Tis the season for optimism. From coast to coast, city to city, every NFL team currently feels like 2014 is going to be successful; as they grind their way through training camp, each is convinced that this is the year the franchise takes the next step.
Reports coming out of camps support these positive vibes. It’s nothing but stories about more efficient offenses, coupled with faster, stronger, tougher defenses; there’s nary a word about teams looking sluggish or subpar in any phase of the game.
Of course, not all of these stories are true; for every team that improves this season, there will be an equal number of teams that regress. While each NFL franchise has reason for optimism – in pro football more than any other sport, hope continually springs eternal – many of those good feelings will prove to be short-lived.
Why should each team worry about their chances in 2014? For each franchise, here is the reason why this season could be a “failure” – a measurement that is different from organization to organization:
Buffalo Bills – In today’s NFL, it’s all about the quarterback. If a team has a good one, they can compete. If they don’t, they’re toast. The Bills invested a first-round pick in EJ Manuel, expecting him to fill that all-important role in Buffalo. But as his second season approaches, there’s mounting evidence that he’s simply not the guy. Case in point: The year after he left Florida State, a different quarterback led the Seminoles to the national title. In other words, Manuel wasn’t a difference maker in college, either.
Storyline: The Bills still haven’t found the heir apparent to Jim Kelly.
Miami Dolphins – There were plenty of people who took the fall for last year’s drama and late-season collapse. General manager Jeff Ireland got the boot. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was shown the door. And both Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito are no longer in Miami. But the two people who played the biggest part in both situations remain with the Dolphins, as head coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Ryan Tannehill are still in place. With that duo intact, how will anything improve?
Storyline: An inept head coach and non-clutch QB will prevent the Dolphins from taking the next step.
New England Patriots – Bill Belichick won three Super Bowls with rosters that featured a bunch of journeyman players (other than at quarterback) who were willing to do anything their maniacal coach asked them to do in pursuit of victory; in recent years, the Patriots have tried to repeat that formula, stripping the roster of marquee talent. But it’s not 2003 anymore. New England found out last year, when key injuries depleted them even more, that a star-studded team (Denver) is better in the playoffs.
Storyline: Tom Brady remains stripped of weapons, as the Patriots aren’t talented enough to compete with the Broncos.
New York Jets – Last year, the Jets missed the playoffs because their offense wasn’t consistent enough; New York’s defense could only carry them so far. As a result, they spent the offseason trying to improve that side of the ball. But they did it with the wrong guys. Michael Vick isn’t the quarterback he once was, while Chris Johnson is a running back that is clearly over the hill. And Eric Decker is an overrated wideout, evidenced by the fact that the Broncos didn’t even attempt to keep him.
Storyline: The Jets spent big money trying to improve their offense, but didn’t add any legitimate talent.