Five NFL teams set for a fall in 2015

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
A while back we talked about struggling NFL teams who looked like they might be poised for a turnaround and whether we thought it would pan out for them.

6 PHOTOS
5 nfl teams ready fail 2015
See Gallery
Five NFL teams set for a fall in 2015

Denver Broncos

Last season was an odd one for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. After a couple of years where he was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL (Pro Football Focus had him ranked as the top quarterback in 2012 and 2013) but this past season he came back down to earth at the same time that several other quarterbacks (Ben Roethlisberger comes to mind) had tremendous ones.

Of course as Adam Schefter of ESPN reported after the Broncos were eliminated, Manning was dealing with a torn right quadriceps. Schefter said at the time that Manning had been hurt since a December 14 game against the San Diego Chargers.

So our first concern is Manning because while he should be healthy come the start of this season, he’s not getting any younger and even healthy, his skills have noticeably started to decline. It’s hard to see him rebounding post-injury and looking like he did prior to it. Even before the injury, he had struggled several times during the year.

This year he has lost Julius Thomas to free agency and it seems as if Demaryius Thomas is unhappy with his franchise tender, though he promises not to make waves, per ESPN’s Jeff Legwold. Of course, Legwold also reported Thomas is skipping both the offseason program the Broncos put on and Manning’s workouts at Duke University. On the surface it’s not a big deal, as the quarterback poked some fun at Thomas’ absence with some Photoshop help. However, sessions like this are good for chemistry and while Thomas and Manning have plenty of experience, it shows he’s not happy and that could cause issues.

The Broncos have some issues on the offensive line, with a need at center (though thetrade for Gino Gradkowski helps) as Will Montgomery was average at best and Manny Ramirez was plain bad, as well as a big need at right tackle.

There’s also a hole on the defensive line where Terrance Knighton once resided since ‘Pot Roast’ has departed for Washington. That’s going to be a tough one to fill, as Knighton was tremendous against the run. Second-year player Sylvester Williams could be the starter there (he was a first round draft pick two years ago) or the team could draft to fill position as well, as this is a deep defensive tackle draft. It’s a problem though.

The team also lost Rahim Moore in free agency, and Darian Stewart (grabbed off free agency) isn’t terribly exciting.

The Broncos seem to have gotten a little weaker at some key spots. Meanwhile they face some tough opposition this year. The Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers are both tough games on a yearly basis, but the Oakland Raiders might not be pushovers this season. The Broncos also see the AFC North (with Pittsburgh and Cleveland on the road), and the NFC North (with Detroit and Chicago as away games) in addition to Indianapolis, New England and Green Bay.

That’s a tough schedule. An aging quarterback, some holes to fill and a tough schedule makes me very nervous about this Denver team.

(Photo by Rob Leiter/Getty Images)

Dallas Cowboys

When last season began, there was a lot of talk about how bad the Dallas Cowboys defense was going to be. I can admit to being one of those worried as well. All of our concerns were borne out to some extent, as the Cowboys ended up as the No. 19 defense in the NFL, and was rated No. 26 against the pass. They did rate as the No. 8 best run defense, though they allowed the second most touchdowns on the ground (18) in the NFL.

They came on as the season went on though, and played very well during the stretch run and the rankings—while not pretty—represent a tremendous improvement. That said, while they improved (mostly through the efforts of middle linebacker Rolando McClain, Tyrone Crawford and Henry Melton), they also benefited from an offense which ground out the clock.

Melton has left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the secondary was iffy, save for Orlando Scandrick. Brandon Moore and Morris Claiborne continue to be bad and nobody else they threw in changed that much.

Dallas added Jasper Brinkley at middle linebacker, Corey White at cornerback and Greg Hardy at defensive end. Hardy will likely be suspended for some portion of the season—some, like USA Today’s Lindsay Jones have said it could be a 6-game stint—and reactions were mixed. Off the field, people naturally have issues with him. On the field, we know he can be a difference maker, if he’s in the right kind of shape after a year off.

Some, like Dallas are sportscaster Dale Hansen, were slightly more outraged.

All that doesn’t matter, save for the fact that if things go wrong, it’s going to be a distraction. It’s really a distraction anyway, but this could be a larger one.

It’s possible the defense is better—a sure thing if Hardy plays the way we’ve seen him play—so even if you think they played over their skis last season,  they will be improved.

If things go wrong though, we’ll see how quickly the locker room might turn.

Again though, the defense last year was helped by time of possession.

According to TeamRankings.com, Dallas held the ball for an average of 32:13 per game—the third highest in the NFL last season. That was in large part because of DeMarco Murray—and that’s where the problems start on offense.

Murray is gone, replaced by Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle. McFadden is never healthy and the next time he carries a full load of plays may be about the first time, while Dunbar and Randle are unproven.

The Cowboys cannot count on the ground attack to milk the clock, which will put more pressure on both sides of the ball.

Add to that the reluctant acceptance on Dez Bryant’s part of a franchise tag and you do wonder whether this offense can carry things forward or will be nearly as effective as it was last season.

At least the schedule—aside from the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers (two of which are at home)—doesn’t look too tough right now, depending on how the NFC East plays out.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Philadelphia Eagles

I’m not 100 percent sure what Chip Kelly is doing with the Philadelphia Eagles, but as I have said before it’s either genius or madness—maybe a little bit of both. Trading LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles, letting Trent Cole, Cary Williams and Jeremy Maclin walk in free agency—it’s enough to make Eagles fans a little antsy.

He replaced McCoy with DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews (both of whom have significant injury history), Williams with Walter Thurmond and Byron Maxwell and added Kiko Alonso as well.

The backfield might be better than last year if Murray can stay as healthy as he was last year and replicate the type of year he had when he was behind the best offensive line in the NFL. The team will miss Cole though, and Miles Austin is a poor replacement for Maclin. Jordan Matthews should continue to improve in his second year, but aside from him it’s Riley Cooper and a bunch of guys.

On top of that, who is throwing the ball to them?

Oh, that would be Sam Bradford—at least for the 12 games he averages being healthy for. He’s behind a better offensive line with one better weapon (Matthews) but he’s yet to consistently show the talent which got him drafted with the first overall pick in 2010.

On the plus side, Bradford did run an offensive scheme similar to the one Kelly uses for the Eagles, back when he was in Oklahoma. That’s not to say he can do it in Philadelphia, but he has some experience. There is also the hot theory that Kelly will use Bradford to help trade up for Marcus Mariota in the upcoming draft, but sources around the franchise have said to me that Kelly is aware that the franchise cannot afford to bankrupt themselves for one player, something Kelly has since said publicly.

This seems like an all-or-nothing bid by Kelly and the Eagles, doesn’t it?

If the Eagles misstep—if Kelly is wrong about his moves—it won’t take long for the Eagles to see their season go south in what could be a competitive NFC East. The Giants at least should improve, and Washington should as well.

On top of that, they face the New England Patriots (like the Dallas Cowboys), and will take on the Arizona Cardinals and the Detroit Lions as well.

It’s a tough schedule with no real margin for error.

I trust Chip Kelly. It’s Bradford and the receivers that give me pause.

(AP Photo/Tim Sharp)

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers played far better at the end of the season than they were early and their four-game win streak got them into the playoffs and won them the division. Unfortunately, they lost to their AFC North division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens in what was close to a rout.

This team made it as far as they did by getting carried offensively by Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger, both of whom had career years. ‘Big Ben’ tied a career high in touchdowns with 32 and tied his second lowest interception total with nine. His 4,952 passing yards were his highest ever though, while his 408 completions and 608 attempts were career highs as well.

I expect Roethlisberger to come back down to earth in a big way, and that’s going to make things much tougher this season, especially in a division which is getting more and more competitive.

What the Steelers need to hope is that Bell comes back from his knee injury at 100 percent because the Steelers looked like a whole different team without him in the game. Bell benefited from an improved offensive line, which played better than it had in a long time, even if the overall improvement was modest. It isn’t a great offensive line, but it is a decent one.

Still, an expected regression from the quarterback position and the uncertainty around the running back (and lack of depth) is a concern. DeAngelo Williams is a nice addition, but when is the last time he has looked good?

The defense is older for the most part and was already a middle-of-the-road unit at best. They were No. 18 overall defensively and No. 27 against the pass, allowing 30 touchdowns through the air (tied for fourth) and generating just 11 interceptions (tied for No. 25 overall).

On the plus side, they were No. 6 against the run, though they saw the third fewest amount of attempts in the NFL.

Which makes sense, as bad as they were against the pass.

This team hasn’t added anyone on defense, which is a concern. An awful lot of their starting lineup is 27 years old or more, with just Cameron Heyward, Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt the only three 25 or under.

The secondary has two very old players in Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell, leaving the safety position a concern as well. Forget age though—this secondary was awful, by and large.

And that’s the issue. This was a defense with a lot of issues last year against the pass and they did nothing really to change or improve that.

Especially against some of the teams they face this year. Aside from the teams in the AFC North, Pittsburgh faces the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots—all of whom can throw the ball.

It doesn’t really look all that hopeful for the Steelers and in fact looks like they are primed for a fall.

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Houston Texans

What? A 9-7 team? Can the Houston Texans really be poised for a fall?

Yes they can, and while they skated by on defense last season, offensively I cannot help but wonder if this is the year that not having a reliable quarterback does them in.

Of course, the relative lack of quality in the AFC South is in their favor. I suspect the Jacksonville Jaguars will be better this season, but they won’t be a huge threat. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Titans don’t look like a real challenge. The Indianapolis Colts do, but they are far from perfect.

There are some challenging teams on this schedule though, including the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati. The New York Jets could be a problem as well, though that all hinges on how they figure out their own quarterback issues.

But it’s not an easy schedule for the Texans.

The strength of this team is on defense, mostly due to J.J. Watt. Vince Wilfork should be a good addition to the middle of the defense, which had issues at times and Rahim Moore is a nice upgrade at safety. However, this team needs another pass rushing threat to counter the attention to Watt, as the New York Giants managed last season.

We’ll see if they added enough—and Jadeveon Clowney can stay healthy and perform—so that the defense can continue to improve.

The offense though, that’s a real issue. The team got rid of Andre Johnson, which is mitigated by DeAndre Hopkins' outstanding 2014 season but we’ll see how he performs with the downgrade of Cecil Shorts and the upgrade in attention from cornerbacks.

Arian Foster was tremendous—when he was on the field, something of a consistent problem the last two seasons.  Just like when the Giants were able to shut down Watt, not having Foster on the field creates an advantage for the opposition. Alfred Blue had some good moments but didn’t perform quite as well as Foster.

More than anything though, the quarterback position bothers me. While Watt might be worth a couple of wins himself, I believe the lack of a reliable signal-caller costs the Texans at least that much—if not more—in losses.

This year it comes down to Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage and the big free agency addition—Brian Hoyer. I am no Hoyer fan. He’s OK on his best days, but mediocre more often than not. Perhaps this team can get away with that, but my feeling is it will bite them in the win column this season.

Unfortunately, this is a poor year to need a quarterback, so this team is just making due with what they could. That said, had they drafted a quarterback with one of their first two picks last draft, this would be a different conversation.

Maybe Savage suddenly clicks and can start or Mallett delivers on the promise we’ve heard so much about, but ultimately I think the team falls from the moderate heights they reached last year.

Which is frustrating, because a very good quarterback could make a huge difference for this team.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION


This time out, we're looking at some successful teams we think could be about to suffer a collapse. As quick as some teams can turn things around, other teams can fall apart. Quite often, for example, we have seen teams lose a Super Bowl and then fail to go deep into or even make the playoffs the next season.

So just because a team had a successful 2014, does not mean they are going to do so again in 2015.

Like the article about struggling NFL teams, we have a simple criteria for a team to be on this list. Did they have a winning record?

That's pretty much it. So that leaves out a bunch of 8-8 teams and the NFC South, who only sent the Carolina Panthers to the playoffs because somebody from the division had to go.

We have one 9-7 team on the list because it feels like they may have lucked into that record last year and who have some tough opponents on their schedule this season.

For the next five slides we'll be telling you which successful teams are in a position to stumble and why. It could be the opponents they are slotted to face, it could be wholesale changes in the roster or it could be that they made no changes to address weaknesses.

At the end of the day, they may overcome any issues we mention here or fail for reasons nobody saw coming.

More on AOL
Manziel to Eagles?


Related links:
5 MLB managers on the hot seat
J.K. Simmons threw out first pitch in Tigers game
Sixers center Joel Embiid has advanced into 2-on-2 practice

For more sports coverage, please visit FanSided.com.
Read Full Story

From Our Partners