Which NFL teams are already in trouble?

By Matt Verderame

Every NFL season is a beast unto itself. Last year, the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins were surprise playoff teams, with the Cowboys earning the NFC’s best record with a 13-3 mark. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers, the two participants in the NFC Championship Game in 2015, failing to reach the postseason.

This year won’t be any different. Some of the best teams from a year ago are going to be major disappointments, whether it be injuries, misfortune or bad play. On the other hand, a few teams universally panned by the experts will rise up and reach the postseason. At this time last year, nobody was picking the Atlanta Falcons to win the NFC South, let along reach the Super Bowl.

If there are some early contenders for teams in trouble, look no further than the Cowboys. On Friday afternoon, running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. With Elliott on the shelf, and the defensive line already loaded up with suspensions (Damontre Moore, David Irving, Randy Gregory), the Cowboys will need to stay afloat against a very tough early schedule that includes road games against the New York Giants, Denver Broncos and Cardinals.

In the AFC, two teams in the East are looking at what could be very long campaigns. The New York Jets are trying to be awful (and succeeding), so we’ll put them on the side. The Buffalo Bills all but waived the white flag on Friday, trading wide receiver Sammy Watkins and corner Ronald Darby to the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively. Buffalo got a second third-round picks back, explaining that the decision is going toward getting younger and rebuilding what has become an average roster with little upside.

Miami announced that quarterback Ryan Tannehill is going to put an official end to his season with surgery to repair his ACL, something that should have been done in December. While the team signed Jay Cutler out of retirement, it’s tough to see him leading the Dolphins to the playoffs. In 12 years, Cutler has only been to the postseason once.

With all that in mind, Miami and Dallas could eb the two teams that greatly disappoint. In fact, history suggests it. Over the past 10 years, 33 teams have gone from missing the playoffs to making them the following season, accompanied by at least a four-win improvement. Last year, we had four teams fit that bill: Oakland Raiders Dolphins, Cowboys and Giants.

Of the previous 29 teams, only 11 make it back to the playoffs the following season. In other words, of the four aforementioned squads, one, maybe two, are probable to see the postseason. Don’t count on it being Miami, and while the Cowboys have talent, they are off to a miserable start.