Earlier this week I weighed in on the teams I believe are poised to make a positive step forward in 2018. So, it was only a matter of time before I shared my thoughts on teams I believe are trending in the opposite direction. Right?
And indeed that time has come.
Rosters are largely formulated by now and the chances of a team making a transaction significant enough that it alters the scope of their upcoming season are scant. Coaches in the NFL know that by this time in the offseason, the 45 guys they will take into play on Sundays are coming from the group that is currently assembled. This is their team. It's not up to them to find the best group out of these 90 bodies to get the job done.
Joe Montana ain't walking into that building. And neither is Barry Sanders of Lawrence Taylor, for that matter. And while, eventually, somewhere, I suppose, Dez Bryant will be walking into a team headquarters, expecting players who are on the street into May to make a difference is folly. They are available for a reason (or three). So with that in mind, here are some teams that have experienced at least a modicum of success in recent years who I don't have a great feeling about in the spring of 2018:
Kansas City Chiefs
I love me some Patrick Mahomes as much as the next guy. More than most … but some of the hype is getting out of control. He's going to be a rookie (he has 1 start; for starting purposes he is still a rookie to me). He's going to make a bunch of mistakes (and learn from them) and he's likely to be in a position where his offense needs to score a ton of points for Kansas City to be viable. I don't see any more pass rush really than a year ago, and this season could live or die on Justin Houston's ability to stay healthy and dominate week in and week out. Eric Berry coming back from a major injury gives me pause. Frankly, the entire defensive front would give me concern and while I was never a huge Alex Smith guy or believed he would take a team to the promised land, his MVP-caliber play last season covered up a lot of warts and propelled this team to the postseason. Getting back, even in a shallow AFC pool, looks like an uphill climb to me. That ugly playoff loss – and the exodus of quality leaders like Derrick Johnson and difficult-but-talented players like Marcus Peters – could hover over this franchise for a while.
Man that run of five straight playoff appearances seems like a long time ago. The worst aspects of those teams – lack of discipline, rewarding selfish and undisciplined players, an incredible tendency to melt down collectively in the most critical junctures – are still there, but the talent loss and brain drain has caught up to them. Stunned they would (over)draft an injured player in the first round for a second straight year with Marvin Jones yet again entering a season fighting for his job, and found it odd that they would pass on a potential franchise quarterback in Lamar Jackson at a time when every other team in the division (including the Steelers with potential Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger) grabbed one relatively early. Andy Dalton is functional with a coterie of skilled playmakers and an outstanding line in front of him ... but those are luxuries he has no more. They open another season with a Vontaze Burfict suspension cloud hanging over them, and all the recent draft misses has this smelling like a 7-9 season to me.
Man, they end up spending a lot of time talking about just-retired or just-kicked-out-the-door former players, don't they? Seems to be the motif of another offseason. Tony Romo a year ago. Jason Witten and Dez Bryant now. And of course they had their share of run-ins with the law, with David Irving the latest Cowboy to be dealing with potentially seriously off-field issues (last year it was Zeke Elliott). Seems like the plan is to go Back to the Future to like 1986 and run the ball 600 times. Good luck with that. Dak Prescott, I doubt, takes a big step forward with this supporting cast, and even with adding a linebacker in the first round I have some serious concerns about the viability of the Dallas defense. The division should be better this season, but the Cowboys will not be. And if it does go as expected, will Jerry Jones cling to a coach he can micro-manage? Could more change be in the air for the Cowboys?
This franchise is in a far better place than it's been in long, long time, but every year there is a team that falls prey to regression. Doesn't mean they won't continue on an upward trajectory in future years, but it also means they could find it quite difficult to come close to repeated what they accomplished a season ago. Last year, Andrew Luck never played a snap and Deshaun Watson didn't play a half a season and the Titans were running an offense that seemed perversely backwards at times. All of that should change this season, and the Jags still have, by far (if Luck is remotely healthy) the worst QB situation in the AFC South. The run game wasn't as big and bad as some made it out to be, and we'll see how this group handles the insta-success of 2017 when they enter a season as favorites for the first time in forever. I remain a Blake Bortles skeptic, and as good as this defense is, if the offense doesn't expand and the big bucks spent on guys like Donte Moncrief and Marqise Lee doesn't expand the scope of this offense, getting back to the postseason will not be such an easy chore.