2011 NFL Season: The Biggest Weakness for All 32 Teams

Jeff Kayer@thereal_kmanCorrespondent IAugust 20, 2011

2011 NFL Season: The Biggest Weakness for All 32 Teams

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    As we enter the halfway point of the NFL preseason, we are starting to see rosters take shape.  We're seeing which rookies might start, which veterans are acclimating themselves to their teams and who might soon be a cap casualty.

    What we're also seeing is what weaknesses each team has. Whether it's the Green Bay Packers or the Carolina Panthers, every team has a weakness, though obviously some are worse than others. 

    Some of these issues may not even be on the football field. Living up to expectations, new coaches, handling new players—these can all adversely affect a football team. Some weaknesses might not even be that apparent until you take a look at the statistics and how teams have addressed other issues.

    Therefore, let's take a look at the biggest potential weakness and Achilles heel every team has. 

Buffalo Bills: Defensive Line

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    The Buffalo Bills defensive line was far and away the weak point in 2010.  Unable to decide whether they were a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, the Bills had only 27 sacks, the third worst in the league.  Additionally, they gave up by far the most rushing yards with 2,714.  The Broncos were second worst yet gave up 241 less.

    Marcel Dareus was brought in to help reshape the defensive line, but it's very uncertain that he alone can transform the defensive front.

    The team has to hope and pray Shawne Merriman can return to any semblance of the player he was in San Diego. If he can, it will do wonders for the Bills pass rush. 

New York Jets: Wide Receivers ... and Living Up to Expectations

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    The New York Jets are a team that's been to the AFC Championship for the past two years.  The team is being picked by many to get that far if not further.  Their Head Coach Rex Ryan is doing nothing to deflect that attention, but after three years now, are we surprised?

    While the Jets have thus far been able to live up to the expectations that their coach makes, the team has to live in constant fear what will come out of his mouth next.  While the perception is players love to play for Ryan, you didn't exactly see free agents lining up at the door to sign with them.

    There was no bigger example of this than at wide receiver.  Gone are Braylon Edwards, Jericho Cotchery and Brad Smith.  The Jets have only brought in Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason in to replace this production. This is the same Burress who is now 34 and hasn't played football in two years and the same Mason who has no played in this league for 15 years. 

    Because of this, the Jets are going to also need Dustin Keller to turn it up another notch.

    The Jets are relying on Mark Sanchez to take another step forward this year, but if he has no one to throw to, it could very well cost a Jets a chance to make the playoffs, no matter how good their defense is. 

Miami Dolphins: Running Back

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    A lot of people seem to be on the bandwagon that Chad Henne is the biggest problem on the Miami Dolphins.  After all, he did have a very poor 2010 season with 15 touchdowns compared to 19 interceptions. 

    However, it's going to be hard for Henne to throw to anyone if defenses only need to put six or seven guys in the box.  Here's a clue to the Dolphins.  If Reggie Bush is your work horse running back, then you're going to have issues.

    Bush and second round draft pick Daniel Thomas are the only two running backs of note on the roster, and Bush is more of a situational hybrid running back. 

    Without a competent running game, it's likely going to be a long yer in Miami, no matter how good or bad Henne is. 

New England Patriots: Managing Egos

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    Bell Belichick has been known to take on a lot of players with a checkered past.  He's managed to have players like Corey Dillon or even Randy Moss come in and succeed with the team.  However, he may be biting off more than he can chew by bringing in receiver Chad Ochocinco and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.

    The addition of Ochocinco is not nearly as bad as he's never been as big of a problem and is often perceived.  However, one doesn't know how his relationship with "The Hoodie" will go, given that Chad is known as being quite the flamboyant player.   The Patriots franchise is a direct antithesis of that.

    Albert Haynesworth is where the real trouble could occur.  His reputation as being lazy and a distraction to the team is well known, and while all seems fine right now, there's no telling how he'll do with his stay in New England.

    The Patriots are not used to drama.  If these moves go south, who knows what will happen to their season. 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Defensive Backfield

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars are a team that seems to be constantly treading in mediocrity.  The team always seems to toil between 7-9 and 10-6.   This may be the year the Jags break that trend, but it's not going to be in the right direction.

    The team on offense will likely struggle with Mike Sims-Walker gone and Maurice Jones-Drew looking like the punishment he's absorbing is starting to take its toll as he was banged up for the latter part of 2010.

    As bad as their offense is though, their defense will likely be worse, particularly in the defensive backfield where they don't have a single star of note.  

    The Jags last year gave up the fifth worst yards with 5949, and the fifth worst passing yards allowed at 4004 yards.  They also ranked tied for the worst in the league with 18 takeaways.

    While the entire defense is sub-par, their backfield is the worst. 

Houston Texans: Defensive Backfield

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    Like the Jaguars, the Texans have consistently been toiling between 7-9 and 9-7.  For the past three years, analysts and fans have been looking to Houston as a team primed to break out and become a contender. 

    Yet ever year, it seems like they are crippled by the same lingering issue; pass coverage.  Though they drafted several people in the defensive backfield, their biggest free agent signings were Jonathan Joseph and.....Danieal Manning?!

    While Manning has played in a lot of games with the Chicago Bears, he's been in and out of their starting lineup and is best known for his return abilities.

    The Texans are going to be relying on a lot of their new rookies to help turn the team around in pass defense.  Losing out on the Nnamdi Asomugha definitely hurt this team.  

    Houston still has loads of talent, but if they can't improve in the defensive backfield, you could easily see another 8-8 season.  

Tennessee Titans: Defensive Backfield

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    This seems like a broken record at this point doesn't it?

    Like their other AFC South rivals, the Titans had big issues defensing the pass last year giving up the 4th most passing yards last season with 4032.  Even worse, the Titans were one of the worst teams in terms of stopping the opposition on 3rd down.

    The frustrating thing is the Titans do have some playmakers back there, led by the volatile Cortland Finnegan, who is remembered for his brawl with Texans star Andre Johnson last year.

    They also have Chris Hope and Jordan Babineaux at safety, Despite these players, the Titans tremendously underachieved last year. 

    This is a true Achilles Heel as on paper, the Titans were not a bad team.  They had a competent offense, and actually excelled at other areas on defense as they were amongst the league leaders with 40 sacks.  Though the team started 5-2, the only won one of their past eleven games, losing five of those contests by less than ten points.

    It's a new era in Tennessee and if the Titans can improve in the backfield, this team can compete in a division that may be more wide open than people think.  However, if they continue to rank amongst the leagues worst pass defensive teams, it could be another long season for Tennessee. 

Indianapolis Colts: Running Back

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    There are several people who believe the era of dominance the Colts have enjoyed for well over a decade is in danger of coming to an end.  Peyton Manning and his Colts lost to the Jets in the Wild Card round of the playoffs last year and Indianapolis showed more chinks of armor last season than at any other time in the 21st century.

    The Colts were a flawed team, especially when it came to the run both offensively and defensively.  They signed Tommie Harris amongst others to try and shore up the middle of the defensive line unit that was eighth-worst in the NFL, giving up 2032 rushing yards.

    Though they tried to bring in new players on the defensive line, the Colts did virtually nothing to help the offensive running game, except for drafting Delone Carter in the fourth round.  The Colts rushing offense ranked 30th in the league last year and both Joseph Addai and Donald Brown not only had injury issues, but neither look like they can be a true No. 1 back. 

    With Peyton Manning coming back from a neck injury, it's going to be very important for the running game to improve.  If it does not, then the Colts control of first place in the AFC South could be in big trouble. 

Cleveland Browns: Defensive Line

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    The Cleveland Browns seem like they've been rebuilding since the days of Tim Couch.  A new generation is here with Pat Shurmur taking over as head coach, and Dick Jauron is the defensive coordinator who will be changing the defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3.

    Changing a defense always comes with its own risks, but seeing how the unit struggled in 2011, it will hopefully pay dividends.  The team only had 29 sacks last year, was 6th worst in the NFL giving up 2070 yards.   Their passing defense was nothing to write home about either ranking 18th in the league, giving up 220 yards per game. 

    The backfield is actually not too shabby on this team with Joe Haden and TJ Ward leading the way.   Their linebackers look like they could be their weakest spot as guys like Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita would be backups on most other teams.

    However, the defensive line, while incredibly young, could cripple this entire defensive unit this year.  A big reason why the Browns defense failed so much last year was due to the fact opponents wore them down. 

    This could very well happen again this year as their front four will comprise of Marcus Benard (11 sacks in 21 games), Ahtyba Rubin (two sacks in 43 games), Phil Taylor (first round pick), and Jabaal Sheard (second round pick).

    The line may very well grow into a great cohesive unit.  But for 2011, expect the defensive line to be the Browns undoing. 

Baltimore Ravens: Aging Defense

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    The Ravens have been one of the more consistent teams in the league over the past decade.  Though they had some lean years during the end of the Brian Billick era, the team has usually been in or near the playoffs.  This has largely been due to a defense that's been one of the best for well over a decade.

    Though the team's offense is consistently getting better, the identity of this team still lies with the defense.  The problem is, that defense is turning into that car you've owned for years that you love to death, but after 250,000 miles, are also waiting in nervous anticipation for when the wheels come off and the engine blows.

    If you look at the current proposed starting lineup, the average age of the defense is 29.4 years old.  Even worse, many of its best stars are over 30 years old including Ray Lewis (36) and Ed Reed (32).  Even Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs are approaching the dreaded age of 30.

    If the defense can perform to its old abilities, the Ravens can still compete for a division title and perhaps even a Super Bowl.  But one of these years, the wheels will come off.  You can tell the Ravens franchise is nervous about this by the fact they're putting such an emphasis on improving their offense, such as the recent acquisition of Lee Evans.  

    The engine will blow some day for this defense.  The question is....when? 

Cincinnati Bengals: Quarterbacks

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    There is a new era starting in Cincy with Carson Palmer in unofficial retirement, Terrell Owens out of town and Chad Ochocinco taking his talents to New England.  What's left is a team trying to rebuild in many positions, none bigger though than at quarterback.

    Andy Dalton went into the NFL draft hoping he'd get drafted in one of the first two rounds.  I doubt he expected he would be the de facto starting quarterback of an NFL franchise before training camp even opened. 

    That would be an unenviable task for any quarterback taken early in the first round.  Quarterbacks like Sam Bradford are asked to run a franchise immediately.  It's not often a second-round pick is given the same responsibility.

    Dalton may very well turn into a great quarterback, but the early signs show that this guy is going to need some time to develop.  Unfortunately for Cincy, their backup Bruce Gradkowski is unlikely going to inspire a ton of confidence. 

    Just as unfortunate is that Bengals fans are used to watching their team rebuild.  It seems they'll have to continue to endure that frustration for the next several years. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Big Mouth Of Rashard Mendenhall

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of few teams with no glaring weaknesses.  It's no coincidence then that they were in the Super Bowl last year, narrowly losing to the Green Bay Packers.  The Steelers statistically were above average in almost every aspect of the game, but were far and away the best team against the rush defensively.

    Bringing back many of the same players as 2010, the Steelers seemed poise for another year of Super Bowl contention (though it should be noted the last two times they were in a Super Bowl, they missed the playoffs the following season).

    The question is, if you have a Super Bowl contending team, where is the Achilles' Heel?  That would be Rashard Mendenhall and the controversy he sparked following the death of Osama Bin Laden.

    He tweeted. "What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…”

    This commented obviously sparked outrage amongst many and created an unnecessary story during the NFL lockout.  

    Mendenhall is a very talented back but it's clear now he lacks some common sense in terms of what to say in public.  If he were to get himself in trouble with his mouth, the team could be sunk at running back.

    Their backup is Issac Redman, an untested goal line running back who ran the ball 52 times for 247 yards and 0 rushing touchdowns in his first professional season.

    With no real backup, the Steelers balanced offense will rely almost exclusively on Mendenhall's health and his senses. 

Oakland Raiders: Receivers

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    How can anyone ever figure the Raiders out? 

    They finally finish .500 for the first time since their Super Bowl run of 2002 and they fire their coach Tom Cable, were unable to retain any valuable unrestricted free agent, and didn't sign anyone of note.  Where do we start with this team?

    The defense is going to take a hit having lost players like Nnamdi Asomugha, arguably the best cornerback in the league.  However, an underrated, yet tremendous loss to their team was tight end Zach Miller.

    Despite being a tight end, Miller was the best receiver on the team with 60 receptions for 685 yards and five touchdowns.  The next "best" receiver on the team was Louis Murphy with just 41 receptions, 609 yards and two touchdowns.

    The problem is the Raiders didn't replace Miller and didn't sign any known receiver.  Currently the top of their depth chart is Murphy, Jacoby Ford and Darius Heyward-Bey, a former first round pick many worry is a bust. 

    These three receivers combined had 92 receptions last year, only 32 more than Miller had all of last season.

    The Raiders have a dynamic rushing attack, but with no one to catch the ball, opposing defenses can probably but nine men in the box almost every play, and not have to fear the pass. 

San Diego Chargers: Choking Away The Start Of 2011

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    On paper, the San Diego Chargers are as good as anyone in the NFL.  The team ranked first both in terms of points scored and points allowed last year, yet the team finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs.  This was due in no small part to their dismal 2-5 start.

    It would be one thing if this were a one-time occurrence.  But for years, this team has been plagued by slow starts, especially since coach Norv Turner took over. 

    It seems every year, the team starts behind the eight ball, and then has to go on a furious run to finish out the season and make the postseason. Thanks to their division being filled with mediocre teams, they've gotten away with this Jekyll and Hyde type of play.

    Last year though, it bit them in the rear as the Kansas City Chiefs wont he AFC West. 

    If the Chargers can play their first five weeks like they often do their last five, the Chargers could gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  They're that talented.   But if they start 2-3 or 1-4 yet again, the Chargers could find themselves again enjoying the beaches and golf courses of the San Diego area in January. 

Kansas City Chiefs: Youth

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    The Kansas City Chiefs are a team that I believe will go one of two ways.  They can either build off of last year and become a Super Bowl contender.  Or they can seemingly not recover from the beat down they suffered against the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs last year, take several steps back and collapse. 

    I really don't think there is a middle ground with this team.  Why?  Because they're so young.

    The Chiefs were an exciting bunch to watch last year because it was a refreshing to see one of the most well known franchises have a successful youth movement and win the AFC West.  The question is, can this young team figure out how to sustain success, especially with a team like San Diego that will be very excited to dethrone them.

    The team does have a lot of young talent, being led by Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bow on offense and players like Glen Dorsey, Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers on defense.  The team is built for long-term success, but many times a team like this that enjoys some early success takes a turn for the worst the following year.

    What's ironic, is the youth that was so refreshing in KC last year, could contribute to their undoing in 2011. 

Denver Broncos: The Tim Tebow Controversy

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    This is one of the more obvious Achilles' Heels in the NFL this year.  Virtually every former coach and network analyst agree that Kyle Orton is the best man for the job in Denver.  Despite the fact that Orton seems to be involved in a quarterback controversy every year, he almost always produced above-average results.

    That's not stopping fans across the country demanding that Tim Tebow be named the starter.  Despite being the back-up, Tebow led the NFL in jersey sales last year.   Though he appears to lack the skills to be a typical NFL quarterback, people still want him to be in the lineup.

    While the coaching staff is steadfastly refusing to make Tebow the starter, the fact remains every little mistake Orton makes will be picked apart with a fine tooth comb by Broncos fans.

    It doesn't take a genius to realize that every time Orton struggles at home, the fans will be chanting for Tebow to get in the game.

    The Broncos have a pretty weak team as it is, but this controversy could further damage what will likely be another long season in Denver.

Dallas Cowboys: Pass Defense

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    The Dallas Cowboys are a very interesting team this year.  Despite the fact they are "America's Team", there is not a lot of talk about them heading into 2011.  Tony Romo is coming back from a serious injury as is Dez Bryant. 

    Despite these injuries, the offense likely won't be the concern.  What will be a concern is a defense led by new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Jets coach Rex Ryan's brother.  The Dallas pass defense was abysmal in 2010, giving up 3894 pass yards, 7th worst in the NFL.

    The team also gave up a league-worst 33 touchdown passes last year.  The blame could largely be placed on their defensive backfield.  While they have talent back there, such as cornerback Michael Jenkins, they still were sub-par defending receivers. They signed safety Abram Elam who previously played with Ryan in Cleavland. 

    The Dallas pass rush was an unexpected weakness.  Though they have one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL in DeMarcus Ware, the team ranked only 16th in the league with 35 sacks. 

    The Cowboys have the pieces in place to get back to the playoffs.  But if Rob Ryan can't help improve a pass defense that ranked 26th in the league in 2010, the 'Boys may miss the playoffs a second straight year. 

Washington Redskins: Quarterbacks

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    You wouldn't be the first person if you asked coach Mike Shanahan what the heck he was doing at the quarterback position.  He used a 2011 second round pick on Donovan McNabb, who turned out to be a complete bust in D.C.

    Instead of signing a new quarterback, or drafting a rookie, Shanahan has decided to use either Rex Grossman or John Beck as his starting quarterback.  For Redskin fans, many are yearning for McNabb to come back compared to the two they have now vying for the starting spot.

    Of the two, only Grossman has had any semblance of a good season.  Grossman showed greatness in parts of the 2006 season in which he led the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl.   His career since then has largely been serving as a backup in Houston and Washington.

    John Beck?  He's hardly played in any NFL games, starting only five in his four year career.  No one knows much about Beck, other than the fact he's usually held clipboards.  

    The funny thing is the Redskins brought in some pretty good talent at almost every other position on the team.  Either Mike Shanahan is a genius, or his refusal to bring in a true starting quarterback will sink this teams season. 

New York Giants: Turnovers

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    If you look at the numbers the Giants should have been a sure fire playoff team.  7th in points for, 16th in points against.

    The team was 4th in the NFL with 31 touchdown passes, and sixth best with 17 rushing touchdowns.  The offensive line was excellent in giving up only 16 sacks, the best in the NFL.  Like the Chargers who themselves looked great on paper, the Giants watched the playoffs from home. 

    Why do you ask?  Turnovers.

    The Giants led the league with 11 lost fumbles and were second worst in the league with 25 interceptions thrown by Eli Manning.  If it wasn't a meltdown of epic proportions in blowing a 31-7 lead to Philadelphia, it was these turnovers costing the Giants games.

    New York has a lot of talent on this roster, though their defense has a lot of stars with a history of injuries.  However, if this team commits anywhere near 36 turnovers in 2011, the Giants will be doomed to fail once again.

Philadelphia Eagles: Managing Expectations

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    Eagle fans were thrilled when prized free agent Nnamdi Asomugha took his talents to Philadelphia...as well as about a dozen other free agents. 

    Yes that's right, the city of brotherly love was the destination of the summer if you were a free agent this year. Other players like Vince Young, Steve Smith and Ronnie Brown joined the offense.  Meanwhile the Eagles traded former franchise quarterback hopeful Kevin Kolb to the Cardinals and received a second round pick and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in return.

    Many consider the Eagles the Miami Heat of the NFL, which in truth, is an unfair comparison. 

    Nevertheless, this is the type of pressure being heaped on Philly this season.  Lesser teams before the Eagles have had this kind of pressure and fell on their face.

    You need but only look at Minnesota last year.  Coming oh so close to the Super Bowl in 2009, the Vikings were picked by many to reach the big game last season.  But thanks to Brett Favre throwing the season away (literally), and some injuries to key players, the 2010 season was a disaster.

    No one doubts the talent Philadelphia has.  But one has to wonder how the team will react to the pressure if they struggle out of the gates.  Will this team show a champion's resiliency?  Or will they add themselves to a long line of teams that fail to meet expectations? 

New Orleans: Over-Reliance on Drew Brees

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    The New Orleans Saints are one of the best teams in the NFC thanks in large part to the great play of quarterback Drew Brees.  Since coming to the bayou, Brees has resurrected what was a dormant franchise culminating in their emotional 2009 Super Bowl championship. 

    Though the Saints managed to get to the playoffs, they were upset in the Wild Card round by the NFC West "champion" Seattle Seahawks, who got into the postseason despite a 7-9 record.  The loss put an end to a season that was obviously disappointing for the Saints.

    People have been figuring out why the offense lacked the spark it had in 2009.  Well, look no further than how much more frequently Brees was counted on to lead his team to victory.

    While Brees has obviously been the leader of this team on and off the field since his arrival, the offense was actually quite balanced in 2009.  Breed through the ball 544 times that season ranking just 15th in the league.  Meanwhile the team ran the ball 408 times, seventh most in the league. 

    Now let's take a look in 2010.  Brees threw the ball 661 times, second in the NFL, while the team ran it just 380 times, the third fewest in the league.

    That imbalance hurt the entire offense as they scored less points and Brees threw a lot more interceptions.  Now, part of this can be blamed on the fact the Saints sustained injuries to almost every starting running back throughout the season.  Nevertheless, the team called on Brees more than ever to bail them out.

    The Saints coaching staff needs to look at states like these and make sure they do their best to bring back the balance they succeeded with in 2009.  If they don't, the Saints may very well find themselves fighting with teams like the Buccaneers, Bears, Giants and Cowboys for a pot in the playoffs. 

Atlanta Falcons: Linebackers

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    The Atlanta Falcons surprised many at how successful they were in the 2010 regular season, going 13-3 and clinching home field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

    That advantage turned into a nightmare though when the Packers came into Atlanta and ran the home team off the field in a  48-21 rout.  Instead of trying to fix their pass defense, the Falcons doubled down on their offense, trading a ton of draft picks to the Cleavland Browns so they could draft wide receiver Julio Jones.

    It's easy to wonder if the Falcons strategy is to merely win in a track meet if they play a team like the Packers.  Many people are going to question the talent of the Falcons defensive backfield and there are obvious concerns they can't keep up with pass happy teams. But they did bring in former Pro Bowler Dunta Robinson to play along new star Brent Grimes.

    While far from perfect, the signing of Robinson could be a big help to the backfield.  While cornerbacks and safeties may have their struggles, the one area that could cost the Falcons a shot at the Super Bowl is their linebackers.

    Currently, the slated starters are veteran Mike Peterson, Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon.  Together, they combined for only 219 tackles, four forced fumbles and three interceptions.  For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, those statistics leave a lot to be desired. 

    The team drafted Akeem Dent in the third round this offseason, but it's unlikely he'll start this year. 

    Atlanta is a team that believes it can compete for a Super Bowl.  But with a linebacking core in which some of its starters would be backups on a number of other teams, one has to wonder if this weakness could be their undoing. 

Carolina Panthers: Turnovers

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    The Carolina Panthers are trying to pick up the pieces from what was a disastrous 2010 season that saw the end of long-time coach John Fox.

    Now Ron Rivera, a defensive specialist is in charge of a team that put up a paltry 12.3 points per game, 4.6 points less than the 31st ranked team, the Cleavland Browns.  While the defense was far from perfect, it was not awful and Rivera addressed a weak defensive front four by drafting defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Sione Fua in the second and third rounds respectively.  Both men may indeed start by week one.

    Indeed, it's the offense that's still going to be the weak spot of this team despite returning stars Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and new tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen.  They of course have new quarterback Cam Newton, who is almost certainly going to start the first week of the season. 

    The problem with many rookies is turnovers, especially for a guy like Newton who quite frankly is still raw at the quarterback position.  And turnovers are an issue that absolutely crippled the Panthers last season.

    Carolina was the second-worst team in the league with 37 turnovers and a -8 turnover ratio.  While Jimmy Clausen is a good whipping boy for this, the team fumbled the ball away 16 times, second worst in the league. 

    With a raw rookie quarterback, you can't expect the rampant turnovers by Carolina to decrease by much.  And that alone will cost this team a number of games this season. 

Tampa Bay Bucaneers: Overachieving That Masks True Talent

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    No team in the NFL last year overachieved more than the Buccaneers who went from a cellar dweller to going 10-6 and narrowly missing the playoffs.  They were led by second-year quarterback and emerging star Josh Freeman who was one of the more efficient field generals in the league with a rating of 95.9, throwing 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

    Like Freeman, many other players emerged into strong contributors including running back LaGarrette Blount, receiver Mike Williams, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and cornerback Aqib Talib.   Team-wide you saw players performing above expectations.  Now, they've brought in new rookies who could potentially start including Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers.

    Life looks good for Tampa but one big hurdle is that they're in a division with arguably two of the five best teams in football in Atlanta and New Orleans. 

    The other concern if your a Bucs fan is did this team truly overachieve?  Did many of these players perform beyond their capabilities?  For example, Freeman put up numbers that you'd see from Tom Brady.   Is Freeman truly an elite quarterback or might he come back down to the field?

    Another area to look at is running back with Blount.  Should he get hurt or take a step back, the team is all of a sudden very thin in the backfield. 

    If this team plays like 2010, the Bucs can make the playoffs.  But if even a few take a step back, this could be a team that treads around .500. 

Minnesota Vikings: Wide Receivers

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    The Minnesota Vikings were about as close as you could get to reaching the Super Bowl in 2009 when they lost to the New Orleans Saints in overtime in the NFC Championship.  Then 2010 was an unequivocal disaster with Brett Favre looking every bit of 41 as the Vikings fell on their faces en route to a dismal 6-10 season.

    Everyone knows now Favre is off this team, but a loss that could end up being just as damaging is the departure of Sidney Rice who bolted for Seattle.  (As a side note, it's amazing how many signings and trades these two teams have with each other.)

    Donovan McNabb is now the Vikings quarterback but you have to ask yourself who he'll throw to.  Percy Harvin is much better served as a slot type receiver yet right now will be asked to be the main wide out.  That's a scary proposition for Viking fans given his injury history.

    After him, you're left with Bernard Berrian, who's been a huge disappointment, Greg Camarillo and Michael Jenkins, both career fourth receivers and Juaquin Iglesias and Devin Aromashodu, two receivers who were cut by the Chicago Bears.

    Percy Harvin has a history of missing games, so who knows who McNabb will throw to when that happens?

    They do have a very talented tight end in Visanthe Shiancoe, but if and when the opposition keys on him, it might be up to someone like Berrian to save their offense.  Can the Vikings really trust that option? 

Detroit Lions: Running Backs

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    I bet you thought I'd say Matthew Stafford right?

    The Detroit Lions are a chic pick to make the postseason this year, three years removed of their historically embarrassing season in which they went 0-16.  They have skill players all over the offense, and their defense if ever improving with a defensive line that could be one of the best in football.

    But this team still has many weak points on both defense and offense.  Obviously another major cause for concern is the health of their franchise quarterback, who's had trouble with his shoulder since he was a rookie.

    A healthy Stafford could make this team truly dynamic, but even with him out of the line up, backup Shaun Hill still navigated the offense successfully.  Hill threw for 244 yards per game, ranking him 12th, tied exactly with Tom Brady.

    Even if Stafford missed the entire year, the Lions could still be ok.  However, one area that could derail their season is running back.  Jahvid Best showed signs of greatness last year, but he still was unable to consistently string strong games together.

    Best ran for only 555 yards last year, with a 3.2 yard per carry average. Overall, the team was 23rd in the NFL with 100.8 rushing yards per game.  To help improve this weak spot, the team drafted running back Mikel Leshoure in the second round, but he was just lost for the season, tearing his Achilles tendon in practice.

    With only Maurice Morris at back-up, it could be the Achilles tear for Leshoure that ends up being the true Achilles heel that keeps Detroit from a long awaited trip to the playoffs.

Chicago Bears: Offensive Line

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    This is one of the biggest no brainers on this list. 

    The Chicago Bears managed to get within striking distance of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship, despite having arguably the worst offensive line in football.  The team gave up by far the most sacks in the league last year with 56 last year.

    There was no worse point than a shockingly awful performance in which the Bears gave up an NFL record nine sacks in one half against the New York Giants at week four of the season.  The line did improve as the season wore on but it still was nowhere up to par with other NFL o-line's.

    It seemed the Bears knew how big of an issue this was when they drafted offensive tackle Gabe Carimi in the first round.  However, that was the only pick in the draft they spent on improving the line.

    Then in a move that still has Bears fans enraged was the Bears letting long time center Olin Kreutz walk over what amounted to a difference of $500,000.  The Bears brought in former Seattle Seahawks center Chris Spencer, but he's routinely been rated as one of the worst centers in the league.  No other offensive lineman have been brought in.

    For how bad the line was in 2010, it's very surprising how little work the Bears put into improving it.  J'Marcus Webb, an offensive lineman described as a "project"  last year.  Webb will be in charge of protecting Cutler's blind side, which must make the quarterback quite nervous.

    The Bears are bringing back a lot of talent from last year's team and have added depth to many positions.  But you could bring in the best skill players in the league, but if your quarterback only has two seconds to throw the ball and the running backs can't get out of the backfield, your team will ultimately fail. 

Green Bay Packers: Playing 16 Super Bowls

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    It's hard to think of an Achilles' Heel the defending Super Bowl champions have considering they're bringing back almost everyone from their Super Bowl roster plus a host of starters that were lost to injury in 2010, most notably Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley.

    But one thing the 2011 Packers will have to deal with that they didn't have last year is a nice big target on their back.  The Packers were the hunters last year but this time around they'll be the hunted.

    Some teams gel and thrive when you are constantly playing against teams that want to take down the champs.  But there's a reason why only the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots have won consecutive Super Bowls since 1990. 

    For other teams, they wilt under the pressure and miss the playoffs; just ask the 2007 Pittsburgh Steelers and a number of teams before them. 

    How the Packers handle this pressure could determine whether they fight for another Super Bowl, or end up fighting just to get into the postseason in a very deep NFC. 

San Francisco 49'ers. First-Year Coaching Mistakes

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    Welcome to the NFL Jim Harbaugh.

    It's been an interesting journey for Harbaugh, whose most famous moments in the NFL were when he was getting chewed out by Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka. 

    But since his NFL days came to an end, he became an extremely successful college coach in which he resurrected the Stanford University football program, culminating in a dominant 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

    After fielding offers from numerous teams, Harbaugh chose to stay in California to coach a 49ers team which has underachieved the last several years.  The Niners have talent at a lot of positions, but one in which there's a ton of uncertainty is at quarterback where former No. 1 pick Alex Smith is competing with second round pick Colin Kaepernick for the starting position.

    How Harbaugh handles this competition is one of many issues he'll face in the NFL that he didn't have to deal with in college.  It's hard enough for long-time NFL assistants to make the jump to head coach, and many more fail than build successful careers.

    It's even harder for a college coach to make that jump as Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban will attest to. 

    Niner fans should expect growing pains to not only occur on the field with young players, but on the sidelines as well. 

Arizona Cardinals: Running Backs

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    This one is a new addition given the injury to Ryan Williams last night in the Cardinals game against Green Bay.  The Cardinals were a team in 2010 that desperately missed likely Future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner

    The team had one of the worst offenses in the league, ranking second to last in pass yards per game.  Arizona addressed this issue paying a hefty price to acquire former Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb.  Arizona paid Kolb a lot of money, gave Philly a second round pick and sent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the city of brother love.

    This move should hopefully resurrect their pass game just as Ryan Williams was supposed to help a running game that was the worst in the NFL last year.  Now Williams is out for the season and the team is going to have to rely Beanie Wells, who thus far has been a disappointment. 

    Who is behind Wells you ask?  LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is used more for his special teams ability and Alfonso Smith who has exactly zero carries in his NFL career. 

    Kevin Kolb may be the answer at quarterback, but their running game which was last in the league with Wells and Hightower in 2010, may be even worse in 2011. 

Seattle Seahawks: Quarterbacks

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    The 2011 offseason for the Seahawks has been quite confusing, but that seems par for the course with this franchise. After all, they're now the only team in NFL history to play in an NFC Divisional playoff game with an under .500 record.

    The Seahawks brought in Sidney Rice from Minnesota and highly-touted tight end Zach Miller from Oakland.  Seattle now has a lot of good skill players in place, the problem is, their quarterbacks would be backups on virtually every other team. 

    Considering the Seahawks had the second worst rushing team in football last year, does replacing Matt Hasselbeck with Tarvaris Jackson inspire much confidence?  Maybe Carroll is a genius here who will prove everyone wrong and help make Jackson a star.  But most people are quite skeptical at what is going on in Seattle.

    Despite the fat that the Seahawks now have several offensive skill players who could play in a Pro Bowl.  The biggest issue in 2011 will be getting them the ball. 

St. Louis Rams: Second-Year Blues for Sam Bradford

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    The St. Louis Rams another popular pick to get back into the playoffs after several years of outright futility. Sam Bradford was by far the best rookie quarterback in the NFL, and the defense started to see players like Chris Long and James Laurinaitis turn into stars. 

    Still, when push came to shave, the Rams finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs. 

    With a very winnable NFC West, it's up to Bradford and the rest of his young team to take another step forward.  The question is can Bradford continue his strong play or will he take a step back?  It's common knowledge that a lot of rookies have a problem in the second year of their careers.

    The Rams can't afford to have Bradford regress if they want to compete for a playoff spot.  Though Steven Jackson is still a very good running back, at 28, his peak years may soon be behind him considering how heavily the Rams relied on him earlier in his career.

    With the team they have in place now, the Rams could easily win nine or ten games.  But if Bradford's turnovers go up this year, the Rams could just as easily win just six or seven.