We see it happen every year. It’s just a reality of the NFL due to the parity of the league. Odds are several of the teams you saw in the 2013 playoffs won’t be playing come January. New teams break through. Teams around the league get better every year and if playoff teams get complacent they quickly find themselves out of the picture.
For example, in the 2012 season the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl. The Houston Texans won the AFC South. The Atlanta Falcons were the NFC’s no.1 seed. The Washington Redskins won the NFC East. Finally the Minnesota Vikings snuck in as a wildcard thanks to Adrian Peterson‘s 2,000 yard season. All five of those teams did not make the playoffs last year.
The Ravens lost several key leaders to retirement or free agency and dropped to 8-8. The Texans not only missed the playoffs, they were the worst team in the league at 2-14. The Falcons couldn’t stay healthy and dropped to 4-12. Washington saw Robert Griffin III go through a sophomore slump and fight a bum knee and the team limped to a 3-13 record. Peterson couldn’t pull any more miracles and the Vikings unsurprisingly fall to 5-10-1.
So by all means, don’t be surprised if several playoff teams go through a similar fate in 2014. It happens. Based on the events of this offseason, here are the 2013 playoff teams that may be susceptible to a drop-off in 2014.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
The lasting memory of the Kansas City Chiefs’ bounce-back season was them blowing a 38-10 lead in the wildcard round against the Indianapolis Colts. Full credit to the Colts for coming back, but 35 second-half points allowed is nothing short of a collapse.
In 2013, the Chiefs had one of the easiest schedules in the league and they started their season 9-0. In fact, in their 9-0 start, only one of the teams they beat would go on to have a winning record (Philadelphia). Their other two wins were also against sub .500 teams. They lost both outings to Denver and San Diego, albeit while playing backups in their season finale.
Still, that’s just one victory against a team with a winning record all of last season. Being that they were 2-14 the year before, the Chiefs were opportunistic in playing a weak schedule and took full advantage. They had 10 Pro Bowlers last season, but 2014 will be a lot harder. They’ll have to play a tougher schedule. They also lost several Pro Bowlers in free agency, including Branden Albert and Dexter McCluster.
The Broncos will be right back on top of the AFC West this year, meaning the Chiefs will have to grab a wildcard spot. That’ll be tough with so many AFC teams improving. They appear primed to miss out this time, though they still have a bright future in front of them. It’s just part of the pendulum that is the NFL.
3. San Diego Chargers
If there was a GM of the Year Award in the NFL, Tom Telesco would’ve been a great choice. Taking over from a dismissed A.J. Smith, Telesco made all the right moves from day one.
He made a great choice in hiring Mike McCoy as head coach. McCoy had proven in Denver as offensive coordinator that he could coach up any type of quarterback and could adapt his offence to play up to the strengths of his personnel. Telesco also knew that getting help for Philip Rivers had to be a top priority. Following McCoy was Ken Whisenhunt, a known quarterback guru and he proved to polish up Rivers’ game.
Telesco then had an amazing draft, getting some o-line help with D.J. Fluker in the first round and getting a steal with Keenan Allen in the third round. With a tackle and a no.1 receiver, Rivers had a phenomenal season, throwing for 4,479 yards, 32 touchdowns and a career-high 105.5 passer rating.
Starting 5-7, the team won four straight games to make the playoffs including victories over Denver and Kansas City. They took down the Bengals in the wildcard round and gave the Broncos a good fight in the divisional round.
Since then, Whisenhunt left to take the Titans coaching job. The Chargers are pretty much bringing back the same roster in 2014, having not gained or lost much. We’ll see how their draft class works out, with the team taking cornerback Jason Verrett in the first round. The Chargers clearly needed help in the secondary so that’s a good start. A second target opposite Keenan Allen would’ve been good.
Overall, it doesn’t seem the Chargers have improved enough in the offseason. Usually a status quo offseason leads to a team taking a step back. The Chargers will take a small step back, and being that they just snuck in last year, it seems San Diego will contend for a wildcard spot again, but this time may be on the outside looking in. Having Denver occupy the division’s top spot makes it tough.
2. Carolina Panthers
Due to their crippling salary cap situation, the Carolina Panthers seem doomed to regress in the 2014 season. GM David Gettleman inherited a salary cap mess when he took the Panthers job 18 months ago. When he took over, the team was $16 million over the cap.
This offseason, the Panthers cut longtime receiver Steve Smith and lost tackle Jordan Gross to retirement. Two huge losses that will not help Cam Newton out whatsoever. They’re still stuck with an overpaid Jonathan Stewart who has $18 million in dead money, meaning the Panthers can’t cut him to save cap space. Gettleman’s hands were completely tied in terms of improving the team. He simply couldn’t given the team’s cap situation. The team did keep Greg Hardy by using the franchise tag, so at least the Panthers’ elite front seven is still in tact.
If the Panthers make the playoffs again, it will be due to that front seven dominating.
They have no proven tackles to protect Cam Newton and will be relying on draft pick Kelvin Benjamin to emerge as a top target for Newton. Benjamin stands tall at 6’5″ and has tremendous upside, but it’s unlikely he makes an immediate impact in terms of being Newton’s best option.
They’re handcuffed right now and if they do make the playoffs, it’ll take nothing short of a coaching gem by Ron Rivera, Newton carrying the team on his back or the defence playing at the level the Seahawks did in the Super Bowl.
When the Panthers’ cap problems are fixed, they’ll quickly emerge as a Super Bowl contender. For now, it appears they’ll go through a setback.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
Since when does the NFC East have the same division winner two years in a row? The Eagles took it last year, the year before Washington, the year before New York. The only constant was Dallas finishing 8-8.
Either way, it’s hard to see the Eagles improving on what they did last season. Yes, Nick Foles had one of the most efficient seasons one could recall, taking over as starter and throwing for 27 touchdowns to two interceptions and 2,891 yards. He was so good, the Eagles not only made him starter, but let Michael Vick walk.
However, the team released DeSean Jackson due to some off-field issues. Jackson had his best statistical season in Philly last year, catching 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. He signed with the division rival Redskins, so you’ve got to believe he’ll be extra motivated to stick it to Philly in their two meetings.
The Eagles did acquire Darren Sproles, which will give them a dangerous backfield between LeSean “Shady” McCoy and Sproles.
The Eagles will also get Jeremy Maclin back who missed last season with a torn ACL. They signed Malcolm Jenkins to help their secondary, but it doesn’t seem as though they got better in enough areas. It’s hard to see them finishing much better than their 10-6 record last year.
Nick Foles will have to make do with Maclin, Riley Cooper and second-round pick Jordan Matthews. Brent Celek and Zach Ertz will have to be a formidable tight-end duo.
LeSean McCoy will have to be the league’s best running back and will almost have to have an MVP-like season for the Eagles to build on what they did last year.
Overall, not much separates the Eagles from the rest of their division. The Cowboys will be in the mix again. The Giants could build off their 7-3 finish to last season. Washington could bounce back with a new coaching staff and Griffin coming back healthier than he was in 2013. With the instability of the division, it seems like a given there will be a new division winner. The wildcard picture gets crowded after that, with so many strong teams in the NFC. The Eagles may be out of luck this time around.
It’s hard to see teams like Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, New England or New Orleans falling off the map. We know the NFL playoff picture constantly changes, so going by trends, these teams appear set for a letdown. That’s what makes the NFL so appealing. With the parity in the league, it’s naive to think the 2014 playoff picture will mirror that of 2013.