The Worst-Case Scenario Every NFL Team Must Avoid in 2017 Season

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystApril 8, 2017

The Worst-Case Scenario Every NFL Team Must Avoid in 2017 Season

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    The offseason is a time for hoping and dreaming around the NFL. It's a time for thinking that steal in the second wave of free agency is going to be a high-producing bargain. That Day 3 running back in the draft will surely be a buried gem, too.

    Every wish will come true, and the wildest fantasies are within reach. Until they aren't and the cold, cruel weight of reality settles in.

    That can happen at different times during the season and for different reasons. Or for a number of reasons, but there's often one potential land mine waiting that can cripple a team.

    If it explodes, the season usually goes up in flames as well. For many teams in 2017, that one link holding the season together is how much longer a quarterback can fight off the natural aging process. It feels like the New England Patriots' Tom Brady could play until the age of 50. For others like the New York Giants' Eli Manning, darkness could be closing in fast.

    For some teams, the main tipping point in 2017 is tied to free agency and making up for deep roster holes that just opened up. Many teams are also just hoping the weakness that derailed 2016 has finally been fixed.

    Let's take a look at the worst-case scenario each team needs to avoid.

Arizona Cardinals

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    The Arizona Cardinals took some major body blows during free agency. Four core defensive starters—defensive end Calais Campbell, safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger and linebacker Kevin Minter—are now gone.

    That will knock the Cardinals defense down from its top-tier perch. However, any defense that employs outside linebackers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden along with defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu still has enough talent to keep opponents' scores low and remain among the league's top third.

    Which is why the true concern for Arizona in 2017 lies on the other side of the ball. Quarterback Carson Palmer is returning for what will likely be one final lap around the NFL. And his bones are getting creaky fast.

    He went from soaring high in 2015 with a per-attempt passing average of 8.7 yards to only 7.1 yards in 2016. And his decline in deep accuracy is even more troubling for an offense that leans heavily on a barrage of sailing footballs.

    Palmer connected on 45.3 percent of his attempts that traveled 20-plus yards in the air during the 2015 season, according to Pro Football Focus. Then in 2016 his completion percentage on deep balls fell to a lowly 33.3.

    The Cardinals have fast-rising running back David Johnson to lean on. But it's still hard to win games if your quarterback can't perform the essential tasks asked of him.

Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons need to make their historic Super Bowl collapse a memory, and it feels like they have every base covered.

    They have an MVP quarterback in Matt Ryan, a generational talent in wide receiver Julio Jones, a multi-threat running back in Devonta Freeman and a rapidly growing young talent in receiver Taylor Gabriel.

    They struggled defensively at times in 2016 but overall have promising young talent on that side of the ball, too. The one significant hole to plug led to lots of rushing yards. The Falcons fielded the 17th-ranked run defense in 2016, giving up an average of 104.5 yards per game.

    They signed defensive tackle Dontari Poe to be their sledgehammer up the middle and to complement Grady Jarrett as an interior pass-rusher. That's the aim and hope, at least, but Poe has struggled through back issues for a couple of years. His effectiveness in a run-stuffing role has declined as well, with Poe going from 40 defensive stops in 2013 to only 15 in 2016, per PFF.

    He was signed to just a one-year deal, so the Falcons don't carry any long-term risk if Poe can't rediscover his dominant form. But their primary concern is short-term results, and given his recent performance, it's hard to have confidence in Poe's ability to improve Atlanta run defense.

Baltimore Ravens

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    When Steve Smith retired, the Baltimore Ravens lost more than a scrappy wide receiver who churned out smack-talk gold highlighted by spork references.

    They lost a wide receiver who was still fast enough, elusive enough and physical enough to draw 101 targets during his age-37 season. Smith slowed a little bit toward the end of his time there, but there's little doubt he could have returned in 2017 and still performed well.

    But he's not coming back, and neither is fellow wideout Kamar Aiken, who left as a free agent. Aiken fell down the depth chart in 2016, but in 2015 he led the Ravens with 944 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 75 catches. That's a lot of production for Baltimore to replace, and it'll be doing it with a receiver who comes with plenty of potential—but even more disappointment so far in his career.

    Breshad Perriman is the proverbial next man up. The blinding speed that made him a first-round pick in 2015 has been mostly absent so far in his NFL career because of recurring knee issues. Perriman missed all of his rookie season and then managed only 499 yards on 33 catches in 2016.

    The Ravens need to get the receiver they deemed worthy of the 26th overall pick and get him now. If they don't, and Perriman continues to descend toward bust status, he'll drag the offense down with him.

Buffalo Bills

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    Sammy Watkins has had scary speed since the moment his NFL career began in 2014. But he's also had chronic foot injuries.

    Watkins is only one season removed from finishing with 1,047 receiving yards in just 13 games. That shows the Buffalo Bills need to optimize every healthy snap they get from him, especially after a 2016 season in which he appeared in only eight games. That could be a problem given the support around Watkins or lack of it.

    A vertical threat like Watkins will always draw attention from opposing defenses. But, ideally, the offense wants to make defensive coordinators at least mildly concerned about the secondary options beyond the No. 1 receiver. If that gives a high-end receiver like Watkins even a sliver of more space, the Bills offense can reach another level.

    But the top Buffalo wide receivers not named Watkins could be greeted with little more than indifference. That’s because Philly Brown and Andre Holmes combined for just 41 receptions in 2016.

    The worst-case scenario for the Bills offensively is always another Watkins injury. But even if he's healthy, there are hurdles ahead because of a lack of support elsewhere on the depth chart and quarterback Tyrod Taylor's inconsistent accuracy.

Carolina Panthers

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    Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has struggled when forced to navigate constant pressure. That's not exactly a problem unique to him, but Newton especially labored in 2016, posting a passer rating of only 44.4 when pressured, per PFF.

    That was the league's second-worst figure, and Newton's disrupted rhythm isn't about to get much better in 2017. There's plenty of dodging and scrambling ahead with Matt Kalil as the left tackle.

    The Panthers signed Kalil during free agency after he missed all but two games of the 2016 season with a hip injury, and prior to that he had begun to sink toward unplayable. Over the 2014 and 2015 seasons, he allowed 18 sacks, per PFF.

    Relying on Kalil at left tackle won't end well for Carolina. And because of that, there's a good chance Newton's season won't either.

Chicago Bears

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    The Chicago Bears need wide receiver Kevin White to do two things in 2017: stay healthy and play like a first-round pick.

    So far he hasn't been able to do either. If he fails again, a whole lot of people could lose their jobs.

    Actually, that could happen regardless, because treating (and paying) Mike Glennon like he's anything more than a fine backup quarterback could put the head coach and his staff—not to mention others—on the fast track toward unemployment. But White could do his part in the effort to salvage 2017 in Chicago by playing like the bulked-up and physically imposing receiver he was drafted to become in the NFL.

    The Bears used their seventh overall pick on White in 2015, but he's played only four games because of multiple severe leg injuries. That alone is frustrating, but the rare moments of health have been worse for White.

    He appeared in Chicago's first four games of 2016, averaging a mere 9.8 yards per reception on his 19 catches. The Bears need him to be a secondary-stretching presence after they lost Alshon Jeffery during free agency. But White hasn't given any indication yet that he can stay healthy or be an NFL-caliber receiver when on the field.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    During free agency, the Cincinnati Bengals lost one of the league's best left tackles in Andrew Whitworth and one of its best guards in Kevin Zeitler.

    Even with those two in front of him, quarterback Andy Dalton was still sacked 41 times in 2016, the second-highest single-season total of his six-year career. So it's not hard to connect the dots and see that 2017 could tumble off the rails fast.

    Dalton might get pulverized and have little time to connect deep with either wide receiver A.J. Green or tight end Tyler Eifert. Then the offense will sputter if running back Jeremy Hill can't resurrect his career after averaging only 3.8 yards per carry in 2016.

Cleveland Browns

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    The Cleveland Browns are so deep into rebuild mode that they're willing to spend $16 million on a draft pick.

    Their fans surely understand the process, because no fanbase is more familiar with hope followed by bitter disappointment. Winning with any sort of consistency will still take some time, and until then the Browns are simply trying not to embarrass themselves on a weekly basis.

    The health and performance of cornerback Joe Haden will go a long way toward clearing that low bar. Haden played through groin issues in 2016, which impacted his effectiveness. But the 27-year-old has been declining for several years now.

    In 2014, he allowed a 75.9 passer rating in coverage. That's back when he was a shutdown corner. But in 2015, Haden allowed a passer rating of 158.2, and in 2016, he improved to a still bad 97.7, all per PFF.

    Haden's plunge from the top tier of his position is a major reason why the Browns defense finished last in the league in passing touchdowns allowed during the 2016 season (36). He could spiral further now and become even more of a liability.

Dallas Cowboys

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    The Dallas Cowboys have all the offensive pieces in place to put crooked digits up on scoreboards for years. Dak Prescott didn't at all look or play like a rookie quarterback in 2016. Running back Ezekiel Elliott threatened to break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record, and somehow wide receiver Dez Bryant seems like the old man on the team now at the age of 28.

    They may need every last bit of that firepower in 2016, because it's not hard to foresee a scenario in which shootouts will be necessary to win games.

    A defense that was already weak against the pass lost four defensive backs during free agency: safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox and cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. That's a mass exodus from a unit fresh off limping through 2016, when it allowed 260.4 passing yards per game to rank 26th in the NFL.

    The Dallas offense can come from behind, and it should have the weapons to keep up in high-scoring games. The team may prefer to stick with a run-oriented offense that drains the clock, but the secondary might not allow it.

Denver Broncos

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    The Denver Broncos run defense went from punching you in the mouth in 2015 to getting stuffed in a locker in 2016.

    During a championship season, the Broncos' juggernaut defense ranked third against the run, allowing only 83.6 yards per game. But the unit declined dramatically in 2016, giving up 130.3 yards per game, which ranked 28th in the league.

    The solution so far this offseason has been, in a word, underwhelming. Denver signed defensive tackle Domata Peko, who will turn 33 midway through the 2017 season and is very much in the decline phase of his career. He's not effective as a large-bodied run-stuffer, with his defensive stops dropping from 30 apiece in 2011 and 2012 to 18 in 2016, per PFF.

    If Peko continues down that path, the Broncos will keep getting gashed on the ground, and the hole will remain in a once-feared defense.

Detroit Lions

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    The Detroit Lions did everything in their power during free agency to plug gushing run-blocking holes. So doom for them in 2017 is simple: Those moves fail.

    The Lions' rushing offense slumbered in 2016, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry. Detroit still managed to win nine games, including five straight at one point, and make the playoffs.

    But that was achieved via an unprecedented white-knuckle ride and quarterback Matthew Stafford's late-game brilliance. He set a record by leading eight game-winning comebacks in the fourth quarter or overtime, and of the Lions' nine wins, six came by four points or fewer.

    Getting or maintaining more comfortable leads would have been easier with an even somewhat functional rushing offense. Guard T.J. Lang and tackle Rick Wagner should help fix that after being signed as free agents, though there is some hesitation about the former. Lang is entering his age-30 season, and he's coming off hip surgery.

    He's one of the league's best run-blocking guards. But can he stay at that level as the wear of playing football adds up on his body?

Green Bay Packers

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    The Green Bay Packers have plenty of talent in their offensive cupboard, especially now that tight end Martellus Bennett has hopped aboard. And it helps that quarterback Aaron Rodgers can turn lemons into Lamborghinis.

    Still, it would be swell if the old Randall Cobb would return. The receiver's ability to stretch the seam and create yards after the catch changes the character of the Packers offense. But that version of Cobb has been missing for a while.

    Cobb is now far removed from his breakout 2014 season, when he finished with 1,287 receiving yards on 91 catches and scored 12 times. In 34 games since then (including the playoffs), he's logged only three contests with 100-plus receiving yards.

    Cobb has struggled through injuries, and an ankle issue in 2016 was especially limiting since he relies on his short-area quickness. A healthy and fully functioning Cobb could take the Green Bay offense to another level.

    Anything short of that will make Rodgers rely on the likes of Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison. That'd be less than ideal.

Houston Texans

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    You're going to hear a lot of draft cliches over the next few weeks, and "pound the table" is one of my personal favorites.

    The ultimate fear for the Houston Texans is that they won't be able to do that while assessing any quarterback in the draft. Which also means the mission to find even an average quarterback to finally complement a still-strong defense could end in bitter failure.

    There are a lot of appealing quarterback options in the draft. But none stand out as franchise-altering, Week 1 starters the way, say, Andrew Luck did in 2012.

    Tony Romo could have been a solid temporary solution, but he wisely chose self preservation over clinging to his career after multiple surgeries. That leaves the Texans to either chase one of those uncertain draft options with a late first-round pick or hope that someone like Jay Cutler or Colin Kaepernick can provide short-term competence.

    The Houston defense gave up a league-low 301.3 yards per game in 2016, which means the team's bar for passable quarterback play is lower than most. Yet there's still a chance another great defense could be wasted again in 2017.

Indianapolis Colts

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    The Indianapolis Colts have focused on defense so far this offseason. They did that by bringing in several low-cost and potentially high-reward pass-rushers—including outside linebackers John Simon and Jabaal Sheard—who could finally be a solution to an annual problem.

    But if they don't find an answer to another recurring issue, the Colts risk wasting a year of quarterback Andrew Luck in his prime. Again.

    Luck keeps getting whacked behind one of the league's worst pass-blocking offensive lines. He's been sacked 56 times over his last 22 regular-season games. Luck was also pressured on a league-high 44.4 percent of his dropbacks in 2016, per PFF, which is the NFL equivalent of trying to eat your lunch while inside a dryer.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars may soon have to swallow some pride, look at their quarterback depth chart and sigh deeply while acknowledging they made a mistake. That mistake is, of course, Blake Bortles.

    If the third overall pick in the 2014 draft continues to regress, he'll take what could be a great defense down with him. In free agency, that united added cornerback A.J. Bouye, defensive end Calais Campbell and safety Barry Church down with him.

    Bortles bottomed out in 2016 after making some promising progress in 2015. He averaged only 6.2 yards per attempt and has now thrown 51 interceptions in his three NFL seasons, the league's second-highest total during that span.

    He needs to fix his inconsistent and often sloppy mechanics. If he doesn't, the Jaguars will likely be doomed to their seventh straight losing season.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Quarterback Alex Smith keeps making the Kansas City Chiefs offense a unit that struggles to come from behind when faced with even the most modest deficit.

    Smith has thrown only 53 touchdown passes over the past three seasons. That's both comical and depressing if you're a Chiefs fan, as Smith's touchdown total since 2014 is only five ahead of Peyton Manning's. That's the Manning who threw more Cheetos into his mouth than footballs to receivers in 2016 after retiring and who started only nine regular-season games in 2015.

    The Chiefs offense isn't built around deep balls, which is mostly because of the staff in place. But it's also because of Smith's limitations, and the worst outcome for Kansas City in 2017 could be a familiar one: being held back by an average quarterback who can't elevate his team in the postseason.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Prepare yourself for a summer of keeping tabs on aging quarterbacks.

    Time rolls on mercilessly for us all, and that includes a generation of quarterbacks who are either in or advancing toward their late 30s. Some quarterbacks, like the Patriots' Brady and the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees, are still delivering stiff right hooks in their fight against time. Others have taken a few gut shots themselves.

    Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers falls into the latter category. Rivers seems to be descending into a dark age hole after throwing a career single-season high 21 interceptions in 2016 and then turning 35 in December. Rivers also came dangerously close to setting a career single-season low with his 60.4 completion percentage (his low was 60.2 in 2007).

    In fairness to Rivers, both of those numbers were affected by the complete lack of support around him because of injuries. He became a high-volume passer who had to force far too many throws after wide receiver Keenan Allen suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 1.

    Maybe with Allen healthy in 2017 Rivers will revert back to his 2015 form and average 299.5 passing yards per game. But the Chargers need to start preparing for the end.

Los Angeles Rams

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    The Los Angeles Rams' free-agency addition of left tackle Andrew Whitworth addressed a need, and it'll go a long way in the effort to make sure quarterback Jared Goff doesn't spend most of his days closely examining the turf. Goff took 26 sacks in only seven starts during his rookie season. The lowlight came when he went down seven times against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17.

    But though Whitworth will be a core pass-blocker, he's only one of the five men who will be tasked with giving running back Todd Gurley some semblance of running room. The Rams' biggest fear is that the other four guys repeat their 2016 performances.

    Gurley should shoulder his share of the blame for the Los Angeles rushing offense being zapped of all its life. But he rarely saw much daylight ahead of him. As a rookie in 2015, Gurley averaged 4.8 yards per carry, but that figure plummeted to 3.2 during his second NFL season.

    Goff needs to be propped up by a productive and feared backfield. If that doesn't happen, the young quarterback's confidence could get shattered.

Miami Dolphins

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    The Miami Dolphins fielded one of the three defenses in 2016 to allow an average of 140-plus rushing yards per game.

    Somehow, they still made the playoffs despite the regular bulldozing. Their one postseason game ended in predictable fashion, though: A lopsided 30-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which running back Le'Veon Bell marched along easily for 167 rushing yards.

    So that area of the Dolphins roster was clearly wounded. The solution? Sign an aging Lawrence Timmons in free agency.

    Timmons will turn 31 in May, and the inside linebacker is in the descent stage of his career. He recorded 114 tackles in 2016, which was his lowest single-season total since 2012. He's also missed 20-plus tackles in two of the past three years, per PFF.

    Miami ranked 28th in time of possession in 2016 because of that leaky run defense. Doing so again would mean asking the offense to routinely maximize its few scoring opportunities or worse: come from behind with little time to spare.

    Both outcomes end in a dance with danger.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford had to play while strapped to a merry-go-round in 2016; there was a pass-rusher making his life horrible on what felt like every snap.

    The Vikings' offseason focus so far has been clear: Make sure the quarterback has a chance to at least attempt passes. Minnesota started an offensive line rebuild by signing tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers.

    The question now also doubles as a worst-case scenario: Will those signings actually solve the problem?

    Reiff and Remmers each allowed 40-plus pressures in 2016, per PFF. Worse, Reiff is just one year removed from giving up six sacks, and Remmers has allowed 18 sacks over the past two seasons.

    They were two of the better options available in a weak free-agency market for offensive linemen.

New England Patriots

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    Brady suddenly morphing into a human is the only real threat to the Patriots and their reign atop the AFC East.

    Sure, Brady is still in peak physical condition heading into his age-40 season because of both his workout regimen and dedication to healthy eating. For a cool $200, you can eat like Brady, too, with delicacies like avocado ice cream and sweet potato gnocchi on the menu.

    But eventually even the most advanced workouts and body science lose to Father Time. Only three players in league history have thrown 30-plus touchdown passes past the age of 40.

    It's unlikely Brady slams into that age wall in 2017. And he'll probably be the quarterback who keeps breaking the mold and cruising into uncharted territory. But let's pump the brakes a little on him playing until the age of 45.

New Orleans Saints

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    Did someone say something about aging quarterbacks?

    Brees isn't acting his age either. He averaged 325.5 yards per game during his age-37 season in 2016, and he did that while throwing 37 touchdown passes and maintaining a passer rating of 101.7.

    But football becomes a year-to-year adventure in your late 30s, even for generation-defining quarterbacks like Brady and Brees. History is a mighty enemy, and there will only be so much longer Brees can hold on.

New York Giants

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    The Giants gave fading quarterback Eli Manning a wide receiver who can pump some life back into his career by vacuuming up wayward throws.

    Brandon Marshall recorded 109 receptions for 1,502 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015. He was signed as a free agent and will now move the sticks and be a consistent red-zone threat while Odell Beckham Jr. keeps burning up grass on the outside.

    Which is all great, but there's still one critical area in which New York was a near zero in 2016: its backfield.

    The Giants averaged only 3.5 yards per carry, and having a rushing offense that defenses can ignore isn't ideal when your quarterback is entering the twilight stage of his career. Late in 2016, fifth-round rookie running back Paul Perkins started to emerge, averaging 4.8 yards per attempt over the final three games.

    New York will likely add more running back depth through the draft. But the starting job should be Perkins' to lose, and if he doesn't make a leap, Manning's decline could kick into another gear.

New York Jets

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    The worst-case scenario for the New York Jets in 2017 is probably winning enough games to put them out of contention for the first overall pick.

    The Jets decided to dismantle and rebuild, which was the right decision, though it's often one that costs the head coach his job. They threw everything overboard that wasn't screwed down, jettisoning Brandon Marshall, Darrelle Revis, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith, Ryan Clady and Nick Mangold.

    They'll likely draft a quarterback, but right now Josh McCown is the favorite to start. That's the Josh McCown who will turn 38 in July, is often banged up and has made just 11 starts over the past two years.

    There are teams that can win games with a below-average quarterback. New York isn't one of them, and it's especially not if wide receiver Eric Decker isn't at full health after hip and rotator-cuff surgeries.

    The Jets are in dismantling mode now, and the rebuild will start during the draft. It'll continue during the 2018 draft and probably also the 2019 draft.

Oakland Raiders

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    The Oakland Raiders already had their worst-case scenario when quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg during a season in which the franchise finally, and mercifully, seemed poised for a deep playoff run. Their new worst-case scenario in 2017 is tied to support around Carr—specifically the backfield.

    Running back Latavius Murray departed as a free agent. He was inconsistent at best while averaging only four yards per carry in 2016 and logging just two 100-plus yard rushing games. But he's still a proven goal-line back who scored 12 rushing touchdowns in 2016, which ranked fifth in the league.

    The Raiders may use an early draft pick on a running back to make up for the loss of Murray. Even if they do, that rookie will come with uncertainty, which would add to the lack of experience elsewhere on the depth chart: Jalen Richard (83 career carries), DeAndre Washington (87) and Taiwan Jones (44).

    There's a reason why Oakland was connected to Marshawn Lynch earlier in the offseason and why those rumors have sparked up again. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that Lynch told the Raiders he plans to unretire.

    That's far from official yet, as a deal between Oakland and the Seattle Seahawks still has to be worked out. But the Raiders seem to be progressing toward bringing Lynch aboard, and he'd slide into a significant roster void.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    A team's offseason actions can speak louder than any words said publicly. And the Philadelphia Eagles pretty much said this: Please save us, Carson Wentz, and go back to the quarterback you were over the first four weeks of 2016.

    It's fine if Wentz doesn't become a Pro Bowler in his second season. And it's healthy to have realistic expectations after he came from FCS program North Dakota State. Progress isn't always a neat, tidy straight line and a pleasant ride to stardom.

    Plenty of rookie quarterback seasons have looked like the one Wentz went through—one interception through his first four games, then 13 over the final 12—and not Prescott's brilliant display for the Cowboys.

    The poison pill and worst-case scenario for the Eagles in 2017 would be if Wentz doesn't progress significantly. Philadelphia has given him reliable deep receiving options in free-agent pickups Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. That should result in a quarterback who averages a whole lot more than 6.2 yards per pass attempt and has a touchdown-to-interception ratio far better than 16-to-14.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Steelers are performing a delicate dance.

    On both sides of the ball they're anchored by aging stars: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, 35, and outside linebacker James Harrison, 39 in May. EVen if those two haven't shown signs of sharp decline yet, there's always that risk with any player in his mid- to late 30s.

    But the worst-case scenario for Pittsburgh lies with a 25th overall pick who's supposed to be a cornerstone of the defensive backfield.

    The Steelers secondary improved late in 2016, but overall, it was a mid-pack unit that allowed 242.6 passing yards per game. Cornerback Artie Burns was the weak link. Opposing offensive coordinators targeted him often during his rookie season, and he surrendered 813 yards in coverage, per PFF.

    The Steelers need him to start playing like a first-round pick.

San Francisco 49ers

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    The San Francisco 49ers are going through a transition, which is putting it politely. The franchise goes through head coaches faster than most of us go through a bag of Doritos and is on its fourth in the past four years.

    There's a twinkle of light at the end of the tunnel, however, after an offseason of gathering talent through free agency. The continued development of promising young players, like defensive end DeForest Buckner, will also go a long way toward ensuring Kyle Shanahan becomes the first 49ers head coach since Jim Harbaugh to last more than one season.

    But San Francisco still needs some source of stability amid all that change, especially from what was a nearly non-existent defense in 2016. The 49ers allowed 30 points per game and were rolled weekly on the ground, giving up a league-worst 165.9 rushing yards each week.

    They need some stability somewhere along the front seven and a proven veteran who can anchor the unit. Usually, that title would belong to middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who has four 140-plus tackle seasons in his career. But it's getting tough to trust his ailing body.

    Bowman suffered a severe knee injury during the 2013 NFC Championship Game that cost him the 2014 regular season, and then in 2016 he played just four games before tearing his Achilles. He'll enter the 2017 season as a 29-year-old who has missed 28 games over the past three years.

    Bowman has nearly unmatched sideline-to-sideline speed when healthy, but those days could be in the rearview mirror, and another injury in 2017 would derail the San Francisco defense again.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Every offseason we wonder how the Seahawks will improve their offensive line. And nearly every offseason there's a shred of hope after a free-agency signing or early draft pick.

    And then quarterback Russell Wilson is sent off to dodge, weave, spin and juke his way around a constant stream of opposing pass-rushers, with the hope his bones and muscles stay in proper working order. So, every year, the Seattle offensive line derailing the team's championship hopes is a worst-case scenario.

    There will often be weaknesses when a title-capable team has paid to keep several core players. That's what happened to the Seahawks when they retained Wilson and gave defensive pieces like cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas the money they deserved.

    Laughably awful draft bust Luke Joeckel has been Seattle's only offensive line addition of significance so far in the offseason. Yes, the Luke Joeckel who tore his ACL, MCL and mensicus in 2016 and allowed seven sacks in 2015.

    Wilson has been sacked 40-plus times in four of his five NFL seasons. Eventually his body will break down with that constant punishment. Then the Seahawks offense will crumble, too.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Many of these potential disaster situations have been tied to age. As we're reminded every year, there's often little warning before a once-talented player walks into an age vortex.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in danger of reaching that point with cornerback Brent Grimes. He didn't look or play his age at all in 2016, producing a bounce-back season. The 33-year-old posted a passer rating in coverage of 75.8, per PFF, which was a vast improvement over the rating of 103.2 he recorded in 2015, when his career looked to be circling the drain.

    But what Grimes did in 2016 could matter little if he loses a step. Recall that Revis, 31, was still a shutdown corner heading into the 2016 season, and then he became a liability.

    Grimes will turn 34 just prior to reporting for training camp. If he falls off, then a secondary that allowed 250.8 passing yards per game with Grimes at his peak could be in a world of hurt.

Tennessee Titans

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    Most mock drafts have the Tennessee Titans selecting a pass-catcher in the first round. A trusted set of hands to pair with rapidly developing quarterback Marcus Mariota is arguably the Titans' final frontier for playoff contention.

    But what type of pass-catcher? There's a chance they could find a loaded tight end class too irresistible to pass on at No. 18 and go that route with Miami Hurricanes stud David Njoku. That's who Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller selected for Tennessee in a recent mock.

    Njoku, a former high school high jump champion, would be a fine pick, and he could quickly grow to redefine what it means to be an athletic tight end. But in the short term, the Titans would be putting a lot of faith in Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe at wide receiver while depriving Mariota of the deep speed option he needs to reach another level.

    Sharpe showed some promise as a rookie after being picked in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. But he still averaged only 12.7 yards per reception and didn't provide adequate support for Matthews, who busted out with 945 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on 65 catches.

    Tennessee is thirsting for more pass-catching depth and vertical speed. Without it, it risks slowing Mariota's rise.

Washington Redskins

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    The darkest timeline for the Washington Redskins is the same every year, and it also happens most years.

    They need a season with tight end Jordan Reed both on the field for 16 games and functioning at full capacity for all those contests. Neither has happened during his four-year career, and yet the 26-year-old has still teased us by not moving or looking at all like a tight end in the open field.

    He's an athletic anomaly and showed that by piling up 952 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on 87 receptions in 2015 despite missing two games. And in 2016, he missed four games but still finished with 686 yards and six touchdowns on 66 grabs.

    The Redskins still have plenty of weapons if Reed were to go down again. They landed a prized and rising free agent in wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, who had three 100-plus yard receiving games in his first season after a position switch. And they have quality depth behind Reed after they re-signed veteran Vernon Davis, who restored his career at the age of 32 with 583 receiving yards in 2016.

    Still, having a uniquely gifted tight end performing at his peak for an entire season would add another dangerous dimension to the Washington offense. If Reed can't stay healthy after missing 18 games in four years, the Redskins might not have that extra bit of firepower to contend in the tough NFC East.