The 2014 New Orleans Saints. The 2013 Atlanta Falcons. And of course, the “Dream Team” of the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles. All three are recent examples of clubs projected for postseason greatness during the preseason that proceeded to post losing records and miss the playoffs. FOX Sports Senior NFL Writer Alex Marvez looks at eight squads that enter this season as the league’s top “Boom or Bust” candidates.
Getty ImagesBrian Bahr
Outside the Rocky Mountains, the preseason Super Bowl chatter that surrounded Denver the past three seasons is noticeably missing because of how much 39-year-old quarterback Peyton Manning’s play tailed off in the final weeks of the season. The Broncos believe Manning’s struggles stemmed from a quadriceps injury suffered in Week 15 against San Diego. Denver also has hired new head coach Gary Kubiak to place greater emphasis on the running game and to take some of the pressure off Manning in carrying the offensive load. Still, the Broncos need Manning to rebound to become the first AFC West team since Oakland in the 1970s to win five consecutive division titles.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY SportsRon Chenoy
No franchise made more "boom-or-bust" moves this offseason than the Eagles, beginning with the quarterback position. Having traded former starter Nick Foles to St. Louis, Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly is counting on Sam Bradford making a successful return after missing most of the past two seasons with knee injuries. Just as bold was trading running back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo and then signing 2014 rushing champion DeMarco Murray away from the Dallas Cowboys, as well as Ryan Mathews (San Diego) as his replacements. It’s apparent that Kelly thought his previous roster had peaked after two straight 10-6 seasons. But those double-digit win seasons will seem like Halcyon days if this overhaul doesn’t pay dividends.
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The Cowboys’ 12-4 record and strong playoff showing stemmed largely from the efforts of DeMarco Murrray, who led the league in rushing while clocking 427 touches in both carries and catches. That’s what made it so surprising that Dallas didn’t re-sign Murray, who joined NFC East rival Philadelphia, or do anything else to address the position besides signing injury-prone free agent Darren McFadden (Oakland). The Cowboys expect a running back-by-committee approach led by Joseph Randle and McFadden to flourish behind the NFL’s top offensive line. If it doesn’t, the Cowboys may fall back into the pack.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsMatthew Emmons
The signings of running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Andre Johnson and outside linebacker Trent Cole -- free-agents in their 30s -- reflect a Super Bowl-or-bust mentality for the 2015 season. Usually, the decision to make a short-term push fails to pay dividends and sets a franchise back. Should that happen again here, the Colts will understandably be second-guessed for spending so much on outsiders when so many key young players are headed toward free agency in 2015.
It’s hard to find a team coming off an 11-5 season that is generating as little offseason buzz as the Lions. Some of that stems from the offseason departure of all-star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in free agency to Miami and the belief that it will send the Lions spiraling downward. The addition of newcomer Haloti Ngata from Baltimore may help ease the Suh loss, but there are other questions surrounding the defensive line following the exodus of fellow veterans Nick Fairley and George Johnson. Even with some nice offseason additions on offense, especially to address an anemic running game, the 2015 Lions have the earmarks of a team that could be as good as the 2014 version but with a lesser record.
Getty ImagesLeon Halip
New Orleans Saints
The Saints went from being a popular preseason Super Bowl pick -- I’m guilty as charged -- to finishing 7-9 in 2014. Particularly alarming were the struggles at home, with four straight losses inside the Louisiana Superdome, where the Saints usually dominate. Such foundering led the Saints to make some significant roster tweaks, mostly in an effort to improve the defense. The clock, though, is ticking on 36-year-old quarterback Drew Brees to win a second Super Bowl title as New Orleans attempts to rebuild on the fly.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY SportsChuck Cook
History hasn’t proven kind to the Super Bowl loser. None has made a return trip the following season since the 1992-1993 Buffalo Bills. The Seahawks still have the talent to make a championship run but must bury memories of the "Second-and-Dumb" play call that cost them Super Bowl XLIX. Additionally, the team must hope the offseason contract drama involving quarterback Russell Wilson, defensive end Michael Bennett and outside linebacker Bruce Irvin doesn’t become an in-season distraction.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY SportsJoe Nicholson
No matter how well the Bengals fare during the regular season, all eyes will be on the playoffs. That’s where Cincinnati has lost in the first round for four consecutive seasons. The pressure is greatest on head coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton to help break that skid. Of course, the Bengals must avoid the trap of looking too far ahead and remain focused on reaching the postseason. The inability to do so would be a shame since the Bengals enter the season fielding their most talented roster of the Lewis era.