Unless we’re talking about the New England Patriots, it’s hard to win consistently in the NFL. A surprise team one season can be back at the bottom of the pile the next.
That’s always the case, and even some established winners might be headed for darker days. Here’s a look at three playoff participants from last season who might slip up this time around.
The Bills hung around long enough that - thanks to the Baltimore Ravens' improbable Week 17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals - they ended their 17-year playoff drought with a 9-7 season. That naturally gives Buffalo and its fans reason to believe 2018 will be even better.
But will it?
Buffalo remarkably got to the postseason with Tyrod Taylor and rookie Nathan Peterman starting games at quarterback. Taylor is now in Cleveland and Peterman is behind temporary starter AJ McCarron and rookie Josh Allen on the depth chart. At least out of the gate, the Bills will give career backup McCarron the chance to prove he can be a starter in the league. However, Allen is their quarterback of the future and a guy who could be the best of the four signal-callers taken in the top 10.
But that position remains a question mark. So always is the health of running back LeSean McCoy even though he did not miss a game last season. Their receiving corps has shown promise but doesn't have a marquee name among it.
Buffalo also overcame a poor 3-5 road mark by going 6-2 at home last season. The Bills will play five of their first seven away from home in 2018, and three of the first four at Baltimore, Minnesota and Green Bay. That's quite the daunting task and a stretch that could end up setting the tone for their season.
Kansas City Chiefs
With three straight postseason appearances and back-to-back AFC West titles, the Chiefs are as consistent as they come in today's NFL. However, their time at the top of the division might be about up.
The Los Angeles Chargers almost caught them a year ago and appear poised to surpass them in 2018. Just how good Denver will be with Case Keenum under center remains to be seen and the Oakland Raiders' hiring of Jon Gruden as coach makes them the wild card of the entire AFC.
But the biggest X-factor for Kansas City will be at quarterback, where Patrick Mahomes, in his second year, has been handed the keys to offense. Mahomes has a ton of potential and incredible upside, we've been told that. But that means nothing until he's thrown into the fire, which Mahomes experienced in just one game last season.
The addition of receiver Sammy Watkins is big, and Mahomes can lean on running back Kareem Hunt and tight end Travis Kelce, but he's still a young quarterback faced with a big challenge. Defensively, the losses of Marcus Peters and Derrick Johnson could loom larger than one might think.
Like Buffalo, Tennessee played well at home (6-2) and not so well on the road (3-5) last season. Besides its division trips, which includes conference title game participant Jacksonville, the Titans open at Miami and have road dates with the Los Angeles Chargers and Dallas Cowboys. None of those stops should be easy, so if Tennessee expects to return to the playoffs it likely must improve its road form.
While the Jaguars should still be the class of this division, both Indianapolis and Houston expect to improve from their 4-12 seasons if things go well with their respective quarterbacks.
And while Tennessee's own quarterback Marcus Mariota continues to make strides, running backs Derrick Henry and ex-Patriot Dion Lewis will be keys to the offense, specifically whether they can consistently control the clock.
Finally, the first season under a new coach always brings uncertainty, especially in this case as previous coach Mike Mularkey wasn't fired. The transition to Mike Vrabel should be interesting considering this is his first heading coach gig. Whether he can get his players, especially those still loyal to Mularkey, to buy-in will be important.
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