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One of the enjoyable aspects of the NFL season is seeing which teams rise towards the top of the league and which ones falter over the course of the year. For all the teams that took a step up in 2023 (Houston Texans), there were teams that took a step back after competing the year before (Minnesota Vikings).

Thanks to the parity of the league, there are always teams that fall from playoff contention to not competing for the playoffs at all. Other teams go from average to one of the worst teams in the league (Carolina Panthers). Which teams are going to fall from contention in 2024? Are there any other teams primed for a significant fall? 

Before free agency and the draft hits, here's a look at five teams who could be poised to take a step backwards this season. Of course, offseason moves can change all this, but this is going off 2023 results and an offseason outlook. 

Cleveland Browns (11-6)

Deshaun Watson
CLE • QB • #4
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The Browns were one of the surprises of the NFL last season, staring five different quarterbacks and still making the playoffs with an 11-6 record. Joe Flacco won NFL Comeback Player of the Year after going 4-1 in his five starts, emerging from the couch in late November to take a team that many left for dead to the postseason when he became the starting quarterback. 

Cleveland will be getting Deshaun Watson back in 2024 -- and his $230 million guaranteed contract. Watson wasn't exactly lighting it up before he was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, and he hasn't been the same quarterback since signing with Cleveland. He'll be leading a Browns offense that needs a better No. 2 option to pair with Amari Cooper and the uncertainty of Nick Chubb when he returns from his knee injury. 

The Browns also had the No. 1 defense in points allowed per possession, but there will be changes to that group. Cleveland also has to clear up $19.6 million in cap space. It also plays in the AFC North, the division where every team was over .500 last season. 

This all comes down to Watson, who needs to be the quarterback the Browns paid for. If Watson is mediocre, the Browns will be, too. 

New Orleans Saints (9-8)

Derek Carr
NO • QB • #4
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The Saints were over .500 last season, yet were a disappointment as they were expected to roll through the NFC South with Derek Carr at quarterback and a favorable schedule at their disposal. Carr didn't live up to the hefty contract in year one, even if the Saints finished 11th in points per possession. Missing the playoffs was also a major disappointment. 

The Saints typically have a chance in the poor NFC South, but are stuck in cap hell for another offseason. New Orleans has to shed $83.7 million in salary cap space and doesn't exactly have a lot of players it can move on from and save cap space since general manager Mickey Loomis kept restructuring deals and pushing dead money to future offseasons. Sure the Saints can make a lot of designated post-June 1 cuts, but how does that make the roster better?

New Orleans can still win the NFC South in 2024, but is the ceiling 9-8 with Dennis Allen as head coach? The Saints don't have a great front office structure, nor a good head coach in place to get the most out of a group that should be better than the record shows. 

If 9-8 is the ceiling, the Saints could be in for a significant downfall in 2024. Being in the NFC South definitely pushes back the eventual downfall, though.

Denver Broncos (8-9)

Russell Wilson
PIT • QB • #3
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The Broncos are more than likely going to move on from Russell Wilson this offseason, leaving the franchise eating $35.4 million if it designates Wilson as a post-June 1 cut (and pushing back significant dead cap). Denver is still $21.4 million over the salary cap, so changes are coming to a bloated roster that failed to get over .500 in the Wilson era. 

The offense was 21st in points per possession and the defense was 28th in points allowed per possession. Cuts may be coming in addition to Wilson (if the Broncos can't trade him), as Tim Patrick, Garett Bolles and D.J. Jones carry high cap hits. 

Then there's the matter of the AFC West. The Las Vegas Raiders play hard for Antonio Pierce even with their roster limitations, while the Los Angeles Chargers are expected to be better under Jim Harbaugh. Oh, and the Kansas City Chiefs have won consecutive Super Bowls -- and have Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid. 

The Broncos may be sitting in the cellar of the AFC West in 2024 as the franchise enters the first stage of a rebuild. 

Minnesota Vikings (7-10)

Kirk Cousins
ATL • QB • #8
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The Vikings were primed to take a fall from their 13-4 record in 2022, and they did, experiencing a six-game drop off in 2023. Minnesota has excellent pass-catching talent with Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison, but T.J. Hockenson may be out for the majority of 2024 recovering from ACL and MCL surgery. 

Then there's Kirk Cousins, who is a free agent and the glue to this whole season. Do the Vikings want to pay more than $40 million to a 35-year-old quarterback who has won one playoff game in his six seasons with the team? Or is it time to move on and find the next franchise quarterback in the draft? 

At least the Vikings have Brian Flores to lead the defense, as they improved from 27th in points allowed per possession in 2022 to 18th in 2023. Without Cousins in an NFC North with the Detroit Lions, along with the rising Green Bay Packers and improving Chicago Bears, this year could be a rough one for the Vikings.

New York Giants (6-11)

There are some teams that really weren't as good as their record indicated -- and one of them was the Giants. Even though New York finished 4-3 in its last seven games, was there any reason to feel optimistic about the team at the conclusion of the season?

Saquon Barkley, the best player on an offense that finished 29th in points per possession and 30th in yards per possession, is a free agent. Daniel Jones was horrendous last season, and the Giants are on the hook for a $47.105 million cap hit in 2024 for a quarterback who may not even start the year (ACL injury). Even if Jones plays, he'll be playing behind an offensive line that's perpetually poor (allowed 85 sacks last season). 

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale also left, as the Giants will have to learn a new scheme under Shane Bowen. Fortunately there's talent on that group, even if they were 20th in points allowed per possession last season. The Giants were a bad football team last season, and may be worse in 2024.