Like an autumnal rite of passage, preseason predictions are quickly cast aside once the leaves start to change and the contenders begin to emerge across the NFL.
Whether it's Super Bowl picks based on past history of teams that have either broken through into Super Sunday in the recent past, or naming a sleeper team that could shock the world after a frenetic offseason, some of these prognostications wind up working out while others fall by the wayside never to be mentioned again.
Now five weeks into the regular season, here's a look at some of the biggest disappointments of the 2023 campaign so far:
Chicago Bears Offense
This was supposed to be the season that Justin Fields put to bed any doubts about him being the quarterback to lead Chicago back to the promised land.
Aided by the arrival of dynamic field-stretching wide receiver D.J. Moore — plus a reinforced offensive line built through shopping at the top of the free agent market and investing premium draft capital at the position — this was supposed to be Fields' and the Bears' offensive breakout season.
That hasn't happened.
Through five weeks, Fields' 1,143 passing yards rank No. 14 in the league, his five interceptions are tied for third in the league, and that rebuilt offensive line has allowed 20 sacks, third-most in the NFL. While Fields has thrown 11 touchdowns, it wasn't until Week 4 against Washington that the former Ohio State product showed any growth whatsoever as a passer from the pocket, as he tossed four touchdowns that game.
If there is any reason for optimism for Chicago, it is that Fields and the Bears' offensive performance the past two weeks is a harbinger of things to come. In a loss to the Denver Broncos and a prime-time win over the Commanders, Fields has passed for 617 yards with eight touchdown passes to just one interception over that span. Perhaps the Bears are turning a corner, but the first month couldn't have been more disappointing in the Windy City.
Granted, Daniel Jones has gotten little help from his offensive line — which might be the worst the Giants have fielded in a decade, and that's saying something. But New York has to regret that $45 million contract extension it signed Jones to back in March.
Jones and the offense have yet to take the field with a lead this season, the only team in the league with that dubious distinction. Meanwhile, among quarterbacks with qualifying snaps, only five have few passing yards than Jones' 884; and only Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown more interceptions than Jones' six.
The Giants' offense has been completely inept, averaging a pathetic 12.4 points per game.
From unimaginative play-calling to an offensive line that hasn't shown anything close to competency either in pass protection or opening running lanes, New York appears unprepared and incapable of competing.
However, even though Jones has been sacked 28 times, there have even been moments where he perceives pressure and isn't able to convert on possible big gains, appearing to see ghosts. Now, adding injury to insult, there's a very real possibility that Jones misses significant time after suffering a neck injury against the Miami Dolphins.
Given the schedule ahead, and the myriad issues along the offensive line, there really is no path to the Giants turning this season around. The organization would be well served to take a hard look at quarterbacks in the 2024 class if it winds up picking anywhere near the top of the board in next spring's draft.
Pittsburgh Steelers' Running Game
The Pittsburgh Steelers have forged a generational reputation as a ground-and-pound running team, but in 2023 the offense has simply been stuck in the mud.
Through the season's first five games, the Steelers rank 29th in rushing offense. When was the last time that's happened?
Individually, Najee Harris is averaging 49.5 yards per game, Jaylen Warren is averaging 24.8 yards rushing per game, and the Steelers have yet to produce a 75-yard rusher in a single game this season. Pittsburgh's offense has traditionally functioned best when it leans on the running game and lets its offensive line get downhill; but so far, neither of those things has shown any signs of being possible in 2023.
Pittsburgh's struggles on the ground have handcuffed much of the offense's upside. As ESPN Stats and Information points out, 31.1% of the Steelers' drives so far this season have resulted in a three-and-out, while 47.9% haven't produced a first down, ranking No. 31 and No. 32 in the league in those categories.
True to form, the Steelers are relying on defense; and after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in a knock-down, drag-out old-school AFC North bout on Sunday, they sit atop the division at 3-2. If the Steelers can discover any semblance of a running game after the bye week, this team has the chance to be dangerous. But the first month has been a monumental disappointment for the Steelers' backfield.
Denver Broncos' Defense
Has there been a unit that's underachieved more this season than the Broncos' defense?
In the most vital categories — points per game allowed (36.2), yards of offense per game (450.6) and rushing yards allowed per game (187.6) — Denver ranks worst in the league. And it currently sits at 29th in the league while allowing 263 yards through the air per game.
As Aaron Schatz points out, from the perspective of DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), the Broncos' defense is historically bad.
One more DVOA tidbit for tonight.
The Denver Broncos, who had the worst defense ever measured by DVOA through 4 games, also have the worst defense ever measured by DVOA through 5 games.
— Aaron Schatz ? (@ASchatzNFL) October 9, 2023
This is a defense that includes elite personnel such as cornerback Patrick Surtain, safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, and linebackers Nick Singleton, Josey Jewell and Nik Bonitto. Yet it has been run over repeatedly all season long.
Since coming up short against the Raiders 17-16 in Week 1, Denver has allowed at least 28 points in each of the past four games, including Miami running roughshod with a 70-point outburst in Week 3.
It's hard to imagine defensive coordinator Vance Joseph finishing the season if the Broncos don't quickly turn this around. And coach Sean Payton deserves to feel some of the heat as well for Denver's abject defensive failure.
The New England Patriots
Everything about the Patriots has been a disappointment.
There is no question about it: New England has fallen behind the rest of the AFC East in terms of personnel. Most troubling, it is wandering through a quarterback wasteland, and the only opportunity to find an answer is landing a top 3 pick in next spring's draft.
However, could anyone have predicted that the Patriots wouldn't even be competitive? Over the past two weeks, New England hasn't offered any resistance whatsoever against the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints, losing those two games by a combined score of 72-3 — representing the two most lopsided defeats of Bill Belichick's career.
The Patriots are overmatched, and Belichick for the first time in his career doesn't seem to have any answers for what ails New England.
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