If your favorite NFL team made the playoffs, you are undoubtedly feeling pretty good right now. Even Seahawks fans should be excited (at least for the next week). So what if a bunch of talking heads cannot get over the fact that a 7-9 team made the playoffs? Them’s the rules and you earned your spot fair and square.
But if your team did not make the playoffs, there is a wide range of emotion you may be feeling. Some teams ended the 2010 season with momentum and head into the offseason with optimism about 2011. Other teams ended the season with a thud and head into the offseason wondering what disaster could possibly be next.
In this post, I’m going to go over each non-playoff team and tell its fan base my opinion for how it should feel heading into the offseason.
You can judge for yourself how much stock, if any, to put into my opinions or whether this exercise is even worthwhile at all. At the end of last year I probably would have said that Bears and Chiefs fans should be feeling kind of low, while Dolphins and 49ers fans should have a lot to look forward to. We know how that worked out this year.
It’s a crazy league, one where today’s momentum can simply be a foundation for tomorrow’s disappointment, and vice versa. But whatever. It’ll be a fun exercise even if it’s completely meaningless — and hell, some of you may say that fun yet meaningless sums up sports blogging in a nutshell. Perhaps. Now let’s get on with it.
New York Giants (10-6 in 2010)
Reasons for optimism: You were thisclose to making the playoffs this year and still have a decent core of a guys who have won a Super Bowl. Sure, Eli Manning struggled with INTs this year, but he also threw 30+ TDs and is a legit franchise QB. Tom Coughlin will be back, and QB-coach stability is so important for sustained success in the NFL. When healthy, Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith are one of the best 1-2 WR combos in the league. The pass rush remains strong.
Reasons for pessimism: Okay, those Manning INTs are a concern and needs to be fixed. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs ran well this year, but the former cannot stop fumbling and the latter has a terrible attitude.
Overall: How can you not be positive heading into the offseason? If you’re not, check your perspective because the majority of NFL fans would change places with you in a heartbeat. The Giants are a couple of roster tweaks, a few better decisions from Eli, and a few bounces here and there from contending once again. Decidedly positive.
Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
Reasons for optimism: Wade Phillips and his “Camp Cupcake” ideals are gone, likely to be replaced by the no-nonsense Jason Garrett. He’s still unproven as a head coach, but we do know he’ll ramp up the accountability at Valley Ranch. Say what you will about Tony Romo, but at a minimum he’s a top-15 QB in the NFL, and you know Jon Kitna can get the job done too if pressed into action. There are legitimate current and future stars to anchor the roster – DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant – during what should be a much needed offseason purge of bad contracts, bad attitudes, and washed up players.
Reasons for pessimism: Jerry Jones is still calling the shots, which should always lead to skepticism and some pessimism. The offensive line, save for Doug Free, has major issues. The defensive backfield is so bad that one offseason probably is not enough time to fix it. Can Bryant and Felix Jones – your two most talented offensive playmakers – be healthy and consistent for a full season?
Overall: Once again, you have to be positive, and the main reason is that unlike so many bad teams you already have a QB. When you enter an offseason with the QB position set, you automatically have to be somewhat optimistic. However, this remains a flawed roster that will be led by an unproven coach. Somewhat positive, but with reasonable trepidation.
Washington Redskins (6-10)
Reasons for optimism: Well, your coach has won two Super Bowls so, theoretically, he knows what it takes to get to the Promised Land. Brian Orakpo and Laron Landry are talented young players around which a strong defense can be built. Santana Moss is still a legit #1 WR.
Reasons for pessimism: John Elway isn’t walking through that door, and the fact of the matter is that Mike Shanahan has not had a whole lot of success without him. Like Cowboys fans, you cannot have much faith in the decision making of your owner. It is quite possible you enter next season with Rex Grossman or an unproven rookie as your starting QB.
Overall: Unlike Dallas and New York, the Redskins have no recent success whatsoever to fall back on. Somehow, ‘Skins fans are always tricked into being optimistic each offseason. Stop having the wool pulled over your eyes. Indifferent at best.
Detroit Lions (6-10)
Reasons for optimism: The four-game win streak to end the season was huge, as were all the other close games. A correct call by a referee here (ahem, ahem) or a fortuitous bounce there and the Lions would have been in playoff contention this year. Ndamukong Suh might be the best defensive player in the NFL over the next decade. Calvin Johnson might be the best wide receiver in the NFL over the next decade. Matthew Stafford, when healthy, has shown the talent to be a franchise QB. Jim Schwartz appears to have what it takes to succeed as an NFL head coach.
Reasons for pessimism: The shoulders of Stafford are the main reason Lions fans should be worried. He’s already missed out on valuable development time, and now the burden is on him to prove he can make it through a full season. Jahvid Best was disappointing this year. The roster overall still has holes and needs more balance.
Overall: How can you not be ecstatic if you’re a Lions fan? No, the Lions are not set up as well as the Giants for next year, but fan sentiment is all relative. Considering where the Lions have been, I’m not sure any fan base other than the Rams should be feeling better right now. The sun is finally shining in Detroit, with just that one little pesky storm cloud (Stafford’s shoulders) hovering. If he can just stay healthy… Ecstatic.
Minnesota Vikings (6-10)
Reasons for optimism: The Favre saga is over and Brad Childress is gone. That alone should elicit halelujahs from the fan base. Despite this season’s disappointment the Vikings still have Adrian Peterson and Sidney Rice, two great talents to build an offense around. The defense played much better once Leslie Frazier took over, and he’ll be back next year to provide continuity.
Reasons for pessimism: Who is your quarterback? As exciting as Favre’s retirement must be, Vikings fans still have to face the reality of having no proven QB. This uncertainty looms large and overshadows everything in the Vikings’ universe, as it does for any franchise without a proven QB.
Overall: The Vikings went 10-6 and made the playoffs in the one season Tarvaris Jackson was the starter. Is Joe Webb really a downgrade from TJax? So even if Webb enters next year as the starter, all hope is not lost. Still, without a better answer at the most important position, excitement can only be so high. Relieved and cautiously positive.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)
Reasons for optimism: Josh Freeman. He is easily the #1 reason for optimism. If he stays humble and continues to develop, the Bucs have a potentially better, more efficient Ben Roethlisberger. Other young players like LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams, Gerald McCoy, and Aqib Talib proved that they have star potential. Raheem Morris is proving to be more prepared for his role as head coach than many people expected.
Reasons for pessimism: When you make deals with the devil, sometimes they come back to bite you. Yes, the Bucs played well this season with a roster of young players (and, it should be noted, a very easy schedule). However, many of these players have character issues in their not-so-distant past (Blount, Williams, Talib, to name a few). Remind you of anyone? How about the Cincinnati Bengals from a few years back. Can Morris keep this cast of characters toeing the line and moving forward? It will be interesting to see how the young Bucs handle success and an offseason of being told how good they are.
Overall: You have to feel good if you’re a Tampa fan. Everyone was picking this team to be terrible this year, and they weren’t. They were good. And with the talent that is assembled, there is the potential for Tampa to be even better next year. Bucs fans just have to hope that this season’s success wasn’t built on a house of cards that will inevitably come crashing down. We’ve seen it happen before. Pumped, but with a nagging tinge of worry.
Carolina Panthers (2-14)
Reasons for optimism: I’ll pass on this until Andrew Luck declares his intentions for next year. If he declares for the NFL draft, Panthers fans will have a ton to be excited about. If he doesn’t, what is there to like other than Jonathan Stewart and a decent O-line (when healthy)?
Reasons for pessimism: Well, your team sucked this year, it has no answer at QB (yet), and doesn’t even have a coach. And when you do get a coach, it will be an unproven former coordinator, so you won’t have any idea whether to be excited or not. I could go on, but why? There are too many reasons for pessimism to count.
Overall: As bad as things were this year, it is the NFL, where both the Bucs and Rams were awful in 2009 yet were competing for playoff spots in Week 17. Anything can happen. Blind with foolish, unfounded hope…because why the hell not?
St. Louis Rams (7-9)
Reasons for optimism: In the NFL, you need a few things to build the foundation for consistent success. You need a QB, you need a good left tackle to protect him, you need a pass rusher who can pressure the quarterback, and you need a few play-makers at other positions to fill in around them. The Rams have Sam Bradford, Roger Saffold, and Chris Long at QB, LT, and DE, all of whom are building blocks for the future. Mix in the veteran presence of Steven Jackson and the solid play of James Laurinitis, and the foundation of a playoff team is in place.
Reasons for pessimism: Jackson isn’t getting any younger and has taken a lot of hits in his NFL career. How long can he be a 300+ carry workhouse at running back? The wide receiver position has to be fixed. Getting injured players like Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton back will help, but Sam Bradford needs a true #1 WR to fully develop as a QB.
Overall: The jury is still out on Steve Spagnuolo as a head coach, but the early returns are good. And for anyone who thinks Sam Bradford’s rookie year wasn’t a success, just understand that he surpassed Peyton Manning’s rookie year in every conceivable way. I’ll take that. Competing with Lions fans for the most optimism of any non-playoff fan base.
San Francisco 49ers (6-10)
Reasons for optimism: Mike Singletary will be gone, which should mean a more organized, cohesive team in 2010, and hopefully a team that plays freer and with less fear. The weapons are in place for the 49ers to be good offensively. Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, and a young, talented offensive line should all be better in 2010. The defense is led by stalwarts Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, and should again be strong next year.
Reasons for pessimism: The 49ers have no quarterback and no coach right now. That immediately limits any optimism 49ers fans can have. While they may find answers at both spots that provide immediate returns in 2011, the lack of either is a major concern right now. The defensive secondary needs an overhaul.
Overall: There are definitely reasons for 49ers fans to be positive. The roster is not as bad as their 2010 performance would suggest. The team just has gaping holes at the two most important spots – coach and QB – which makes the 49ers a giant question mark heading into the offseason. Confused.
Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
Reasons for optimism: Hmm. I have to be honest: this is tough. The Cardinals were atrocious on both sides of the ball this year. They have no proven QB, Beanie Wells cannot stay healthy or effective, and even a team-first guy like Larry Fitzgerald is frustrated and talking about playing somewhere else. I guess Fitzgerald’s talent is always a reason for optimistic though.
Reasons for pessimism: No QB, no proven offensive play-maker outside of Fitzgerald, and a run defense that was downright pitiful this year.
Overall: After a brief reprieve while Kurt Warner carried them, Cardinals fans are now being reminded of what being a Cardinals fan is all about. Frustrated and negative.
Buffalo Bills (4-12)
Reasons for optimism: Shawne Merriman signed a two-year contract! Oh wait… This is another tough one. The emergence of Stevie Johnson as a major threat is a plus, and Fred Jackson-CJ Spiller could possibly turn into a serviceable running back combo. Otherwise, there is not much to like.
Reasons for pessimism: Yeah, the Bills are a lot like the Cardinals. No proven QB – sorry, Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the answer – and a terrible defense. And what has Chan Gailey ever really proven as a head coach? Kudos to him for getting this team to play hard most of the season, but their ceiling is severely limited even if everything goes right.
Overall: Not a whole lot to feel good about in Buffalo, and it’s cold as hell there right now to boot. Sorry Bills fans. You’ll always have the K-Gun! A lot like Cardinals fans…and that’s never a good thing.
Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Reasons for optimism: Cameron Wake proved himself to be a pass-rushing beast this year. A young secondary led by cornerback Vontae Davis also emerged as a decent though inconsistent strength for the Dolphins. Jake Long provides stability along the offensive line. The Dolphins have a nice balanced trio of WRs that complement eachother well in Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess, and Brian Hartline.
Reasons for pessimism: Chad F’ing Henne. A lot of Dolfans, me included, talked themselves into Henne being the answer at QB. He’s not. Not even close. And neither is Tyler Thigpen, meaning the Dolphins’ 2011 QB is most likely not on their current roster. Add in the uncertainty about Tony Sparano’s job status plus owner Stephen Ross’ emerging Daniel Snyder-like tendencies, and there is a lot for Dolphins fans to be worried about. Oh, and the supposed strength of the offense – the Ronnie/Ricky combo at RB – was largely ineffective this year, and neither is under contract for 2011.
Overall: There is a reason people were bullish on the Dolphins entering 2010. A good, balanced team is in place…it just needs a QB. That is easier said than done, as Dolphins fans have learned all too well since Dan Marino retired. The roster built by Jeff Ireland and Bill Parcells still has a lot to feel good about, but until a QB and coach are in place, the optimism can only be so high. Ambivalent until a coach for 2011 is decided and another possible solution is offered at QB.
Cleveland Browns (5-11)
Reasons for optimism: The Browns beat the Saints and Patriots this year, proving that there is talent in place to compete with the big boys. Colt McCoy showed enough potential and leadership ability as a rookie for fans to be excited about him as the current QB of the Future. And whoever Mike Holmgren hires as coach – even if it’s himself – will be a QB guru, which should hasten McCoy’s development. The offensive line is still very, very good. Joe Haden is a potential All-Pro at cornerback.
Reasons for pessimism: McCoy needs play-makers on the outside. The Browns simply must get a big time WR to balance the offense. The defense was much improved in 2010, but still needs more talent to put the offense in a position to win consistently. What has happened to Joshua Cribbs? The Browns need him healthy and back to his old game-breaking self on special teams.
Overall: While the 2010 season provided as many questions as answers, I do think there was growth…and that’s good. While the record did not really reflect it, the Browns were a better team in 2010, which should lead to optimism about the future even while awaiting a head coach choice. And the emergence of McCoy alone should give Browns fan hope that maybe, at long last, they have an answer at quarterback. As legitimately optimistic as a Browns fan can be.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)
Reasons for optimism: There aren’t many. Your head coach is gone (well, maybe not…see below), your franchise QB could be, and your owner appears poised to continue his penny-pinching, losing ways. Hey, but at least your probably won’t have to deal with any more T.O./Ochocinco BS anymore! I suppose there are some young players on defense to feel good about, but that’s about it.
Reasons for pessimism: I kind of covered this above. That’s how bad things are in Cincinnati again. Even the reasons for optimism are overrun with pessimism.
Overall: Ah…Cardinals fans and Bengals fans back to feeling hopeless after a few years of competing. That’s the NFL I grew up with! Bungled.
Update: While writing this article, word broke that Marvin Lewis is now expected to return to Cincinnati next year and that the two sides will iron out their differences, which could include facilities improvements and changes in the personnel department. Both would be a welcome change for an organization that has been so reluctant to do so.
Okay, so maybe Cincy fans have a little more to look forward to. Still, I think bungled is a good word to describe how Bengals fans should feel considering the positive vibes entering this season, and then the disastrous outcome.
Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)
Reasons for optimism: David Garrard just had his best season and Maurice Jones-Drew remains a difference maker at RB. Jack Del Rio will be back, and while that may be underwhelming, I like the fact that he and Garrard have continuity together. It’s important, and the Jags were close to a playoff spot this year. Marcedes Lewis stepped up and finally had the big season everyone was expecting.
Reasons for pessimism: While I like QB-coach continuity, it’s also possible that we’ve seen the best Garrard-Del Rio have to offer. They just may not be good enough, with the other pieces that are in place, to get a team over the hump. The defense is also not good, meaning you go into every game needing Garrard to win it for you. That’s a recipe for going, well, 8-8.
Overall: You have to be relatively happy with how the team fared this year if you’re a Jags fan, but any optimism is probably muted by a feeling a deja vu…or at least will be once 2011 starts. It’s deja rio all over again…which is either good or bad depending on your perspective. Mostly, it’s just kind of blah.
Houston Texans (6-10)
Reasons for optimism: Arian Foster appears to be the answer the Texans have been looking for at RB. Andre Johnson remains a stud and a terrific leader by example. Matt Schaub, despite his limitations, is a top-15 quarterback and worth feeling good about. There is talent on defense despite the awful overall performance by the unit this year.
Reasons for pessimism: Well, this is going to sound a lot like what I just wrote for the Jags. Gary Kubiak will be back, which is good on one hand (QB-coach continuity) but bad on the other (has Kubiaub maxed its potential?). The defense must be improved. Wade Phillips should help if hired, but there also needs to be an influx of veteran talent and leadership in the secondary.
Overall: Texans fans, like Jags fans, can only be so optimistic. The talent is definitely there for Houston to make the playoffs; the question is will they be able to put it all together? Very frustrated, but with at least some hope and confidence because of the talent in place.
Tennessee Titans (6-10)
Reasons for optimism: To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t think that there is a lot to like. Chris Johnson is a good running back, but perhaps not the great one he appeared to be in 2009. Kenny Britt has the potential to be a top-10 WR if he can stay focused and out of the doghouse. The defense has some solid players to be a good unit.
Reasons for pessimism: Who is your coach and who is your QB? It’s a common refrain you are hearing throughout this post, but it must be asked for any team with holes at either spot.
Overall: If you’re a Titans fan, your feelings about 2011 are really in a holding pattern until you know what direction Bud Adams is going to go in, and whether Jeff Fisher, Vince Young, or just one of them will be back in 2011. On hold, but leaning negative.
San Diego Chargers (9-7)
Reasons for optimism: Despite missing the playoffs in 2010, your franchise QB is in place and you have a coach who, while frustrating, has a pretty damn good record in San Diego. Overall, this a talented roster on both sides of the football that fell a little short this year but is still built to compete in 2011.
Reasons for pessimism: Rivers is still a bit unproven as a big game QB and Norv Turner has to figure out how to get his team more focused in September. So while both provide legitimate reasons for optimism, neither is beyond reproach either. 2011 will be a referendum on their partnership because this team is talented enough to dominate the AFC West and be one of the best teams in the AFC.
Overall: I think Chargers fans need a dose of reality and perspective. Has this team underachieved some the last few years? Perhaps. But there are probably 20-some other fan bases that would love to underachieve like the Chargers have. Get frustrated with Rivers and Turner all you want, but they’ve still produced, and sometimes you have to be patient, maintain continuity, and just keep plugging away to win. Ask Steelers fans who got frustrated with Bill Cowher before he finally won a Super Bowl. Reasonably disappointed, but still very confident and optimistic.
Oakland Raiders (8-8)
Reasons for optimism: Well, the team went 6-0 in the division, which is a big accomplishment. Darren McFadden proved to be the dynamic, game-breaking running back everyone thought he would be coming out of Arkansas, and Michael Bush pairs with him nicely to form a strong 1-2 punch. Jacoby Ford is a versatile game-breaker. The defense played better than expected and should be good next year too.
Reasons for pessimism: Well, this is the Raiders. Despite some good games, Jason Campbell was inconsistent and it is still not clear if he or Bruce Gradkowski is the QB of future…and neither really inspires confidence. Also, Al Davis may be ready to fire Tom Cable, which seems like a bad idea considering the team’s apparent improvement. But who knows. Maybe 8-8 is as high as Cable can take this team.
Overall: I think that for the first time in a long time it’s okay for Raiders fans to have some optimism. It will always be muted by the reality that Al Davis is still calling the shots, but if nothing else there is at least exciting talent for Raiders fans to latch onto. Excited but realistic.
Denver Broncos (4-12)
Reasons for optimism: Tim Tebow showed enough over the season’s final three weeks to suggest that the Broncos may – may – not have wasted a first round pick on him. The jury is still very much out on his long-term viability as an NFL starter, but at least there is reason to think he could be a franchise QB. Brandon Lloyd is finally living up to his potential at WR. Champ Bailey remains a lockdown corner. Knowshon Moreno finally became a productive, though still injury-prone, running back.
Reasons for pessimism: Denver is unproven at QB, has no head coach, has now reverted to bringing a former player (Elway) to run the franchise, and is terrible on defense. It’s a good thing Broncos fans have Tebow Mania to distract them, because this team is far away from being a consistent winner.
Overall: The presence of Tim Tebow shows just how much a charismatic, potential-filled young QB can mean to a franchise. Broncos fans should be down in the dumps and devoid of hope right now, yet Tebow gives them something to rally around and feel good about. In denial as they get tipsy sipping on the Tebow Kool-Aid.
Okay, now I will give you a chance to chime in. You tell me which of the fan bases should be the most optimistic and which should be the most pessimistic as the playoffs begin with their teams as participants. The comment section awaits your brilliant insights.
And now let’s all wait together for the Bengals and Cardinals to further prove the NFL’s volatility by getting first round playoff byes in 2011. Haha, okay nevermind. Not even the NFL is that volatile.