OAKLAND (CBS SF) – National sportswriters don’t appear too bowled over by the Oakland Raider roster additions of NFL veterans LaMarr Woodley, Matt Schaub, Justin Tuck and Maurice Jones-Drew. Pundits peg the Raiders as perhaps the worst team in the league, and ESPN has Head Coach Dennis Allen rated as the worst in the NFL. The Silver and Black also compete in a division where every other squad made the playoffs last year, prompting some to say they are already out of contention this season. Really? It may take everything breaking right for Raider Nation to make a playoff appearance, but surely there are teams with less upside than Oakland. Here are a few of the potential challengers for the NFL cellar.
Projected by many to make the playoffs last year, Houston ended up with the worst record in football, losing to the likes of Jacksonville, Saint Louis and Tennessee in route to a 2-14 record. Many of those losses were blamed on critical turnovers by quarterback Matt Schaub. So they replaced the signal caller, (who is now running the huddle for the Silver & Black) with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick won’t be mistaken for Drew Brees anytime soon, but if he can do a better job of holding on to the football than Schaub and #1 pick Jadeveon Clowney is as disruptive on defense as advertised, the team can expect better than losing nine games by a touchdown or less, like they did last year.
For the first time in forever things appeared to be trending in the right direction in Cleveland last year. But coaching changes, off the field troubles for burgeoning superstar Josh Gordon and the most scrutinized quarterback pick in recent decades have people wondering if the arrow is still pointing up for the Browns. Defense could end up being the backbone of this team, and fellow number one pick Justin Gilbert will likely be a bigger key to the team’s early success than Johnny Manziel. Either way, Manziel is the best bet to keep Cleveland fans interested once LeBron James tips off his reunion tour.
No team divides the NFL pundits more than the Cowboys. Some love the offensive stars like Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray playing behind a solid offensive line. Others point out that Romo looks pretty rusty coming off his second back surgery. It’s also hard to overlook that several of the most consistent performers from an already poor defense have moved on. The team also has a murderous schedule, with the 49ers, Saints, Colts, Bears and Seahawks looking like very tough wins outside of the division.
Just how long can Adrian Peterson carry this offense? Looks like the Vikings want to find out. The 29-year-old has been the best in the game since the end of the LaDainian Tomlinson era, but how many trophies has that brought back to the twin cities? Fantasy football players are fired up about wideout Cordarrelle Patterson, but with Matt Cassel throwing him the ball, caution is advised.
It feels like a long time ago that the Jags were a playoff team. Truth is it was just 2007. Since then the team has only once finished .500 once, and oddsmakers aren’t banking on them breaking even this year either. They’ve cut ways with their most effective skill position player of the last decade Jones-Drew (now a Raider) and are baking on Adrian Peterson understudy Toby Gerhart, who was a monster at Stanford in college. The Jags also used the number three pick in the draft to pick quarterback Blake Bortles. A lot or people think he’s the long-term answer for the rotating quarterback position, but long-term is likely going to take more than a year.
The Bill’s added the most coveted receiver in the draft in Sammy Watkins, but the real pressure will be on the man throwing him the ball. E.J. Manuel sowed some spark in his rookie season, completing 59 percent of his passes for nearly 2,00 yards in just ten games. But, he turned the ball over 12 times, more than he often than he found a receiver in the end zone. Unless he can make a significant jump under second-year coach Doug Marrone, the team will have trouble competing against all of their divisional foes. They play the Raiders on December 21st. If the pundits are right, the week sixteen matchup could determine the top pick in next year’s draft.