Four Potential NFL Disappointments
by Trevor Whenham - 09/03/2008
At this point in the NFL season when the first games are literally just around the corner experience has taught me to do two things. I like to think long and hard about what my expectations are for each team, and then I like to brace myself for inevitable disappointment when teams don't live up to those expectations. As is the case every year at this time there are teams that the public and the media have fallen in love with. In some cases that love will be justified, but in others it really, really won't. Here's a look at four teams that there are reasons to like, but which I expect may ultimately be disappointing:
Atlanta Falcons - I'm not suggesting that anyone is saying this is a Super Bowl team, or even a playoff team. There is definitely a renewed sense of optimism around this tough-luck team, though - a new leaf has certainly been turned. While I expect some bright lights along the way, I think that the road to respectability is going to be longer than people seem to think it will.
There are reasons on both sides of the ball to think this, but I'll just focus on the big ones on offense. Matt Ryan has had a great preseason, and he is obviously a talented guy, but the fact remains that he is just a rookie in the NFL. There isn't a steeper learning curve in sports than NFL QB, and Ryan is going to fall down a few times en route to learning how to run. He's stepping into a decent situation, but not a great one, and he'll take most of a year before he looks like he has the ability to. I feel much more confident about him than I do about Michael Turner, though. He was brought in from San Diego and viewed as a near lock to be a star running back. I don't buy it. It's pretty easy to look like a star when you are backing up the best running back in the league. That means you are obviously behind a great line, and the opposing teams are going to be relieved it is you and not the starter and adjust accordingly. Turner could be good, but he is unproven and his yards per carry were almost two yards less last year than the year before. The Falcons have a brighter future, but the future isn't now.
Jacksonville Jaguars - I'll say up front that I like the Jaguars and I want them to succeed. I'm just concerned about any team that is so singularly focused on one thing - in this case beating the Colts. This seems like a team that can easily be knocked off track if something doesn't go just right. I'm not convinced that this team is as tough mentally as they need to be to go all the way, and they are already facing serious adversity with the shooting of Richard Collier and the arrest of Fred Taylor. Collier's tragic loss is a blow to the team beyond the psyche, too - he was their top reserve tackle, so his loss plunges the O-line into uncertainty. That's not good news for a team that has a guy at QB in David Garrard who, while obviously talented, has never started a whole season and has had injury problems in the past. Cleo Lemon is the other pivot in town, and he doesn't seem likely to help this team go all the way.
Cleveland Browns - Cleveland had an amazing season last year even though they didn't make the playoffs. Now all of a sudden their fans seem primed for a Super Bowl victory. You can't blame Cleveland residents for being impatient to win something - anything - but this may not end well. Derek Anderson had a great year last year, but he tailed off at the end of the year and will have to find his best game again. Braylon Edwards is coming off an injury that limited his preseason participation. Kellen Winslow was very good last year, but he'll need to sustain that to help the team stay relevant. It has been a long time since the Browns have had to deal with pressure and scrutiny, but suddenly the national media actually cares about them. Dealing with that pressure isn't easy, and it could end badly.
Minnesota Vikings - I think it's telling that the Vikings are a popular choice to win the NFC, yet they are underdogs in their opening game against Green Bay playing against a QB making his first career start in one of the most bizarre, pressure packed, thankless situations a QB has ever faced. Minnesota is loaded, and they have the potential to be very good. There are concerns, though. Chiefly, Tarvaris Jackson would be a huge question mark if he were healthy, but he's banged up. Bryant McKinnie is out for four games, which means Jackson's protection won't be optimal. It also means that the line won't be at it's best for the running game. Adrian Peterson is as talented as any player in the league, but it's hard for me to forget how fragile he was in college. Losing him would hurt the running game immensely, but it would be a bigger blow to the morale of this team. Minnesota could very well be as good as people expect, but if I had to I think the value is in betting against it.