By Joel Deering
Any team who wins the Super Bowl should be facing a lot of pressure the following season, unless it’s the Patriots. They don’t feel pressure very often, if it all. When you win the Super Bowl, everyone expects you to perform at a high level again the next year. When you win the Super Bowl with a backup quarterback, you better believe you’re going to face pressure. With Carson Wentz back in the picture, this team better perform well. If Wentz doesn’t perform well or this team is just average, we might start hearing talk about Nick Foles being the starter again. That would be absolutely ridiculous, but NFL fan bases are all ridiculous when it comes to winning games.
Last season the Eagles had one of the best defensive lines in the league. You could definitely make the case that their defensive line is the primary reason they made that Super Bowl run. After offseason moves, it appears as though they’ve made their defensive line even better than it was last season. They’ve added DE Michael Bennett in a trade with the Seahawks, DT Haloti Ngata, and selected DE Josh Sweat in the NFL Draft. In addition to their moves along the defensive line, the Eagles also made other significant signings on both offense and defense, reloading their team for 2018. All I know is, if the Eagles aren’t good this year, Eagles fans won’t be happy. Now that they’ve won one Super Bowl, it’s pretty likely they’ll expect more.
Los Angeles Rams
After having a great season last year, the Rams went into the playoffs ready to make a run, but ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs. It’s obvious the Rams didn’t like that too much and are in win now mode. This team is absolutely stacked heading into the season. The Rams acquired CB Marcus Peters from the Chiefs, WR Brandin Cooks from the Patriots, and CB Aqib Talib from the Broncos. Everyone thought they were already stacked at this point, but then they went and signed DT Ndamukong Suh.
When you mix all those signings with high expectations for QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley, you better believe the Rams are expected to win games and be a true Super Bowl contender. Gurley’s expectations are sky high right now. After being an MVP candidate last year, he’s expected to do so again. Pretty much everyone is picking the Rams to win the NFC West this year. The expectations for the Cardinals are low and the Seahawks aren’t expected to be as good because of all the pieces they lost on defense. The biggest competition for the Rams is the 49ers, who we’ll get to later, but they still have holes to fill on their roster. If the Rams don’t win their division and don’t make a deep playoff run, it’s going to be a disappointment.
This team was one of the best teams throughout the season last year, primarily because of their defense. Most people expected the defense to play well, but what they didn’t expect was QB Case Keenum to play as well as he did. Keenum made big play after big play in just about every game of the season. The Vikings decided to move on from Keenum this offseason, and instead sign Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed 84 million dollar contract. That right there is enough pressure by itself. Cousins better perform well and at least come close to living up to those fully guaranteed expectations or it’s not going to be pretty in Minnesota.
RB Dalvin Cook was drafted last year by the Vikings, but got hurt four games into the season. Before the injury, Cook was having a great rookie season. He’s back and healthy this year and his expectations are quite high. The Vikings also have pretty good weapons on the outside for Cousins to throw to. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen both had great seasons and are expected to do so again. So between Cousins, Cook, and the receiving options, the Vikings offense is supposed to be stacked. This team came within one game of the Super Bowl last year, so you better believe they’re expected to be contenders once again. They don’t get to surprise anyone this year like they did last season.
After a great season in 2016, the Raiders headed into 2017 with high expectations, but couldn’t live up to them. They were terrible last year. So what did they do? They signed Jon Gruden, a former Super Bowl winning coach, to fix their problems. Gruden hasn’t coached in a long time, so it will be interesting to see if he can turn things around and be a successful coach in the NFL now. That is a concern for some, but the name Jon Gruden has people in Oakland excited about 2018.
Another big reason why this team is facing pressure this season is because it won’t be long until the Raiders make the move to Vegas. Oakland wants to see this team bring them a Super Bowl before they go. Raiders fans want it, and I’m sure the Raiders organization wants it just as much. For the Raiders to bring a Super Bowl to Oakland before they leave, things have to change now. They don’t have time to slowly get better, they have to get a lot better right now.
San Fransisco 49ers
When the 49ers got Jimmy Garroppolo, it appeared they got their franchise quarterback. Garroppolo helped the 49ers finish the 2017 season strong, winning every game he started in. Garroppolo is still undefeated as a starter, but we’ll see how long that lasts. There’s no question in my mind that Jimmy makes the 49ers better, but I’m not so sure about him being able to make this team a true contender right now like many expect them to be.
Even if this team isn’t expected to be a true contender this year, I feel like the general consensus is they’ll make the playoffs. Finishing so strong last year puts the pressure on the 49ers to have a strong season in 2018. It may have actually been better if they didn’t finish strong last season because then nobody would be expecting a good season out of them. I almost forgot to mention the 49ers signed Richard Sherman in the offseason. We’ll see how Sherman performs after returning from his major injury. Having a guy like Sherman raises expectations for the defense, and the team as a whole.
Dallas faces the pressure every single year, regardless of if people think they’re going to be good or not. After going 13-3 in 2016 with rookie QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott, 2017 was a big let down when they went 9-7 and missed out on the playoffs. Expectations are higher this year because of the return of Ezekiel Elliott for a full season. One of the reasons they struggled last year is because Elliott was out for six games because of suspension. This year he’s going to have a full season, and I’ve seen many predicting he’s going to lead the league in rushing yards.
Dallas also faces pressure this year because of some questionable moves they made in the offseason, the biggest being the release of WR Dez Bryant. A lot of people think that was a mistake because they don’t have any receiver to take his place. Many think Dallas will be terrible this year, but despite those expectations, it’s always Super Bowl of bust for America’s team.
After years and years of being one of the worst teams in the league, the Jaguars surprised everyone last season by almost making a trip to the Super Bowl. This defense was one of the best last year, and we all know CB Jalen Ramsey isn’t shy about saying they’re going to be one of the best again. After having a performance like they did last season, this defense better be at least close to what they were a season ago.
Then you’ve QB Blake Bortles, who got an extension despite the rumors of him being replaced by someone like Kirk Cousins. I personally think Bortles won’t be anything more than what he’s shown us so far, but the Jaguars believe in him. Their belief in Bortles better pay off or Jaguars fans will not be happy with the decision to extend him when they could have gone after someone else to upgrade the most important position on the team. Because of their performance last year, the Jaguars are now under pressure to perform again this season.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City traded two of their best players in QB Alex Smith and CB Marcus Peters. Smith was one of the best QBs last season, and Peters has been one of the best corners in the league since he stepped foot on an NFL field. When you trade two of your best players, you’re going to face pressure because fans want to know if you did the right thing or not. Patrick Mahomes is now the starting QB for this team. In his second year, he’s been handed the reigns and is expected to lead this team. I like his talent, but I have questions about Mahomes because we haven’t seen a lot from him.
I’m not really sure who’s going to win the AFC West this year, but I know the Chiefs are expected to compete for the division title. If things go well with Mahomes and the Chiefs win, the front office will look like geniuses, but if the Chiefs are bad they’ll look like idiots for trading one of the league’s better quarterbacks. That would be even worse if Alex Smith takes the Redskins deep into the playoffs and the Chiefs either don’t make it or lose early.
The Bills aren’t facing pressure to win this year. You could certainly say there are teams facing more pressure to win than the Bills. The pressure the Bills are facing is different. It mostly comes from the quarterback position. Last season the Bills made the playoffs with Tyrod Taylor leading the way, but then they decided to trade Taylor. They traded a quarterback who led them to the playoffs? Taylor isn’t anything flashy, but you have to admit he does his job pretty well. After trading Taylor, the Bills signed AJ McCarron, who’s been a backup his entire career and hasn’t really shown he can be anything special.
They also drafted QB Josh Allen with the number seven overall pick in the draft. The Bills got rid of a quarterback with a career QB rating of 91.2, a career completion percentage of 62.4%, and who led them to the playoffs last season. They replaced him with a rookie QB who hasn’t played a regular season game in the NFL, didn’t complete even 60% of his passes in college, and didn’t dominate lower level competition. I already think that’s a bad move, but if the Bills don’t get something special out of their quarterbacks this year, they’ll be looking pretty dumb for letting Tyrod Taylor go.