Patriots' tensions, Chargers karma, 49ers expectations and more fatal flaws for NFL teams
Breaking down the biggest possible problem for every single NFL team
Every single NFL team has finished its offseason makeover, having gone through free agency and now the draft -- we have a decent, albeit early, idea of what each team's identity is going to be for the 2018 NFL season. The picture is far from perfect, because injuries happen, players develop and four months is an eternity in the NFL.
But you can look at the depth charts for these various teams and quickly come to some conclusions. You might even be able to identify a significant flaw in each team. Or, if you prefer your NFL content sprinkled with "Star Wars" analogies, perhaps you could identify the, uh -- *furiously Googles "flaw in the Death Star"* -- the thermal exhaust port for each of these teams. Yes, that.
No NFL team is perfectly constructed, of course. Flaws are going to exist. But what flaw could potentially derail each team's season? That's the goal for today's very lengthy exercise. Without further ado, let's try and figure out what the biggest FATAL FLAW for each NFL team is going into 2018. Love, hate or just want to complain about your team? Holler at me on Twitter @WillBrinson.
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New York Giants
Fatal Flaw: Offensive line
The Giants addressed their biggest weakness significantly in both free agency and in the draft, Eli Manning should have in 2018. But to suggest that the offensive line issues for the Giants are fixed would be to give the duo a little more credit than they're worth -- Solder's not an elite tackle and Hernandez is a rookie. Brett Jones at center, Patrick Omameh or John Jerry at right guard and Ereck Flowers at right tackle is not going to be classified as elite. (Assuming Flowers is still on the roster.) This is still a problematic unit for the Giants.and of the second round. That gives the Giants a very nice combo on the left side of the line and drastically improves the protection
Fatal Flaw: Pass catchers
Ultimately the departure of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten might be classified as a positive: this offense needs to move in a new direction with new weapons and new quarterback. But making the offense "friendly" for Dak Prescott shouldn't involve simply rolling into the 2018 season with Allen Hurns at the top of the depth chart. None of the Cowboys wideouts are true No. 1 receivers ( ), with Hurns, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley all serving as guys who are plenty talented but who should be secondary receivers on NFL offenses. Michael Gallup is a high draft pick (third round) with high expectations, but from rookie wide receivers.
Fatal Flaw: Tight end
There are a couple different spots where the Redskins could blow up, but what Grant Paulsen of 106.7 the Fan in D.C. said on the Pick Six Podcast Thursday really stood out to me: if Jordan Reed isn't healthy and on the field, the rest of the offense struggles to really get going. Reed is just that good and dynamic and gamechanging, but he's never a guarantee to stay healthy. The interior of the offensive line could also be a problem, with Alex Smith adjusting to a new offense, but Reed might be the guy who can take this team from an NFC East bottom dweller to a division contender.
Fatal Flaw: Carson Wentz's ACL
Look at this freaking roster and try to find somewhere that the Eagles don't have a ton of talent. It's just not there. The defending Super Bowl champions added Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata to the most dangerous defensive line in the league, re-signed Nigel Bradham to an underrated linebacking corps that also gets Jordan Hicks back, will have Jason Peters back on an already stout offensive line, have a bunch of weapons in the passing game and will be Super Bowl contenders assuming that Carson Wentz is healthy. He should be! There's nothing to make us believe he's not. But ACLs, despite medical advances, are still no sure thing and sometimes take closer to 18 months before a full recovery is achieved. Nick Foles is the reigning Super Bowl MVP and a very nice backup, but if Wentz' ACL has any sort of set back, it could put a major damper on the Eagles' title defense.
Fatal Flaw: Offensive line
The Panthers used the draft to aggressively pursue solutions to most of their weaknesses. Most is key here because the Panthers, for reasons unknown, did not draft an offensive lineman. For a team starting Matt Kalil at left tackle, coming off a free agency period where it lost Pro Bowl guard Andrew Norwell to more money elsewhere and facing the loss of long-time center Ryan Kalil following the 2018 season, it's a bold move to stand pat on an already questionable unit that struggled to run the ball or protect Cam Newton last year. The latter Kalil and Trai Turner give the unit two quality players (although Turner had a slightly down year last year relatively speaking); if Daryl Williams can take another step at the right tackle position and the former Kalil can live up to his contract this is a strong unit. If not, it could cause the Panthers offense to go south.
Fatal Flaw: Defensive tackle depth
This is a very good, well-rounded club, especially after drafting Calvin Ridley to shore up the WR2 spot. It's not hard to imagine Dan Quinn's young defense finally making a massive leap to becoming an elite unit. The defensive line could hold it back with Dontari Poe leaving for the Panthers in free agency and Adrian Clayborn to the Patriots. Grady Jarrett is excellent and an underrated player who has developed well since being drafted in the fifth round. Takkarist McKinley is a second-year player to watch as a possible breakout. But the only assistance provided to Jarrett on the interior was Deadrin Senat (described by Pete Prisco as a "baby" version of Jarrett, by the way). Vita Vea and Da'Ron Payne were long gone by the time the Falcons picked, but they decided to pass on Taven Bryan for Ridley. We'll see if it costs them in 2018.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Fatal Flaw: Jameis Winston
The Buccaneers should be a good football team. They are stacked at the skill positions, with Ronald Jones joining Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. The defense wasn't good but credit GM Jason Licht for addressing the line by trading for Jason Pierre-Paul, signing Vinny Curry and drafting Vita Vea. Those guys with Gerald McCoy could be nasty and would allow Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander to roam the field more easily while boosting the secondary play. Their season falls on Winston, though, after a highly disappointing third-year campaign in 2017. Winston actually finished strong -- over his final five games he completed 67 percent of his passes and averaged 317 yards per game -- but up through November he was having a bad year: 62 percent of his passes completed, 240 yards per game, 10 touchdowns and six picks in eight starts is not what you want from a young franchise quarterback. If a healthy Winston plays to his potential in 2018, the Bucs can contend for the playoffs. If not ...
New Orleans Saints
Fatal Flaw: Defensive Expectations
This is a copout, but look at the Saints depth chart and tell me what's missing. They have Drew Brees under center and Mark Ingram/Alvin Kamara running out of the backfield behind one of the best offensive lines in football (even after losing Zach Strief to retirement). Their secondary pass catchers aren't great with Ted Ginn and Cameron Meredith, but Brees will probably make do. If anything you could even make the case there might be a hangover from last year's brutal playoff loss to the Vikings, but we'll go with everyone assuming the defense will be just as good. It might be! They added Marcus Davenport in an expensive draft-day trade, and he'll join Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins on a talented defensive line. Demario Davis could be a nice free agency pickup at linebacker. If Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley, Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell repeat last year the Saints are just loaded. People are going to be drafting this team in fantasy leagues as a Week 1 defense, though, which still feels weird.
Fatal Flaw: Pass rush
The more I look at the Lions roster and factor in a coaching upgrade with Matt Patricia, the more I like this Detroit team. I tend to give Patricia the benefit of the doubt when it comes to getting the most out of his defensive line, even if they're short on star talent. A'Shawn Robinson (second round pick in 2016) and Jeremiah Ledbetter (sixth round pick last year) man the middle with Sylvester Williams there for depth. But Ziggy Ansah is the only pure rusher they've got, and it's fair to question what kind of season he'll have given how up and down he's been so far in his career. If Patricia coaches him up and Ansah can get after quarterbacks or they find another edge rusher, Detroit could be dangerous.
Green Bay Packers
Fatal Flaw: Pass catchers
This is a weird thing to say, because this team has Aaron Rodgers and he inherently makes everyone better. But this is a vastly different group of guys for Rodgers. Davante Adams is now the true No. 1 now that his long-time pal Jordy Nelson is gone to Oakland. Randall Cobb remains as the slot/do-it-all option and he might be underrated at this point of his career, but you'd prefer to have a true WR2 and Cobb out of the slot. Jimmy Graham was a big-ticket free agent, but it remains to be seen if he's anything more than a red-zone weapon at his age. The Packers have been prone to slow starts and have a new quarterbacks coach and their star quarterback apparently a little miffed while working on timing with his new-ish set of receivers. If they come out of the gates slow, there will be questions asked.
Fatal Flaw: Secondary
Much ado was made about the Bears secondary this offseason thanks to the bizarre way they ended up signing Kyle Fuller to a longer deal. After not picking up his fifth-year option, they declined to franchise tag him, instead using the transition tag on the 2017 breakout. The Packers signed him to an offer sheet and the Bears matched. It's a good move to keep him around, but a weird way to handle it. Fuller tops the depth chart, followed by Prince Amukamara, Bryce Callahan and Marcus Cooper. That's a fine group if they're playing to their potential, the front seven is getting after the quarterback and everyone stays healthy. If one of Fuller or Amukamara goes down early, however, this is a secondary that could get exposed.
Fatal Flaw: Offensive line
It's easy to blinded by any blemishes on this roster thanks to the glow coming from shiny new acquisition Kirk Cousins. But the offensive line has to be an issue after the Vikings declined to address it this offseason. Case Keenum never got enough credit for his subtle pocket movement and ability to escape pressure/create plays out of structure for Minnesota when the offensive line didn't do its job. Cousins more than held his own in 2017 when the Redskins dealt with an injury-riddled offensive line, so it's fine to believe he can do it again this year, but if this offense goes off the rails it's going to be because Cousins gets excessively pressured.
Fatal Flaw: QB health
Offensive line would work well here, since both veteran Sam Bradford and rookie Josh Rosen are prone to taking too many shots. Along with Mike Glennon, the Cardinals have three quarterbacks who are similar, and no one who is scampering away from heavy defensive pressure. They also have a pair of quarterbacks in Bradford and Rosen who missed significant time last year (Bradford with a knee for the Vikings, Rosen with concussion for UCLA). Vegas set the Cardinals over/under at 5.5 wins and they will flirt with the under if their quarterbacks can't stay on the field.
Fatal Flaw: Offensive line
Now and forever, it feels like. Russell Wilson has been tremendous at avoiding pressure over the course of his career and for large parts of his tenure in Seattle, he's managed to mitigate bad offensive line work by spinning around a bunch and pulling a rabbit out of his hat. At some point it won't work. This was going to be the year Seattle went to work upgrading the unit, but they didn't invest during free agency or the draft. Duane Brown is still there after a trade last season and the team is high on German Ifedi. Justin Britt has flashed before. Maybe getting Tom Cable out of town will magically transform this line and Rashaad Penny's tackle-breaking ways will result in Brian Schottenheimer's offense going nuclear. Or maybe that won't happen.
San Francisco 49ers
Fatal Flaw: Expectations
The Weston Richburg and Mike McGlinchey in the offseason to protect Jimmy Garoppolo. I have a hard time seeing this offense being bad. Defensively the personnel is there too: Richard Sherman, if healthy, can still ball out. They have talent on the defensive line with Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas. Reuben Foster needs his legal issues sorted out, but he flashed last season. People are just penciling this team in for the Rams chief competition in this division and it feels premature.of Kyle Shanahan's tenure is nine games. That's wild, man. You can talk yourself into loving this team, especially after they added
Los Angeles Rams
Fatal Flaw: Edge rushers
There are not many flaws on this team. The offense has an ascending young quarterback in Jared Goff, an MVP-caliber running back in Todd Gurley and just added Brandin Cooks to a wideout group with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp already on it. The defensive line is Michael Brockers, Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald. Most weeks it will look like someone is taking dynamite to an old stadium they way they cave in offensive lines. But if we're going to nitpick -- and that's what we're doing! -- there are no guaranteed edge rushers here. Someone out of Matt Longacre, Samson Ebukam, Carlos Thompson, Garrett Sickels and the just-drafted duo of Ogbonnia Okoronkow/Trevon Young might find their way to double-digit sacks because there are going to be some free ones out there. But it's not an elite aspect of this team heading into the offseason.
Fatal Flaw: Quarterbacks
Adding Josh Allen in the draft sets up Buffalo well for the long haul if they're right on him -- his laser rocket arm, chiseled from the sinew of Paul Bunyan's corpse, may very well whip footballs through the famous Buffalo weather for years to come. But in 2018 it is difficult to imagine Allen, who struggles with short-yardage accuracy, stepping in and dominating. If he can't, then it's on AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman to get the Bills back to the playoffs.
Fatal Flaw: Ryan Tannehill's knee
Look, I really hope Tannehill is healthy. He was becoming fun to watch in Adam Gase's offense and started to get things going a little bit under his new coach before tearing his ACL. The decision not to repair it cost him 2017 and now it's been roughly 16 months since he was on the field in a competitive game of football. That's a long time. We assume he's going to be healthy but we just don't know. And if something were to happen to him, the next man up is Brock Osweiler. There are other problems on this roster, but that would be a submarine situation.
New York Jets
Fatal Flaw: Receivers
I kind of like the Jets a little bit more than I should, but with the news that Robby Anderson could be in more trouble, it's fair to question who will be catching passes for Josh McCown and/or Sam Darnold. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins left in free agency, Anderson can't keep it between the lines and that could ultimately mean the top of the depth chart being Jermaine Kearse, Terrelle Pryor, Quincy Enunwa and ArDarius Stewart. I can talk myself into that group having upside, but there isn't some A-list option on there where you feel comfortable thrusting a 20-year old, would-be franchise quarterback under center and telling him best of luck.
New England Patriots
Fatal Flaw: Tensions, Father Time
If you're picking something that will burn the Patriots on the field, don't bother picking an issue with the personnel. The Patriots had a historically bad defense for an early stretch of 2017 and still made it to the Super Bowl where ... oh crap. But, still, if they're going to totally self destruct or combust it's going to be a result of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady having tensions continue to bubble to the surface. Or, more likely, because Brady is a freaking 40-year-old who is getting beat up in a young man's game. Brady got dinged up late last year and struggled a little bit down the stretch before eventually securing an MVP at 40. The cliff is steep for NFL quarterbacks.
Fatal Flaw: Regular-sized footballs
This is not a Super Bowl contending team regardless, even if GM Chris Ballard is doing a very nice job constructing pieces to bring the Colts back to respectability. But if Andrew Luck can't play to start the season, this could be a bad football team (and I'm a Jacoby Brissett fan). Luck still has not thrown a regular-sized football and if he is not playing early in 2018, there are going to be a lot of questions asked by a lot of people about the plan for the franchise quarterback in Indy.
Fatal Flaw: Offensive line
It's very easy to get caught up in the hype around Houston with Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt returning from injury. There's superstar potential on both sides of the ball with those guys, plus DeAndre Hopkins, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney. Having said that, who is blocking for Watson when he comes back from his knee surgery? Julie'n Davenport is currently slotted to start at left tackle, with Seantrel Henderson at right tackle. Zach Fulton and Jeff Allen are the guards and Nick Martin, if healthy, would be the center. Watson was the second most-pressured quarterback in the NFL last year (46.7 percent of his dropbacks), behind only ... Tom Savage. I trust Bill O'Brien to keep his guy safe, but you can't have a young franchise QB coming back from knee surgery under siege 24/7.
Fatal Flaw: Edge rush
Someone is going to need to talk me out of loving the Titans this year. Maybe the one concern would be the health and age of their pass rushers. Brian Orakpo battled injuries for years with the Redskins, but he's now played three-straight years of 16 games or more with Tennessee. He'll turn 32 this summer and it's going to be interesting how Dean Pees uses him. Harold Landry fell to the second round of the draft because of medical concerns, but he's an instant impact speed guy if he's healthy. How is Derrick Morgan only 29?? He's been steady but never dominant for Tennessee in terms of rushing. If Peas can cook up a pass rush, this team could be fun.
Fatal Flaw: Blake Bortles
This is not an insult or indictment of Bortles, who played some pretty good football in 2017 for various stretches. It's just that the iteration of Bortles we have seen the last two years caps the Jaguars ceiling, which should be through the roof with that defense. They only got better this offseason, somehow adding more defensive linemen and a hard-hitting, old-school safety in Ronnie Harrison in the draft. They also signed Andrew Norwell to a big-money deal in free agency and should run the ball even more aggressively. Bortles will determine how far they can go.
Fatal Flaw: Hue Jackson
The man has never won a football game on a Sunday for the Browns. It's an incredible stat. Jackson finally acquiesced to pressure and brought in an offensive coordinator, signing Todd Haley, while also adding Ken Zampese as Cleveland's quarterbacks coach. Those hires should go a long way towards making the offense better in 2018. But the Browns have some pretty high expectations (relatively speaking): starting 0-4 out of the gate because of egregious coaching decisions probably won't be tolerated. Jackson hasn't proven he can avoid those in his first two years in Cleveland.
Fatal Flaw: Offensive line
It killed the Bengals last year and they took drastic steps to fix it this offseason, first by trading for Cordy Glenn (and moving from No. 12 to No. 21 in the draft with Buffalo) and then by drafting Billy Price in the first round. Glenn's no sure-fire lock to hold down the left tackle position, but he should be an upgrade over Cedric Ogbuehi. Price is an upgrade if he's able to play from a pec injury that knocked him down a bit in the draft process. Give Dalton some time, get John Ross involved, pray Tyler Eifert stays healthy and the Bengals can make some noise in a up-and-down division. Another bad year from the offensive line might finally be what gets Marvin Lewis canned.
Fatal Flaw: Receiver
I'm not entirely worried about this because of how the Ravens have operated in years past: they manage to cobble together a below-average passing attack regardless of who's on the roster! But if Baltimore wants to really attack Ozzie Newsome's final year, they need to get better performances from their pass catchers. Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown are all new additions this offseason, and they were available for a reason. It could be the year Joe Flacco finally gets some weapons or it could be another year in Baltimore.
Fatal Flaw: Stopping the run
The Steelers' 2017 season was quietly propped up by the defense in the early-going; with Ben Roethlisberger and Co. struggling to find consistency, it was Ryan Shazier and the guys on the other side of the ball helping them to win games. When Shazier went down with his horrifying neck injury late in the year, Roethlisberger grabbed the baton and the offense helped carry the Steelers to the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Shazier is walking now, thankfully, but he won't be playing in 2018 clearly. The Steelers, CBS Sports Ryan Wilson pointed out on the Pick Six Podcast, are going to try and replace Shazier's dominance in the middle by committee. If that goes poorly, the offense better be clicking on all cylinders.
Fatal Flaw: Tom Cable
The Raiders went heavy on offensive line in the draft and there are rumors about Cable being the guy whispering in Jon Gruden's ear as to who he should take on the offensive line. Not to pick on Cable here, but that might not be what Raiders fans want to hear. The Raiders offensive line took a step back last year, but it was still a pretty good unit. It feels weird to invest heavily in new players to replace the other good players instead of drafting for defense. Messing with happy and having Cable get too cute with this offensive line could lead to disaster.
Fatal Flaw: Case Keenum
This is not me attempting to dog on Keenum here, because he had a tremendous season in 2017 and he deserves every bit of praise that comes his way. But there is absolutely a chance we see some regression from him in a new setting, even if he is a good fit in a Gary Kubiak-style offense (which we presume the Broncos will run), getting out on the edge and taking smart shots down the field. The offensive line was a below average unit last year (Garrett Bolles could take a step here as a second player though) and Keenum not getting on the same page as his receivers or putting up 2017 stats might lead to another high pick for the Broncos.
Los Angeles Chargers
Fatal Flaw: Whatever Chargers fans call the curse that haunts their team
There is probably another flaw on the Chargers, but they've got a really good roster. The expectations are concerning: they're the FAVORITE TO WIN THE DIVISION. And Vegas has them pegged for 9 wins, which is just absurd. This might be the year where other idiots jump on board the "Chargers win the Super Bowl" bandwagon (hello, I'm Will Brinson, your captain, please take your seats and grab a double bourbon, it's going to be a very bump ride). If the Bolts can avoid shooting themselves in the foot -- which is a real things they have done for roughly 10 years now -- they can make some noise. You could also argue the linebackers aren't a perfect unit and Philip Rivers needs another wide receiver to emerge alongside Keenan Allen if you're looking for actual football reasons they won't be great.
Kansas City Chiefs
Fatal Flaw: Stopping the run
The Chiefs ranked dead last in the NFL against the run last year according to Football Outsiders DVOA and they responded by adding multiple players this offseason -- Xavier Williams in free agency plus Breeland Speaks and Derrick Nnadi in the draft -- who they hope will help at different levels. Eric Berry getting healthy would be a huge plus for the run defense as well; him getting hurt early didn't draw nearly enough attention as an injury to a contender. They also picked up Reggie Ragland, so there's reason to believe the defense has enough pieces to turn it around. But being unable to stop the run lingers after that brutal Titans playoff loss.
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