Predicting Every NFL Team's Potential Scapegoat for 2013

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2013

Predicting Every NFL Team's Potential Scapegoat for 2013

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    Some will be head coaches said to have outstayed their welcome, and some will be coordinators whose schemes are deemed outdated. Others will be struggling quarterbacks.

    What is clear is that 32 sets of NFL fans are already identifying the scapegoat for their team's potential failures.

    In one division, all four of those scapegoats are likely to be men who spend Sundays patrolling the sidelines. In another division, all four quarterbacks will be unable to escape criticism if they begin to struggle.

    Here is each team's potential scapegoat for the 2013 season, starting with the AFC.

1. Buffalo Bills: EJ Manuel, QB

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    It is a hard life for a rookie quarterback expected to be a franchise savior. EJ Manuel will find that out fast if he struggles to revive the Buffalo Bills offense.

    It is not Manuel's fault that he was a controversial pick in the draft's first round. But that does not change the fact that he was selected to inspire a major rebuilding effort.

    The Bills have not been to the playoffs since 1999. If they fall flat once again, Manuel will inevitably bear the brunt of the criticism.

2. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB

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    The pressure is on Ryan Tannehill to prove he can deliver in 2013.

    The Miami Dolphins gave him a simultaneous show of faith and a reminder of that pressure in free agency. The addition of pass-catchers Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller is expected to make Tannehill and the Dolphins better.

    If Tannehill cannot get the offense clicking even with his new weapons, fans will be quick to voice their disapproval.

3. New England Patriots: The Defense

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    As long as Tom Brady remains under center, the New England Patriots defense can expect to be overshadowed. The unit can also expect to be the scapegoat if the team again fails to capture a fourth Lombardi Trophy.

    The critics do have a point. In the last three seasons, head coach Bill Belichick has struggled to work his once-taken-for-granted defensive magic.

    Belichick has retooled his defense this offseason. He added veterans Tommy Kelly and Adrian Wilson, as well as rookie pass-rusher Jamie Collins.

    No matter how many receivers change on offense, Brady will put up points. If Belichick's defenders fail to do their part, they will once again be the scapegoats.

4. New York Jets: Rex Ryan, Head Coach

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    Rex Ryan could share this dubious distinction with general manager John Idzik. At least he will if the New York Jets endure another poor season.

    Not many Jets fans were enamoured with the decision to focus on defense in the draft. Ryan is gambling that his expertise on that side of the ball will compensate for obvious issues at quarterback.

    If the Jets again fail to light up scoreboards, it will not be the men under center who shoulder the blame. The scapegoats will be the decision-makers for Gang Green.

5. Baltimore Ravens: Ozzie Newsome, General Manager

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    Ozzie Newsome has rightly earned a reputation as a master team builder. That reputation will be dented if the Baltimore Ravens stumble through a limp Super Bowl defense.

    If that happens, many will point to the number of players Newsome let walk this offseason. The defense in particular took a hit, losing talented young linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe.

    The focus is now firmly on how well Newsome replaced key members of the roster that won last season's NFL title.

6. Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton, QB

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    Despite consecutive trips to the playoffs, the pressure is still on Andy Dalton. The young quarterback faces scrutiny to prove he can push the Cincinnati Bengals up a level.

    That may seem harsh, but it is inevitable for a quarterback surrounded by a strong supporting cast.

    The Bengals have a stout defense and feature the dynamic A.J. Green, one of football's finest receivers. The team used the draft to surround Dalton with even more weapons. Tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard can only make the Bengals better if Dalton improves.

7. Cleveland Browns: Brandon Weeden, QB

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    Brandon Weeden faces a make-or-break year in only his second pro season. Never a particularly popular first-round choice in 2012, the Cleveland Browns quarterback is a scapegoat in the making.

    The Browns were smart to bring in Norv Turner as Weeden's coordinator. They will count on Turner's track record of developing quarterbacks and hope he improves Weeden.

    The Browns have good weapons at the skill positions, including running back Trent Richardson and wideout Josh Gordon. Despite a scheme change on defense, it will be Weeden who is expected to spearhead the latest rebuilding effort in Cleveland.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers: Todd Haley, Offensive Coordinator

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    Todd Haley's first season as offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers was hardly a resounding success. Haley must do better in year two to avoid becoming the scapegoat in the Steel City.

    The Steelers ranked 22nd in points and 21st in yards in 2012. That is not exactly the kind of offensive wizardry Haley was expected to work.

    Improving last season's 26th-ranked rushing attack will be important. But Haley's relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will likely be the key. There were rumors last season that the two did not get along, according to NFL.com's Marc Sessler. The volatile Haley has consistently proven to be a decisive figure.

    If the Steelers struggle offensively, Haley will face the blame before the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback does.

9. Houston Texans: Matt Schaub, QB

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    Veteran quarterback Matt Schaub faces a similar situation to Dalton. He plays on a playoff team boasting a strong supporting cast.

    The problem is that the Houston Texans cannot get past the divisional round of the playoffs.

    Schaub naturally bears the brunt of the blame whenever the Texans are outclassed by the elite of the AFC. After all, he does enjoy the luxury of a strong and prolific running game.

    A powerful defense also means Schaub no longer needs to put up 30 points to win a game.

    But when he cannot make the difference in the big games, Schaub's talent is questioned. If the Texans again fail to overcome the class of their conference, Schaub will likely be deemed the reason why.

10. Indianapolis Colts: Ryan Grigson, General Manager

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    The Indianapolis Colts caused a stir in this year's free-agent market.

    Spending big on players whose talents many feel do not match their fees has put general manager Ryan Girgson in the spotlight. His decision to hand bumper contracts to Erik Walden and Ricky Jean-Francois raised more than a few eyebrows. Fans around the league will now be expecting those players to play up to those contracts.

    If the Colts do not replicate their heroics from 2012, Grigson's dealings this summer will likely be blamed.

11. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert, QB

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    Blaine Gabbert could be living on borrowed time as the starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Injuries and a number of uninspiring performances have left the 2011 first-rounder close to being labelled a bust.

    He is certain to be adorned with that label if he again fails make the grade.

    Expectations may not be high in Jacksonville after a 2-14 season and with a new coach in charge. But that does not mean more poor showings from Gabbert will be excused.

12. Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker, QB

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    The Tennessee Titans have turned the team over to young quarterback Jake Locker. Now it is time for Locker to repay that faith and take the team back to the playoffs.

    Like Gabbert, Locker was a first-round choice in 2011. Also like Gabbert, he has failed to live up to that billing.

    The Titans made a big commitment to improving Locker's offensive line this offseason. They signed prized guard Andy Levitre and used this year's first-round pick on Chance Warmack.

    Even if that only lets running back Chris Johnson return to being the focal point of the offense, much will still be expected from Locker. If he cannot meet those expectations, Locker will soon be the poster boy for failure in The Music City.

13. Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning, QB

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    Peyton Manning should not be dubbed as anybody's scapegoat. But he almost certainly will be if he does not deliver a Super Bowl for the Denver Broncos.

    This team has been assembled to win now, and that is because of Manning's presence. The Broncos know the clock in running out on the 37-year-old's illustrious career.

    Manning could not escape criticism when the Broncos were stunned by the Ravens in last season's playoffs. He will receive more of the same if he again misses out on football's top prize.

14. Kansas City Chiefs: Alex Smith, QB

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    The Kansas City Chiefs gave away a second-round pick because they expect Alex Smith to upgrade the quarterback position. A team coming off a 2-14 campaign needs a significant upgrade.

    That could be a big ask for Smith. He has never consistently impressed since being drafted with the top choice in 2005 by the San Francisco 49ers.

    The one season he was a playoff starter came in 2011. It was a year when Smith was certainly blessed with a powerful supporting cast.

    He will not have that luxury in Kansas City.

    If Smith lives up to the dubious distinction of being just a game manager, instead of a game-winner, he will be the scapegoat for a failed rebuilding job.

15. Oakland Raiders: Matt Flynn, QB

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    Like Smith, Matt Flynn is under pressure to prove he can win without major talent around him.

    Flynn rose to prominence thanks to a pair of sterling cameos with the Green Bay Packers in 2010 and 2011. Of course, most quarterbacks would look good with the likes of Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson to throw to.

    The Oakland Raiders can't offer Flynn the same level of talent at the skill positions. They are trusting that a man who couldn't win a starting job with the Seattle Seahawks can lead a major revival. If Flynn fails, fans of the Silver and Black will soon let him know.

16. San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers, QB

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    Philip Rivers is fast running out of excuses for failing to lead a winner in San Diego. The strong-armed Chargers passer has had talent around him, but he cannot shake a penchant for boneheaded self-destruction.

    The Chargers show more faith in Rivers than many others might. That faith extends to them replacing Norv Turner with another head coach with a reputation for getting the best out of quarterbacks.

    Mike McCoy excelled in two seasons as offensive coordinator for the Broncos. In 2011, he crafted an offense to suit the very distinctive skills of Tim Tebow. He followed that by honing a system suited to the talents of Peyton Manning.

    If McCoy can successfully make that kind of adjustment, surely even Rivers can respond to his teaching.

    If he does not, many will lobby for the Chargers to give up on their talented, but temperamental quarterback.

17. Dallas Cowboys: Jason Garrett, Head Coach

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    There are at least half a dozen viable candidates for the role of scapegoat for the Dallas Cowboys' potential failures. However, undercut head coach Jason Garrett is the most likely choice.

    Whether fans of the Cowboys like it or not, owner Jerry Jones is unlikely to step down if the team misses the playoffs again.

    Maybe polarizing quarterback Tony Romo takes the fall, but he has survived so far. That leaves Garrett to take the heat in the event of another middling season.

18. New York Giants: Perry Fewell, Defensive Coordinator

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    The New York Giants fell flat in 2012 thanks to the shaky performance of their defense. Coordinator Perry Fewell will be the natural scapegoat if his unit continues to struggle.

    Fewell has never really molded a strong defense for Big Blue. He has benefited from players who have delivered in big games.

    At other times, Fewell has been too scheme-heavy. He has overused a variety of fronts, some of which have not always put his playmakers in the best positions to make an impact.

    During last season, Fewell's coverage concepts actually became a little too predictable. That resulted in a 28th-ranked pass defense and a unit that was next to last in points.

    There is only so much Eli Manning can do. The Giants need more regular support from Fewell's defense.

    A notoriously unforgiving fanbase won't be shy about venting its disapproval if Fewell fails again.

19. Philadelphia Eagles: Chip Kelly, Head Coach

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    There has been so much hype surrounding Chip Kelly's first foray into the pros that there is probably already a healthy number of fans who want to see him fail.

    Granted, those fans probably reside outside of Philadelphia. At least for the moment.

    If the Eagles don't respond to Kelly's varied schemes and college-style methods, he will quickly become a scapegoat.

    In the age of the read-option and the spread, the NFL is not as dismissive of college coaches as it used to be. However, Kelly will soon be dubbed "out of his depth" if the Eagles stay rooted to the bottom of the NFC East.

20. Washington Redskins: Jim Haslett, Defensive Coordinator

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    Jim Haslett has been a divisive figure in his three seasons as defensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins. Some will argue that he has done a good job handling a tough scheme transition. Others will say that Haslett's defenses have consistently been among the league's worst statistically. That is despite numerous efforts to recruit more suitable 3-4 personnel.

    Those efforts continued this offseason. The Redskins used four of their seven draft picks to improve Haslett's defense.

    If he can't fix a wafer-thin secondary and boost an anaemic pass rush, Haslett's unit will again struggle. Those struggles would undermine a productive offense and likely keep the Redskins out of the playoffs.

21. Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler, QB

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    Jay Cutler was supposed to be the catalyst to spark a good Chicago Bears team to a Super Bowl. One playoff appearance in four seasons in the Windy City simply is not good enough.

    Like many of the quarterbacks on this list, Cutler is surrounded by plenty of talent. Running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Brandon Marshall are supposed to make it easier for him to lift the Bears into the postseason.

    The support of a consistently solid defense is also something Cutler has not made the most of. Now, the Bears have hired noted offensive mind Marc Trestman to revive Cutler and the team.

    Cutler is now out of excuses for another season of failure. He will be the scapegoat if the Bears are again not playing in January.

22. Detroit Lions: Jim Schwartz, Head Coach

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    When you have players like Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh, you should not finish 4-12. That makes head coach Jim Schwartz an easy scapegoat if the Detroit Lions are again losers in 2013.

    A tough year for Schwartz already seems assured after the team's ownership recently declined to publicly back him. Per Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press, owner Bill Ford seemed more interested in talking about Schwartz's failures rather than his future.

    That is understandable after three losing records in four seasons. Schwartz has overseen a talented but underachieving group often blighted by poor discipline on and off the field.

    If he is a loser for the fourth time, Schwartz will surely pay the price for the Lions' struggles.

23. Green Bay Packers: Dom Capers, Defensive Coordinator

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    Dom Capers' defenses have often flattered to deceive during his time with the Green Bay Packers. He produced a solid unit in 2009, but that defense was humiliated by Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs.

    The 2012 campaign followed a similar pattern for Capers. During the regular season, his defense rebounded from a dreadful performance in 2011. But things once again came off the rails in the postseason. Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers destroyed Capers' defense.

    One of the masters of the zone blitz, Capers has never quite put it altogether in Green Bay. Improved coverage in 2012 was undermined by a shoddy run defense.

    Capers' struggles waste the talents of Aaron Rodgers and a dynamic offense. That is the chief reason why the Packers have not added to the Super Bowl they won in 2010.

    If it happens again in 2013, Capers will be the scapegoat and could find himself looking for a new team.

24. Minnesota Vikings: Christian Ponder, QB

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    The Minnesota Vikings have laboured to give Christian Ponder everything he needs to succeed. They acquired three first-round picks in this year's draft to improve the talent around their young quarterback.

    Choosing wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson will most directly benefit Ponder. So will signing classy pass-catcher Greg Jennings in free agency.

    The herculean efforts of star runner Adrian Peterson backed the Vikings into the playoffs last season. Their hopes for a return to the postseason depend on Ponder showing he can do more than just avoid mistakes.

    If he can't win some games based on his arm, Ponder will be blamed for Minnesota's resulting mediocrity.

25. Atlanta Falcons: Mike Smith, Head Coach

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    After earning his first playoff win in his fourth attempt, head coach Mike Smith will be expected to finish the job and take the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl. It is not an unreasonable expectation given the level of talent Smith has assembled.

    On offense, quarterback Matt Ryan leads the league's best passing game. And adding the great Steven Jackson to the mix this offseason was a stroke of genius.

    Defensively, although coordinator Mike Nolan is overrated, the Falcons do possess some real playmakers. Safety William Moore and pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora should both make significant contributions.

    If the Falcons don't improve their playoff record, Smith will be the first target for blame. He will become a scapegoat and will be deemed a good coach for the regular season, but a lousy leader for the playoffs.

26. Carolina Panthers: Ron Rivera, Head Coach

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    This is a pivotal season for Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. His team flopped badly in 2012, after many believed the Panthers were primed for a playoff run. If they do the same in 2013, Rivera is sure to be the scapegoat. He will be blamed for failing to find the right balance as a head coach.

    In 2011, a prolific offense, led by rookie Cam Newton, helped the Panthers improve on their 2-14 mark from 2010. That the team still finished only 6-10 was due to a porous defense, Rivera's area of expertise.

    Last season was a complete reversal. Rivera oversaw a stronger defense, only for a supposedly prolific offense to let him down.

    The Panthers were in the doldrums when Rivera took charge. However, if a coach cannot get a team into the playoffs in three seasons, it is surely time for a change.

27. New Orleans Saints: Rob Ryan, Defensive Coordinator

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    The New Orleans Saints might regret hiring Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator. The brash play-caller loads up his defenses with enough fronts and concepts to stump a nuclear physicist.

    That level of scheming occasionally produces big plays and spectacular performances. But it usually produces incoherent and ultimately average defenses.

    Ryan has never overseen an elite unit. That is not good news for a team that was historically woeful on defense in 2012 and is attempting a shift to a 3-4.

    The Saints needs at least a competent defense support quarterback Drew Brees. Without it, they will not provide serious competition to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South and Ryan will be the scapegoat.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Freeman, QB

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    Josh Freeman is in position to be the scapegoat for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season.

    The team used a third-round pick in 2013 to draft Mike Glennon. That is a not particularly subtle hint that Freeman's own team doesn't quite believe in him.

    Freeman, who has tossed 63 interceptions in four seasons, is also entering a contract year.

    If the Buccaneers fail to make waves in their division, Freeman will be the first to receive the blame.

29. Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer, QB

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    Years of terrible quarterback play may give Carson Palmer a healthy amount of initial goodwill with the Arizona Cardinals. However, that will not last for long if he struggles to improve the team's fortunes.

    The Cardinals used the draft to bolster the O-line in front of Palmer. They also selected two running backs and added Rashard Mendenhall in free agency.

    Combine those additions with the presence of premier flanker Larry Fitzgerald, and Palmer has more to work with than he did in Oakland.

    If he cannot win with these weapons, he will soon be dubbed the scapegoat in the desert.

30. San Francisco 49ers: The Secondary

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    One of the biggest shocks of last season was witnessing the breakdown of the San Francisco 49ers' usually excellent pass defense. Their secondary was savaged by the Falcons and the Ravens in the playoffs.

    That prompted an overhaul during the offseason. The new faces include top draft pick Eric Reid and fallen star Nnamdi Asomugha.

    The 49ers are counting on their remade defensive backfield to hold up. If it can't, a strong defense will weaken and San Francisco won't stay a viable Super Bowl contender for long.

31. Seattle Seahawks: The Pass Rush

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    The Seattle Seahawks appear primed for big things this season. However, if Pete Carroll's team has an Achilles' heel, it is a suspect pass rush.

    Despite a punishing defense that ranked third in yards and points in 2012, the Seahawks registered just 36 sacks. Worst still, their dubious pass rush failed them when it mattered most in the playoffs. The Seahawks could not get near Matt Ryan as he passed the Falcons to a last-gasp win.

    What will give Carroll cause for concern is issues with his top pass-rushers.

    Chris Clemons is recovering from a serious knee injury, while Bruce Irvin is facing a four-game suspension for substance abuse. That puts the burden for getting after quarterbacks on new arrival Cliff Avril.

    If he struggles to produce consistent and credible pressure, the Seahawks won't be the force many are expecting.

32. St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford, QB

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    Sooner, rather than later, Sam Bradford is going to have to live up to his status as the top pick in 2010.

    Bradford has struggled behind suspect offensive lines and with average options at the skill positions.

    Things might look a little better this season. The St. Louis Rams used a first-round pick on exciting playmaker Tavon Austin and acquired free agent tight end Jared Cook.

    More important was the decision to let standout running back Steven Jackson leave. That positions Bradford as the clear leader of this offense.

    If the Rams don't win in year two of Jeff Fisher's tenure, Bradford will be singled out for the blame.

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