The offseason is the most optimistic time of the year in the NFL. Fans of every team get fed a steady diet of feel-good reports about the upcoming season. Everybody looks good during minicamp and hyperbole abounds throughout OTAs. Perpetual All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas knows all about it.
32 NFL teams win the shorts and helmets super bowl every spring.— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) June 26, 2017
Every year, the NFL teams crowned offseason winners fail to live up to the hype when the games start counting.
Teams like the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys set up some lofty expectations after excellent 2016 seasons. Other teams, like the Jacksonville Jaguars, had great offseasons on paper, leaving themselves with nowhere to go but up after a 3-13 finish.
But should we buy into the hype for these teams?
2016: 11-5, lost Super Bowl 51
Key additions: Dontari Poe, Takk McKinley
The Falcons had a solid offseason. They went into free agency and the draft with decent depth at most roster positions, adding talent without the pressure of having to fill specific needs.
They’re coming off of the team’s best season in recent memory, due in large part to a dynamic offensive attack that gave the Falcons the top-scoring offense in the league. As prolific as Matt Ryan was -- last year’s MVP and Offensive Player of the Year — that success may not be replicated this season.
The biggest loss of the offseason for Atlanta was offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who filled the head coach vacancy with the San Francisco 49ers. Shanahan’s play calling (minus that whole refusing to run the ball in the Super Bowl thing) was the driving force behind the Falcons’ success last year. The team replaced him with Steve Sarkisian, who has never called a play at the NFL level before.
That change is enough reason for concern that the Falcons’ offense might take a step back next year. If the offense isn’t as productive, the defense, ranked No. 25 last year, will have to improve to keep the Falcons in contention for another Super Bowl bid.
2016: 13-3, lost to Packers in divisional round
Key additions: Nolan Carroll, Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie
Defensive play was the main reason the Cowboys made an early exit from the postseason after a solid regular season finish. Dallas did address those needs this offseason, but there are still some concerns.
The Cowboys lost Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr in free agency, but they brought in veteran cornerback Nolan Carroll as a free agent. The main concern with Carroll is that he was arrested for DWI this offseason. He may face a suspension. But Dallas also drafted cornerback Chidobe Awuzie in the second round, and Jourdan Lewis in the third.
Bringing in defensive end Taco Charlton with the team’s first-round pick in 2017 should help address a lackluster pass rush. Jaylon Smith should be healthy enough to contribute, and the Cowboys brought in defensive linemen Stephen Paea and Damontre Moore in free agency.
If these moves pay off, Dallas should be able to replicate last year’s success, or at least come close. However, that’s also contingent upon Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott avoiding a sophomore slump and performing at or near the same level as last season. Teams will have more film on the Cowboys’ dynamic duo and may be better equipped to slow them down next year.
2016: 3-13, last place in the AFC South
Key additions: Leonard Fournette, A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell
The Jaguars seem to win the offseason every year. Analysts and fans expected the team to compete for the AFC South crown after last year’s strong draft and free agency. Then, they finished 3-13 and Gus Bradley got fired.
This year is no different. The team should improve after Bradley’s firing. Doug Marrone was promoted from interim head coach to the new guy in charge. It’s possible he’ll do a better job with the talent the Jaguars have to work with.
That Jacksonville defense is stacked with big playmakers — Malik Jackson, Jalen Ramsey, and Tashaun Gipson, to name a few. The team added Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye this offseason, making the unit even better in theory. Everyone expected the defense to tear it up last year too.
The offense is the bigger concern, even with the addition of Leonard Fournette. There’s talent at the skill positions with both Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson at receiver and Fournette, T.J. Yeldon, and Chris Ivory in the backfield. But Blake Bortles was a liability last season. His play will be a significant factor in how the Jaguars fare this year.
It’s difficult to buy into the Jaguars. We’ve been burned by Jacksonville before.
On the other hand, sometimes a team does live up to the lofty expectations set in preseason. That’s the case with the Patriots.
2016: 14-2, won Super Bowl LI
Key additions: Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen, Kony Ealy
The reigning champs are coming off of an improbable Super Bowl win. As if that weren’t enough, they had a stellar offseason.
Bill Belichick swapped with the New Orleans Saints to bring in speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks, giving Tom Brady the best receiving corps he’s had to work with since the team’s near-Super Bowl win in 2008. They brought in Dwayne Allen to fill the void left by Martellus Bennett’s departure, and shored up the defensive end spot by trading for Kony Ealy. Re-signing Dont’a Hightower ensures that the pass rush won’t miss a beat, either.
Go ahead and crown the Patriots the winners of this offseason, and don’t be surprised when they actually live up to expectations in 2017.
Which teams do you think will or will not live up to the hype this season?