Every NFL Team's Fatal Flaw Heading into 2018

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJune 22, 2018

Every NFL Team's Fatal Flaw Heading into 2018

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    With minicamps in the rearview mirror and training camp less than a month away, analysis of the upcoming season is ramping up around the NFL. The strengths and weaknesses of all 32 of the league's teams are being discussed and debated.

    It's the latter we'll discuss and debate here.

    Some NFL teams are riddled with flaws. The quarterback situation is a mess. The offense is unsettled. The defense is riddled with holes.

    Then there's the matter of what's going on outside Cleveland.

    Kidding...sort of.

    For the NFL's better teams, the flaws aren't as apparent. That doesn't mean they aren't there, though. Even the defending Super Bowl champions have potential problem areas—a fatal flaw that could derail hopes of a repeat.

    Whether they are unmissable or under the radar, every NFL team has a flaw that could come back to bite it.

    And from Arizona to Washington, here they are.


Arizona Cardinals: Offensive Tackles

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Whether it's veteran Sam Bradford or rookie Josh Rosen at quarterback this year for the Arizona Cardinals, the team badly needs good line play. Bradford's made of paper mache, and Rosen's a classic drop-back thrower who will need all the time he can get.

    The problem is that's not apt to be much at all. The offensive tackles in the desert are, um, suspect.

    The Redbirds are counting on former first-round pick D.J. Humphries to hold down the blind side, but Humphries missed 11 games in 2017 with a knee injury and hasn't come close to justifying his draft slot. Right tackle Andre Smith was a similarly depressing early pick earlier in his NFL career before turning things around somewhat later on. But we're at "much later on" at this point—this is Smith's 10th season.

    He's also missed 15 games over the last two years in his own right.

    There's not much in the way of depth behind a pair of bookends who never lived up to the hype for a team that allowed 52 sacks in 2017—most in the NFC.

Atlanta Falcons: Offensive Coordinator

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Like many of the playoff teams on this list, the Atlanta Falcons don't so much have a glaring flaw that towers darkly over the team. If they did, the Falcons wouldn't be a contender at all.

    But there is one big difference between the Super Bowl team of 2016 and the Falcons squad that bowed out in the divisional round last year.

    The offense, despite the same personnel, wasn't nearly as good.

    Mind you, Atlanta wasn't a bad offensive team in 2017—it ranked eighth in the NFL, at 364.8 yards per game. But that's 51 fewer yards per game than Atlanta's second-ranked offense amassed two seasons ago.

    The only big difference? A change in offensive coordinators, from Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian.

    Now, it's possible that Atlanta's offense will take a step forward in Sarkisian's second year. But as D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution told The Wake Up Call on ESPN Charlotte radio, Sarkisian's on a relatively short leash as the 2018 season nears.

Baltimore Ravens: Quarterback

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    You read that right.

    Joe Flacco is a Super Bowl MVP and a 10-year veteran of the National Football League.

    He's also the biggest thing holding the Baltimore Ravens back.

    Flacco isn't the only reason Baltimore's offense has sputtered and the Ravens have missed the postseason each of the past three years. But he hasn't helped matters either, passing for his fewest yards in a 16-game season (3,141) since his rookie year. Flacco has less than 20 touchdown passes in three of the past five seasons.

    That isn't exactly "earning" the $24.75 million Flacco will count against the salary cap in 2018.

    Here's the brutal truth. Flacco was never that great. He was a good NFL quarterback who went on one of the runs to end all runs in the playoffs and won a Super Bowl. That can't be taken from him—but it also can't be used to justify hanging on to a 33-year-old who appears in decline.

    Ozzie Newsome knows all of this. It's why the last first-round pick of his tenure as GM was Lamar Jackson.

Buffalo Bills: Offensive Offense

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    The Buffalo Bills have the makings of a truly terrible offense in 2018.

    To be fair, the Bills do have a Pro Bowl tailback in LeSean McCoy, who gained almost 1,600 total yards in the team's march to Buffalo's first playoff berth of the 21st century a year ago.

    That's also just about all they have.

    At quarterback, the Bills signed AJ McCarron in the offseason to compete with Nathan Peterman as a bridge to first-round rookie Josh Allen. In the early-going at least, it's been Peterman who has fared better—the same Nathan Peterman who had one of the worst NFL debuts in league history last year.

    Whoever wins the starting job will be saddled with one of the worst receiving corps in the league. Kelvin Benjamin caught all of 16 passes in six games after being traded to the Bills last year. Zay Jones' rookie season was...not good. 

    Buffalo's opponents are going to stack the box (and then some), try to put the clamps on McCoy and dare the Bills to beat them through the air.

    They know as well as we do that Buffalo can't.

Carolina Panthers: Safety

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    The Carolina Panthers aren't a team with a lot of glaring weaknesses.

    The biggest of them is easily the back end of the defense behind linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.

    Mike Adams, who piled up 69 tackles and two interceptions in 16 starts last year, has had quite the NFL career. But Adams is on his fifth NFL team and 15th NFL season—it's fair to question what kind of wheels the 37-year-old has left.

    At the other safety spot, there's a competition to start, with veteran Da'Norris Searcy standing out in minicamp, according to ESPN's David Newton. But Searcy's also a journeyman talent who wasn't able to keep a starting spot in either Buffalo or Nashville.

    In a day and age where safety play is more important than ever, Carolina's putting a lot of faith in an unimposing duo at the position.

Chicago Bears: Wide Receiver

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears took a number of steps to address the proverbial elephant in the room for the team—said pachyderm being the Bears' mess at the wide receiver position.

    The problem is that we can't be sure the overhaul will take.

    In Allen Robinson, the Bears may have acquired the No. 1 wideout Mitchell Trubisky so badly needed. But Robinson missed nearly all of last season with a torn ACL and hasn't hit 1,000 yards in a season since his breakout 2015.

    In Taylor Gabriel, the Bears may have signed a dangerous vertical threat. But Gabriel's been every bit as inconsistent as he has been fast, and his numbers were way down last year in Atlanta relative to 2016.

    In second-round pick Anthony Miller, the Bears may have found an excellent young slot man. Of course, we won't know that until we, you know, see him play in the NFL.

    Maybe oft-injured former first-round pick Kevin White will finally stay healthy and realize some of the promise the Bears saw in him back in 2015. Or maybe his snake-bitten career will continue to derail.

    There's upside here, to be sure.

    There are also a ton of maybes.

Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive Line

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    Now, it's possible the Bengals offensive line could be OK in 2018.

    If Cordy Glenn and Jake Fisher can stay healthy, if Billy Price is as advertised and if Cedric Ogbuehi remembers he's an offensive lineman and not a matador, then Cincinnati's offensive front should show improvement over the unit that Football Outsiders ranked 20th in pass protection in 2017.

    But Glenn and Fisher combined to miss 18 games in 2017. Price is rehabbing a torn pectoral muscle suffered at the scouting combine. And it's hard to take the glowing reviews of Ogbuehi in OTAs too seriously given that OTAs are short on, you know, contact.

    As Scott Barrett wrote last year for Pro Football Focus, Andy Dalton has a tendency to struggle when pressured. He certainly did in 2017.

    A lot of things have to go right for that to be any different in 2018.

Cleveland Browns: Head Coaching

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    There's no other way to say this than to just say it.

    Hue Jackson, is, without question, the worst head coach in the National Football League. That he still has a job in Cleveland is one of the great mysteries of the universe.

    Only Hue Jackson could lead a team to one win in two seasons (while making terrible decisions of every size and shape with horrifyingly impressive consistency) and then (per Tom Schad of USA Today) want credit for it.

    "I don't think anybody else could've did this job," Jackson said. "I don't think anybody else could've stayed in this job for two years and been 1-31. A lot of coaches would've said 'uncle' after last year. I know that. I think you guys do, too. I think a lot of coaches during this year would've said, 'Forget it.'

    "I'm not walking out on these players or this organization. I came here to win. We're going to get this thing turned around, and we're going to get to winning."

    The Browns may well get to winning some day soon; the roster appears vastly improved relative to 2017.

    But if Cleveland wants to win consistently, it's going to have to be with a different head coach.

Dallas Cowboys: Wide Receiver

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    This is something of a make-or-break year for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.

    After capturing OROY honors in 2016, Prescott's numbers were down considerably last year. Prescott's yardage and touchdowns were down, his interceptions were up, and his passer rating dropped by over 18 points.

    If Prescott rebounds this season, it will be all the more impressive given what he has—or more appropriately doesn't have—to work with at receiver.

    With Dez Bryant now gone, the total number of 1,000-yard seasons on the resumes of every Cowboys receiver on the roster is one higher than my total number of 1,000-yard seasons. And since reeling in 64 catches for 1,031 yards for the Jacksonville Jaguars back in 2015, Allen Hurns hasn't had even half that in a season.

    Maybe rookie Michael Gallup is the real deal. Maybe Hurns will finally stay healthy.

    Or maybe the Cowboys will have the NFL's weakest wideout corps in 2018.

Denver Broncos: Running Back

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    The Denver Broncos signed Case Keenum in the offseason in an effort to plug Denver's leak at the quarterback spot. In Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Keenum has a pair of excellent veteran wideouts at his disposal.

    The running back spot, however, is far less settled.

    It's possible that rookie Royce Freeman will step up and become the NFL's latest rookie sensation at the tailback position. The 6'0", 229-pounder showed the ability to carry heavy loads while at Oregon. But that workload also appeared to weigh on the third-round pick as his collegiate career wound down.

    If Freeman doesn't take off, things could get ugly pretty quickly. In two NFL seasons, Devontae Booker has averaged all of 3.6 yards per carry. He's also put the ball on the ground six times (losing four) and has never peeled off a run over 30 yards.

    It could be difficult for the Broncos to establish offensive balance in 2018.

    And that's just going to ratchet the pressure up that much more on Keenum.

Detroit Lions: Edge-Rushers

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    Ezekiel Ansah has shown the capability to be a dominant pass-rusher in the NFL. Three times last year, Ansah piled up three sacks in a game.

    New Detroit head coach Matt Patricia may need Ansah to do that every week in 2018 if the Lions are going to generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

    Because "Ziggy" is just about all the Lions have.

    Kerry Hyder had eight sacks two years ago but missed the entire 2017 season after tearing his Achilles in the preseason. Anthony Zettel racked up 6.5 sacks in his second season last year, but he's more grinder than fear-inspirer. Tackles A'Shawn Robinson and Sylvester Williams are lane-clogging run-stuffers, not pass-rushers. Outside linebacker Devon Kennard has 9.5 sacks in four years.

    Given the personnel, there's exactly zero reason for opposing offenses not to double Ansah on every single play. No one here is a sure bet to take pressure off Detroit's best pass-rusher.

    Darius Slay and the Detroit secondary are going to have to maintain coverage discipline a lot in 2018.

Green Bay Packers: Outside Edge-Rushers

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    The dominant storyline last year in Titletown was Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone. Rodgers is back in 2018, but so is Green Bay's biggest issue on the defensive side of the ball.

    Last year the Packers were a middle-of-the-pack (so to speak) team at rushing the passer, ranking 17th in the NFL with 37 sacks. And while Green Bay addressed the interior of the pass rush with the addition of veteran Muhammad Wilkerson, the outside is essentially unchanged relative to last year.

    Clay Matthews remains the team's most accomplished pass-rusher, and Matthews paced the team in sacks in 2017. But the 32-year-old "led" the team with just 7.5 sacks—Matthews hasn't hit double-digits in that regard since 2014 and hasn't played in all 16 games in a season since 2015.

    Nick Perry, who was just behind Matthews with seven sacks in 2017, broke out with 11 sacks in 2016. But last year Perry's season followed a sadly familiar plot in Green Bay—he battled nagging injuries and missed four games. Perry has now missed time in all six of his NFL seasons.

Houston Texans: Offensive Line

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    The Houston Texans have a formidable defense on paper. The team has one of the NFL's better young wide receivers in DeAndre Hopkins. And quarterback Deshaun Watson took the NFL by storm as a rookie last year before tearing his ACL in practice.

    None of that's going to matter even a little if the offensive line play isn't better this season.

    Only the Indianapolis Colts surrendered more sacks in 2017 than Houston's 54. And Houston's roster up front isn't exactly a who's who of "stout."

    The team's tentative starter at left tackle (Julie'n Davenport) missed five games as a rookie and has made all of four career starts. The projected starter at right tackle (Seantrel Henderson) is a former seventh-round pick who has averaged 10 missed games over the last three seasons. Zach Fulton and Senio Kelemete are cast-offs from the Chiefs and Colts.

    Yes, one of Houston's projected starters up front in 2018 played for the line in the NFL that was worse than the Texans in 2017.

    Good thing Watson can scramble.

Indianapolis Colts: Offensive Line

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Is there an echo in here?

    To be fair, the Indianapolis Colts have flaws all over the place in 2018. The running back position is a huge question mark. With the team making the switch to a four-man front in 2018 defensively, that entire side of the ball is as well.

    But one problem towers above all the others.

    The Colts offensive line has long been an issue for the team. Last year that issue hit critical mass—Indy led the NFL in sacks allowed last year with 56. That's 3.5 sacks per game, every game.

    The addition of first-round pick Quenton Nelson will help. Nelson was one of the draft's best players at any position—a well-rounded lineman capable of playing at a Pro Bowl level from the moment he steps on the field.

    But unless Nelson is capable of playing all five spots simultaneously, he's not a fix-all. And if the Colts keep allowing over three sacks a game, Indy's not going to be able to keep Andrew Luck on the field even if they can get him out there.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles

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    It's entirely possible the Jacksonville Jaguars could play in Super Bowl LIII. Jacksonville has a punishing ground game and quite possibly the best defense in the NFL. The Jags came just one win away from the Super Bowl in 2017.

    But to get there, the Jaguars need something that comes and goes on Florida's east coast—good play from quarterback Blake Bortles. He's capable of it—Bortles threw 35 touchdown passes in 2015 and got the Jaguars one game from the Super Bowl last season on his way to a contract extension.

    But he's a limited passer with a career completion percentage under 60 who ran for more yards (88) than he threw for (87) against Buffalo last year in the ugliest playoff game in recent memory.

    The good news is that the Jaguars aren't a team with a lot of flaws.

    The bad news is that the biggest flaw they do have is one that's all the more likely to be exposed in the postseason, when quarterback play matters more than ever.

Kansas City Chiefs: Cornerback

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC West last year not because of their pass defense but in spite of it. Only three teams in the National Football League allowed more passing yards per game than Kansas City's 247 yards per game.

    And that was with Marcus Peters on the team. He's since been shipped off to Los Angeles.

    As things stand now, Kansas City's best cornerback is Kendall Fuller, who was acquired in the trade that sent Alex Smith to D.C. Fuller's one of the better young slot corners in the game.

    The same can't be said for the guys outside.

    Fourth-year pro Steven Nelson has exactly the same number of NFL interceptions that I do. Ditto for third-year pro Keith Reaser, who has an equal number of starts at this level. Veteran David Amerson has the better NFL resume with 48 career starts, but if he were a world-beater, he wouldn't be kicking off his sixth season on his third team.

    Cornerback isn't Kansas City's only problem defensively in 2018, but it's the most striking one.

Los Angeles Chargers: Linebacker

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    Last year, the Los Angeles Chargers did not enjoy a ton of success in stopping the run.

    Actually, that's an understatement. The Chargers were awful against the run. The Bolts were one of two NFL teams to surrender over 130 yards per game on the ground in 2017. Only the Washington Redskins gave up more.

    Luckily, the Chargers took major steps toward upgrading their cadre of linebackers this season.

    Oh, wait—no, they didn't.

    To be fair, the Chargers did add second-round pick Uchenna Nwosu in this year's draft. But Nwosu's more edge-rusher than edge-setter—the Chargers didn't draft him as a run-stuffer.

    Outside that, it's the same cast of characters as last year. There's Denzel Perryman, who looks great at times while on the field but can't stay there. Jatavis Brown, who has had his moments but saw his role on defense scaled back as last season wore on. And replacement-level talents like Kyle Emanuel and Hayes Pullard.

    Opponents in 2018 are going to try to do the same thing this year that they had so much success doing a year ago.

    Cram the football down their throats.

Los Angeles Rams: Outside Linebacker

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    The Los Angeles Rams added veteran talent at a dizzying pace this offseason. Wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

    It's a haul that has the Rams garnering more than a little Super Bowl buzz early.

    But there's one area the Rams didn't address. In fact, they moved backward. And it could cost them dearly later on.

    In 2017, Robert Quinn led all Rams in the non-Aaron Donald category in sacks with 8.5. Quinn is in Miami now after being traded to the Dolphins, and the Rams did nothing to fill in the hole he left. Ditto for Connor Barwin, whose five sacks are still on the street.

    That's a big chunk of L.A.'s 48 sacks last year. Matt Longacre showed promise in 2017 with 5.5 sacks in his own right, but unless a youngster like Samson Ebukam or a rookie like Ogbonnia Okoronkwo steps up in a hurry, consistent pressure off the edge could be hard to come by.

    And that's going to put more pressure on Donald and Suh to collapse the pocket from inside.

Miami Dolphins: Interior O-Line

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    In recent years, the Miami Dolphins have been stuck in limbo—too good to call bad, but much too bad to call good.

    The team has been...average.

    Unfortunately, that's also a good descriptor for Miami's offensive line.

    Per Football Outsiders, the Dolphins were quietly pretty good in pass protection last year, ranking 11th in the NFL. But the run-blocking was a hot mess—third-worst in the league.

    The Dolphins are hopeful that the acquisition of guard Josh Sitton will bolster the interior of the line. The 32-year-old is a four-time Pro Bowler. But after two years in Chicago in which Sitton battled injuries, the Bears passed on the veteran's $8 million option for this year.

    That's something of a red flag.

    Daniel Kilgore was brought in to replace the departed Mike Pouncey, but calling that move lateral is kind.

    It's not a bad interior.

    It just isn't an especially good one, either.

Minnesota Vikings: Place Kicker

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    On paper at least, the Minnesota Vikings might just be the best team in the NFL.

    On offense, the team has a capable quarterback in Kirk Cousins, a solid offensive line and one of the better assemblages of skill-position talent in the league.

    On defense, the Vikings have a stacked front four, a very good, young middle linebacker in Eric Kendricks and a secondary that features two of the better young defensive backs in the league in cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith. Minnesota bolstered that secondary even more with the addition of first-round pick Mike Hughes out of Central Florida.

    But it could all be for naught. Come the playoffs, with the game on the line, the Vikings could see it all fall apart.

    Because of a kicker, of all things.

    In seasons in which he's attempted at least 20 field goals, Kai Forbath has connected on 90 percent of his field-goal attempts exactly never. Forbath missed a pair of kicks inside 40 yards in 2017 and whiffed on five of his 39 PATs.

    There's a reason the Vikings drafted Daniel Carlson in the fifth round in 2018.

New England Patriots: Cornerback

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    There's been no shortage of speculation about a purported "rift" developing between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. It's been downplayed by the team, but the possibility that we're witnessing the beginning of the end for one of football's great dynasties can't be dismissed.

    However, the Patriots have been the epitome of professionalism for the better part of the last two decades. No matter what obstacles or issues the team has faced, the Pats machine just keeps chugging right along.

    However, in last year's Super Bowl loss, we saw evidence of a problem that even Darth Hoodie's powers as a Sith lord might not be able to force-choke away.

    New England's defense just isn't very good—especially against the pass.

    The Patriots finished the 2017 season 29th in the NFL in total defense and dead last in the AFC against the pass. Nick Foles and the Eagles absolutely shredded the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

    New England added veteran Jason McCourty in a trade with Cleveland and used a Day 2 pick on Duke Dawson, but they also lost Malcolm Butler, who left after his bizarre benching in the Super Bowl.

    At best, that's a wash. At worst, it's a step backward.

    Possibly right off a cliff.

New Orleans Saints: Wide Receiver

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    As with many of the better teams in the NFL, "fatal flaw" is a relative term with the New Orleans Saints. At first glance this looks like a team more than capable of winning the NFC South again.

    However, once you get to the postseason tournament, the margin for error gets a lot narrower. And it's there that the Saints' lack of a wide receiver to complement star Michael Thomas could become an issue.

    Ted Ginn can still run like a deer, and his 787 receiving yards last year were just three off his career best.

    But Ginn is also 33 years old, and consistency has never exactly been his strong suit.

    The Saints brought in Cameron Meredith in free agency, and if Meredith can recapture his form from two years ago, the problem could be solved. But recapturing that form is no sure bet after Meredith lost all of last year to a knee injury.

    Whether it's Ginn, Meredith, rookie Tre'Quan Smith or a combination of all three, someone has to become a semi-reliable alternative to Thomas—or it will be bracket coverage for Thomas all game, every game.

New York Giants: Cornerback

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Defending the pass has been an issue for the New York Giants in recent years. Back in 2015, New York was dead last in the NFL in pass defense. In 2016, the Giants "improved" all the way to 23rd in the league. Last year, New York backslid again to 31st.

    There's little reason to think Big Blue's going to magically not be a sieve through the air in 2018.

    After making the Pro Bowl two years ago, Janoris Jenkins missed almost half of the 2017 season and had the worst year of his six-year career. The Giants bid adieu to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this spring, which means one of two things—either Eli Apple is going to have to live up to his draft slot in his third NFL season or 12th-year journeyman William Gay is going to be pressed into action as a starter.

    If Apple's catastrophically bad 2017 is any indication, the latter is more likely.

    Gay wasn't a great corner in his prime, and he's well past that now. Apple's done less than nothing in the NFL to date. And Jenkins is coming off a year where he was suspended by the Giants for taking an extra-long bye week.

    No part of that screams "rebound." Or even whispers it.

New York Jets: Pass-Rushers

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    The New York Jets didn't have much luck getting after the quarterback in 2017, managing just 28 sacks, the fourth-lowest total in the NFL.

    There isn't going to be a big change to that number coming this season—at least not in the right direction.

    The Jets leader in sacks last year was actually inside linebacker Demario Davis with five. He's in New Orleans now.

    Defensive end Leonard Williams is a talented youngster and an excellent edge-setter, but the defensive end saw his sacks free-fall from seven in 2016 to just two a year ago. Free-agent addition Henry Anderson isn't an end known for piling up sacks either.

    It actually gets worse once you move outside. New York has the weakest OLB corps of any 3-4 team in the NFL. The team's tentatively projected starters at the position (Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Mauldin) combined for all of three sacks in 2017. Mauldin missed the entire season after back surgery.

    Gang Green's pass rush is gangrenous.

Oakland Raiders: Front Seven

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    In edge-rusher Khalil Mack, the Oakland Raiders have one of the very best defensive players in all of the NFL.

    But Mack's every bit as lonely as he is good at what he does.

    The Raiders desperately need someone to step up opposite Mack and take some attention off of him. There are candidates for that role in players like Bruce Irvin, Mario Edwards and rookie Maurice Hurst.

    But Irvin's been inconsistent as a pro, Edwards may not even make the 53-man roster, and Hurst's NFL career is in doubt after a heart condition caused him to free-fall in the draft.

    Things aren't any better at linebacker. Yes, free-agent add Tahir Whitehead topped 100 tackles each of the last two seasons in Detroit. But while Whitehead's been productive, he's hardly an elite talent. The Raiders also brought in Derrick Johnson, who has four Pro Bowls to his credit.

    The last of those came for the 35-year-old in 2015.

    The Raiders were 23rd in the NFL in total defense in 2017 and 24th in sacks.

    It's rather hard to see where big improvement will be coming from in 2018.

Philadelphia Eagles: Cornerback

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    In news that should surprise approximately no one, the Philadelphia Eagles don't have a lot of conspicuous flaws. If they did, the team wouldn't have won that whole Super Bowl thingie back in February.

    However, there was some news recently that could have the makings of a problem for the Eagles.

    As Matt Mullin reported for the Philly Voice, young cornerback Sidney Jones sat out minicamp due to "lower body soreness." Head coach Doug Pederson insisted it was simply a precaution and had nothing to do with the Achilles tear that all but wiped out his rookie year.

    "We're taking precautions," Pederson said. "Again, this is not the time we're going to push anybody. Not going to put anybody out there that's nicked up, banged up. We want to make sure everybody's ready to go for training camp."

    The Eagles have some depth at corner, but the team was also hoping for a lot from Jones in Year 2.

    If his rehab hits a snag, it could mean trouble for a team looking to repeat as champs.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Inside Linebackers

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    In the NFL, a strength can become a weakness in the blink of an eye.

    That's exactly what happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers the moment Ryan Shazier went down with a spinal cord injury last year. In the blink of an eye the team lost its rangiest (and best) defensive player.

    Yes, Vince Williams started all 16 games and had easily the best season of his five-year career. But even with Williams playing the best football of his life, it's clear Williams doesn't have Shazier's athleticism.

    Tyler Matakevich ran with the starters in Shazier's spot in minicamp, and the third-year veteran knows the scheme. But Matakevich doesn't have Williams' wheels.

    Free-agent signee Jon Bostic is probably quicker than Matakevich, and the former second-round pick had the best year of his career in Indianapolis in 2017. But Pittsburgh is Bostic's fourth team.

    At best, the middle of Pittsburgh's defense is a huge question mark.

    At worst, it's something of a mess.

San Francisco 49ers: Safety

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Don't look now, but the San Francisco 49ers are a pretty good-looking team on paper.

    However, there are a couple of potential problem areas. If veteran Pierre Garcon isn't 100 percent recovered from his season-ending neck injury, Jimmy Garoppolo's weapons at wide receiver aren't especially imposing.

    The safety position is an even bigger issue.

    Granted, defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee that he's been impressed with the development of second-year pro Adrian Colbert, who is slated to start at free safety.

    "Now there's more teaching because we have time with him to really understand the 'why' and understand how offenses are going to attack us," Hafley continued. "And it's cool to see him pick up on things like that. It's cool to see him get angry when he knows, 'Man, I really could have made that play if I had done that like we talked about.' … It's exciting. He's been a lot of fun to watch so far."

    But Colbert is a seventh-round pick with all of six career starts. Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt has been decent while on the field but has also demonstrated issues with staying there—including seven missed games in 2017.

    And behind that pair on the depth chart, there isn't much.

Seattle Seahawks: Offensive Line

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    It's easy to feel like Don Quixote where Seattle's offensive line woes are concerned.

    Every year, pundits tilt at the windmill of Seattle's line problems as a major area of concern. And it seems every year, the Seahawks pretend that all is well.

    Yes, the Seahawks hope to get a full season out of Duane Brown and just drafted Ohio State's Jamarco Jones.

    But Brown will be 33 in August and hasn't played in all 16 games since 2014. And while Jones may well have been a nice value in the fifth round, he was also taken in the fifth round—for a reason.

    Seattle's biggest free-agent addition on the offensive line this year was former first-round pick DJ Fluker. But no one's going to argue that since being drafted 11th overall in 2013 he's been a massive bust. Seattle will mark Fluker's third NFL team in as many seasons.

    Last year, Football Outsiders graded the Seattle line as the second-worst run-blocking unit in the league and 25th in pass protection.

    It's not going to be substantially better in 2018.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cornerback

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were not a good defensive team in 2017. As a matter of fact, the Buccaneers were dead last in the NFL in both total yards allowed per game (378.1) and passing yards allowed per game (260.6).

    The Buccaneers have talent up front—whether it's defensive linemen Jason Pierre-Paul and Gerald McCoy or linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander.

    The secondary is another story.

    The Buccaneers re-signed veteran Brent Grimes in the offseason, but Grimes is 34 and looked his age in 2017. Former first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves backslid significantly last year after a promising rookie season.

    The Buccaneers hit the secondary hard on Day 2 of the 2018 draft, adding a pair of corners in Round 2 in Auburn's Carlton Davis and North Carolina's M.J. Stewart. But for every rookie corner who pulls a Marshon Lattimore and shines, there's a Hargreaves who is up and down—or a Justin Gilbert who is just down.

    If Tampa isn't better on the back end in 2018, it has no shot at contending in the NFC South.

Tennessee Titans: Vertical Passing Threats

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans won a postseason game last year, and with a new head coach in town in Mike Vrabel, the team is hopeful of taking the "next step" in 2018 and joining the Jacksonville Jaguars in the ranks of the AFC's legit contenders.

    A lot of that "next step" pressure will fall on quarterback Marcus Mariota, who backslid a bit last year relative to the season before. But if Mariota's going to bounce back in 2018, he needs help.

    Stretchy help.

    The Titans struggled mightily last year when it came to the vertical passing game. The Titans had the eighth-fewest passing plays of 20 yards or more in the league (39) and tied for the fourth-fewest plays of 40 yards or more with just six.

    The Titans drafted Corey Davis fifth overall last year to be just that sort of threat down the field, but Davis' rookie season (like that of so many first-year wideouts in 2017) was an injury-marred mess.

    Both he and fellow second-year pro Taywan Taylor badly need to get their "go" on in 2018.

Washington Redskins: Skill Position Talent

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins made a massive investment in the quarterback position in the offseason, giving Alex Smith over $70 million in guaranteed money after trading for the veteran signal-caller.

    Smith is coming off career highs in passing yardage (4,042) and touchdowns (26). But those numbers are going to be difficult to duplicate in his new home because Smith just doesn't have the weaponry at his disposal in D.C. that he did in KC.

    Yes, slot receiver Jamison Crowder has been solid for the Redskins the past couple of years. Third-down back Chris Thompson was having the best season of his career in 2017 before suffering a broken leg.

    But there's no Tyreek Hill in the nation's capital. Instead, there's Josh Doctson and free-agent acquisition Raul Richardson—young receivers who have shown flashes but who have also been inconsistent.

    There's no Travis Kelce either. Granted, Jordan Reed has shown the ability to be an impact tight end when healthy, but "when healthy" is a massive caveat with the 27-year-old. Reed has missed multiple games in all five of his years in the NFL—including 10 a year ago.

    Kareem Hunt? Sorry, he's not there either. Instead, it's Thompson and rookie bruiser Derrius Guice, who was a force at LSU but hasn't yet proven anything at the professional level.