5 NFL Teams That Could Take a Step Backward in 2013
Last week, we brought you a list of seven NFL teams that could shock the world to various degrees in 2013. Well, logic dictates that when one team increases its win total, another must increase its loss total.
It's springtime, and everyone is uber-optimistic, but we'll have to follow up last week's list with one featuring a handful of teams that could be destined to fall from grace next season.
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The cap-strapped Baltimore Ravens went all out for a Lombardi Trophy in 2012, and it worked. I'd imagine they wouldn't change a thing.
Nonetheless, Baltimore has felt the wrath of cap constraints this offseason.
The Ravens lost defensive starters Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams in free agency and Ray Lewis to retirement. And on offense, their most productive receiver, Anquan Boldin, is also gone.
It's hard to argue that this team didn't get worse in the offseason, and now they'll be going to work with a Super Bowl-sized target on their backs. They play the league's fifth-hardest schedule within a strong division (the young Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals are only going to get better).
By no means should we expect the Ravens to be bad or necessarily mediocre, but this team looks a lot less special now than it did in January and February. And keep in mind that it's been nearly a decade since a team defended its title in this highly competitive league.
2012 record: 10-6
Projected 2013 record: 8-8
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The good news for the Baltimore Ravens is that their top division rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, could be joining them in a 2013 slide. The Steelers were already one of the oldest teams in the league last year, and now they've suffered through an offseason of purging that has left the roster in flux.
Starters James Harrison, Willie Colon, Mike Wallace, Max Starks, Rashard Mendenhall and Keenan Lewis are all gone, which does make them younger but also raises questions in regard to talent.
Top pick Jarvis Jones is one of several talented but unproven players who will be counted on to contribute from the get-go. There's no telling what sort of growing pains might impact Jones, Mike Adams, David DeCastro and Le'Veon Bell, all of whom are under the age of 24.
As we mentioned, the Bengals and Browns might be gaining steam just as Baltimore and Pittsburgh lose some. Cincinnati was a shock-the-world candidate last week, and that young Cleveland team made some positive tweaks to the roster this offseason. That won't help Pittsburgh's cause.
Sure, the Steelers' schedule isn't supposed to be as tough because they finished third in the AFC North last season, but look how much they struggled with the sixth-easiest schedule in football in 2012.
2012 record: 8-8
Projected 2013 record: 6-10
New York Giants
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We're not ready to predict that the New York Giants will fall off the face of the earth, because the NFC East is once again expected to be very tight. What's more, the G-Men haven't finished with a losing record since 2004, Tom Coughlin's first year as head coach.
But there are some clues that New York could be on the verge of a disappointing season in 2013. For starters, the divisional-rival Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles should be better, as we noted last week, and the defending-champion Washington Redskins are only going to keep improving as long as Robert Griffin III's recovery stays on track.
Based on numbers provided by The Dallas Morning News, the Giants were by far the healthiest team in the division last year when it came to starter games missed due to injury. Even if they don't get hit any harder this year, expect some of the NFC East to make up ground in that area.
Also consider that the cap-strapped Giants lost a slew of key veteran contributors in the offseason. Some were replaceable, but there's no guarantee second-year player David Wilson can take over cleanly for Ahmad Bradshaw. Brandon Myers doesn't appear to have the blocking ability Martellus Bennett possesses, and it's hard to find guys who can step in for star-level players like Osi Umenyiora and Kenny Phillips.
Essentially, it looks as though the Giants have lost some ground.
Of course, every time somebody writes something like that about Big Blue, they wind up making that somebody look rather stupid.
2012 record: 9-7
Projected 2013 record: 7-9
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The Atlanta Falcons are still a very, very good football team, and they probably possess more talent than anyone on this list. But it wasn't a good offseason for Atlanta, and the rest of the NFC South appeared to gain ground.
At this point, I don't know if you can call replacing Michael Turner with Steven Jackson and John Abraham with Osi Umenyiora a net loss or net gain. But with Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson and Tyson Clabo all gone, the Falcons will be relying on unproven youngsters like Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford and Lamar Holmes to fill those holes.
So while this is a playoff team that won its division by a ridiculous six games in 2012, expect that gap to close in 2013. The explosive New Orleans Saints have their coach back and have put the bounty scandal in the rear-view mirror, while the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both had solid offseasons.
Plus, the Falcons had the easiest schedule in the NFL last year. This year, based solely on what happened in 2012, they have a middle-of-the-pack schedule. They also had decent luck in the health department, according to Football Outsiders, despite being one of the oldest teams in football. In fact, ESPN.com's Mike Sando projects that the Falcons will have the second-oldest group of starters in the league, which is a little concerning.
Atlanta should return to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, but expect a bumpier road to January this time around.
2012 record: 13-3
Projected 2013 record: 10-6
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The Minnesota Vikings are our wild-card entry here, mainly because, on paper, there's little reason to believe they'll take a step backward in 2013. Adrian Peterson is one of the most dominant players in the game, and that defense is superb.
But it's possible the Vikes were simply in the right place at the right time in 2012. The NFC North-ruling Green Bay Packers were ravaged by injuries, while the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions failed to compete for various reasons despite talented rosters.
The Vikings still have the worst quarterback in the division, and while Christian Ponder had his moments late last year, the game's top running back often bailed him out. The odds don't favor Peterson rushing for 2,000-plus yards again, though, and they probably don't favor Minnesota going 4-2 within that division again, either.
The Vikings made the playoffs last year despite scoring only 31 more points than they allowed, primarily because they won five of their six one-score games. It's possible they were just extremely clutch, but it's also possible that luck was on their side.
It wouldn't surprise us to see the Vikes finish with a losing record in 2013.
2012 record: 10-6
Projected 2013 record: 6-10