Three Teams Will Drop Out Of The NFL Elite
Which playoff teams from last year are most likely to drop from their lofty perch this season? Inquiring minds want to know.
The parity in the NFL means that someone will fall from the playoffs. Nothing stays the same; you either get better or worse. It’s tough to be in the postseason year after year. I can think of two very likely candidates, though I’m not sure I’m ready to head to Vegas and put my money where my mouth is.
The most logical team to fall has to be the Kansas City Chiefs. They went from 2-14 to 11-5, but there are several red flags about their season.
First, they had an easy schedule after their horrible 2012 campaign. Well, the road will be bumpier this time around. They open with a very winnable game against the Titans, then play Denver, Miami, New England, San Francisco and San Diego. Yikes.
Second, they were much better at the beginning of the season than the end. Their defense in particular fell apart, giving up points in big bunches.
The Chiefs won their first nine of the year. That’s fantastic, especially for a team that had only a pair of wins in 2012. But look at who they beat: Jacksonville, Dallas, Philly, the Giants, Titans, Raiders, Texans, Browns and Bills. The only eventual winning team in there was the Eagles.
Consider also that they lost all four games to divisional rivals Denver and San Diego. In their final eight games, including their lone postseason contest, they gave up 239 points, which is 30 a game. They won only two of those games, against the Raiders and Redskins.
The Chiefs lost some key players in free agency. Corner Brandon Flowers went to division rival San Diego -- it’s always troubling to lose a key player to a team you’ll play twice. They also lost offensive linemen Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz and defensive lineman Tyson Jackson. Those were some of their best players.
To return to the playoffs, the Chiefs’ rookies would have to be as good as the guys they replace. That would mean third-rounder Phillip Gaines would be as good as Flowers, for example. Dee Ford is going to have to be a great LT-like linebacker and sixth-round offensive tackle Zach Fulton will have to step right in. The team didn’t have a second-round pick, which is always a bad omen.
The Broncos and Chargers both made some great moves during the off-season. Denver signed DeMarcus Ware, who should form a potent pass-rushing trio with Von Miller and Quanterus Smith, who’s returning from an injury.
The Broncos also signed safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib.
The Chargers signed Flowers and had a good draft, picking up another corner, Jason Verrett, and a solid linebacker in Jerry Attaochu. This team has a terrific offense and it’s hard to see them getting worse.
My second choice for a playoff team to fall from grace is the Philadelphia Eagles. They came in with a new coach and a gimmicky offense and won a weak division, with the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins all down. You have to think that the division will improve -- especially the Giants, who showed some promise down the stretch.
This has always been a competitive division, and you have to figure the Eagles’ three rivals will be improved.
I don’t like the fact that the Eagles just cut one of their most talented players, DeSean Jackson. He signed with the Redskins, a terrible omen. I’m not sure I’m a believer in Nick Foles. Is he really that great? He sure looked it in 2013. But he was new then, and you have to figure the defenses will figure something out.
The Eagles had a solid draft: they selected outside linebacker Marcus Smith of Louisville and a pair of receivers, Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt and Josh Huff of Oregon.
Fine, but I still see a dropoff from Jackson, who had his best statistical season in 2013. It’s hard to see rookies replacing an All-Pro receiver.
I don’t think the Eagles will be much worse, but it won’t take much. They won the division during a time when their competitors defenses were perhaps the worst in their history. The Redskins and Cowboys were totally inept on defense, and despite that the Eagles still barely won.
Philly beat the Cowboys 24-22 on the final game of the regular season to take the NFC East crown. Kyle Orton filled in for Tony Romo, who’d just had back surgery, but the Eagles needed an interception at the end to clinch the win.
The Giants started 0-6, which doomed their chances, but were decent thereafter and finished 7-9. The Redskins had a pitiful defense and RGIII missed some games. The Eagles won the division by default.
This has always been a tight division, and usually it’s a good one. That wasn’t the case in 2013, but expect it to be back to its usual form. The Giants will be the team that finished 6-3, the Redskins had some key pickups and the Cowboys have a great offense and question marks on defense.
Who are some of the other teams that might fall?
The Bengals have to be a prime candidate.
Cincinnati has been solid the past few years, but they’ve lost in the wild-card round three straight years, with their overall playoff losing streak standing at six. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, widely seen as a coaching star, left to become head mentor of the Vikings. The constant for the team has been a great D, but that might change.
But mostly the worry centers on Andy Dalton, he’s had some awful playoff games. Last January he had three turnovers in the second half as the Chargers scored the final 20 points of the game.
Now, part of that was the Chargers were a great team at the end of the year and could win it all this year. Still, Dalton had a terrible second half. There’s no getting around that. He hasn’t done well in the playoffs.
You might say, “Well, get someone else.” But who? Josh Johnson is listed as the backup. Who?
Maybe Dalton will improve. He was quoted as talking big about himself. Later, coach Marvin Lewis did the same. Well, pretending that you’re in a session with Oprah, smiling and expressing confidence just doesn’t get it done.
A lot of folks think the Steelers and Ravens will wrestle the crown from the Bengals. But a brutal defense goes a long way. Great defense is more of a constant than great offense.
I think the AFC North title’s up for grabs. Quarterbacks take a long time to reach their peak. I think the jury’s still out on Dalton. If he’s going to be good, he better start now.