The Worst-Case Scenario Every NFL Team Must Avoid in 2018 Season

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 27, 2018

The Worst-Case Scenario Every NFL Team Must Avoid in 2018 Season

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    Now that the first wave of free agency has come and gone, it's time for NFL teams to begin looking ahead to the 2018 draft and beyond.

    What must the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots do to get back to the Super Bowl? What will it take for teams like the New Orleans Saints to make it to football's biggest stage? How can the Cleveland Browns get out of the league's toilet bowl?

    There's a flip side to that coin, too. Every NFL team must avoid certain pitfallsdraft-day gaffes, ill-advised strategy decisions and potential injuriesthat will ruin their 2018 seasons.

    Forget the power of positive thinking for now. Instead, indulge in every team's worst-case scenario. 

      

Arizona Cardinals: Mr. Glass Breaks Again

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    With quarterback Carson Palmer and head coach Bruce Arians having retired this offseason, the Arizona Cardinals are on the cusp of a full-blown rebuild. However, they attempted to stave that off by adding quarterback Sam Bradford, giving stalwarts like Larry Fitzgerald one more chance to make the playoffs.

    We'll see how long that lasts.

    In a Week 1 scorching of the New Orleans Saints last season, Bradford threw for 346 yards and three scores. However, a knee injury caused him to miss all but 26 snaps over the rest of the year.

    That's the story of Bradford's career in a nutshell. He's missed a staggering 48 games in his eight NFL seasons, including the entire 2014 season and most of last year.

    Bradford will now line up behind an offensive line that led the NFC in sacks allowed last year, which suggests it isn't a matter of if he will get hurt; it's when. And once he gives way to Mike Glennon, the Cardinals will find themselves knee-deep in their rebuild.

Atlanta Falcons: Forgetting Freeman

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Losing quarterback Matt Ryan for any length of time would be a devastating blow to the Atlanta Falcons. The same goes for wide receiver Julio Jones

    However, another offensive star is nearly as important to the Falcons as that pair. And offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian had a bad habit last year of forgetting Devonta Freeman is one of the NFL's most dangerous and versatile running backs.

    Freeman fell short of the 1,000-yard mark on the ground last year partly because he missed two games, but his usage was all over the place. In five of Atlanta's six regular-season losses, Freeman had no more than 12 carries.

    In Freeman and Tevin Coleman, the Falcons have one of the league's best backfield duos. However, Atlanta was 13th in the NFL in rushing yards and 16th in attempts last season.

    If the Falcons don't establish better offensive balance, they won't get back into the Super Bowl conversation in the NFC.

Baltimore Ravens: Flaccid Flacco

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Last season, the Baltimore Ravens ranked 29th in the NFL with 189.4 passing yards per game. 

    That isn't much bang for the $20 million-plus the Ravens give Joe Flacco a year.

    The Ravens' lack of pass-catching talent deserves much of the blame for those struggles last season. Adding Michael Crabtree and John Brown in free agency should be a boost in that regard, provided the latter can stay healthy. Baltimore could select a receiver with the No. 16 overall pick, too.

    But what if the problem isn't the ever-changing menagerie of receivers in Baltimore?

    In 2017, Flacco passed for the fewest yards (3,141) in a 16-game season since his rookie year. He wasn't substantially better in 2016, when he threw for over 4,000 yards but managed just 20 touchdowns and a passer rating of 83.5.

    Flacco hasn't posted a passer rating north of 90 since 2014. He's never topped 95 in his 10 NFL seasons.

    In reality, the Ravens have been living their worst-case scenario for the past three years. They're a fringe contender largely because they've tied up a substantial percentage of their salary cap in an average quarterback who had one magical postseason six years ago.

Buffalo Bills: Overpaying for a Quarterback

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    It isn't exactly a state secret that the Buffalo Bills need a quarterback after trading Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns. While the Bills signed AJ McCarron in free agency, his two-year, $10 million contract isn't a ringing endorsement of their long-term faith in the former Bengals backup.

    The Browns likely will draft a quarterback with the first overall pick, in no small part because they know the New York Jets are going to take one at No. 3. Add in the QB-needy Denver Broncos at No. 5, and you have the recipe for an early run at the position.

    The second (New York Giants) and fourth (Cleveland again) picks may be available—if the price is right. And with two first-rounders of their own (Nos. 12 and 22), the Bills are in position to make an attractive offer.

    However, if it takes additional first-rounders on top of the pair in 2018, the offer suddenly isn't all that attractive for the Bills. Even if it means moving all the way up to second overall, no quarterback in this year's draft class is worth three firsts.

    The McCarron signing offers the Bills some semblance of a safety net—a Plan B if they aren't able to move up.

    They shouldn't be afraid to use it.

Carolina Panthers: Offensive Offense

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Last season, the Carolina Panthers ranked 19th in the NFL in total offense at 323.7 yards per game. They ran the ball well—they were fourth in the NFL at 131.4 yards per gamebut they had fifth-worst passing attack (192.3 yards per game).

    Carolina's offense may be even worse in 2018.

    Losing tailback Jonathan Stewart, who averaged 3.4 yards per carry last season, may not seem like a big deal, but he was the team's grinder and leading rusher (198 carries). Christian McCaffrey is a versatile, talented young back, but he can't tote the rock for 350-plus carries. Cam Newton already ran the ball too many times last year (139).

    Even if the Panthers add a back in the 2018 draft, there's a giant question mark hanging over the run game. And it isn't as though the passing game will pick up the slack, either. 

    McCaffrey led the team in receptions in 2017. Greg Olsen started showing his age in an injury-marred campaign. Devin Funchess is OK, but he isn't much more than that. Newcomer Torrey Smith isn't a magic fix-it. 

    While the Panthers have a good defense, even Luke Kuechly and Co. can't reasonably be expected to hold opponents under 17 points every week.

    Among all of last year's NFC playoff teams, the Panthers are the closest to their worst-case scenario at the end of March.

Chicago Bears: Change Not Well-Received

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    A year ago, the Chicago Bears aggressively moved up to draft quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick. While Trubisky had an uneven rookie season, it was a difficult campaign to grade.

    Even before losing wideout Cameron Meredith and tight end Zach Miller to season-ending injuries, the Bears already had one of the NFL's weakest receiving corps in 2017. Heading into the 2018 season, that no longer appears to be the case.

    While Meredith may depart this offseason as a restricted free agent, Chicago already added the No. 1 free-agent option at the position in Allen Robinson. The Bears also gave former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Trey Burton a four-year, $32 million deal to serve as an underneath target for Trubisky.

    However, none of that guarantees improvement by Trubisky in 2018. Robinson tore his ACL in Week 1 and missed the remainder of the 2017 season. Burton may have been one of the heroes of Super Bowl LII, but he has only 629 total receiving yards over his four-year career.

    Trubisky will be under pressure to take a big step forward as a sophomore, especially given his improved cadre of pass-catchers. However, the new-and-improved Chicago passing game is anything but a sure bet.

Cincinnati Bengals: More Matadors

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive line ranked 24th in the NFL in run blocking and 20th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders. Right tackle Jake Fisher missed half the season, and left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi finished as Pro Football Focus' 70th-ranked tackle.

    The Bengals have already started to bolster the line, dealing this year's 12th overall pick to the Buffalo Bills for No. 22 and tackle Cordy Glenn. The Bengals may also use that No. 22 pick on a tackle like Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey or Connor Williams of Texas.

    Problem solved, right? Maybe not.

    Glenn can play at a high level when healthy, but that "when healthy" caveat keeps getting bigger and bigger. Glenn missed 10 games last year in Buffalo, and the seventh-year veteran has been sidelined for almost half of the last two seasons.

    And while there's some talent at tackle in this year's draft, it's a relatively down year at the position. Whether it's McGlinchey's low ceiling, Williams' injury history and disappointing 2017 season or Orlando Brown's disastrous combine, there aren't any sure things in 2018.

    The last thing the Bengals need is to head into September in the same shape they were in last December—with Andy Dalton running for his life.

Cleveland Browns: Punt at Quarterback—Again

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    When a team is coming off of an 0-16 season and a 1-31 mark over the last two years, we've seen its worst-case scenario play out in real time.

    But by eschewing a quarterback atop the draft this year, the Browns will ensure they remain firmly in the AFC North basement.

    Despite having a quarterback situation that's become a tragic comedy, the Browns haven't spent a top-15 draft pick on a quarterback since selecting Tim Couch first overall in 1999. And even when they have taken a QB in Round 1, the pick has been a disaster (see: Weeden, Brandon and Manziel, Johnny).

    Rather than draft Carson Wentz in 2016, the Browns traded that No. 2 pick to the Philadelphia Eagles. The same happened at No. 12 in 2017 with Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans.

    None of this year's top quarterbacks are can't-miss prospects, largely because there is no such thing. But one of them needs to be atop Cleveland's draft board, and the Browns need to take him at No. 1.

    Whoever they pick there won't be guaranteed to succeed, but for the first time in a long time, the Browns will be able to say they tried.

Dallas Cowboys: Dak Dive (Volume 2)

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys backslid in 2017, in no small part because quarterback Dak Prescott did as well.

    Cowboys wide receiver Cole Beasley thinks the team asked Prescott to do too much last season, per Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.

    "He was still making plays all the time," Beasley said. "Last year, we asked him to be Superman and relied on him so much. When things broke down he was making plays scrambling. A lot comes with filling some spots maybe where we were weaker and stuff like that."

    The factors that led to Prescott having to don a proverbial cape in 2017 are still there.

    While Ezekiel Elliott won't have a six-game suspension looming over his head this season, Dallas' pass-catchers remain a mess. Dez Bryant isn't the receiver he once was. Jason Witten will turn 36 in May. And the team's biggest free-agent addition at wideout was Allen Hurns, who is a 50/50 bet to get injured signing his contract.

    The Cowboys could add a receiver in the 2018 draft, and Calvin Ridley of Alabamathe top prospect at the position this seasonmay still be there at No. 19. But Ridley isn't exactly an instant-impact player.

    Dallas' opponents are going to stack the line, try to stop Elliott and dare Prescott to beat them using this motley crew.

Denver Broncos: The Return of Case Keenum, Journeyman

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    Case Keenum went through lot in his first six NFL seasons.

    He played for three different teams, including two in 2014 alone. Before winning 11 of 14 regular-season starts with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, Keenum was 9-15 as a starter.

    That magical season with the Vikings earned Keenum a two-year, $36 million contract to be the Denver Broncos' starter. Denver head coach Vance Joseph believes the adversity Keenum has encountered to date will only help him, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold.

    "The maturity level. ... Most guys like Case Keenum, when they play and survive, they get better and better each year ... Those guys who play and survive, they get better. Most guys who play and don't survive, they're out of the league. For him to be here at this moment and be our guy, with what he's gone through as a free agent out of college, and the work he's put in with four or five teams, he's hardened because of that process. He's going to be good for us."

    It's an expensive gamble. Prior to last year, Keenum had never completed more than 60.9 percent of his passes. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was plus-15 last year. Prior to last season, it was plus-four across his first five seasons.

    If the journeyman version of Case Keenum shows up in the Mile High City, Denver will be in trouble.

Detroit Lions: Leave the Run Game in the Gutter

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    Last year, the Detroit Lions had the NFL's most anemic rushing attack at just 76.3 yards per game. The year before that, they averaged 81.9 yards per game—30th in the league. The season before that, they sat at 83.4 yards per game—dead last in the NFL.

    Matthew Stafford is a good quarterback, but he isn't a miracle worker.

    Signing LeGarrette Blount was a step in the right direction, as he provides a physicality that the Detroit run game has lacked of late. But he's a 31-year-old with an injury-prone backup behind him in Ameer Abdullah.

    In other words, the Lions need to keep building at the position. Whether it's picking LSU's Derrius Guice at No. 20 or going after a Day 2 back like USC's Ronald Jones, the Lions need to stay aggressive in the backfield—preferably adding someone with a better all-around skill-set than Blount.

    Standing pat with Blount, Abdullah and Theo Riddick leaves the Lions one injury away from being up the proverbial creek again. 

Green Bay Packers: DeShone Kizer, Sans Clipboard

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    We've already seen what it takes to change the Green Bay Packers from a Super Bowl contender to a depressing shell of an also-ran: the absence of No. 12.

    After losing Aaron Rodgers for nine games last seasona nightmare that will live forever in Wisconsin lore as "The Brett Hundley Era"the Packers took steps to bolster their depth behind the two-time NFL MVP. Prior to the start of free agency, they agreed to trade cornerback Damarious Randall to Cleveland for second-year signal-caller DeShone Kizer.

    Perhaps the change of scenery will help Kizer, who threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns and led the NFL with 22 picks as a rookie. Regardless, if he takes the field in Titletown, Green Bay is toast.

    The Packers shelled out big bucks in free agency for tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, a departure from how former general manager Ted Thompson often operated. That smacks of a team that believes it can make a run at the big one this year.

    Green Bay can...so long as it has Captain Commercial under center.

Houston Texans: Watson Can't Do It All

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    The 2017 season was all about highs and lows for the Houston Texans.

    The highs included Deshaun Watson setting an NFL record with 19 touchdown passes in his first seven games, looking like the Texans' quarterback of the future. The lows included Watson tearing his ACL during a Week 9 practice—one of a number of major injuries that ravaged the Texans on both sides of the ball.

    Watson will be back in 2018. So will defensive end J.J. Watt, who could help form one of the NFL's most formidable defenses alongside Jadeveon Clowney and newly acquired safety Tyrann Mathieu. Watson has a superstar wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins and a talented young deep threat in Will Fuller.

    Houston still has question marks, however. The Texans touted a middle-of-the-pack ground game in 2017. The offensive line was among the league's worst, allowing an eye-popping 54 sacks.

    The Texans can't do much about either, as they traded each of their first two draft picks in 2018 to Cleveland.

    Just because Watson is capable of scrambling around and hitting big plays doesn't mean the team should rely on him doing it, particularly after an ACL tear. Putting too much on his plate is a recipe for a second straight season of disappointment.

Indianapolis Colts: All Out of Luck

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    We've already seen what the worst-case scenario looks like for the Indianapolis Colts. It looks a lot like the organization insisting that star quarterback Andrew Luck is "fine" as days turns into weeks turn into months.

    That was the story in 2017, as shoulder surgery ended up sidelining Luck for the entire season.

    It's been well over a year since Luck had surgery on his right shoulder, and he still hasn't thrown a football since. However, Colts general manager Chris Ballard continued to sound optimistic about Luck's availability for offseason workouts during a recent appearance on The Grady and Big Joe Show on 1070 The Fan, according to Matt Danely of Stampede Blue.

    "We'll ease him along," Ballard said. "I mean, he's in a great place right now, but we'll ease him along. He'll be involved, he wants to be with his teammates, he wants to be involved in the offense. He was just in town this last weekend for four days. It was great to see him, he looks great."

    Per The Adam Schefter Podcast, Ballard went one step further, giving April 9 as the magic day that Luck will start participating in offseason workouts.

    Of course, that doesn't mean he'll throw. Or that he's close to being able to play. We've reached the point now where you can believe Andrew Luck will play quarterback again when you see him in a game.

    The worst-case scenario is here for Indy, and there's no getting around it.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Return of Bad Blake Bortles

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars finished one game away from their first Super Bowl trip in franchise history in 2017. That had far more to do with the NFL's best defense and a punishing ground game than anything Blake Bortles did with his arm.

    The 25-year-old did more damage with his legs than his arm in a playoff win over Buffalo, and he was uneven against the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, Bortles played well enough against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game that the Jaguars re-upped him on a three-year, $54 million deal.

    Whether that deal turns out to be a bargain or a bust depends on which Bortles shows up in 2018.

    Get the quarterback who completed over 70 percent of his passes for 326 yards in a Week 15 blowout of the Texans, and the Jaguars can beat any team in the NFL. With that stifling defense and Leonard Fournette running the ball, Jacksonville could represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIII.

    But if the Jaguars get the Bortles who threw three interceptions the following week in San Francisco or the player who struggled with accuracy against the Bills and Steelers, the team will fall far short of Super Bowl contention.

    For a quarterback with a career completion percentage of 59.1 and 64 interceptions across his 62 career regular-season games, it's all about accuracy and turnovers.

Kansas City Chiefs: Mahomes Mishap

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs apparently have a great deal of faith in Patrick Mahomes.

    First, the Chiefs traded up in the 2017 NFL draft to acquire the Texas Tech star, which cost them their first-round pick this year. Then, despite winning the AFC West last year, another postseason disappointment led them to flip Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick.

    This offseason, the Chiefs added wide receiver Sammy Watkins to an offense that already featured wideout Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and tailback Kareem Hunt. It's Mahomes' time now, and Chiefs GM Brett Veach believes he's ready, per Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News.

    "From the day Patrick stepped on the field, in the rookie minicamp, the OTAs, the training camps, he has always 'wowed' us," Veach said. "He has a lot to learn yet. I think he grew tremendously. But having watched him day in and day out, take to the studying, take to working on his craft, he did a good job."

    Mahomes looked good in his lone start last year against the Denver Broncos, but drawing grand conclusions from one Week 17 start is a fool's errand. And given the team's defensive deficiencies, Kansas City will be counting on the young quarterback to win more than a few shootouts.

    If the Chiefs start slow and fall behind in the AFC West, it won't take long for fans to start grumbling about whether the team jumped the gun in making a switch under center.

Los Angeles Chargers: So Close, And Yet So Far Away

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    After nearly making the postseason last year despite an 0-4 start, the Los Angeles Chargers have the makings of a trendy dark-horse pick to make the playoffs. In fact, they have everything they need to win the AFC West, which might be the most wide-open division in the NFL.

    Between quarterback Philip Rivers, skill-position talent like Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry and one of the NFL's better pass-protecting lines, the Bolts are stacked on offense. They also tout arguably the league's best one-two pass-rushing punch in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, not to mention one of the league's best secondaries.

    Unlike last year, the Chargers need to show they can seal the deal.

    Five of L.A.'s seven losses last year were by a combined 18 points, and the Chargers lost four of those by a field goal or less. The team's four-game skid to open the season featured two last-second losses on missed/blocked kicks and a two-point loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions.

    The 2017 Chargers were a clinic in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory—a team that dug an early hole it couldn't climb out of. The last thing they need in 2018 is a sluggish start reminiscent of that.

Los Angeles Rams: Regression Depression

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Rams aren't playing around.

    After making the playoffs in 2017 for the first time in over a decade, the Rams were one of the NFL's most aggressive teams in free agency. They completely revamped their defensive backfield, agreeing to acquire Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib in a pair of trades before the new league year even began.

    As if that weren't enough, the Rams also went out and added Ndamukong Suh to a defensive line that already included the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Aaron Donald.

    The Rams will enter the 2018 season in unfamiliar territory—as the favorites in the NFC West. But there's a flip side to that status, as they're now the hunted rather than the hunter. 

    While 2017 was a magical season for the Rams, they also got more than a few breaks. Early in the year, new head coach Sean McVay caught opponents off guard with his explosive offense. The Rams also ranked among the top 10 in turnover differential (plus-seven).

    There's bound to be more adversity this go-round. Jared Goff and Todd Gurley could play well in 2018 and still regress relative to this past season. That retooled defense features a pair of hotheads at corner and a player with a long history of dustups in Suh, begging the question of how those personalities will mesh in the locker room.

    And the Rams lost talented players such as Trumaine Johnson, Alec Ogletree and Sammy Watkins.

    The Rams are good, but they aren't exactly battle-tested, as evidenced by their flop in the Wild Card Round. How they handle the upcoming bumps will be the true test of a  talented squad that just added a lot of new faces...

    Some of whom carry a lot of old baggage.

Miami Dolphins: Stand Pat in the Backfield

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    It's hard to peg a worst-case scenario for the Miami Dolphins. They don't have a single player—even Ryan Tannehill—who would doom them if he went down.

    However, one position group stands out as needing more depth: running back.

    The Dolphins already signed Frank Gore, who gets to return to South Florida after starring at the University of Miami. However, he's about to turn 35 and looked every bit of it last year in Indianapolis. 

    To win games in 2018, the Dolphins need a balanced offense that controls tempo and time of possession. Incumbent tailback Kenyan Drake impressed last year with almost five years per carry, but he's a smaller back with 166 career carries through two seasons.

    If Drake breaks down and Gore is the Dolphins' only insurance, Tannehill is going to be looking at a ton of second-and-longs this fall.

Minnesota Vikings: Great Expectations

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    Figuring out the worst-case scenario for the Minnesota Vikings takes about 84 seconds. That's the amount of guaranteed money (in millions) they just gave Kirk Cousins over the next three seasons.

    Handing Cousins that type of money was a highly aggressive move from a team that was one game away from the Super Bowl. And while Cousins should be an upgrade on Keenum under center, the pressure has now been ratcheted up in the Twin Cities.

    There's one goal in Minnesota now: win the Super Bowl. Anything short of a Lombardi Trophy will be considered a failure.

    The Vikings will enter the 2018 season as one of the favorites in the NFC. The team is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. Cousins has no shortage of tools with which to work. However, the $84 million man has a career record of 26-30-1.

    The NFC North isn't going to be a cakewalk this year. With Aaron Rodgers back, the Packers will be a playoff contender as usual. The Detroit Lions aren't a great team, but they aren't a tomato can, either. And the Vikings will play a first-place schedule in 2018.

    It may be happy-smiley fun-time in Minneapolis right now, but if the Vikings get off to a slow start, things could change in a hurry.

New England Patriots: The Bradypocalypse

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    During the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era in Boston, the Patriots have played in a staggering eight Super Bowls, going 5-3.

    Each of the last two times they lost the Super Bowl, the Pats failed to make it back there the next year. In 2008, New England missed the postseason entirely because of the one thing that strikes soul-freezing dread into the hearts of everyone from fans to Darth Hoodie himself.

    Tom Brady got hurt, tearing his ACL in the season opener. While backup Matt Cassel led the Pats to an 11-5 record, it wasn't enough for a playoff berth.

    In the 2018 season, the Patriots will depend on a 41-year-old Brady to lead the way. The three-time MVP may be aging better than just about any NFL player ever thanks to a combination of nutrition and sorcery, but he still isn't getting any younger.

    Losing left tackle Nate Solder leaves a question mark on Brady's blind side. And while the Pats previously had a security blanket in young signal-callers such as Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, Brady's backup is now 32-year-old journeyman Brian Hoyer.

    If Brady stays on the field, the Patriots will win their umpteenth consecutive AFC East title. But the end of an era could get here in a hurry if he can't.

New Orleans Saints: Less Lattimore

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    If Drew Brees gets hurt, the New Orleans Saints are toast. But the loss of a particular defensive player would be nearly as devastating to New Orleans.

    No, it isn't Cameron Jordan. While he's a fantastic defensive end, the Saints have some youngsters who could soften the blow if he went down.

    The same can't be said about cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

    The 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year was a godsend for the Saints. Players at Lattimore's position rarely step on the field and play like an elite option from Day 1 against star wideouts such as Julio Jones.

    In 2016, the Saints ranked dead last in the NFL in pass defense and won all of seven games. After New Orleans drafted Lattimore 11th overall last April, it jumped to 15th in the NFL in pass defense and won the NFC South.

    While Lattimore doesn't deserve sole credit for that jump, the idea of losing him for any length of time should be abjectly terrifying to Saints fans.

New York Giants: Trade Odell Beckham Jr.

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    This was a completely different entry not long ago. That was before speculation started (and then grew) at the NFL owners' meetings that the Giants were considering trading star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

    Per Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, Giants co-owner Steve Tisch tried to quell the rumors regarding the contract-year receiver, stating that, "I just want everyone to pull back and realize that we will negotiate when the time to negotiate comes."

    Tisch also didn't completely rule out a trade, though. As we get closer to the 2018 NFL draft, there's going to be no shortage of Beckham buzz.

    Barring a "Godfather" offer though, it's a terrible idea.

    Yes, Beckham is coming off an injury-marred season. Yes, after 2018 the options for keeping Beckham in the Big Apple all involve spending a lot of money. And yes, Beckham has done little during his NFL career to refute the stereotype that wide receivers are "divas."

    As Schwartz wrote, fellow team co-owner John Mara allowed that "I'm tired of answering questions about Odell's behavior and what the latest incident is" after video surfaced that purports to show Beckham doing things he shouldn't be doing in a Paris hotel room.

    But the injury, the attitude and the impending contract all serve to depress the trade value of a player who, when healthy, is one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in football.

    Smart franchises don't trade players that good for 40 cents on the dollar—pain in the butt or no.

    And right now, the G-Men would be lucky to get that.

New York Jets: Musical Signal-Callers

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    The New York Jets can't be accused of sitting on their hands at quarterback in 2018. 

    In free agency, they brought back veteran Josh McCown and signed Teddy Bridgewater. They also traded the No. 6 pick and three second-rounders to Indianapolis to move up to No. 3, presumably to give themselves a chance to land a potential franchise signal-caller.

    The Jets could have quite the camp battle this summer to determine who will start under center for them in 2018. But once head coach Todd Bowles makes that decision, he needs to resist second-guessing himself if his team gets off to a slow start.

    That isn't to say the Jets should pick a guy and stick with him all season long no matter what. McCown is pushing 40 and has a lengthy injury history. Bridgewater is coming off a catastrophic knee injury that cost him almost all of the last two seasons. And if (when) the Jets fall out of playoff contention, it makes sense to get that No. 3 overall pick some reps.

    But if a Jets regime that enters the 2018 campaign firmly on the hot seat grows panicky and starts switching quarterbacks every week or two, it isn't going to turn the team around. What it might do is wreck the confidence of Bridgewater or its rookie signal-caller.

Oakland Raiders: Party Like It's 1998

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    As Jared Dubin of CBS Sports relayed, Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden made some waves at the combine when he said he wanted to "throw the game back to 1998."

    "I'm not going to rely on GPS's and all the modern technology," Gruden said. "I will certainly have some people that are professional that can help me from that regard. But I still think doing things the old-fashioned way is a good way."

    Unfortunately, it appears Gruden wasn't kidding.

    The team's two biggest signings to date have been a soon-to-be 33-year-old wide receiver (Jordy Nelson) and a 29-year-old tailback (Doug Martin) who looked their age and then some in 2017. The former came after the Raiders cut bait on Michael Crabtree.

    There's still a long way to go before Week 1. Nelson and Martin could recapture their past form. With a strong draft and a couple of breaks, the Raiders may well contend in the AFC West in 2018.

    But in the early going, it appears as though Oakland's worst-case scenario this year may already be happening. Their $10 million head coach looks to be trapped in the past.

Philadelphia Eagles: Foles vs. Wentz

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    In theory, the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles have the NFL's best quarterback situation. When healthy, rising star Carson Wentz is the starter. Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles is the backup. 

    But what if Wentz's rehab from a torn ACL progresses more slowly than expected? Or he makes it back in Week 1 but clearly isn't as mobile as he was during his breakout 2017 season?

    Whether it's Foles or Wentz leading the team come Week 1, what if the Eagles get off to a bad start? Every team in the NFL will be gunning for Philly in 2018.

    If a hobbled Wentz is ineffective, fans may begin to call for Foles to start after his heroics in the Super Bowl. If Foles plays less like the Super Bowl MVP version of himself and more like the journeyman he's been most of his career, there will be calls to put Wentz in—healthy or not.

    The Eagles are one of the NFL's most talented teams. That they kept rolling even after Wentz's injury speaks to their ability to weather adversity.

    A full-blown controversy at the NFL's most important position might be the one thing that can knock the Iggles Express off the tracks.

Pittsburgh Steelers: For Whom the Bell Tolls

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Le'Veon Bell isn't just one of the best running backs in football. He's perhaps the league's most dangerous offensive weapon.

    Last year, Bell piled up over 1,900 total yards and 11 touchdowns on 406 touches. While the first and second numbers are great, the third is cause for legitimate concern.

    Back in 2016, Bell piled up 336 touches in just 12 games—an average of 28 touches a contest. Over the span of an entire 16-game slate, that would put Bell well over 400 touches.

    The historical data for running backs who go over even 370 touches in a season is not kind. Most regress. Many get hurt—and Bell has played in 16 games only once in five years.

    Bell was able to buck the historical trend with a huge year in 2017. Doing so again in 2018 would be even more of an anomaly.

    And if Bell misses significant time, the Steelers' chances of making it to the Super Bowl are kaput.

San Francisco 49ers: The Garoppoflop

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    After winning their last five games of the season, the 49ers rewarded quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with a five-year, $137.5 million contract, making him the NFL's highest-paid player at the time. With free-agent additions like cornerback Richard Sherman and tailback Jerick McKinnon in town and nine draft picks in their back pocket, the 49ers look like they could make real noise in the NFC West in 2018.

    But despite Garoppolo's success a year ago, we're still talking about a quarterback who has started all of seven games in his career. Sure, he won them all—but seven games is seven games.

    McKinnon is a talented young running back, but he has never been the season-long focus of a team's ground game. San Francisco's receiving corps is good but not great. Ditto for an offensive line that Football Outsiders ranked 11th in run blocking and 18th in pass protection in 2017.

    The late-season surge that made Jimmy G rich did more than just offer up hope for 2018. It also ramped up expectations about how quickly this rebuilding 49ers team could contend.

    If the Niners start slow, the same fans who want to build a statue for Garoppolo will be grousing about the size of his paycheck.

Seattle Seahawks: The End of an Era

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    There's good news and bad news for the Seattle Seahawks in 2018.

    The good news is that the Seahawks still have one of the NFL's best quarterbacks in Russell Wilson. The bad news is that Wilson may not be enough to stop a slide that started last year, when the team missed the postseason for the first time since 2011.

    Seattle's offensive line is a hot mess, and the run game is inconsistent (at best). That puts the pressure to move the ball squarely on Wilson's shoulders.

    Seattle's "Legion of Boom" defense—the backbone of two trips to the Super Bowl—lost some key contributors this offseason. The Seahawks traded defensive end Michael Bennett to the Eagles. They released cornerback Richard Sherman, who added insult to injury by signing a team-friendly deal with the rival 49ers.

    Both the 49ers and NFC West champion Rams have busily added pieces this offseason, while Seattle has headed in the opposite direction. While the Seahawks aren't a bad team by any stretch of the imagination, they don't appear to be a great one, either.

    In that respect, their worst-case scenario may already be unfolding.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Jameis Jam

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers unquestionably will exercise their fifth-year option on quarterback Jameis Winston. It's less certain whether Winston will ever develop into the player they hoped for when they picked him first overall in 2015—the quarterback who will get them back to the Super Bowl.

    When Winston is good, he's really good. In 2016, he passed for over 4,000 yards. After his shoulder injury healed last year, he led the NFL in passing yards from Weeks 13 through 17 and was tied for third in touchdown passes, per ESPN.com's Jenna Laine.

    Turnovers continue to plague him, however. Only one signal-caller in the NFL (Bortles) has more interceptions since 2015 than Winston's 44. He has 59 turnovers in 45 career games. Winston is also nine games under .500 as Tampa Bay's starter.

    Another concern is the continued off-the-field problems that have surrounded Winston since long before he was drafted. The NFL is still investigating allegations that Winston sexually assaulted an Uber driver in Arizona in 2016, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. He was also accused of rape during his time at Florida State.

    If the NFL suspends Winston after the Buccaneers exercise his fifth-year option, it would be a public relations fiasco. Even if the league clears Winston, a cloud will follow him so long as he continues making more headlines off the field than on it.

Tennessee Titans: More Mediocre Mariota

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    In some respects, the Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans share a similar dilemma. Both will soon pick up the fifth-year options on the quarterbacks who were the top two picks in the 2015 NFL draft.

    Neither has exactly gotten the return it hoped for.

    Marcus Mariota and the Titans not only made the postseason but won a playoff game last year, and his completion percentage increased slightly compared to his sophomore season. But after throwing 26 touchdowns against just nine interceptions in 2016, Mariota threw only 13 scoring passes and 15 picks last season.

    Mariota used his legs more in that playoff win than in the regular season, but at the combine, new Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said that doesn't necessarily mean we'll see a scramble-happy Mariota in 2018.

    "I think that we have an idea what plays he may end up running and what plays he may end up handing it off or throwing," Vrabel said, per Ron Sanders of 247 Sports. "We've got to be smart, and he's got to be smart. How much are we going to use him to run the ball? How much harm is he going to put himself in? There's a lot of factors that go into itthe risk/reward of when he does run with the football."

    Whether it's with his arms or his legs, the Titans just need to see a better Mariota in 2018.

Washington Redskins: Old Man Alex

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Given how well he played with the Chiefs in 2017, there's little reason to think that Alex Smith won't do the same in 2018 for the Washington Redskins.

    Smith, long known as the king of the game managers, was the NFL's best deep-ball passer in the league in 2017, according to NFL.com's Matt Harmon. After the Chiefs traded him to Washington and he signed an extension with $71 million in guarantees, he's willing to do whatever his new team asks, per Jake Kring-Schreifels of the Redskins' website.

    "I think as a quarterback, my job [is] to run the offense and within that, there's a lot, whatever the defense is going to give you, right? If it dictates throwing the ball down the field, certainly you want to be able take advantage and make them pay. But, yeah, you want to spread the ball around, right, and certainly be efficient. You want to be good in all areas, right? When you take shots downfield, you want to be good at them. Certainly, when you're possession throwing, you want to be good at that too."

    That's all well and good, but Smith will turn 34 in May. A Chiefs attack that featured arguably the NFL's best deep threat (Tyreek Hill), tight end (Travis Kelce) and young tailback (Kareem Hunt) has given way to Jamison Crowder, an unproven Paul Richardson and an injury-prone Jordan Reed.

    The Redskins have a history of big-dollar boondoggles. If Smith struggles in his new home, this could be the biggest of them all.

    All salary information via Spotrac unless otherwise noted.