NFL Teams That Are Destined to Disappoint in 2021

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2021

NFL Teams That Are Destined to Disappoint in 2021

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Not every NFL team can live up to the hype.  

    That's just a matter of logistics in a league with 32 teams, especially after long offseasons that generate so much optimism for each fanbase. 

    Look at last year, when the Minnesota Vikings (7-9) were expected to contend, the Carolina Panthers (5-11) were supposed to experience a revival with Teddy Bridgewater and the San Francisco 49ers (6-10) were going to keep right on being Super Bowl contenders. 

    Looking ahead with an assist from DraftKings' Super Bowl futures, several hyped teams will fall flat in 2021 because of cap issues, roster construction and mere projection. Most have potential problems under center, too, which is usually what ultimately separates the pretenders from contenders.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Until the San Francisco 49ers manage to escape quarterback purgatory, the franchise will likely be a fixture on lists like this. 

    The 49ers aren't getting much from Jimmy Garoppolo, who, on the five-year, $137.5 million deal he signed before the 2018 season, has appeared in more than six games just once. San Francisco seemed like an obvious trade destination for Matthew Stafford because the front office can shed this contract with only $2.8 million in dead cap, but it will instead have to face him twice per year against the Los Angeles Rams. 

    Still, San Francisco's defense should be much improved for the mere fact that Nick Bosa and Dee Ford should be back healthy, hence the seventh-best Super Bowl odds. 

    There are still ways for the 49ers to improve the quarterback spot, but sitting 17th in cap space ($11.9 million) with free agents like Trent Williams, Richard Sherman, Thomas and others is problematic. So too is an NFC West with the aforementioned Rams, plus the Seattle Seahawks and J.J. Watt-infused Arizona Cardinals.

Indianapolis Colts

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts are banking on head coach Frank Reich reviving quarterback Carson Wentz after reportedly trading for the former Philadelphia Eagles starter. 

    This move in response to Philip Rivers' retirement is a risky one, to say the least. Wentz, now the team's top cap hit at $25.4 million, appeared in 12 games last year, completing 57.4 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and a league-high 15 interceptions. 

    Indianapolis should provide Wentz a much better offensive line and, with any luck, healthier surroundings, highlighted by upstarts Michael Pittman Jr. and Jonathan Taylor. But that doesn't seem to align well enough to earn a top-10 spot in Super Bowl futures (+2200). 

    Besides the unknown under center, the Colts have to deal with the retirement of left tackle Anthony Castonzo and a free-agent list including T.Y. Hilton, Justin Houston, Xavier Rhodes and Malik Hooker. All this in a division alongside a steamrolling Tennessee team within a brutal conference could mean things easily backfire and the Colts are again looking at quarterbacks at this time next year.

Miami Dolphins

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins figure to be a trendy underdog pick this year across the board. 

    Reasons abound, too. The team appears on the ascent under the guidance of Brian Flores and just won 10 games. A willingness to spend on big-name players like cornerback Byron Jones meshes nicely with the eighth-highest cap number, and the team has two first-round picks this April. 

    Still, sitting with the 11th-best Super Bowl odds (+2500) feels like a reach primarily because of the situation under center. Tua Tagovailoa is a huge-upside prospect who worked back from a serious injury to learn on the fly over 10 games last year (11 touchdowns, five interceptions, 6.3 yards per attempt), yet the Dolphins are one of those teams that keeps coming up in Deshaun Watson trade speculation

    This conversation entirely flips on its head if the Dolphins manage to pull off a blockbuster quarterback trade without sacrificing too much of the established core of the roster. But right now, expecting that core to prop up Tagovailoa as he puts in his first full season of work in the same division as a Super Bowl contender (Buffalo) and another team potentially about to be on the ascent (New England) should result in a failure to meet expectations.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    The first thing that comes to mind with the Dallas Cowboys is that Jerry Jones and the front office couldn't possibly botch the situation with Dak Prescott again.

    Meaning, Prescott is sure to be back, whether it's on an extension in the $39 million average-annual-value range or on a second franchise tag at $37.7 million.

    Either way, we're talking about a Cowboys team with just $16.3 million in free space and a list of other notable free agents like Aldon Smith, Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. 

    Prescott was never going to be the problem in 2020 or 2021, though. That status belonged to the defense, which was on a historic pace even when Prescott was healthy and finished by allowing 29.6 points per game with just 31 sacks. 

    Dallas, courtesy of star power and reputation, has favorable Super Bowl odds (+2800) that most teams can't match. But a shifting defense under a new coaching staff and potential roster losses besides free agents just to make it all work financially (such as tight end Dalton Schultz to save $2.2 million, for example) could leave the Cowboys struggling to flirt with .500.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    J.J. Watt's reported arrival with the Arizona Cardinals is sure to inflate expectations for the team in 2021. 

    But even with Watt coming to town, the Cardinals were merely 8-8 last year and 2-4 in a brutal NFC West. The superstar defender pairing with Chandler Jones is a scary proposition for opposing quarterbacks, but only to a certain extent. 

    Watt, after all, will play for a new team for the first time in his career and was already on a slight decline. Jones is 31 years old and only made it through five games last year before a season-ending biceps injury, and notables like Patrick Peterson, Dre Kirkpatrick, De'Vondre Campbell, Markus Golden and 12.5-sack man Haason Reddick are all free agents. 

    One could argue the Kyler Murray-led offense will balance things out. But an offense schemed by Kliff Kingsbury was inconsistent last year, with Kenyan Drake failing to hit 1,000 yards and nobody after DeAndre Hopkins impressing at wideout. Drake and Larry Fitzgerald, by the way, headline the offensive free agents for a team with $14 million in free space before the Watt signing. 

    In a division dominated by a pair of double-digit winners last year in Seattle and Los Angeles, the groundswell of hype for the Cardinals might have a disappointing ending, especially if the record regresses.


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