We say we hate them, but they drive the NFL news cycle—especially in the offseason. Things we collectively "know" as a football culture, and things we expect. Sure, the world of sports is a surprising place, but eventually when you analyze and dissect everything, things are going to start making sense, right?
If anyone didn't realize this by now, 2013 should provide all of the evidence one needs to figure out that predictions and speculation is all just educated guessing—by fans and media alike. Sometimes we come out looking like geniuses (like when I predicted Tom Brady's pressure-packed season).
Other times, not so much.
As fun as it is to take a look at the tea leaves before the season, let's circle back and realize where we went horribly wrong.
It was the refrain from St. Louis fans on every single article talking about contenders, good offseasons or anything to do with Seattle or San Francisco. Mentioning the NFC West without talking about the Rams was near blasphemy.
It made a lot of sense, though.
The Rams defense was frenetic between stifling and stinking in 2012. Another year for some of those young stars, and things had to go in the right direction. The offensive infusion had to help in a big way as well. Receiver Tavon Austin was handed the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award prematurely by many smart NFL analysts.
Now? Austin is a forgotten man in the Rams' tired offense, and the defense is as "shoddy" as the offensive coordinator.
It just sounds good, doesn't it? Say it without giggling, and you're either dead inside or a New York Jets fan (which may also mean that you're dead inside).
A lot of us thought that Mark Sanchez would be the quarterback for at least this season—that idea was scrapped thanks to injury. Most of us thought that both the offense and defense would prove underwhelming.
Instead, Rex Ryan has put together one of the best defensive performances of his career, and young players like Sheldon Richardson have reinvigorated the unit. If Geno Smith gives the offense anything, it could be enough to win on any given Sunday.
The Jacksonville Jaguars (sort of) made history when they announced that Denard Robinson would be an "offensive weapon" rather than the traditional running back or wide receiver role that many expected him to play.
This conjured up all sorts of dreams and excitement about how they would use Robinson and how effective he could be in an offense that is otherwise stagnant.
So, about that...
On the season, Robinson has five rushing attempts for negative-one yards and a fumble. He's not just a forgotten man in the offense. It's almost as if the Jaguars have conspired not to use him and would rather lean back on the same stagnant attack that has contributed to their five straight double-digit losses.
The Cleveland Browns were set to run a vertical passing offense with Brandon Weeden at quarterback, who has a heck of an arm but poor decision-making. To many, that sounded like a recipe that could lead to a heavy dose of running back Trent Richardson.
Instead, Richardson is now an Indianapolis Colt after being traded for a first-round pick. With the Colts, he's been relatively useless.
Rather than the running game, the Browns found themselves rallying around backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, whose decision-making led the Browns to victory before his injury.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has languished alongside poor quarterback play in Arizona since the retirement of Kurt Warner. He's also seen the departure of teammate Anquan Boldin and the gradual decline of the offensive line to its now-decrepit state.
So, drafting a first-round guard, adding an offensive-minded head coach and bringing in quarterback Carson Palmer should have helped Fitzgerald get back to the top of the NFL. Instead, Palmer and Bruce Arians have both been rocky, while guard Jonathan Cooper has sat out since breaking his leg.
If the Cardinals plan on winning games this season, they'll do so on the back of their defense. That's bad news for Fitzgerald and the offense that may need to go back to the drawing board again this offseason.
Personally, it's been a while since I've been high on the Steelers. I think the talent of their drafts has been overblown for quite a few years now, and that's led to the plight they're in now—winless.
That didn't stop the narrative mill from gearing everyone up for a big season from the Steelers and their rookie crop.
Linebacker Jarvis Jones has had some great moments. Yet, as a rookie, he's also had some mistakes. Running back Le'Veon Bell, too, came out of the gate guns ablaze following a foot injury. So, don't think my inference is that they're all bad.
"Too little, too late" is the phrase that keeps popping up, however. Once the rookies integrate more fully—even assuming that's sooner rather than later—is it going to be enough? Will it even come close to "saving" their 2013 season?
As much as I was a skeptic about the Steelers, this was one narrative I bought hook, line and sinker. The idea was that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was so good that he didn't need receivers like Wes Welker or tight ends like Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
He's been beset by drops, incorrect routes and a relative inability to get separation for long stretches of time. The big replacement for Gronkowksi, Zach Sudfeld, was waived after poor play and is now a New York Jet.
The Patriots are still 4-1, so it's not as if the bottom dropped out, but Brady should be looking forward to having receiver Danny Amendola and Gronkowski back to full strength in future weeks.
Ugh, the Atlanta Falcons.
In 2012, the Falcons already had a great offense, but they seemed one component away from an absolutely perfect unit. Running back Michael Turner was completely ineffective and gave the Falcons little on the ground, even as defenses were spread thin trying to cover receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White.
In reality, the Falcons are 13th in scoring offense and have found themselves unable to buy touchdowns in the red zone. White and Jackson have been dinged up, and the offensive line play has been atrocious.
There's plenty of season left, but it's clear that nothing has been perfect or unstoppable about the Falcons offense.