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Teams to Watch: “Declining” Edition

Virtually every season in the NFL, there’s a team that leaps up from the league’s doldrums to become one of its best. Think the Indianapolis Colts this season or the Cincinnati Bengals last year. However, in order for that to happen, that means that they must be switching places with someone. Indeed, no team can make that kind of leap without dislodging a team from the top. So who are this year’s most likely candidates to lose their foothold as football’s elite? Let’s take a look at some of the teams poised for a fall, what could cause them, and some of the top reasons why smart bettors should stay away from wagering on their win totals this season.

Declining Team Candidate #1: Baltimore Ravens

On the face of it, this pick is controversial. However, if you give it more than even a cursory look, you’ll see why the Ravens could be headed for a decline, if a slight one. The Super Bowl winning team often stumbles the following season. Whether that has to do with players leaving through free agency or retiring, or whether it’s just plain old complacency on the part of the players, it seems to happen more often than not. The Ravens, in particular, seem like prime candidates for a fall off.

Obviously, this is no slight on what the Ravens accomplished this season. They got red-hot at the right moment and rode it all the way to the Super Bowl. However, keep in mind that they were still a 10-6 football team this season, and if it wasn’t for an insane fourth-and-29 conversion by Ray Rice in San Diego in November, the Ravens may not have made the playoffs at all. Luck always has something to do with a team’s success, but the Ravens were particularly fortunate. They lost some brutal games, and won some even worse ones; remember their 9-6 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs? How about their 23-16 victory over the Browns? A win is a win, but there are degrees of impressiveness, and the Ravens certainly didn’t look like a Super Bowl contender for vast swaths of last year. I would run away, fast, from wagering on the Ravens to repeat their performance last year. They look like 9-7, or even 8-8.

Declining Team Candidate #2: Houston Texans

Given their terrible end to the season last year, this pick might also seem like pretty simple math. Despite finishing 12-4, the Texans failed time and time again to lock up a one seed. Despite having J.J. Watt, the best defensive player in football, their secondary was suspect, and the offense wasn’t clicking like it did the season before. Arian Foster looks run down, and Andre Johnson isn’t getting any younger. The win total for these Texans will likely be 11 or 12. Because of their age, not to mention the rise of the Indianapolis Colts in their division, the Texans likely can’t maintain a stranglehold on the AFC South like they have for the past several seasons. I love them to win ten games this year.

Declining Team Candidate #3: Atlanta Falcons

This is a pick not so much against the Atlanta Falcons but for the rest of their divisionmates. The Saints are going to be back with a vengeance this season with a reinstated Sean Payton at the helm, and both the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed astonishing flashes of brilliance last season. The Falcons will likely stay the same this offseason and keep the core that went 13-3 and got them to the NFC Championship. However, the rest of the division is going to improve by a huge margin, making their lofty record from last season that much harder to repeat. Take the Falcons at 10 wins.

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