Sustaining long-term success is something that is extremely difficult for franchises to achieve in the National Football League. It’s why coaches and General Managers are constantly being replaced, and why we see big-name players face the chopping block every offseason. And if you really sit down and think about, it’s easy to see why it’s so hard to maintain success at the game’s highest level.
Long-term success requires teams to have depth at practically every position on their roster, have multiple All-Pro caliber players on both sides of the ball that are also in the prime of their respective careers, have either an elite quarterback or a dominant defense, and lastly, it requires a little bit of luck when it comes to staying healthy, avoiding career-threatening injuries, and striking gold on late-round draft picks.
With as difficult as it is to stay on top in the NFL, it’s not uncommon to see a team go from Super Bowl contender one season, to bottom-feeder the next season. For example, in 2014 the Dallas Cowboys went 12-4 and won the NFC East title during the regular season before going on to narrowly lose to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the NFC Playoffs. Then in 2015, they went 4-12 (in large part due to injuries to quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant) and landed a top-five pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
With that being said, here is a look at five teams that have recently fallen on hard times after a run of success. And as a result, people shouldn’t put their faith in these franchises anymore.
1. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens may only be three years removed from winning a Super Bowl title, but there is very little reason to be optimistic about their future heading into the 2016 season. They have a mediocre (at best) starting quarterback in Joe Flacco, whose 2016 salary cap hit of $22.55 million is currently taking up close to 15% of the team’s total salary cap, and their once proud defense is full of players who are past the prime of their respective careers. With that being the case, we are envisioning a rebuilding project in the near future for the Ravens.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have been trending downwards ever since the relationship between their front office and former head coach Jim Harbaugh soured to the point of being irreparable in 2014. And while their 2015 season was nothing short of disastrous, 2016 could actually be even worse.
The Niners, despite their ongoing state of dysfunction, went out and hired Chip Kelly, who is no stranger to controversy himself, to be the team’s next head coach earlier this offseason. Bottom line, there is no telling whether Kelly was humbled enough (or not) during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles to become successful in his second NFL head-coaching gig.
And if the uncertainty surrounding Kelly wasn’t enough, there is also the fact that the 49ers have a marginally talented roster that currently has a great deal of uncertainty at the quarterback position.
3. Atlanta Falcons
It wasn’t all that long ago – three years to be exact — that the Falcons came within 10 yards and a few seconds of winning the second NFC championship in their franchise’s 50-year existence. While they still have a capable starting quarterback in Matt Ryan, and arguably the best wide receiver in the game in Julio Jones, this team is a long way away from being able to compete for a conference title.
Their defense has a couple of nice pieces but still lacks a solid pass rush and remains mediocre at best, their offensive line is slightly above-average, and to top in all off, they play in one of the better divisions in the league. All said, we expect the Falcons to have another season with a winning percentage close to .500.
4. New Orleans Saints
As we learned with Peyton Manning in 2015, nobody in the league is invincible when it comes to fighting off Father Time. And as a 37-year-old with a history of injuries to his throwing shoulder, Saints quarterback Drew Brees appears to be playing his career out on borrowed time. As a result, the immediate future looks bleak in New Orleans.
Even if Brees regains the All-Pro form he played at during the prime of his career, the Saints’ atrocious defense will likely hinder any chance they have at contending for a division or conference title in 2016.
5. Detroit Lions
One of the biggest stories of the 2016 NFL offseason has been the stunning decision of one of the greatest players in Lions history, Calvin Johnson, to retire while he was still one of the best wide receivers in the game. And it’s easy to understand why given that during his prime, Johnson was arguably the most dominant wideout in league history. That said, even if Johnson had opted to return for a 10th season with the Lions, we wouldn’t have much faith in Jim Caldwell’s squad.
First and foremost, Detroit’s offensive line is a major question mark at this point in time, and if they are unable to keep quarterback Matthew Stafford upright, 2016 will be a really long season for the Lions. Furthermore, if they do not improve on the defensive side of the ball, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Lions finish the season with a record above .500.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.