NFL Teams Set to Disappoint in 2018
Summer in the NFL is a time of universal optimism. Every fanbase is buzzing about moves made during free agency and the draft with hopes the upcoming season will be special.
However, history shows summer optimism turns into winter disappointment for NFL teams every season.
Just look at the NFC in 2017: Five teams that made the playoffs the previous year missed out. The Dallas Cowboys went from the No. 1 seed in 2016 to fighting to get above .500. The Green Bay Packers lost Aaron Rodgers and the promise of their season with one collarbone break. The Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions couldn't get back to the postseason, while the New York Giants fell from 11-5 to 3-13.
Disappointment in the NFL is guaranteed. Shaky quarterback play, a potentially difficult schedule and roster question marks are just a few causes of potential disappointment. Here's a look at the teams that could face regression in 2018.
The Jaguars are undeniably talented. Oftentimes pure talent wins out, but there are reasons to believe Jacksonville will face a downturn.
Quarterback play still determines most results in the NFL, and the Jaguars have one of the game's worst starters in Blake Bortle. He benefited from a top defense and the league's most productive run game but only managed a passer rating of 84.7 in 2017. Bortles improved over his disastrous 2016 season, but his numbers over the last two years are ghastly with a completion percentage of 59.5 and an 81.5 passer rating.
More importantly, the AFC South should be more competitive in 2018, especially at quarterback. Andrew Luck will return after missing the entire 2017 season, Deshaun Watson is back after only playing seven games as a rookie, and Marcus Mariota is too talented not to bounce back from the ugly numbers he put up in 2017.
There's also pressure in dealing with expectations. The Jaguars were two minutes away from the Super Bowl in January. Dealing with success can be difficult as a perennial loser becomes the favorite.
The Jaguars are as talented as any team in the AFC and should be in the playoff race all season, but building on the foundation they set in 2017 won't be easy. Quarterback play, a better division and rising expectations could all factor into regression in 2018.
Kansas City Chiefs
There's a lot to like about second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who will take over for longtime starter Alex Smith in 2018. The former Texas Tech star has incredible arm talent and athletic ability, and he showed he can hang with the big boys when he helped the Chiefs beat the Denver Broncos in Week 17 last year. He'll also be surrounded by big-time weapons at the skill positions.
Still, we'll see some inconsistency from Mahomes in his first year starting, and it might not take much inconsistency at quarterback for the Chiefs to fall from 10-6 to out of the playoffs. Smith threw 26 touchdown passes and only five interceptions last season, and the Chiefs still only won nine of his 15 starts.
Kansas City opens with the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers on the road, and the Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots are on the schedule in October, so Mahomes will have to navigate a difficult opening stretch.
On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs lost their leader in the middle (Derrick Johnson) and one of the NFL's top playmakers at cornerback (Marcus Peters). A defense that finished middle of the pack in points allowed last season doesn't look any better, even with Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry back from injury.
The Chiefs have been to the postseason four of five years under head coach Andy Reid, but will inconsistency at quarterback, a difficult early schedule and losses on defense be too much to overcome?
Los Angeles Rams
Disappointment is relative. The Rams wouldn't need to regress much for the 2018 season to feel like a big disappointment, especially with all the talent Los Angeles acquired this offseason. Expectations are sky high for Sean McVay's team, and rightfully so.
How will the Rams deal with those expectations? Teams now have a full year of tape on McVay's offense and quarterback Jared Goff, and the Rams will face a daunting schedule that includes games against several of the NFC's top teams (Eagles, Vikings, Packers, Saints). The slate also includes the AFC West, which looks strong, and the NFC West should be one of the NFL's most competitive divisions.
The Rams look Super Bowl-worthy on paper. Both sides of the ball are loaded with difference-makers, and McVay's offense worked wonders in developing Goff. But the Rams scored the most points in the NFL and produced 28 takeaways and 48 sacks in 2017. All the added talent demands improvement, but it'll be hard for the Rams to beat those numbers.
Having Ezekiel Elliott enter the season unburdened of off-field drama should help, and the Cowboys look strong on both the offensive and defensive lines. Question marks in the passing game and secondary, though, could make or break the Cowboys' season.
Who is going to catch passes from Dak Prescott? Gone are Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, leaving behind one of the NFL's least inspiring groups of pass-catchers. Arguably no team has a shakier depth chart at both receiver and tight end.
On defense, the Cowboys still look susceptible in the secondary. Dallas gave up 28 touchdown passes last season but did next to nothing to add help at cornerback or safety.
The Cowboys clearly want to ride Elliott and lean on their front seven on defense in 2018. That strategy could work, but it's also one injury to Elliott or Demarcus Lawrence away from collapsing. Getting back over the hump and improving on last season's 9-7 finish won't be easy.
The Raiders were one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL in 2017. The return of head coach Jon Gruden injected some buzz back into the franchise, but it won't be surprising if the Raiders are underachievers again in 2018.
Gruden hasn't coached in the NFL in 10 years, and it's hard to tell where he significantly improved the roster this offseason. A team that finished 23rd in points scored and 20th in points allowed last season added some big-name veterans but didn't dramatically improve in the talent department.
Most concerning for the Raiders? The quarterback.
Who is the real Derek Carr? It's easy to think of him as the guy who threw 60 touchdown passes in 2015 and 2016, but he regressed sharply in 2017, and his career numbers remain underwhelming. His completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating all dipped last season, and he now averages 6.5 yards per attempt with a passer rating of just 87.5 through four NFL seasons. Is Carr nothing more than a middle of the road NFL starter?
The Raiders will need more in 2018. Probably much more. If Gruden can't work magic with Carr, the Raiders are likely to disappoint again.