Here is a list I compiled of the teams that could least afford to lose a season. I avoided putting teams like Washington or Jacksonville on this list, not just because they may have young line-ups to start the season but because they aren’t in any window for winning a title.
1. New York Giants. The brass contemplated firing Tom Coughlin in 2007 before they won the Super Bowl that season and have been probably thinking about it again since the beginning of the 2009 season. It probably doesn’t help that the Jets have been the only team in the NFL to make both of their last two Conference Championships. That offensive line is getting old (Diehl will be 31, McKenzie and Seubert 32 this year) and it seems like a chore to keep that defensive line together each year. Washington and Philly are loaded with young talent.
2. Dallas. More old offensive line here. They used the draft to try to find starters to replace a lineman and Keith Brooking. I think their window is closing because this is kind of a “win or be benched” year for Tony Romo who is 1-3 in the playoffs. Essentially – no matter how good he plays during this season – if he has only 1 or 2 total touchdowns with 2 or 3 turnovers in a playoff loss, they will find a replacement.
3. Pittsburgh. Just like with Baltimore, this team’s window is going to close, only to have a one year layoff before a new 7 year window opens. Pittsburgh’s D was the oldest defense in the NFL last year, so a transition year is possible in the near future.
4. Chicago. As Brian Urlacher proved when he was tackled by Aaron Rodgers, he isn’t the same player he used to be. This is his 12th season, Olin Kreutz’s 14th, Lance Briggs’ 9th and the same for Charles Tillman.
5. Baltimore. I think a new window will open pretty much immediately after Ed Reed and Ray Lewis retire, but I still felt like putting them on here – especially after Ed Reed contemplated retirement recently. The Ravens have excellent, young defensive depth that get little to no snaps. I just feel like it would be great to win one now. With Boldin, Suggs, and Jarret Johnson going in their 9th seasons and Todd Heap in his 11th season, the batch of replacements might not live up to their potential and/or may need a year of getting used to playing with each other when the retirements occur.
If there is no season, fans of these teams (and the other 27) will all be wondering what could have been. Some fans might wonder what could have been if there was a shortened season. The Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals made 1 playoff appearance in a strike-shortened season (1981), but were also leading the division in 1994 before that corresponding strike. It would have been their only pennant in franchise history.