Ah, yes, the NFL offseason: where nearly everyone has hope due to how far we are from the actual games beginning. The NFL is a league full of parity and luck, meaning if everything goes right for the majority of teams on paper, you could realistically make the case for them going on a run. Everyone has fixed the glaring hole through the draft or free agency and will surely be better than last season! The vibes are incredible all-around!
Well, not necessarily for everybody.
While the collective mindset going into the year is almost always positive for each organization, I am here to tear that all down. The reality is that there are only 14 spots available in the NFL playoffs, so more than half of the league is going to be stuck watching on their couches.
This may be an unfortunately bitter smack to the face of truth, or quite possibly all of the motivation in the world to prove this column wrong- only time will tell. I am planting my flag in these takes: these are the teams that even 92 days outside of the NFL season kicking off will not make the playoffs. *
*Barring a massive, Earth-shattering trade. Obviously if one of these teams gets the reigning MVP, Aaron Rodgers, that might change the outlook of things..
Considering Deshaun Watson might never play for the team again, his replacement, Tyrod Taylor has been the most unlucky quarterback in recent history, the rest of the roster is full of low-cost, short-term signees, and the highest draft pick they had this year was 3rd round pick, quarterback Davis Mills, the franchise has been a trainwreck for years now. If they were to make the playoffs, it would be more embarrassing to the rest of the league than it would be an accomplishment for the Texans. If that happens, I might give up football altogether and just go Amish.
New York Jets
Zach Wilson might come out and be REALLY good! Robert Saleh could end up being a great hire as a coach that already has a ton of good will simply because he isn’t Adam Gase! The Jets are making fantastic progress and appear to finally have an upswing in positive vibes surrounding the clubhouse. However this is still a team that won 2 out of 16 games last year; Zach Wilson could come out and put up astronomical numbers his rookie year and in not only a stacked AFC, but a division with the Bills, the Dolphins, and the Patriots, as the league stands, ultimately the ceiling of this team is to take some optimistic play out of your individual talents and hope that you appear a year away.
The Bengals simply need to hope and pray that Joe Burrow comes back from his injury rehabilitated and similar to his old self. There’s no chance they have a roster as talented as their division rival Browns and Ravens, so this year will be one where you just hope to see Burrow look normal, see progress on defense, and that your draft picks in Chase and the offensive line pan out. The Bengals were competitive in games even without Burrow last year, getting a win against Pittsburgh down the stretch, so the talent is there, but like the Jets, the ceiling is still low. Zach Taylor is the most unknown coach in the NFL, so he better show some progress fast for an organization that is desperate to merely be relevant in the league.
There was a general consensus throughout last week that the Lions had one of the best drafts in the league! They got Tackle Penei Sewell at 7th overall and two more defensive tackles in the 2nd and 3rd rounds in Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill. That’s a positive start, but I’m not very confident in an offense with Jared Goff, a run game that just cut Kerryon Johnson, and Madden “create-a-player” receivers for him to throw to now that Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones walked in free agency. Not to mention I have no idea what to expect from the newly-hired head coach, the artist known as MC/DC, Motor City Dan Campbell, who wants to bite opponents’ kneecaps off if all goes according to his opening press conference’s plan. They’re just going to be a team with too many moving pieces as they move on from the Matthew Stafford era.
Las Vegas Raiders
Death, taxes, and the Raiders melting down in the second half of the season. Only this time, they might not have anything to melt down from. They haven’t had a single winning record under Jon Gruden and have consistently had the most-puzzling draft moves where they make selections with 0 awareness as to where the prospect should actually fall, highlighted this year by taking Alex Leatherwood at 17th overall when he was supposed to go in the middle of the second round at best. On top of their draft blunders, they did nothing but tear down their offensive line in the offseason and overpay Kenyan Drake and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency. This is a team in a division with the Chiefs, the Chargers, and the Broncos, who reportedly could trade for Aaron Rodgers. The voices saying that Jon Gruden hates Derek Carr are only going to get louder when they lose in that shiny new stadium in only year 4 of his 10-year, $100-million coaching deal.
It’s another team with a new era beginning, which could be healthy for a team with a fan base filled with nothing but angst since winning their first ever Super Bowl in 2018. They traded Carson Wentz and fired Doug Pederson, so the jury will be out on their new coach Nick Sirianni, but we already saw Jalen Hurts in 2020, where he threw 6 TDs and 4 picks going 1-3 in 4 starts. Those numbers may not have been all-telling about Hurts since the team was essentially dead at that point, but even if Hurts performs better under Sirianni and having a target to throw to in Heisman-winner, Devonta Smith, who they traded up and took 10th overall, but this is a team with an aging roster, plenty of injuries, and one of the worst defenses ahead of the year. They can just take the year to spitefully try to ruin the Cowboys, Giants, and Football Team’s seasons and see if Hurts has it, but even if he does, they’re not a team complete enough to make the postseason.
The Vikings might have a mutiny against Kirk Cousins going on in their own locker room. Justin Jefferson already had that viral audio clip last year where he’s cursing at him to throw him the ball, then this offseason he’s
talked about how Joe Burrow had much more swag and wasn’t afraid to get hit. We’ve already seen Adam Thielen get into several heated sideline confrontations regarding miscommunications where he looks like he wants nothing to do with Kirk. Now, the Vikings reportedly wanted to trade up to try and get Justin Fields to replace him, and when they couldn’t, they took Kellen Mond in the third round, who Jefferson has already been working out with.
Something tells me they’re not very confident in Cousins.
The Vikings did address many of the issues that derailed their season last year- they drafted offensive line help and signed defensive free agents like Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Danielle Hunter is expected to return, but there feels like there’s a looming cloud of bad vibes around the team that isn’t inspiring at all. They went 7-9 last year and 5 of those were against teams with losing records; well, this year, they’ll have an even more difficult schedule playing against the AFC North, the Rams, the Chargers, the 49ers, the Cowboys, the Seahawks, and the Panthers along with their improved division. The Vikings never play up to their competition- and these matchups aren’t a good sign.
Minnesota has Cousins on the books until 2023 and they already seem unhappy with his ceiling, and Mike Zimmer couldn’t have sounded more disinterested in his team than he did last year. They feel much closer to their door shutting than opening.
I admire the Steelers for being loyal to their man, bringing back Ben Roethlisberger on a discount so he can have his swan song moment with the franchise for one last ride, but even they know that he couldn’t throw the ball down the field coming off of injury last year, and now he’ll only be another year older with an even worse offensive line and a defense that lost Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson. Najee Harris doesn’t have a high bar to clear for their running game to improve, but outside of that, they didn’t do anything to get better- they just got older. You know who got better? The Browns, Bengals, and Ravens. Tomlin is a fantastic coach that somehow took the 2019 team that was quarterbacked by Duck Hodges and Mason Rudolph to an 8-8 record, but the circumstances feel as if this car that hasn’t been below .500 since 2003 has run out of gas.