All Eyes On You: Players, Coaches, and GMs Under Pressure In 2010 (AFC Version)
The 2010 NFL season ready to kick off in less than 48 hours. The tension no doubt is high for all teams.
Expectations are lofty, goals seem unattainable, but positive results are expected.
If not, drastic moves could be made not just next offseason, but middle of this season.
This is a list of each person per team who I believe will be under the most pressure. Some are quite obvious, others are surprising. So, without further ado...
Baltimore Ravens: Anquan Boldin
Boldin got what he wanted, an exit from Arizona and a rich contract he desired for several years.
For the last two seasons, it was contended all Baltimore needed was a No. 1 receiver to take them over the top. Baltimore got one in Boldin…or was Boldin protected by Larry Fitzgerald and Ken Whisenhunt?
There is no doubting Boldin’s physical gifts and toughness, but can he be the man when everyone in the stadium knows Joe Flacco will throw him the ball?
To make matters even tougher for Boldin, the defenses in the AFC North are much better than the ones in the NFC West.
Boldin must prove the Ravens right for making the trade and take his new team over the top.
Anything less than a Super Bowl berth will be considered a disappointment.
Buffalo Bills: Trent Edwards
Even starting last season, Bills fans have clamored for a new QB. Even Hall of Famer Jim Kelly stated a new QB for the Bills was needed, and the new QB should not be from California, which was an indirect insult to Edwards.
For Edwards, this will be his last shot with the Bills.
To make matters worse, Edwards will work with a horrible offensive line, an exciting rookie with no real position in CJ Spiller, and one good receiver in Lee Evans.
The Bills are not expected to make any realistic run to the playoffs, but a good season from Edwards and the Ryan Mallett/Jake Locker/Andrew Luck talks will cease.
Cincinnati Bengals: Terrell Owens
Owens is joining a team that won the AFC North last season.
While Owens joined the team with the blessing of QB Carson Palmer, fellow WR Chad Johnson/Ochocinco, and coach Marvin Lewis, the pressure will be on Owens to be on his best behavior and help the Bengals get back to the playoffs.
Palmer will also feel the pressure in the huddle whenever one of his two WRs are not getting the ball as much as they would like, and it will be up to Palmer to keep the even keel.
Something to consider for Owens is this: it has been since the 2002 season when Owens had his last playoff win.
Since then, Owens has been marred by controversy, five different teams, and four different QBs thrown under the bus.
This will likely be Owens’s final chance in the NFL, given his age and past history.
Cleveland Browns: Eric Mangini
The Browns managed to finish the 2009 season with four wins in a row, thus saving Mangini’s job and giving him another chance. However, Mangini might be a lame duck given the situation in 2010.
He will have a journeyman QB with a penchant for throwing a lot of interceptions under center, a defense that was the worst in the league last season, and offensive skill players who likely would not even make most teams’ rosters.
The Browns’ best player is still a kick returner and that is never a good thing.
New president Mike Holmgren gave Mangini another year but if Mangini does not field a competitive team, Mangini could be fired by Thanksgiving, giving Holmgren the chance to bring in one of his disciples like Jon Gruden to coach the team in the future.
For Mangini, it is very simple: win in 2010, you stay. Given the talent level in Cleveland and the competition in the AFC North, that is highly unlikely.
Denver Broncos: Josh McDaniels
McDaniels, “the boy wonder” coach, jettisoned all the guys he did not want, from Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Tony Scheffler.
This Broncos team is now his team, meaning all the weight and pressure will be on him.
It was McDaniels’s call to draft Tim Tebow, a player which many league sources believed was no better than a third-round pick, in the first round (and given his performance in preseason, it is tough to argue against them).
McDaniels will also miss pass rusher Elvis Dumervil this season, which will of course make his job tougher. Denver without a doubt is in rebuilding mode but that is no excuse for not putting up wins.
Of course as long as Denver plays competitively and the longer Tebow sits on the bench, McDaniels’s job I believe will be safe.
Now if Tebow goes into the fire too early due to injury or ineffectiveness of Kyle Orton, then McDaniels will sign his own fate.
If Pat Bowlen could fire his friend and two-time Super Bowl winner Mike Shanahan for an 8-8 season, I doubt Bowlen will have trouble firing a young and brash coach who got what he asked for and still had a losing season.
Houston Texans: Brian Cushing
Last season, Cushing was an integral part of one of the most underrated front sevens in the league. With Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Cushing, the Texans almost made the playoffs (Schaub, Andre Johnson, also helped too).
This offseason though, news came out that Cushing failed a drug test and he will miss the first four games of the season.
Rumors of steroid use have followed Cushing since his days in high school in Bergen County, N.J.
The outrage of the Cushing drug test was so great that the writers who vote for the Rookie of the Year wanted to do a revote.
Even more outrageous was Cushing’s claim that his positive test was due to overtraining.
Cushing has 12 games this season to prove that he is not a chemically enhanced athlete, but the real deal.
Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning
Manning has put up monstrous numbers and is on pace to break every passing record.
However, his playoff record is still pedestrian and his performance in Super Bowl XLIV in the second half was not very good.
Manning still has excellent skill players around him in Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne, and Joseph Addai. However, the playoff record still sticks out.
Manning is also in the final year of his contract and money has seldom been Manning’s motivation (all those commercials notwithstanding).
While Manning does have a Super Bowl ring, another ring would guarantee his legacy as one of the five best QBs ever to play the game.
Jacksonville Jaguars: GM Gene Smith
There has been some very questionable moves made by Smith, such as drafting Tyson Alualu, a guy he could have had in the third round, among other decisions.
He traded away Quentin Groves before he really got a chance to learn the Jaguars’ system.
The Kirk Morrison trade could work out well for Smith, but if Alualu does not work out, this will be seen as one of the worst drafts ever for the Jaguars.
Don’t get me wrong, David Garrard is also on the hot seat, as is coach Jack Del Rio. All three (Del Rio, Smith, Garrard) could be out by the end of the year in some fashion.
Surprisingly, the Jaguars were in the playoff race all the way until the final week of the season last year but this season, I highly doubt that will be the case.
The Jaguars have no real pass rush, the secondary is overrated with Reggie Nelson, and the offense is way too reliant on Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Jaguars will be lucky to win six games this season.
Kansas City Chiefs: Matt Cassel
After a magical 2008 season, Cassel had a pedestrian 2009 season, playing often like the QB who never started in college or in the NFL until Tom Brady went down with a torn ACL.
With “genius” Charlie Weis back in the NFL to guide him as the new offensive coordinator, Cassel will be on the hot seat.
However, Cassel does not have the offensive weapons he did with the Patriots. Thomas Jones has thus far been a disappointment in preseason and it is anyone’s guess as to if Jamaal Charles can carry a bigger load this season.
The Chiefs also never replaced Tony Gonzalez and their receiving corps needs serious upgrade.
If Cassel does not have a good season, you can no doubt expect the Chiefs to get into the Andrew Luck/Jake Locker/Christian Ponder/Ryan Mallett sweepstakes in 2011.
Miami Dolphins: Brandon Marshall
He got the two things he wanted, which were far away from Josh McDaniels and the richest contract ever for a receiver. The question is, did he deserve the latter?
After all, Marshall might have put up numbers that won fantasy leagues, but they were not good enough to win the AFC West. Marshall has never played in a playoff game.
Considering that the AFC East is not as strong as many would believe, Miami has just a good of a chance to win the division as anyone (save for the Bills).
Marshall is a physical talent but still needs to grow up and also be healthy. Bill Parcells would have never pulled the trigger on the Marshall deal if he did not feel Marshall was worth the trouble.
Now Marshall has to lead the Dolphins back to the playoffs this season to prove his worth.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady
Brady is a former NFL MVP and three-time Super Bowl winner. However, it has been over five years since the Patriots won their last Super Bowl.
Last season ended in shocking disaster as the Baltimore Ravens destroyed the Patriots in Foxboro behind a great running game and three Brady interceptions.
It was the first time in over 30 years that the Patriots lost a home playoff game. That loss had to figure into the Patriots’ decision to wait on Brady’s contract situation, as the QB entered 2010 in the final year of his contract.
Now sources say that Brady will sign an extension which will likely guarantee Brady will retire as a Patriot. Brady must realize that the Patriots are on their last legs.
Their overall defense is very young and inexperienced and no one knows how Wes Welker’s reconstructed knee will hold up this season.
It’s also anyone’s guess as to how Randy Moss will react to being in the final year of his deal.
Will Moss show he still has the deep speed and insane athleticism at age 33 or will he be the petulant and childish underachiever he was in his final seasons in Minnesota and Oakland?
Bill Belichick still might be considered a genius, but it will be up to Brady to be the glue that holds the Patriots together.
New York Jets: Rex Ryan
First of all, I want to say I love Rex Ryan. His loud and bombastic comments are downright hilarious. Ryan has the balls to say what every coach in the league wants to say at one time or another.
However, after last season’s improbable playoff run, the extremely active offseason this spring, the Hard Knocks this summer, the spats with Tom Brady, Tony Dungy, and everyone else, all eyes will be on the Jets and Ryan.
One must wonder, do all of these offseason moves, from Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie, and LaDainian Tomlinson, all equate to more wins in 2010?
After all, LT is definitely on the downside of his career, Cromartie is still more athlete than football player, and Holmes will miss the first four games of the season.
On top of that, can Mark Sanchez be trusted to make enough plays and manage the Jets offense effectively?
Unlike last season, the Jets cannot sneak up on teams anymore. Also, now that Darrelle Revis is back, the Jets are officially out of excuses.
Oakland Raiders: Jason Campbell
Campbell was brought in from Washington to start a new era after the JaMarcus Russell Error ended mercifully for Raider Nation.
Some people contended that had the Raiders had just average QB play in 2009, they would have contended for a wild card spot. Well, Campbell has been an average QB during his career with the Redskins.
However, the Old Man (Al Davis) went so far as to compare Campbell to Jim Plunkett, another former first-round pick who had an average career before coming to Oakland and winning two Super Bowls.
That is enormous pressure.
However, Campbell does have a good running attack with Michael Bush and Darren McFadden, and very underrated passing game with Zach Miller, Louis Murphy, and Chaz Schilens.
The Raiders also have a good defense which has the potential to finish in the top 12 this season and one of the best special teams units with Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler.
Just average QB play from Campbell and the Raiders could have their first winning season since 2002.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Bruce Arians
Save for Mike Martz, there has not been an offensive coordinator who faced more criticism than Arians. Many Steeler fans called for his head even during the Steelers’ Super Bowl run.
Even Art Rooney II came out and spoke his piece about the Arians offense. Arians tried to run the Greatest Show on Turf offense with the Worst Protection on Grass offensive line, which is of course never a smart move.
Arians has always been protected by QB Ben Roethlisberger, who put up great numbers in the Arians system but suffered several concussions and numerous dings behind the leaky offensive line.
Roethlisberger cannot protect Arians anymore and given the Steelers will be without Big Ben for the first four games of the season, Arians will likely have to do something he does not like: give the ball to Rashard Mendenhall early and often to protect Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch.
If the Steelers play the 2004 style of offense more than the 2009 style, the Steelers will easily make a deep playoff run.
Arians must conform to the team, not the other way around. Another missed playoff season and Arians will likely be done in the NFL as a play caller.
San Diego Chargers: GM A.J. Smith
AJ Smith got what he wanted. He jettisoned LaDainian Tomlinson (Jets) and Jamal Williams, which means there is only one person left on the Chargers roster who Smith did not bring in or draft (Quentin Jammer).
Smith is holding firm with the Vincent Jackson situation and the Marcus McNeill situation.
Smith won the Shawne Merriman situation but I doubt there will be any winners in the Jackson and McNeill disputes.
Without those two players, the Chargers offense will struggle. Philip Rivers put up amazing numbers in 2009 but could he do it again with rookie Ryan Mathews and former special teams ace Legadu Naanee?
If the Chargers offense does struggle, Smith will get some of the blame.
However, Smith still does have one more out; he could always fire Norv Turner but that would be his absolute last bullet.
Smith has built a good football team but his attitude and relationship (or lack thereof) with the San Diego fan base and media earned him little equity.
One slip up like missing the playoffs and it will be Smith’s head on the chopping block, not LT’s, Marty Schottenheimer’s, or anyone else’s.
Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson
You might think a guy coming off 2,000-yard rushing season can relax a bit but not Johnson. Johnson put himself in this article for several reasons.
One, he demanded the Titans give him a significant pay raise. Two, Johnson claims that his goal this season will be 2,500 yards.
Given Johnson’s speed and the Titans’ reliance on him, I would not roll my eyes and dismiss this claim just yet.
Johnson might talk the most trash but he can back it up. Johnson is a not track guy playing football. He is a football player with track speed.
Though this Titans team is quarterbacked by Vince Young and has a revamped defense, it will only go as far as Chris Johnson can take them.