What Happened to These Teams?
This NFL season has been one of the best in recent history with most teams in the playoffs actually having a shot at the title while other teams considered contenders fell off the map, but what happened to these teams, and what do they need to do to fix their issues?
None of these teams actually under-performed. It could be argued the Patriots did, but they still ended up with a bye in the playoffs. The Bills and Jets both had bad off-seasons. I was actually surprised about the Miami squad that contended for a good portion of the season. I believe this was an over-performance though, so it is not applicable here.
There's a clear team from this division. This is the Pittsburgh Steelers. This team had the division wrapped up and tied in a bow after Baltimore and Cincinnati fell off the radar, but they managed to throw it away anyways. The Steelers need massive change, not necessarily in personnel, but in either that or culture. The whole situation with the "Killer Bs" was a shipwreck all year. None of them were good role-models, and this organization has to make sure this behavior doesn't continue, or they have to get completely new players. High-end talent doesn't get you to the playoffs every year. Maybe try not losing to Oakland... or giving up a 16-point lead to LA... or losing to Joe Flacco... or tying Hue Jackson's Browns?
Two teams can be chosen from this division, but the more obvious one is the Jaguars. They came off with a near Super Bowl appearance last year, and choked away a great 3-1 start this year. The players themselves need to stop under-performing. Blake Bortles actually had a good year last year, so we all know it's possible. Even then, I say the Jaguars get one more chance to prove themselves. If they fall short of the playoffs, I think it's back to the drawing board.
The Titans could also be seen under-performing. I think this team actually has a lot of talent. Mariota has become a solid QB, Derrick Henry is finally developing, and that defense is stellar. The problem with them was they could never stay consistent. It was a win and then a loss and then a win and then a loss. 9-7 rarely makes the playoffs. This team has the talent, but they just need to implement it. They should try to add some talent in the coming year off-season because they're not far off from being a contender.
No team really under-performed. You could argue the Broncos, but I think they were lucky to be in playoff contention for as long as they were. Case Keenum, while becoming a solid QB, is just that. He's not exceptional. He wasn't the thing to get you over the hump. The other team that could be argued was the Raiders, but I wouldn't call it under-performing. Trading Khalil Mack was a decision that lost them playoff contention from the start of the season, but I believe Jon Gruden was not a bad hire. If you follow college football, I think this is a similar situation to that of Scott Frost in Nebraska. The teams started off badly, but then the coaches started getting the hang of things. The Raiders did almost beat the Chiefs.
No team really under-performed. The Redskins could have done better if Alex Smith hadn't gotten injured, and the Giants were super unpredictable, but neither were actually performing under talent level.
I mean, this is the big one and probably the one that sparked my idea of writing this article, but the Minnesota Vikings were poised for a run. Last year, they got annihilated by the Eagles in the NFC Championship. Early this season, they managed to get revenge with a win against that same team. It looked like they could make it back, but alas, they failed. What was their big mistake? Signing Kirk Cousins. Cousins is a good QB. I watched him for years on my favorite team, and I watched the relationship between him and the organization deteriorate. The logic was that if Case Keenum could get the Vikings to the NFC Championship, Cousins could get them over the hump. The problem with that is that Cousins has never been good in the spotlight. He has failed numerous times when it mattered most, and that's exactly why they missed the playoffs. Now, I don't think signing Cousins can't work, but they need more pieces to the puzzle. They have the talent. They just haven't utilized it. Even then, they should've easily made the playoffs. They tied the Packers and lost to the Bills. Without those, they could've possibly even won the division.
I think all three teams (that missed the playoffs) belong on this list. The Falcons went to the Super Bowl two years ago. The Panthers went the year before. Both squads have similar rosters to those runs, but neither team seems to be living up to their potential. For the Falcons, it's a matter of bringing back that identity. They need to show that they have that potent offense that got them to the Super Bowl two years ago. It wouldn't hurt to strengthen their defense though...
The Panthers finished with the same 7-9 record as the Falcons this year and seemed to have similar problems. Their talent just isn't showing up. Their problem is harder to fix because it requires a healthy Cam Newton, which may not happen for a while. Maybe they can try what the Colts did with Luck: take him out for a year to tank while you make sure that your franchise QB can last a few more years.
The Buccaneers is probably a controversial one. They are the worst of the four teams skill-wise, but we saw the beginning of the season. They started 2-0 with Fitzmagic playing better than any QB. They went 3-11 for the rest of the season, but the first game they won was against the Super Bowl favorite. This team has skill, and they just need to find a way to put it together. They need to make one of their two QBs more consistent as well as have better receivers. Also, a defense would be a good thing to have.
The 49ers were a team many thought could win the division, as Jimmy Garoppolo had not lost a start until this year. Unfortunately for that story, Garoppolo got injured early and did not return the rest of the season. The flash of their skill that was seen at the end of last year and even a bit at the beginning of this year was scarce the rest of the year. This team needs a healthy QB to lead them, but they need more than that. George Kittle can't carry the offense every week if they want to keep him long-term, and they need some sort of potency on the field to rival the one in their division. It'll be hard for them to get anywhere without finding a way to keep up with the Rams. Also, defense seems to be something a lot of bad teams lack. This team is no exception.
All these teams have work to do. Some is just preserving their talent in a healthier state, while others require more... drastic measures.