Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Widespread Disappointments In 2013 NFL Season: Which Team Has Been Worst?

Here are a few of the legitimate predictions for the 2013 season BEFORE it began: The Minnesota Vikings will contend for the NFC North with Christian Ponder finally becoming a good player and with the addition of Greg Jennings.  Robert Griffin III will fight back through his injury and lead the Washington Redskins to greatness.  Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are simply too good.  The Houston Texans have all the needed pieces of the puzzle for winning the Super Bowl; they just need to win the big games.  The Pittsburgh Steelers will be contenders with Troy Polamalu playing healthy again.  With Steven Jackson, anything is possible for the Atlanta Falcons!  As we now can see, many of these teams have failed to live up to expectations this year.  So who was the worst?

Every year a handful of teams crumble under the pressure of high expectations and above you’ve seen the list of this year.  For every surprising upstart by a team like the Carolina Panthers, another team must suffer.  Such is the way of life in the NFL.  However terrible their seasons have been I think two teams deserve a bit of slack as far as their disappointments:  The Packers and the Redskins.

Sure, the Redskins have the most politically incorrect name and their cocky antics have set them up well to be mocked for their pathetic 3-9 record, but their season was ruined in the NFC Playoffs last year when Griffin III suffered a catastrophic knee injury.  His return to the field was rushed and caused him to miss an entire offseason of practice.  He doesn’t move with the ease and fluidity as he did last year and he is not the same player.  For anyone to expect him to return with the prowess of his rookie year is quite ridiculous.  I sense he may be headed for more success next season.

Likewise, the Packers have suffered the loss of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  At 5-2 before his collarbone injury, everything was going right for the team.  Now everything has gone wrong, and they are barely limping ahead and only remain in the playoff race because the Detroit Lions aren’t very good either.  They too can be spared blame because losing a star quarterback is as catastrophic as it can get in the NFL. But for the other teams mentioned (Steelers, Texans, Falcons, Vikings) this season has been a major disappointment and it’s hard to know where to point the finger.

The Vikings were expecting big things following their 10-6 record last season and a trip to the playoffs.  Adding veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings and linebacker Desmond Bishop were supposed to be key ingredients for a side ready to get over the hump.  Instead?  They have yet to figure out who their starting quarterback is and have tried 3, who have all largely failed.  The team is 3-8-1 and wondering what on Earth happened and where to start fixing it.

And then there are the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Traditionally built around a strong offensive line and a tough defense, it’s been anything but that for the Steelers.  Their defense is quite average and their offensive line is quite wretched, highlighted by running back Le’Veon Bell’s 3.3 yard average per rush and Ben Roethlisberger’s 36 sacks (4th highest in the league).  At 5-7, the 2013 Steelers are practically finished and seem far removed from their Super Bowl days past.

But these aren’t even the worst.  No, there are even far greater disappointments in this league.  Let us take a look at the Atlanta Falcons.  This team has been near the top of the NFC for roughly 5 years and was able to convince Tony Gonzalez to come back for one more go-around.  They just fell short in the NFC Championship game last year, and with quarterback Matt Ryan, incoming running back Steven Jackson, and a generally mature squad of playmakers they expected to contend this season.  What happened?  Star wide receiver Julio Jones got hurt, Jackson is clearly over the hill, and Ryan has been frightfully average.  Meanwhile their once respectable defense is morbid and simply cannot get after the quarterback.  They stand at 3-9 while everyone scratches their heads.

And then there’s the most disappointing team of all: the Houston Texans.  Having reached the playoffs in 2011 and 2012, this team was ready to get over the hump and start contending.  Supposed inexperience in the playoffs had doomed them to early exits in those years, but their roster talent was shown as contender-worthy.  Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, and J.J. Watt are all capable of making highlight plays.  Matt Schaub was as good a game managing quarterback the NFL knew.  But he lost focus.  After endless weeks of pick 6’s, Schaub was cheered when he left a game injured and hasn’t been seen since.  Meanwhile, the team simply hasn’t made impact plays.  They have forced just 9 turnovers on the year (they’ve lost 21), and they crumble under pressure.  Now with fresh quarterback Case Keenum starting (and playing very average) the Texans are 2-10 and eagerly awaiting this nightmare to be over.  Where will they go from here?

The ability of fortunes to be reversed so quickly in the NFL reveals just how close the competition is in the NFL.  Each of these teams have had recent success and made the playoffs quite often, but 2013 simply isn’t their year.  While disappointment is surely running rampant, fans can rest easy with the single thought that next season they will have every opportunity to come back to form.  And at least next year’s NFL Draft will be exciting with a high draft pick!

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