02 Aug NFL Teams Due to Breakout or Decline in 2017
Which Teams Will Breakout in 2017, and Which Will Fall?
Written by James Passemato
Every year in the NFL we see a couple surprise teams who have a huge breakout season, and a couple teams who fail to meet expectations and are seen as a major disappointment (see Carolina from the 2015 season to the 2016 season). The NFL is still a volatile sport and nothing is set in stone, but there are certain indicators that can give us a sense of whose going to make strides forward and who may decline. Here is our take on which team may shock you this season and which will have you disappointed by year’s end:
Team Ready to Jump Forward: Los Angeles Chargers
It seems like this team is always a conversation piece for having a big year only to disappoint seemingly every game. However, if you look at their roster and the circumstances of their losses the last couple seasons, you can see why they still look like a team destined for huge improvements. Last year they were demolished by injuries, and it showed. People will point to their poor play in the 4th quarter and specifically at Philip Rivers’ interceptions, but who did he have to throw to? When you have to try and carry the team on your back to make up for the injuries of Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead, Stevie Johnson, and Antonio Gates (for a brief stint), you have to try and force the ball somewhere and he likely did not have enough practice with those receivers to be comfortable. That’s just on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense also suffered major injuries. In total the team had 17 players on IR at one point in the season, while no one else in the division had more than 9.
Assuming the team stays healthy, they still have one of the most established and quality QBs in the league in Philip Rivers. Although Antonio Gates has been starting to show signs of age, Hunter Henry emerged as one of the best tight ends last season as a rookie and will look for a big breakout year in his 2nd season. On the defensive side of the ball, they have arguably one of the best CB duos in the game in Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett. Let’s also not forgot another rookie who emerged on the scene last year in Joey Bosa. He has the makings of the NFL’s next big superstar, and in only 12 games at DE last season he made his presence known with 10.5 sacks, 41 tackles and 1 forced fumble. The other reason the season looks optimistic is their schedule. The LA Chargers (and the whole AFC West for that matter) is ranked to have the easiest strength of schedules for 2017. Even when you look at their division who they’ll face 6 times, it doesn’t seem as scary as it once was. Oakland is highly favored due to their potent offense, but who’s on defense besides Khalil Mack? Denver has a formidable defense, but do you really see Trevor Siemien or Paxton Lynch creating a high-powered offensive attack? And then there’s Kansas City, who has a solid defense and an average offense behind Alex Smith but it doesn’t exactly strike fear in their opponents. Now we’re not saying that the LA Chargers will win 12 games in their new home town, but their 5-11 record last season did not accurately represent their talent level and potential after they lost 10 games that were within one score. We could easily see them going 9-7 or 10-6 and have a shot at a wildcard playoff spot or even a division title, so don’t sleep on the new LA franchise just yet.
Team That Will Take a Step Backwards: Dallas Cowboys
Now we first want to clarify and say that we do think Dallas will still be a good team this season. Given their stellar offensive line and the emergence of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott along with Dez Bryant, their offense is still in a great position. However, their record was 13-3 this past season and we do see a regression coming. First off there’s the whole controversy that’s been surrounding Ezekiel Elliott in the offseason, from his alleged assault of an ex-gf last year to his new controversy of punching someone at a Dallas bar. If his 6-game suspension holds up, Dallas may struggle out of the gate especially since they will play potent defenses in New York (NFC) and Denver to start the year. Their division will also be a tough test, as New York is strong on both sides of the ball, Philly has added Alshon Jeffrey to their offensive attack led by emerging QB Carson Wentz, and Washington still has Kirk Cousins and he’s been a top 5 QB the last couple of seasons.
We haven’t even brought up the issue of Dallas’ defense. Ignoring the ongoing legal issues that has plagued their defense in recent years (David Irving suspended 4 games to start 2017), Dallas’ defense took a large hit when 3 of their starting defensive backs (Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, J.J. Wilcox) to free agency. They have revamped the defense with draft picks, but they are taking a big gamble by hoping inexperienced defensive players can step up to the challenge. Especially considering the QBs in their division (Manning, Cousins, Wentz) and some of the star WRs (Beckham Jr., Marshall, Jeffrey), it’s a tough task to put on that unit. Overall we think Dallas will still be a solid team, but don’t be surprised if they end up going 9-7 and potentially lose the division crown to New York.
Which teams do you think will improve or decline this year? Let us know in the comments below!