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This is part one of a two-part series about NFL teams we believe will disappoint (Part One) and surprise (Part Two) in the 2012 season.
For the basis of this series, to disappoint means finishing with the same (if you're a non-playoff team) or worst record than your 2011 counterparts.
To be a surprise, teams will obviously have to improve upon their 2011 win/loss record.
But before we get into the surprise teams of 2012, let's begin with five teams that we here at Beard and Stache expect to let us down, suffer gut-wrenching losses and monumentally frustrate their fanbases -- in no particular order.
1. Cleveland Browns
Browns fans have heard this story before. I spoke to a Browns fan as recently as last night (who remains a good friend despite my longtime affinity for my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers), and I asked him what he thought about the Browns' 2012 season outlook and whether they were a team that will disappoint.
While he was quick to open with his hope and confidence for the future with rookies Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson in the fold, he was just as quick to admit that he's not expecting much of a turnaround from last year. The team's schedule (every team in the AFC North will play every team in the always tough NFC East), the uncertainty surrounding the health of young nose tackle Phil Taylor and the lingering lack of legitimate playmakers in the passing game doesn't bode well for Cleveland's chances in 2012.
Not only that, two things really stand out from last year's stats. First, Cleveland couldn't run the football, ranking 28th in the league with just over 95 yards per game. Trent Richardson will help in that department, but the Browns also couldn't stop the run either, ranking 30th in the league while surrendering almost 150 yards per contest. Not very inspiring statistics.
Was my friend still fired up about the season despite the predominantly negative outlook? Absolutely. But he's also a realist. We finished our conversation with this gem: When I asked what he thought of the Browns' chances to improve in 2012, he chuckled and said, "Wow, Adam, I could have told you this back in 2008 -- we're still going to stink."
2. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are an interesting case indeed, what with the arrival of the Tannehill couple -- rookie quarterback Ryan and the real center of attention, his wife, Lauren. Miami is set to be featured on the upcoming season of HBO's Hard Knocks, which makes this Dolphins squad (and hopefully Lauren Tannehill) the center of attention, at least temporarily.
Miami's roster is in a state of flux, what with the quarterback battle between veteran journeymen David Garrard, Matt Moore and rookie and hopeful future franchise quarterback -- Ryan Tannehill. And if that wasn't enough, Chad Ochocinco, or Johnson, or whatever his last name is now is bringing his talents to South Beach coming off arguably the worst season of his career after spending 2011 with Tom Brady and co. up in New England.
One redeeming quality the Dolphins and their fans can hang their hats on however, is that their defense, at least according to Miami middle linebacker Karlos Dansby, is "championship quality." That's nice, Karlos. Now if you guys could just score some points.
3. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders, along with the rest of the AFC West for that matter, are in for quite a tough season considering they and the rest of their division will have to play against the up-and-coming NFC South against quarterbacks like Matt Ryan in Atlanta, a hopeful bounce-back candidate with Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay, reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year in Cam Newton with the Panthers and of course Drew Brees in New Orleans (hopefully for Saints fans).
The Raiders couldn't stop anyone on defense last year. Whether it was by ground or by air, the Raiders defense was gashed, ranking 27th in the league in both pass and rush defense. Needless to say, if they're to improve upon their 2011 record of (8-8), something's gotta give.
After losing Kamerion Wimbley to free agency, Oakland added semi-draft bust Aaron Curry to the team to hopefully provide solid linebacker play alongside stud Rolando McClain. Who knows? Maybe the Raiders can turn Curry into the linebacker version of Jim Plunkett? No? Anyone? Well, I guess the jury's still out on that one. Dave Tollefson should also make a big impact on a defensive line lacking depth. Don't worry though, even if he doesn't pan out, 32-year old Richard Seymour is still a monster in the middle.
The good news? Oakland's offense made strides last year under new quarterback Carson Palmer. I really like the addition of rookie wide receiver Juron Criner out of Arizona to this young but talented receiving corps also featuring future Pro Bowler Denarius Moore and electrifying speedster Jacoby Ford. I don't even need to mention their running game -- that's always good.
Sadly though, the Raiders are likely in for another sub-par campaign, especially with Peyton Manning aka The Sheriff now in their division.
Hang on, Raider Nation, it's going to be a bumpy one.
4. New Orleans Saints
Bountygate, bountygate, bountygate. There. Now that we've got that out of the way, let's talk about why else the Saints will struggle in 2012. Drew Brees somehow still isn't signed, and considering the Saints will be without head coach Sean Payton who was suspended for the entire 2012 season for his alleged involvement or knowledge about, darn, there it is again -- Bountygate.
Team owner Tom Benson and general manager Mickey Loomis need to stop playing hardball and start bending over backwards asking what it will take to get Brees to camp on time. If not, New Orleans is viable to be hit by another hurricane.
Oh, and we can't forget about the loss of cornerback Tracy Porter (free agent signee of the Denver Broncos) and the one-year suspension of star middle linebacker and team leader Jonathan Vilma for that Bountygate thing again. Man, that just keeps creeping up, huh?
Well, that's the breaks, New Orleans. You won't be (13-3) this season, I can promise you that. Too much turmoil to overcome such a tough schedule. Not only do you get your NFC South, you also get the NFC East and some other tough ones against perennial big hitters like Green Bay and San Francisco. Good luck.
5. Baltimore Ravens
Joe Flacco and Ray Rice will need to get paid shortly, but that's a story for another time. Instead, let's focus on the huge elephant in the room -- no Terrell Suggs because of a partially torn Achilles'. Well, that doesn't help matters...
Suggs has remained adamant that he'll make his triumphant return to the field "sometime in 2012", but if I'm the Ravens, I'm more focused on what I'm going to do to replace that production while he is out of commission. Oh wait, there is no replacing that kind of production. All they can do is hope to grind it out with youngsters Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle and rookie Crimson Tide linebacker Courtney Upshaw. Will they be able to fill the void? Not even close.
But there's no excuses, especially in Ray Lewis' locker room. The Ravens are going to be good, they have too much talent not to be. The question remains, however, is if they'll be able to sweep the AFC North like they did in 2011. After all, Pittsburgh is always tough and the upstart Cincinnati Bengals made a quick turnaround last year and are only going to get better as their young guys continue to mature.
We also can't forget that Baltimore, like the rest of the AFC North, also gets a game against every member of the NFC East as well as two heavyweight fights against New England and Houston. Buckle those chinstraps, Baltimore. This could get rough.
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