Vikings, Broncos, Cowboys, and Colts defy expectations
Just before the season, I picked out four teams I thought might have surprising seasons – two teams whose fortunes might turn from the previous season and two who might make a surprise trip to the Super Bowl. Exactly none of the four predictions panned out. Here I’ll look into what I had wrong and why these predictions didn’t work.
I had the Minnesota Vikings improving dramatically from last season. However, almost immediately after the writing of that article, the Vikings lost right tackle Phil Loadholdt for the season, making the right side of the offensive line a major weak point heading into the season. Add in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s struggles in his second season trying to get the ball downfield combined with a series of receivers who are at their best 15 or more yards down the field, and it’s clear that this offense is a work in progress.
It’s possible the Viking’s defense has also been a key factor in its improvement in record this season, but they’ve struggled against the run and cornerbacks Terrance Newman and Trae Waynes have struggled to lock down number two receivers. Due to cornerback Xavier Rhodes eliminating most number one receivers, that pair has been picked on a lot. The linebacking corps has been excellent, but passes and runs to the outside have caused significant struggles for the second level of this defense. If they can find a cornerback-safety combination on the roster to complement Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith, this could be a top level defense, but in its current form it is definitely beatable.
The Vikings are 8–3 with a surprising lead in the NFC North, but they really have not been close to as good as their record this season. They continuously look unable to move the football and simply eke by bad teams. They were blown out in week one by the San Francisco 49ers, who are football’s worst team. The Vikings should look to use the rest of the season to build an offense more conducive to their quarterback’s talents — namely his pinpoint midrange accuracy and his stunning poise under pressure — to improve down the stretch.
This team, like the Vikings, is nowhere near as good as its 9–2 record might suggest. They slipped by in each of their first 6 games, winning by an average of six points and winning only one game by more than seven. They really should have come out of that stretch 3–3 and not 6–0, but those wins are banked. After surprisingly dominating the Packers (who have seen their own struggles since that game), the Broncos offense has ticked up to match their dominant defense. The reasons for the struggles of the offense were largely the scenario laid out in my predictions. The offensive line has meshed terribly and quarterback Peyton Manning is finally too old to play football. However, that defense led by linebacker Von Miller has been so good, they picked up the slack. The Broncos have also replaced Manning with quarterback Brock Osweiler who has been mediocre — a huge improvement over Manning’s disastrous performance. After a referee-provided win against New England, the Broncos now have four wins they have banked despite being thoroughly outplayed by their opposition. However, as the offense improves and the defense continues to destroy hopeless opposing quarterbacks, this team could be a scary sight come the playoffs.
It’s not too hard to figure out why Dallas went from possible Super Bowl contention to bottom feeder. The prediction was based on the idea that running back DeMarco Murray was not actually that important to this team and the success was due to his offensive line. That turned out to be true as running back Joseph Randle found plenty of success before losing his job to running back Darren McFadden, who also has played very well. However, quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant — both of whom are top three players at their position — have been injured for basically the entire season. Romo clearly had not healed from his broken collarbone before he came back, and now it’s broken again and he is out for the season, while Bryant does not have his usual burst. Without them, the offense has been helpless. The defense has improved, but their improvement from bad to subpar does not make up for the loss of their two best players. Even with a weak NFC East, this depleted Dallas roster won’t sniff the Super Bowl this season.
The Colts will make the playoffs this year based on their bad division, but they don’t deserve to. Quarterback Andrew Luck has missed lots of time with lacerations to his kidney, but the Colts looked horrible with him on the field. Backup quarterback Matt Hasselback has been okay in Luck’s place, but that’s all. The defensive moves general manager Ryan Grigson made actually worked, and the Colts defense has improved from disastrous last year to being pretty much league average this year.
On the other hand, the offense has been absolutely unable to do anything. The offensive line has been a nightmare and running back Frank Gore subsequently has holes to hit on offense.
Neither Luck nor Hasselback has had any time to throw and have struggled to hit any receivers. With the offense failing completely, an average defense has managed to keep this team hovering at .500, but winning the AFC South is not what the Colts had in mind before this season.
At 6–5, there is still time for the Colts to right the ship. They have the talent to succeed offensively and make a deep playoff run. However, a season that began with Super Bowl aspirations is likely to end in divisional round as the Colts are steamrolled by a team that actually earned a playoff spot.