offseason.
The Bills need a change in leadership and another year of Gailey would mean another wasted season spent spinning the teams proverbial wheels.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton Stays in a Slump
The proverbial "sophomore slump" has struck Cam Newton in the worst way. The Carolina Panthers' QB is playing nowhere near the level of his rookie campaign, and his team is faltering as a result.
Instead of "Superman," fans have been treated to a despondent and lethargic QB that appears bored and disinterested.
His press conferences are a mess, he has thrown eight interceptions compared to just five touchdowns and Carolina is just 1-6.
Another season like this next year and Newton's job may be at risk.
Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler Still Has No Time to Throw
If it were not for the Arizona Cardinals no one would question if the Chicago Bears had the worst offensive line in football.
QB Jay Cutler rarely, if ever, has time to drop back and survey the field before being blasted by an oncoming defensive end.
Chicago's offense has found success in spite of the O-line's struggles, but if problems are not addressed before next season there will be serious complaints for the Bears.
The current unit is failing and will be a big hurdle to overcome on the road to the Super Bowl.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Dalton-Green Connection Fails
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have quickly formed one of the most potent QB-WR duos in all of the NFL.
The two have hooked up for 14 touchdowns and 1,693 yards over the last year and a half, helping to elevate the Cincinnati Bengals to the status of legitimate player within the AFC.
If for some reason that chemistry was lost next season the Bengals would collapse upon themselves. No other Bengals receiver has more than two touchdowns or 346 yards receiving and none possess the skills and abilities of Green.
Cincinnati has set itself up to be competitive for the foreseeable future, but success hinges on the Dalton-Green connection.
Cleveland Browns: Another QB Gets Added to the Mix
Colt McCoy is still only in his third season and Brandon Weeden is only a rookie. What happens if the new management of the Cleveland Browns decide neither QB is the right path for the organization to take next season.
Starting from scratch with a fresh faced signal-caller would mean yet another year of transition and rebuilding for a Cleveland franchise that seems to always be doing just that.
Fans are tired of rebuilding. Another QB next season would only frustrate them to unthinkable levels.
Dallas Cowboys: Jason Garrett Remains on the Sidelines
Is there possibly a worse nightmare for Dallas Cowboys fans than seeing Jason Garrett wearing a headset again in 2013?
Garrett has done nothing to assert himself as the right guy for the Cowboys' head coaching position and the team has been mediocre at best again in 2012.
Fans do not support him, players do not seem to respond to him and the situation only grows worse weekly in Dallas.
Bringing Garrett back next season would simply be unacceptable.
Denver Broncos: San Diego Lives Up to Its Potential
Right now the Denver Broncos are the class of the AFC West division, but they are not the most talented.
That distinction belongs to the perennially underachieving San Diego Chargers. A team that blew a 24-point halftime lead against the Broncos earlier this season on Monday Night Football.
The Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs are not yet ready to compete for the divisional crown, which means the Peyton Manning era in Denver will see many AFC West titles as long as the Chargers continue to play below their talent level.
Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford Wins the Madden Cover Vote
Maybe this whole "Madden Cover Jinx" is for real. If anyone was going to be able to break the curse it was the most dominant wide receiver in all of football.
Instead, Calvin Johnson has caught zero touchdown passes from Matthew Stafford this season. The pair seem out of sync and are struggling to beat the constant double and triple teams that defenses are throwing "Megatron's" way.
This may just be good scheming, or perhaps that pesky cover jinx is really at play. If so, the Lions can ill-afford another season spent under the curse's spell.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers Gets Injured
There is simply nothing that could possibly happen to the Green Bay Packers that could even compare to an Aaron Rodgers injury in terms of a nightmare scenario.
Rodgers is the reigning MVP and the focal point of everything the Packers do. Green Bay has been able to get by without a running game in recent years because Rodgers is so prolific as a passer.
If he went down, the team would be forced to turn to the services of Graham Harrell.
How's that for a nightmare?
Houston Texans: Another Missed Playoff Opportunity
Much like the Atlanta Falcons, the Houston Texans are among the best teams in all of football. Similarly, they have also failed to make much of a dent in the postseason.
Yes, the circumstances have been different and Houston's 2011 playoff run featured T.J. Yates at QB, but failing to make a substantial playoff run in 2012 would be devastating to the Texans.
The AFC South is not even competitive with Houston right now and the Texans are one of the most complete teams in the league. The time is nigh to put it all together.
Indianapolis Colts: Vick Ballard Remains the Starting RB
The Indianapolis Colts absolutely, positively, must address the RB position at some point in the near future.
Having Vick Ballard and Donald Brown atop the depth chart forms one of the weakest one-two punches in recent memory.
The Colts have a developing, young team with solid pieces in place almost everywhere except running back. Offensive balance is essential to Andrew Luck's growth and another year of Ballard/Brown is not going to accomplish anything.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert Continues to Disappoint
It is far too early to label Blaine Gabbert a bust. He has shown flashes of potential and is getting better at standing tall in the pocket and delivering accurate throws to his receivers.
However, he has largely struggled and looked panicked when defenders get anywhere near him. The Jacksonville Jaguars are not a contender in the AFC South right now and the team is failing to win games.
Gabbert's development is proving to be a longer process than hoped and he is struggling to keep the Jaguars in most contests.
If he does not show much year-to-year progress it may be time again to look for a franchise QB in Jacksonville.
Kansas City Chiefs: Matt Cassel Returns as QB
By a show of hands, how many Kansas City Chiefs fans are happy with Matt Cassel as the starting quarterback?
Sounds accurate, and the fact that Brady Quinn was given a chance to start this season illustrates just how poorly Cassel has played.
The Chiefs have a roster loaded with talent, just waiting for a QB that can complete the puzzle. If that QB does not arrive in 2013 there may be anarchy in Kansas City.
Miami Dolphins: The WR Position Is Not Addressed in the Offseason
Outside of Brian Hartline and Davone Bess, the Miami Dolphins are almost completely void of talent at the wide receiver position.
The Dolphins have the potential for an exciting offense led by Ryan Tannehill and Reggie Bush, but more receiving weapons are essential.
Miami ranks just 23rd in the NFL in passing yards per game and another season with few vertical threats and downfield targets would be a serious nightmare in South Beach.
Minnesota Vikings: Losing AP...Again
All of the positive momentum the Minnesota Vikings offense has gained this season is based on the return of Adrian Peterson to the lineup.
Peterson is one of the best running backs in football and forces defenses to load up the box in ways they would normally never even consider.
The Vikings have seen what happens when he is injured and forced to miss time. It stunted the development of QB Christian Ponder and rendered Minnesota a weak football team.
The Vikings have filled in some gaps since last season, but if Peterson went down again next year the team would still be unable to succeed in his absence.
New England Patriots: The AFC East Catches Up
The New England Patriots have stood atop the AFC East pedestal for some time now. The New York Jets have made swipes at the leader, but no one has truly been able to supplant the Patriots as the cream of the division crop.
What happens if someone like the Dolphins or Bills do just that in 2013?
Every AFC East roster has plenty of skill, but right now the other teams in the division fail to put it all together as well as New England.
For a team that has been atop the mountain so long, would they know how to climb back up after falling?
New Orleans Saints: A Repeat Performance of 2012
The New Orleans Saints are not themselves in 2012.
Be it due to the "Bountygate" scandal and its lingering effects or the simple fact that the head coach is not on the sidelines, New Orleans is a poor team right now.
Defensively they cannot stop a nosebleed and teams are embarrassing the Saints in ways not seen in recent years.
The nightmare for New Orleans next season would be to have Sean Payton return and be unable to reverse the downward spiral.
It sounds improbable, but it is possible.
New York Giants: Tom Coughlin Retires
There was a time when Tom Coughlin's job was in constant jeopardy from week-to-week.
When the New York media despised the Giants' coach and believed he could not connect with his players or produce a Super Bowl contender.
Well, after two Lombardi Trophies those talks have quieted considerably. Now, the inverse reaction is common. The 66-year-old coach is a proven winner and everyone knows he is the right man for the Giants.
New York would be a completely different football team without him on the sidelines next season.
New York Jets: The Continuation of the Mark Sanchez Era
Instead, let's focus on the fact the Sanchez has failed to assert himself as a quality starting QB at the NFL level and is the least accurate passer in the NFL right now.
The Jets are consistently hampered by his inability to sustain long drives and make good throws. With the type of defense the Jets have it is unacceptable to be mediocre.
New York cannot afford another year of "development" from Sanchez.
Oakland Raiders: The Offensive Line Remains the Same
If it were possible to pinpoint one main problem with the Oakland Raiders right now, it would be the porous play of the offensive line.
Yes, Darren McFadden has looked sluggish at times and Carson Palmer has made some bad decisions. But the offensive line is not giving either of these guys any help and is increasingly unreliable.
The AFC West is a division begging to be competitive and the Raiders are not too far off, but changes must be made along the offensive front.
Keeping the current line in tact will mean a wasted 2013 season in Oakland.
Philadelphia Eagles: Another Year of Vick/Reid
Whether just one or both of these men needs to exit the organization after this season is up for debate, but the fact that something needs to change is not.
Vick has not been able to lead the Eagles offense to sustained success and Reid has failed to deliver any Super Bowls in his 13-year long tenure.
Eagles fans have been about as patient as possible with this pairing, but at some point results are demanded. That time is now.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Running Backs Continue to Get Injured
The Pittsburgh Steelers have an underrated passing game that constantly has to compensate for the unbalanced running game the team possesses.
The rushing attack does not fail because of lack of talent, but because the RBs get injured frequently.
Start Rashard Mendenhall spends more time with a clipboard than a helmet and backup Isaac Redman has had issues this season as well.
Jonathan Dwyer has had moments of brilliance in their absence, but injuries are a serious detriment to the Pittsburgh offense.
These kinds of things are unpredictable and unavoidable, but the Steelers could really do without more RB injuries next season.
San Diego Chargers: Norv Turner Somehow Keeps His Job
Norv Turner has been on the hot seat as far back as anyone can remember. Every season he leads an underperforming San Diego Chargers team and every season he somehow ends up back on the sidelines.
It can't happen again in 2013, right?
The Chargers sit at just 3-4 on the season. One of those losses featured a second half collapse that squandered a 24-point lead on Monday Night Football.
Players do not respond to Turner and fans are fed up with the paltry results his team keeps providing.
Seeing him on the sidelines may not only induce nightmares, but also a riot.
San Francisco 49ers: The NFL Outlaws Everything but the Shotgun Formation
The San Francisco 49ers are utilizing a formula long since abandoned by most of the NFL.
They play smash mouth football predicated on running the ball between the tackles and play action. Alex Smith completes accurate short-to-intermediate passes and Frank Gore gets tough yards up the middle.
Combine those efforts with an elite defense and an instant recipe for success has been crafted.
If the league somehow banned taking snaps from under center next season, the 49ers would be in a world of trouble.
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson Fails to Develop
It came as quite a shock when rookie Russell Wilson was able to win the starting QB job for the Seattle Seahawks and beat out high priced free agent, Matt Flynn, in the process.
However, Wilson has had large portions of ineffectiveness in his new role as the starter. It is tough to criticize a rookie quarterback with 10 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions, but Wilson also has five games of under 200 yards passing.
Having Marshawn Lynch in the backfield is a great asset to Seattle, but a more potent offensive attack is needed in order to become a real force in the NFC.
If Wilson does not improve in 2013 the Seahawks could get left behind by the conference.
St. Louis Rams: Steven Jackson's Replacement Fails
Steven Jackson has been a staple of the St. Louis Rams' offensive attack for nearly a decade.
However, he is clearly leaving either at the trade deadline or at the end of the 2012 season. Daryl Richardson has already seen an increased role in recent weeks and has performed admirably.
Still, is he the real successor to Jackson on the Rams' depth chart?
St. Louis has had a consistent and dependable presence in the backfield for years. The Rams rely on that presence to keep the offense balanced and versatile.
If Richardson or someone else does not pan out, St. Louis may be caught with its tail between its legs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronde Barber Refuses to Retire
Okay, that headline is somewhat of a joke because Barber is 37 years old, but the truth is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secondary has been abysmal this season. It ranks 31st in the NFL and is allowing over 300 passing yards per game.
However, Ronde Barber has actually not been a main culprit for the secondary's failures. By moving to safety, Barber no longer has to run stride for stride with receivers and is free to roam the field. He has three interceptions this season and has been solid covering deep portions of the field.
The nightmare here lies in Tampa Bay not addressing the secondary as a whole and allowing this unit to be obliterated on a week-to-week basis next season.
Something needs to change and while that may not mean the retirement of Barber, there are clearly players that need to be replaced.
Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson Stays Inconsistent
Inside of Chris Johnson is an elite running back that once rushed for over 2,00 yards in a single season.
Unfortunately, that player only shows up occasionally these days. The Tennessee Titans running back is a constant headache, rushing for anywhere from 10 to 190 yards in a two week span.
The Titans cannot afford these inconsistencies moving forward and Johnson often seems to be stumping the growth of the offense.
However, there is no real alternative on the depth chart and Johnson is supremely talented. Will he ever be consistent again? Can he approach 2,000 yards once more?
The headache and the nightmare have already begun.
Washington Redskins: Anything Happens to RG3
Robert Griffin III is the clear present and future of the Washington Redskins organization.
A team that has searched for an answer at the quarterback position for over a decade finally has a long-term franchise QB in place. RG3 is a dynamic player with abilities that can transcend the QB position.
Losing him for any amount of time and for any reason would be absolutely crushing to the Redskins. They have at least put in place a solid backup plan by drafting Kirk Cousins, but Cousins is not RG3.