Every NFL team begins the year with delusions of grandeur with hopes of winning the Lombardi trophy. However, hope always leaves when reality walks in. These six teams have been gassed by fans and pundits alike into thinking they are poised for a big season. Some teams had what was believed to be an excellent draft, while others are believed to have the pieces in place to make a run at this thing.
In today’s NFL parity is commended by most fans. However, the parity excuse tends to mask the bigger issue of failed expectations. Year in and year out teams fail to deliver on the lofty goals bestowed upon them mainly because the talent they so vehemently believed in proves to be unworthy of such belief. Leaving these teams with nothing more than a weekly reminder of just how short their shortcomings are.
Each year brings a new set of trials and tribulations. How a team handles this adversity will dictate how their season ends or better yet when their season ends. Who a team plays is just as important as how a team plays. All six teams have difficult schedules that feature Super Bowl contending teams who are consistently in the playoffs.
These six teams all begin the season with high expectations. Some are expecting a Super Bowl berth while others are preparing for a playoff push. Regardless, each team’s season will end short of their planned destination.
The Chiefs could possibly be the only team in the NFL that are being held back by their head coach. How Todd Haley has managed to make it this far remains a mystery to anyone who follows professional football.
In January of 2010 this piece was written about Todd Haley http://bleacherreport.com/articles/321691-time-to-say-goodbye-to-the-bad-guy and since that time he has managed to ride the coat tails of two of the best coordinators in the game. Eventually time has a way of exposing you.
In true Haley fashion he annoyed offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to the point where Weis choose to bounce for another offensive coordinator job IN COLLEGE. If you want to know what the Chiefs offense will resemble this year look no further than the 2010 Wildcard game against the Baltimore Ravens. Haley seized the offensive reigns from Weis and called the entire playoff game. The results were a 30–7 home drubbing.
Haley was the best defensive mind in the game that day. He was able to hold Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Cassel to just 70 yards passing and Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles to 82 yards rushing, 41 of which came on one run.
To be clear the Chiefs have decent talent and will be tough but ultimately pride will be their downfall. Statistically Kansas City proved to be a dominant running team and will look to return to form in 2011. This will be a difficult task if not an impossible one for the Chiefs. This year’s schedule features the first (Steelers), second (Bears), third (Jets), fourth (Chargers), seventh (Dolphins) and ninth (Vikings) ranked rushing defenses. This, in conjunction with Todd Haley’s unique style of coaching, will prove to be fatal for any life the Chiefs may have left in them after last year’s playoff run.
4–12 is knocking at Kansas City’s door and expect it to find its way in.
The Texans have been awarded by default the NFC South since Peyton Manning's injury and some had them going to the playoffs last year. Well those people will be disappointed yet again once the 2011 season ends.
The Texans were active and aggressive in free agency and appear ready to fight for the AFC South crown. However, this is on paper and once the season starts the Texans will resort back to their usual excuse marred underachieving selves.
Houston has a Week 11 bye which is one of the later byes in the season. They get an opportunity to draw first blood when they open the season against the Peyton Manning-less Colts and are given another lay-up when they get the Miami Dolphins in Week 2.
Reality should rear its ugly mug when they play the New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers. A 2–2 start is nothing to be ashamed of especially for a team who has never made the second season, but Weeks 5 through 10 will show the true moxy of this bunch.
The glass half full crowd will say they can go at least 5–1 in that stretch, and this would put them in position to secure their first division crown. Realistically, the Texans should not be counted on to beat anyone but the Jaguars. They beat Oakland last year in Oakland but lost to Baltimore in Houston so the home road theory is tough to discuss with them. They did struggle with teams who could throw the ball, with the word struggle being an understatement. That six game stretch does not feature a top-10 quarterback, but it does feature three of the top 10 rushing teams in 2010 (Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, and Oakland).
This will be the 2011 Achilles’ heel for the Texans who gave up 4.0 yards per carry and finished 13th in total rushing yards allowed last year. The focus was on the passing defense and rightfully so but they were not world beaters when it came to stopping the run either. This combined with learning a new defense will prove to be fatal for Houston and their fans.
These things we hold to be true; the Texans are choke artists who have managed to miss the playoffs despite having a top-five wide out in Andre Johnson, a top-10 quarterback in Matt Schaub, and a top-five pass rusher in Mario Williams.
The playoff drought will continue for the Texans who will finish 7–9 and finish Gary Kubiak’s head coaching career.
The Lions are 2011’s it team. They have been picked to disrupt the NFC picture and possibly make the playoffs. Yet, the belief falls short of the reality. The Lions have a culture of losing that one, two or even eight years of winning could not cure.
The last three drafts would give reason for optimism in Detroit, but injuries should tamper any enthusiasm. Everyone knows Matthew Stafford only started 13 games in two years and in those 13 games threw 19 touchdowns to 21 interceptions. The masses are aware of the 3–10 record and 28 sacks. It is the unknown that haunts the fans of this dismal franchise.
These fans have been held hostage hoping that this could be their year to get over .500. Forget making the playoffs or winning the division, Lions fans just want to finish better then 8–8. Injuries, lack of player development and poor coaching have led Detroit to the land of irrelevant.
So with most prognosticators picking the Lions to finish 9–7, one has to wonder where this optimism is coming from.
Four of their first eight games before the bye are on the road in very hostile environments (TB, MIN, DAL, DEN) and three of those teams are legitimate playoff contenders. Denver, although not a playoff contender, has been a notoriously tough home team. They could conceivably start the season 2–6 beating Kansas City and San Francisco, but after the bye they would still have Green Bay twice, Oakland on the road, New Orleans and San Diego at home. So where is the reason for hope?
Detroit is staring another abysmal season in the face regardless of who is under center. They made no significant moves to address a middle of the pack secondary and with a schedule that has Brees, Rivers, McNabb, Rodgers, Romo and Freeman on it, the secondary should have taken precedent.
At best they could finish 5–11 and that is being optimistic.
The Falcons by most accounts should be a Super Bowl contending team; however, in the village of the blind the man with one eye is king. Consider me Cyclopes in this situation and the rest of you are villagers. In 2009 this article was written about the Falcons and their promising future, http://bleacherreport.com/articles/226722-the-falcons-are-ready-to-soar-again.
It is now 2011 and things have changed; actually, these Dirty Birds are just victims of a top heavy division and murderous opening stretch. A season that begins at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears and then brings the Falcons back to the house that Vick built to play Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles. After those two beauties they have the onerous task of traveling to Tampa Bay and Seattle in back-to-back weeks.
Atlanta could be staring 0–4 in the eye, or 1–3 at the very least. Their next four opponents in order are Green Bay and Carolina at home then Detroit and Indianapolis on the road. That will be Jay Cutler, Josh Freeman, Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning in the first half of the season. If the Falcons can manage to go 4–4 they would be extremely lucky. Those passing offenses, excluding the Bears, range from 17th in the Bucs all the way to first in the Colts, so for the 22nd ranked pass defense things could get ugly early.
The Saints only play three playoff teams in the first eight weeks and the Bucs have just two road games in the first seven weeks. This will give both teams an insurmountable lead for Atlanta to overcome.
Expect Atlanta to be another team that narrowly misses the playoffs at 9–7.
The Ravens have made the playoffs and have advanced to at least the divisional round for three straight years. This streak will come to an end this season. Baltimore added Lee Evans and Ricky Williams this preseason. Both players are perceived as upgrades to what the Ravens previously had.
Williams to some is an upgrade over Willis McGahee but that is not the case. McGahee had 17 touchdowns over the last two years compared to 13 touches for Williams. The disparity in carries is eye popping. Williams in that two year span toted the rock 400 times compared to just 209 times for McGahee. Williams was given more opportunities to be productive, and although he gained more yards he was not as effective a back as McGahee.
The running back position is not the only spot where the Ravens attempted to upgrade and failed.
Baltimore added speedster Lee Evans during the preseason and will look for him to open things up for Anquan Boldin and Ray Rice. However, Evans is the poster child for inconsistency. The former first-round pick has never put together back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons and has literally and figuratively been up and down in his career.
His receiving yards have gone down each of the last three years. In 2008 he totaled 1,017 yards then dropped to 612 yards in 2009. Last season Evans accumulated just 578 yards and four scores in 13 starts, which are decent but not groundbreaking numbers. In just two starts for the Ravens T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught three touchdown passes; however, we would be remiss if we did not mention T.J.’s critical drops.
The on the field production will be difficult for Baltimore to overcome but the toughness that players like McGahee and Derrick Mason provided is what will haunt them come December. The lack of physicality and dependability is what will hurt a team that went 3–3 against playoff teams last year. In those six contests the opponents scored a total of 109 points compared to 108 points for the Ravens, making the line between victory and defeat very petite.
For a team that prides itself on being a defensive bully it never mattered how they won on Sundays, as long as they won. The 2010 season proved that the Ravens were toeing that thin line that separates victory from defeat. The Ravens were 87 points away from their wins being losses. Such a slim margin for error is difficult enough to duplicate, but the task becomes even harder when you replace two players who were instrumental in the limited success you did achieve.
Look for Baltimore to continue their streak of following up double digit win seasons with nine or less wins; 9–7 and missing the playoffs looks to be where these Ravens are headed.
The Green Bay Packers are a good team, but they are not a dynasty. Lost in all the Super Bowl euphoria was the fact that this team barely made the playoffs last year. The Packers will be favored in most of their contest this year and will likely win on opening night. Injuries and Aaron Rodgers have provided reason for optimism for most media pundits; however, they never appeared to be consistently dominant in the regular season last year. So to think they would turn the page and be monsters this year is quite presumptuous.
Their perplexing play was reflective in their 2010 statistics. They were fifth in passing yards and 24th in rushing yards. For those of you that are charging their rushing deficiency to the Ryan Grant injury, keep in mind they were 14th in rushing yards the year before with a healthy Grant. An inconsistent rushing attack puts the game on Aaron Rodgers' shoulders, and also will give defenses plenty of shots at him.
Shots that will start to wear him down come midseason.
Defensively they were fifth in stopping the pass and 18th in stopping the run. The Packers need to be at least 3–3 in their division to be in playoff contention, and seem likely to do that. This would put them at 10–6 or 11–5 and virtually a lock to make the playoffs, but an unpredictable season by the Minnesota Vikings will keep the Packers out of the playoffs.
A three way tie at 11–5 among the Bears, Vikings and Packers and a late loss to the Bears at home will cost them the playoffs. The Week 16 loss to the Bears will be a revenge game from the 2010 season where the Pack beat the Bears to get into the playoffs and rode that momentum all the way to the Bowl.