Expert NFL Handicapping: Most Disappointing Teams
At this point in the NFL season we can break the teams in the league into several groups based on their play so far. There are the teams we know for certain are bad - the Browns and Colts, for example. There are the teams like the Eagles that we are pretty sure are good. And there are a whole bunch of teams that it is tough to know what to think about - New England thanks to the defense, and Seattle thanks to the offensive line, for example. The group we are interested in here, though, are the ones that we thought could be pretty good heading into the season but which haven't been nearly as good as they should have been. These are the big disappointments, and there are five teams that best fit into this group:
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Oakland Raiders: The Raiders had so much momentum through 14 or 15 games last year, but they lost it into the playoffs, and they haven't found it again. Injuries were an issue last year and have been an issue again this year, but there is more going on than that. They won their first two games and looked really solid, but then it was as if they looked for every excuse they could find to struggle - and they found plenty in four straight losses. The offense was limp, the defense was inconsistent, and they just weren't fighting. They did find some of that much-needed fight again when they came back to beat Kansas City right at the final whistle. If they can build on that and use that excitement to shake of whatever has been holding them back then they could easily work their way off this list. But even another couple of games with the same type of underwhelming play would end the season well before the games are over.
Tennessee Titans: It really felt like this team was poised for a major breakthrough. Marcus Mariota seemed poised for a big step forward in Year 3, but his passing has not been good, and the offense has not been what it should be behind a very good offensive line. And the defense has not been nearly what it seemed it could be, either. Actually, the defense is pretty bad - only the Colts have allowed more points in the AFC, and they aren't even a real team. It's hard to be too critical, because the team is in first place in their division and could stay there. But they should be running away with the lead instead of just being sort of the least-worst team.
New York Giants: The OBJ injury hasn't helped, but this team was badly doomed before then. They basically don't have an excuse, having scored the third fewest points in the league. They seem to have been caught totally off guard by the fact that Eli Manning has gotten old, and they didn't think that having some sort of running game would take some pressure off of him. I liked this team less than many heading into the season, but they should have been at least somewhat in the mix in the fairly wide-open NFC East. As it stands, all they are in the mix for is fighting Cleveland for the top pick.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I'm more disappointed by this team than any other. Entering the season I picked them to win the NFC. I liked the team they had built and really believed that Jameis Winston was ready for a massive step forward. Winston's passing offense actually has the most yards per game, but it certainly hasn't led to a scary offense - in large part because the team ranks 30th on the ground. The offense has scored the 10th-most points per game, so it would be adequate in many circumstances, but the defense has just been a disaster. Awful. And that has led the team to a 2-4 record. They have lost three straight and are playing like they have already accepted that the season is over. I'm glad I don't really like to bet Super Bowl futures because these bums would have cost me some cash.
Atlanta Falcons: This one is here because a lot of people are disappointed by them, but I had much lower expectations than many. Many expected a Super Bowl rematch, but I didn't trust this team mentally and thought that hiring Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator was moronic. Losing two games at home already makes the first an accurate concern, and the fact that basically the same offense that was so good last year ranks 16th in points this year is proof of the second. Forget a return to the Super Bowl - at this point the playoffs are an uphill battle after a 3-3 start. They can turn things around for sure, but not if they don't find a missing spark on offense in a hurry.
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