In what is by far the most cutthroat sporting industry in the world, it’s impossible for anyone – from the head coach down to the water boy – in an NFL organization to not feel a bit of pressure going into a new NFL season. The NFL is the prime example of a results-driven business. Generate wins and you’ll stick around. Lose and you’ll be out the door before your contract can get through the paper shredder.
Like most years, the season is still months away but football maniacs across the world are already in mid-season form as offseason training activities come to a close. Every aspect of the sport is over-analyzed for 12 months a year, with players, coaches and managers barely getting a chance to catch their collective breath once the season ends before having to gear up for the upcoming campaign.
It’s not like teams have a choice in the matter, either. Getting to the NFL is one thing – sticking around is a completely different animal, and the ones that last the longest are often the ones who are able to handle the immense pressure of having an important role on a not just a roster, but on an entity that is often the lifeline of whatever city they happen to be in. Football is more than a game in America, it’s a way of life, and because of that the pressure can be crippling.
Going into this season, the pressure will be on stars across the league, as usual, as well as on some new and unexpected names who will be looking to make their mark in the league with the brightest of spotlights shining on them from the moment the first ball is kicked off in early September.
15. The 2015 Receiver Draft Class
Jarvis Landry: 84 receptions, 758 yards, 5 touchdowns. Kelvin Benjamin: 73 catches, 1008 yards, 9 touchdowns. Sammy Watkins: 65 receptions, 982 yards, 6 touchdowns. Mike Evans: 68 catches, 1051 yards, 12 touchdowns.
Odell Beckham Jr.: 91 catches, 1305 yards, 12 touchdowns. In twelve games.
The 2014 NFL receiver rookie class was likely the greatest of all-time and it they weren’t they were really close to it. The success of the class sparked a run on receivers early this past year, with Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Breshad Perriman and Philip Dorsett all taken in the first 29 picks of the draft – and all tagged with sky-high expectations right out of the gate.
The NFL has become a pass-first league and receivers are now viewed the way highly-touted running backs once were – as plug & play prospects who are expected to make an immediate impact.
Not only will these receivers have the burden of making a difference early, they’ll also have the pressure of living up to what their immediate predecessors did last season.
14. The Manning Brothers
If you looked at only their ages, you would assume that Peyton was the one on the downturn while Eli was just hitting the prime years of his career.
As it turns out, both had their individual struggles last season. While the Broncos were still good and while there was no way Manning could replicate his remarkable 2013 campaign, the loss to Indianapolis in the postseason raised major questions about Peyton and the Broncos going into this year.
Meanwhile, the Giants finished a disappointing 6-10, and there’s an legitimate grounds to argue that the arrival and emergence of Odell Beckham Jr. was what salvaged Manning’s season. Both have been mentioned among the NFL’s top passers for years, but this year they’ll have to deal with the pressure of essentially reminding everyone that they aren’t done just yet.
13. Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks
While Russell Wilson and the Seahawks have been the top team in the league over the past few seasons, there’s no doubt that Pete Carroll’s squad comes into 2015 with something to prove.
For starters, the bitter taste of the Super Bowl defeat at the hands of New England still lingers, with questions as to what happened on the game-defining play still in the air.
The pressure is on in Seattle because the expectation of this franchise has undergone a seismic shift. Gone are the days of “just making the playoffs.” The Seahawks will once again be Super Bowl contenders from Day 1 and with Jimmy Graham now in the fold, no one can point to a lack of receiving threats in Seattle. Wilson will need to crank it up even more on offense (through the air, specifically), while Carroll will be tasked with finding a way to get his team to rebound from the crushing defeat that ended 2014.
12. Rex Ryan
Rex Ryan could go to China to coach a semi-pro team and he’d still find a way to be scrutinized – likely of his own accord. Ryan loves the spotlight, and throughout his tenure with the Jets he put the pressure of an entire organization squarely on his shoulders. For the most part, he was able to handle it, but it ultimately led to his exodus from Gang Green. Now he’s taken his talents to Buffalo, where he takes over a promising young Bills roster that has added some top-end talent on offense, while joining his brilliant defensive mind to one of the league’s top defenses.
In sum: the Bills are going to be expected to win right away (even with the big question mark at quarterback) and it’ll be Ryan’s in the line of fire if that doesn’t happen this year.
11. Jameis Winston
The obvious case to make here is that Jameis Winston comes with high expectations based solely on the fact that he was the first overall pick in the draft.
That alone is enough pressure to wilt even the strongest-minded athletes; and while it’s hard to expect Winston to drag a bad Bucs team to the promised land right away, he’ll be expected to be productive right off the bat. Not only because of the success he had in college, but also because he’s got a pretty solid group of receivers to throw to, meaning there will be no excuses if he doesn’t steadily improve throughout the year.
10. The Dallas Cowboys’ Starting RB
Some of you might argue that there is practically no pressure on whoever gets to start in the backfield for the Cowboys – there’s no way any of them will match what DeMarco Murray did last year, so expectations will be low.
First of all, its the Cowboys. The towel boy has pressure on him to…towel well? You get the point. Second, calling the Cowboys offensive line is almost insulting – they should be referred to as a road-paving collective. Victor Espinoza (the jockey who rode Triple Crown winner American Pharoah) could rip off some pretty big gains running behind that line.
Whether it’s Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle or Lance Dunbar, someone is going to have to step up or the cries for Murray will be the only thing ringing around the starter’s head – not exactly what you want the focal point of your offence to be worried about before each snap. But…
9. DeMarco Murray
…at least the winner of the Cowboys’ running back competition won’t have to deal with the pressure that’s on DeMarco Murray to not only replicate what he did last season, but to also make the fickle Philadelphia faithful forget about Shady McCoy.
Murray is coming off a near-historic season and got paid this offseason – so eat up the “Ryan Matthews will be a big part of this offence too” drivel all you want, but the workhorse is going to be Murray. Period.
Now it’s just a matter of him proving that last year wasn’t just a fluke or a byproduct of running behind five steamrollers.
8. Derek Carr
Surprised to see a Raider this high on this list? You shouldn’t be.
Derek Carr was solid, if not better than that, during his rookie season – despite playing in a horrendous Raiders offense. Carr has sparked a fire under a fan-base that has been desperate for someone to put their faith in for years, but now it’s time for the young passer to take the next step. Not only will he expected to be better from experience, he’s now armed with a more respectable offensive cast that includes breakout candidate Latavius Murray, promising rookies Amari Cooper and Clive Walford and an established possession receiver in Michael Crabtree.
7. Ryan Tannehill and Joe Philbin
Ryan Tannehill is under pressure because he’s entering year four and can’t use his lack of college experience as an excuse anymore. He also performed well down the stretch last season and will be expected to do better this year with a better supporting cast (and he won’t have to deal with the Mike Wallace drama week in, week out).
But Tannehill can rest easy knowing he got paid handsomely a few weeks ago and has some sort of security going forward. Joe Philbin, on the other hand, is sitting on a seat so hot it’s a small miracle that his pants aren’t literally on fire.
Philbin has been a disappointment since joining the Dolphins in 2012 – he’s been unable to lead the team to the playoffs, has had teams collapse at the end of seasons, and has blatantly lacked control of the locker room on numerous occasions. Luckily for him, owner Stephen Ross has his back, but another bad year and Philbin will be looking for work next winter.
6. Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis
You know exactly why this duo is on the list.
Dalton has been a regular season hero and a playoff zero since he took over the Bengals starting job in 2011. He took a major step back in the regular season last year too, which certainly hasn’t helped his cause. Worst of all, the 0-4 playoff record is somehow more noticeable that his red hair.
Marvin Lewis is the man who continues to put his trust in Dalton – which is fine, because Dalton has been above average for the most part and has gotten Cincy to the postseason in each of his first four seasons. However, eventually, the Bengals will grow weary of “just satisfactory” performances, and if the pattern continues this year, management’s patience might run out.
5. Jay Cutler
If you’re reading this, it means that this entry wasn’t intercepted on the way to your computer screen.
We give Jay Cutler a hard time because, let’s be honest, it’s usually loads of fun and he makes it pretty easy on us. But on a more serious note, a player who was once considered on the cusp of joining the quarterbacking elite is now barely viewed as a legitimate starter after last season’s train wreck of a year.
Cutler will get a fresh start under a new regime and head coach, but he’s going to have to shoulder not only the pressure of carrying the Bears back to respectability but also with resurrecting his career.
4. Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson has talked. And talked. And talked some more.
If what he did to get suspended wasn’t bad enough, when he came back “on the scene,” the first thing he did was complain about money. Granted, some of the stuff he said made sense, but the point remains that the last thing he should have been doing was opening his mouth.
Now the attention turns to the field. With last year being essentially a year off, Peterson should be rested and presumably motivated to re-stake his claim as the NFL’s top runner. The Vikings have some good pieces on offense and it has been mused that with AP in the fold last season, they might have won a few more games and at least contended for a playoff spot.
A rested Peterson will now be expected to be that “missing piece” for the Vikes – if he is, people will likely forget all about his legal issues and return to worshiping him. If he’s not, the pressure on him will rise to levels he has yet to deal with in his remarkable career.
3. Bill Belichick
The title of “defending Super Bowl champions” comes with enough pressure in its own right, but Bill Belichick has been through it before.
Not like this, though.
Belichick ended last year raising the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the fourth time. This year, he’ll enter training camp with a shell of the defense that brought his team to the big game and with Jimmy Garoppolo as his starting quarterback to start the season.
The issue here is not “whether or not New England can play with properly inflated balls” (if any of you are actually using that as an argument…you’re a lost case), but rather whether or not Belichick will finally get bitten by his longstanding “Next Man Up” philosophy. Belichick has let stars walk time and time again, but this year has a tinge of a different feeling, especially with Brady out of the fold to start the year. That, combined with a much better (at least on paper) AFC East, means the pressure will be on Belichick to keep the Pats afloat until Brady gets back – and even when he does, it might not be enough to make up for what the rest of the roster is seemingly lacking at this point.
2. Sean Payton
The Saints went into last season as a team with Super Bowl aspirations. They ended it well out of the playoff picture (because we’re not going to dignify what happened in the AFC South last year with the words “playoff race”).
Drew Brees is clearly nearing the end, the defense was putrid and overall the Saints were just not the powerhouse we had grown to know them as. If that doesn’t change this year, there could be major changes coming in NOLA – and those changes could start with head coach Sean Payton. Payton is widely regarded as one of the league’s best, but two losing seasons in a row will border on unacceptable for a franchise that has become one of the benchmarks in the league.
1. Chip Kelly
Chip Kelly went on a roster revamp rampage this summer (not to mention the whole bringing-in-all-the-Oregon-guys thing), letting go of his starting quarterback, running back and No. 1 wideout coming off a season where the Eagles had the league’s third best offense.
If all the changes get the Eagles over the hump and into the playoffs, Kelly looks like a genius. If it crashes and burns, the mocking Kelly took this offseason will pale into comparison to the torching he’ll get should his chemistry experiment blow up in his face. That’s a lot of pressure for one man to have to endure, but Kelly seems ready to face the challenge.
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