Five NFL teams set for a fall in 2015

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.

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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, 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)

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)

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.

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