The NFL offseason is all about making improvements, filling holes, and finding the pieces necessary to move a franchise forward. Naturally, much of the attention is on the teams that are thought to be the most improved, but if some teams are moving forward, that means other teams are taking a step backward. There’s plenty of time left in the offseason to pour over the teams that will take a step forward in 2013, but for now, let’s take a peek at five teams that could take a step backwards this year:
Atlanta – The Falcons have inched closer and closer to the Super Bowl over the last few seasons, but they may have hit a wall after losing to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game last season. They have become one of the oldest teams in the league, and replacing aging veterans that left town with other aging veterans hasn’t made them any younger. This could be their last chance with this group of players to make a serious run at a Super Bowl, but if they couldn’t beat San Francisco last year, they probably won’t be able to get past them this year now that they’re a year old and the 49ers are still young and improving, which means a step back is likely to happen for the Falcons.
Another problem Atlanta could have is that the other three teams in the NFC South were 7-9 last year, and they should all be improved this season. The Falcons won’t be able to win their division as easily as they won it last year, and a more competitive division will contribute to Atlanta taking a step back in 2013.
Baltimore – When you win the Super Bowl, there’s nowhere else to go but back. However, even from a 10-6 regular season, the Ravens may be regressing. Although they drafted well and did their best to replace Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, they lost a lot of key pieces, and replaced them with youth and inexperience. Amidst all the youth, there is a lot of pressure on Joe Flacco to carry the team, which he’ll have to do without his leading receiver from a year ago, Anquan Boldin. If Baltimore is going to avoid taking a significant step backwards, it’s going to hinge on Flacco leading the way, and even after winning Super Bowl MVP, there’s not an overwhelming amount of confidence in his ability to do that.
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Dallas – This organization continues to be erratic with its decision-making, as well as chaotic with regards to how it handles things, in most part because of the way Jerry Jones goes about running the team. The franchise doesn’t appear to be making much progress, and in a competitive NFC East division, an 8-8 record in 2012 could be even worse in 2013. They locked Tony Romo up long term, but they haven’t put a lot of help around him, and they didn’t make wise choices during the draft. The Cowboys haven’t done a lot this offseason to make anyone think they’ll be better than last year, and with the type of schedule they have, it won’t be surprising to see them take a step back in 2013.
New England – It’s hard to imagine the Patriots taking much of a step backwards, but it has to happen at some point, right? The organization isn’t exactly in a good place right now, as they are still reeling from the incarceration and subsequent release of former tight end Aaron Hernandez. On the field, there is concern about the status of tight end Rob Gronkowski heading into the season. Tom Brady knows he won’t have Hernandez anymore, and if he doesn’t have Gronkowski to throw to either, he’ll have Danny Amendola and not much else, which could drastically alter the look of the offense. On top of that, the Patriots were 29th in the NFL against the pass last year, and didn’t have a draft pick in the top 50, so they may not get much of an impact from their rookies. Add it all up, and it points to a team that will take a step back from its usual dominance, although a manageable schedule could allow them to still win at least 10 games and make the playoffs.
Pittsburgh – The Steelers are another team that’s starting to age at key spots, and things could get even worse than their 8-8 record from a year ago. Ben Roethlisberger has been banged up a lot in recent years, and if he misses a significant chunk of the season, the Steelers could be in trouble. Even if Roethlisberger stays healthy, he no longer has Mike Wallace to throw the ball to, as well as a running game that averaged less than 100 yards per game last year. Pittsburgh drafted well, so there’s some young talent on the team. However, the second half of the schedule is tough, and if their veterans struggle or succumb to injuries, it could be another down year for Pittsburgh.