Ranking the 7 NFL Teams Most Likely to Disappoint in 2020
The Cleveland Browns are reigning Super Bowl champions!
Wait...that's not right.
Nope, the team that "won the offseason" last year didn't live up to expectations.
They usually don't.
Inevitably, several squads will underwhelm based on unrealistic expectations built through previous success, incoming players or some combination of the two.
Seven such teams are set up to disappoint during the 2021 campaign.
To be included here, positive expectations must be built for 2020. No one expects much from the Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants and Washington Football Team since not one is a solid bet to win more than six games this fall. The following lineup is based on how high the bar is currently set for each squad based on the likelihood of it not exceeding its forecasted win total.
Conversely, turnover will occur at the top of some divisions after last season's standout performances, thus creating a different landscape than the one most expect.
7. New York Jets
A late-season surge skewed perception of what the New York Jets really are.
They went 6-2 in the second half of 2019. Sam Darnold was healthy and playing relatively well. The defense flew all over the field. The entire team showed promise.
But as the Jets try to build around their talented young quarterback, the organization has serious issues.
It's difficult to get past how the team reportedly views head coach Adam Gase.
"Players don't respect Gase, who has rubbed them the wrong way with his inability to lead and lack of support," the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta reported in June.
This supposedly led to Jamal Adams' issues with the organization and prompted his eventual trade to the Seattle Seahawks.
How does a team play consistently well for someone who has lost the locker room?
A potential backslide is not all about Gase, though.
New York will have an entirely new starting offensive line in front of Darnold. While the group is certainly more talented after heavy investments in the position (drafted Mekhi Becton No. 11; signed George Fant for three years, $27.3 million), the starting five will take time to jell before it works as a cohesive unit.
Plus, the team still has question marks at wide receiver and edge-rusher and in the secondary.
6. Los Angeles Rams
Does anyone else remember when every other franchise wanted the next Sean McVay? Yeah, good times.
Now, McVay isn't even the hottest young coach in his division. The Arizona Cardinals' Kliff Kingsbury is. Both are a step or two behind the San Francisco 49ers' Kyle Shanahan as the NFC West's top head coach.
When looking at the NFC West as a whole, the Los Angeles Rams don't hold any distinct advantage over the other three squads, aside from Aaron Donald's usual dominance.
The Seahawks (Russell Wilson) and possibly the Cardinals (Kyler Murray) have a better quarterback. Seattle and San Francisco have better running games. McVay no longer holds an edge in devising schemes, with Shanahan and Kingsbury calling plays.
Defensively, Los Angeles finished 17th in points allowed per game, didn't renew defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' contract and failed to add a significant performer to the unit this offseason. Instead, the linebacker trio of Cory Littleton, Dante Fowler Jr. and Clay Matthews III are no longer with the team, while six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle retired.
Eighteen months ago, the Rams were playing in Super Bowl LIII against the New England Patriots. Now, they're arguably the worst-positioned squad in their division.
McVay could very well experience his first losing season since he took over before the '17 campaign.
5. Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans are a prime regression candidate after quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry had career years.
Tannehill emerged from Marcus Mariota's shadow to become the starter in Week 7 and played at a level not previously seen during his eight-year career. The 2012 first-round pick by the Miami Dolphins led the NFL with 9.6 yards per attempt and a 117.5 quarterback rating. Those stats only tell part of the story.
His '19 performance can be viewed in two ways: Either Tannehill's recent work is a predictor of future success in a system ideally suited to his skill set, or he's the next flash in the pan who'll fizzle out after he fooled his team into signing him to a lucrative long-term contract extension (four years, $118 million). The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, which means it's unlikely he'll be as effective during his second Titans campaign.
Henry's situation is much simpler. His usage rate from last season could decrease his effectiveness this fall. The 247-pound back accumulated 409 touches, including the playoffs. Yes, the league's leading rusher is a big, physical back and only 26, but history shows the Titans should expect a dip in production from Henry after he carried such a heavy load.
Tennessee is a well-coached team with a talented backfield. Even so, the Titans caught lighting in a bottle last season with a trip to the AFC Championship Game and likely won't replicate that success.
4. New England Patriots
Cue the GIF of a lonely Will Smith looking around his Bel-Air mansion with his entire family gone, because that's how some of the remaining New England Patriots must feel.
Quarterback Tom Brady isn't walking through that door. Tight end Rob Gronkowski already left. Fullback James Develin retired. The team released kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Offensive lineman Ted Karras, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, nose tackle Danny Shelton and linebackers Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy left in free agency.
A league-leading eight Patriots—linebacker Dont'a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, right tackle Marcus Cannon, fullback Danny Vitale, wide receiver Marqise Lee, tight end Matt LaCosse, running back Brandon Bolden and backup offensive lineman Najee Toran—also opted out of the 2020 campaign.
The Patriots dynasty isn't dead, but it'll surely look much different this season than it has in a very long time. From a talent standpoint, the team can still compete at a relatively high level. Really, any success New England experiences during the upcoming campaign hinges on Cam Newton's potential reemergence and how quickly the new-look squad comes together.
"He's come in right away, head down, and tried to pick it up as quick as possible," running back Rex Burkhead told reporters of Newton. "... His first impact has been great. He's just trying to learn as much as he can and mesh and jell with the rest of the guys."
New England could still be good enough to capture the AFC East, but that says more about the other teams in the division since the Patriots are no longer operating by the same Super Bowl standard that dominated the last 20 years.
3. Green Bay Packers
As always, the Green Bay Packers will go as far as Aaron Rodgers leads them, and the team is unlikely to experience the same level of success it did a year ago when it finished 13-3 and went to the NFC Championship Game.
The reason so much emphasis is placed on Rodgers is twofold: The Packers continually ignore opportunities to place high-quality skill-position performers around the quarterback, and Green Bay needs the two-time league MVP to be a consistent difference-maker after it played in many tight games last season.
While general manager Brian Gutekunst tried to rationalize why the Packers didn't address wide receiver this offseason, the team still has to go into another campaign without providing Rodgers and top target Davante Adams much help.
"It's no secret; we were all expecting to have a receiver drafted," Adams told reporters. "But that wasn't the case."
An anonymous scout told ESPN's Rob Demovsky: "They're back to square one. Same guys [as last season]."
Last year's success also had a pinch of luck thrown in. Seven of the team's 13 wins were by one score, and Green Bay finished 6-1 in contests decided by seven or fewer points. As ESPN's Bill Barnwell noted, the Packers' plus-63 point differential was the lowest ever for a team with the same record over the last 31 seasons.
No improvements to the roster's most questionable position group and more close games that could break other way should bring Green Bay back to the NFC North pack this fall.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be dubbed this year's "winner of the offseason," and rightly so, but the expectations built after the acquisitions of six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady and future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski are unrealistic.
Are the Buccaneers a better team on paper today than they were at the end of the 2019 campaign? Yes.
Obviously, Brady's influence on the franchise will be positive, and Tampa Bay should be considered a playoff contender. But the Bucs' moves don't automatically turn them into a Super Bowl contender, as Las Vegas bookmakers are making them out to be.
Despite the high-profile names added to the roster, the Buccaneers are still transitioning at quarterback, tight end, right tackle and safety. According to The Athletic's team continuity scores, Tampa Bay ranks 24th.
"Yeah he's probably the least of my worries right now," head coach Bruce Arians told reporters of his new 43-year-old quarterback. "He's where he needs to be. We need to get more live reps. Blocking, tackling—this game's a blocking and tackling game. Fourteen days to block and tackle. Is that enough?"
It's not simply about the Buccaneers, either. They play in a difficult NFC South that features one of the league's most stable, successful NFC franchises in the New Orleans Saints. The Atlanta Falcons had the same record as Tampa Bay last year (7-9). Dan Quinn's squad won its last four games and added Dante Fowler Jr., Todd Gurley and Hayden Hurst this offseason.
Brady and Co. will be fun to watch, but this group may not even be a top-five team in the NFC, let alone the entire NFL.
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook.
1. Baltimore Ravens
Sometimes a team sets the bar so high, it's impossible to live up to that standard the following year. The Baltimore Ravens are in that position, in large part because of reigning MVP Lamar Jackson.
Let's take a step back and look at Patrick Mahomes' maturation. Two seasons ago, the Kansas City Chiefs star became the MVP after throwing for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns. The now-half-billion-dollar quarterback was statistically worse last year, with his numbers down across the board, yet he became a better overall player as his understanding of the game grew.
The same could happen to Jackson, sans the title run.
The second-year quarterback smashed his position's rushing record with 1,206 yards last year. He helped lead the most prolific rushing offense in NFL history. As a passer, Jackson finished first, third and eighth in passing touchdowns (36), quarterback rating (113.3) and completion percentage (66.1), respectively.
As a team, the Ravens posted 14 victories, including 10 straight to end the regular season before bowing out in the divisional round to the Titans.
Not only could Baltimore's regular-season performance be worse this year, but the Ravens also have plenty of competition within their own division to ruin any aspirations of a Super Bowl appearance. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a healthy Ben Roethlisberger behind center again. The Browns have so much talent and a new coaching staff, which shouldn't be overwhelmed like last season. Even the Cincinnati Bengals are better.
The Ravens will have a tough road after a year of dominance.