I remember thinking in the offseason that every NFL fan base had a reason to be optimistic about this upcoming season. Not necessarily that they would be a Super Bowl contender, much less a playoff contender? But that things would be better for once. Many of the perennial bottom feeders were expecting to see some of their top draft picks play and in some cases take the next step.
But the fun thing about the NFL is things don’t always work out like you think they should. And when things continually not work out, as a fan you can sometimes begin to resent your franchise.
Let’s take a look at the San Diego Chargers:
The Chargers are one of those teams that no one really cares about. It’s just the honest truth. But as a fan, it has to be frustrating knowing that your favorite franchise not only struggles to win games, but you’re not even sure where the Chargers will be at and who will be on their team.
The beautiful thing about having a favorite sports team is that they give you hope. I’m from Columbia, South Carolina and while we don’t have a professional sports team, we do have our Gamecocks. From 2011-2013 I got to witness this program go to heights one never thought it would. But then mediocrity followed in the 2014 season and everything fell apart in 2015. When things were going great, the city had a different vibe to it. I used to look forward to Saturday’s, not just to see my team play but to look at the other teams as well and see how we stacked up. 2015 was the hardest year for me as a sports fan because it’s had to look forward to a game knowing your team was going to find some way to lose….
…..Just like the 2015 Baltimore Ravens… sort of.
Baltimore finished the season 5-11, their worst since before Harbaugh became the head coach. 14 of Baltimore’s games were decided by one score or less, including their first 12 games. If that wasn’t bad enough, they also lost 4 of their top 6 players. But even before the initial loss of Suggs, they were still losing these games. But despite this one season from hell, Ravens fans are optimistic:
Shit happens man, sometimes good teams stumble but the Ravens have excellent leadership in their front office and on the sideline. As of right now, I don’t see any reason to be scared of what the future holds for the Ravens.
But for some, the uncertainty of their future is what’s exciting.
The Tennessee Titans have long been another team the masses just haven’t given a shit about. Prior to the drafting of Mariota, you couldn’t name one exciting thing about this team. Mariota was drafted at #2 overall and while no one expected the Titans to make the playoffs (I hope not at least) they did expect them to be better. But instead, Tennessee will have the #1 overall pick in 2016. With patience, you’ll eventually see your draft picks begin to play out.
Jacksonville has picked in the top 5 the last few drafts and that trend will continue again this year. Despite their 5-11 or record, Jacksonville showed you how scary their offense can be in the future. 2014 #3 overall pick Blake Bortles threw for over 4,400 yards and 35 touchdowns (I can’t ignore the 18 picks) and both of his top 2nd year receivers went over 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns with Allen Robinson going for 1,400 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns and Allen Hurns going for 1,031 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. In all honesty if Bortles makes les “WTF IS HE DOING?!?!” Plays eat game, the Jaguars might have 9 wins. Unfortunately for Jaguars fans they didn’t get to see their 2015 first round pick Dante Fowler Jr. play this season because he tore his ACL back in May, but he’ll be back next year and one would assume that the Jaguars will spend this year’s pick on defense as well.
Jacksonville hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2007. Oakland hasn’t been to the playoffs since they lost Super Bowl XXXVII, but if you talk to some Raiders fans, they believe they found their franchise QB that will at least be able to take them to the playoffs.
Although the Raiders finished 2015 7-9, this has hands down been their best team in over a decade. And they did it all the right way, by making good draft picks and not abusing free agency (then again they just freed up cap space after years of being in salary cap hell, but they touched it out). But speaking of abusing free agency, if we head back east… to the AFC East to be exact, you’ll find two teams that won the offseason, but struggled to win games win it mattered the most.
The Dolphins, who have managed to be a .500 team the last few years, gave their young QB a big time extension, made some splash free agent signings and a traded away some former bust free agents from the 2013 class only to fire their head coach before the season was halfway over.
Buffalo, who hasn’t made the playoffs since 1998, made one of the biggest offseason moves by hiring Rex Ryanas their new head coach. And Rex does what Rex does, talk cash shit in the offseason but he didn’t back it up. The Bills were 9-7 in 2014 and took a step backwards to 8-8 in 2015. For once, the problem wasn’t on offense. Rex found a quarterback in Tyrod Talor that wasn’t turnover prone and could make plays from the pocket and using his feet. Unlike many other Rex Ryan teams, this offense was full of playmakers. But injuries the first half of the season really ruined a lot of things on offense, but the offense was never as bad as the defense. The defense regressed and star players criticized the scheme.
Rex Ryan, his team and the fans were all humbled. Just another remind that no matter how good you look on paper, you still have to go out and perform. But until then, both of these teams will continue to live in the shadows of the New England Patriots.
It’s so much pressure to be successful in the NFL for some teams for sure. And that pressure comes from different places. Sometimes you have a head coach like Rex Ryan that can’t shut his mouth for five seconds. Rex guaranteed the playoffs and failed.
But other times it’s just the market you’re in. Like the entire NFC East for example. Washington was able to win the division at 9-7 but the other 3 teams finished under .500 and were fueled by drama all year long.
The Eagles were probably the most polarizing team heading into the season because of all the offseason transactions Chip Kelly make. Just imagine being a fan and watching all of your favorite players get shipped out town. Some people looked at the Eagles as potential Super Bowl contenders, others looked at them as a 5 win team with a dictator as a head coach. But the bitter truth is the Eagles disappointed fans in ways they haven’t been disappointed since what? The Dream Team? What could’ve been with McNabb-Owens? The NFC Championship loss to the Bucs? Because while they finished 7-9, they had numerous chances to take control of a crappy division and failed. But they weren’t the only team.
The Giants blew a few 4th quarter leads thanks to time management and that was really the theme of their season. They also played the Patriots and Panthers down to the last minute when they were both undefeated, only to make questionable coaching decisions and miss much needed big plays.
Coughlin was fired at the end of the season and although GM Jerry Reese is still in charge of that roster, bringing in a fresh voice should help. You only got a few years left with Eli, might as well get something out of it right?
Cowboys fans also had it rough as hell. Despite their 2-0 start, Dez Bryant was injured the first season and then the next game Romo broke his collarbone and that was pretty much the season. And it’s not hindsight to say this, but I think everyone knew deep down the season was over. But behind the pressure of Jerry Jones and every major sports media outlet, many were led to believe the Cowboys had a shot to still win the NFC East and make a playoff run. But they didn’t. The sad part is the Cowboys would’ve run the away with the division with a healthy. But there is always next year right?
False hope can be a bitch though. Imagine being a Rams fan. This was supposed to be the year they took the next step but instead, they are 7-9 once again. And to make matters worse you probably won’t be able to find a quarterback this offseason and there is no telling if this team is going to be in St. Louis or Los Angeles.
2015 had to be awful for 49ers fans. Under former head coach Jim Harbaugh the 49ers won 44 regular season games in 4 years. Harbaugh gave the 49ers life after years of basically being dead and irrelevant. And it seems like just as fast as he came, he was gone. And it wasn’t just Harbaugh, several big time players retired and just like that, the revival was gone. But as a 49ers fan, your level of disappointment had to reach an all time high and consequently our level of confidence in the front office had to hit an all time low. You had a power struggle between a great head coach and a GM (Trent Baalke) and the owner (Jed York) chose the GM. They attempted to sell 49ers fans that Harbaugh’s replacement, Jim Tomsula was a great coach. Well, Tomsula only got one year. Not that I think he was a good coach but you gave him one year with a roster that really wasn’t that talented.
But no other franchise is dysfunctional like Cleveland. I really don’t even have to go into detail because you’ve heard it one million times.
The crazy thing about the Browns is that they have one of the most loyal group of fans in all of the NFL, but for what? At one point as a fan do you just mentally checkout altogether? Being a sports fan can be hard sometime. To some people it’s just sports, just a game you know? But to others, these teams and players are like an extended family. That’s why you argue about your favorite ball player in the barbershop when he’s the topic. That’s why you send angry tweets to folks on Twitter when you feel your team is being disrespected.
But here is my honest truth. No matter if you play football, you’re a coach or a fan, there comes a point in time when you realize your love for the game isn’t reciprocated. The game doesn’t love you no matter how much you love it. Because if it did, maybe Cleveland wouldn’t have decades of misery attached to its name.
The primary focus of this article was about losing teams, but keep an eye out for the Bengals. The Bengals started off 8-0 but have fell to 12-4, lost Andy Dalton to a season ending injury and now the Bengals might not win a playoff game. Sure they’ve felt this pain before (2005) but this team is so much better now than 10 years ago.
But despite the lows, it’s worth it. That’s why you always come back every single year. Because your team may stink right now, but there is always hope they will turn it around.