As training camps open throughout the NFL every team approaches the season with a different objective in mind. The Lombardi Trophy would be the ultimate goal for everyone, but for many teams that is unobtainable (yes, I know they all start on a level playing field…but really?) Let’s take a quick look around the NFL at last year’s haves and have-nots.
BOTTOM OF THE LADDER – 5 WINS OR LESS (2014)
JACKSONVILLE, TENNESSEE, OAKLAND, WASHINGTON, TAMPA, CHICAGO, NEW YORK JETS
These seven teams combined for a total of just 23 wins, with Chicago (5-11) leading the pack. All seven are thin at many positions and keep searching to find the formula that will push them into contention. Training camp is more important for them as they take a look at their weaknesses and need as much time as they can get to scrutinize all the players available to take the next step.
Fans of the Jets (4 wins) and Bears will argue they are on the cusp of being a legitimate threat, possibly with a new QB, as they view their teams through “rose colored glasses” (known as the Jeff Kane perspective – Patriots Beat, 2014). For the first time since he arrived in Chicago six years ago, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is in a vulnerable situation. Head coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace, will have him on a short leash and are under no obligation to keep Cutler beyond 2015.
Everyone in this group has serious flaws and to expect a turnaround to double-digit wins in one season is setting expectations high. Yes, off-season signings may have helped, but history tells us the odds are strong that most of them will once again bring up the rear end of their division.
The Jets have had the most improvement in talent, but are playing in a division that, with the exception of New England, has stepped up in the off-season. With a new Head Coach (Todd Bowles) and no proven QB (I’m being kind) it’s hard to see them leap frogging Buffalo and Miami, let alone the Super Bowl Champion Patriots.
MIDDLE OF THE PACK – 6 TO 9 WINS
MIAMI, CLEVELAND, NY GIANTS, MINNESOTA, ATLANTA, CAROLINA, NEW ORLEANS, SAN FRANCISCO, ST. LOUIS, KANSAS CITY, SAN DIEGO, HOUSTON, BUFFALO
The unlucky thirteen need training camp to check who will or won’t be an asset in 2015. Many players will be “on-the-bubble” for this group. In a league that prides itself on competitive balance it’s no surprise they make up the largest percentage of teams in the NFL.
Some teams are on the way up (Houston, Miami and Buffalo???) and are looking at training camp as a chance to see improvement from veterans as well as analyze their youngsters. Others are striving to regain prominence (Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, San Francisco, NY Giants, Carolina, San Diego) and are hoping their veterans are ready to bounce back, some from injuries others from off years, and will use camp to see if they have filled the holes that weren’t apparent until too late in 2014.
The remaining three (Cleveland, Atlanta, Minnesota) are working to assure they won’t drop into the bottom rung, where they have all resided in past seasons. Training camp will be used to evaluate key players and positions that could make or break their ability to move up, or, more than likely, fall further in the standings.
Looking at this group, Houston, Miami and Buffalo all look ready to step up. The strength of division/schedule will have an impact, as both Miami and Buffalo play in a dramatically improved AFC East while Houston has only the Colts to contend with in the AFC South (not sure how Indianapolis is in the south…but I digress).
The Bills have serious question marks on offense, but their defense could be the strongest in the league. One player they are looking at for a boost on offense is Charles Clay. The Bills paid Clay nearly as much as Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas hoping he can be the blocking and receiving tight end that makes Roman’s offense tick.
Playing in the exceptionally weak NFC South, where Carolina won the division with an ugly 7-8-1 record, will certainly help not only the Panthers, but also New Orleans and Atlanta.
CONTENDERS/PRETENDERS – 10 TO 14 WINS
NEW ENGLAND, PITTSBURGH, CINCINNATI, BALTIMORE, INDIANAPOLIS, DENVER, DALLAS, PHILADELPHIA, GREEN BAY, DETROIT, SEATTLE, ARIZONA
This grouping often has fewer needs and are just hope to get out of training camp without any major injuries. Odds are the next Super Bowl will be played by two of the 12 teams in this group.
New England, last year’s Super Bowl winner, looks to have more question marks then you would expect after losing many key parts from their championship team. With those holes to fill, especially in the secondary, you know teams (and fans) are chomping at the bit to step on them while they are regrouping.
Yes, the Pats could be vulnerable early, especially if QB Tom Brady is out for 4 games. but Head Coach Bill Belichick has led New England to 12 straight winning seasons, so don’t dig the grave too quickly. Commissioner Roger Goodell has just issued his decision to keep the penalty the same, so the courts will now decide if Brady’s sentence fits the supposed crime.
Teams unlikely to repeat their 2014 performance include:
- Cincinnati, still unable to win the big game
- Arizona, wilting in the second half playing in that unbearable heat
- Are you ready for this? Denver! Yep, the high scoring Broncos were a shell of the team that started the season by the play-offs. QB Peyton Manning struggled (injury???) and the team is making some dramatic moves as they move from the gun-slinger mode they employed since signing him. Most of the talking points about the team’s transition to the new coaching staff have revolved around two items — how quarterback Manning will fit in coach Gary Kubiak’s version of the West Coast offense and which offensive linemen will be protecting him.
The remaining eight will fight to prove their worth and use training camp to test veterans that may have reached the downside of their careers, draft picks who could step in, free agent signings and those always exciting un-drafted free agents. Training camp is a bother more than need for most of of the chosen few.
Look for the teams that have done it before, can overcome issues and have solid veteran leadership to once again step up and reach for “THE RING.”
My pre-season picks (Lord, its way too early for this to mean anything) are…drum roll please…the angry, hated, underdog New England Patriots (confession time, that pick is with my heart not brain) taking on the always tough Green Bay Packers, for the Lombardi Trophy.
To read full articles from the original sources, just click on the blue highlighted portions of this article. The opinions expressed in this article are strictly mine and open for discussion.
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