GREEN BAY – When it comes to disappointing seasons, only one team has a stronger resume than the Green Bay Packers.
The Carolina Panthers, who went 15-1 in the regular season before losing to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl last year, have been even more of a disappointment than the Packers.
At least that was the result of the poll that I conducted Wednesday of NFL sportswriters. One beat writer was selected from each of the eight divisions along with four writers that cover the league as a whole.
They were asked to rank, in order, their three most disappointing teams through the first 11 weeks of the season. A first-place vote was worth three points, a second-place vote was worth two and a third-place vote was worth one.
Named on all 12 ballots, the Panthers’ total of 28 points included five first-place votes. The Packers, who were named on all but two ballots, finished with 20 points (three firsts).
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Following were the Arizona Cardinals, 12 points (two firsts); the Cincinnati Bengals, nine (two); the Jacksonville Jaguars, two, and the New York Jets, one.
Here are excerpts of remarks made by the respondents:
BRAD BIGGS, Chicago Tribune (1. Carolina; 2. Arizona; 3. Green Bay): “Super Bowl losers struggle. That’s pretty well-documented. But you sort of felt they (the Panthers) were going to be OK. They make the unusual personnel move with Josh Norman and you wonder if that just started a downhill pattern … Arizona was like the hot Super Bowl pick. People saw the way the offense was playing for Bruce Arians and the playmakers on defense and thought they’d take over that division from Seattle and really control the conference after reaching the NFC title game last year. David Johnson has had a fine season but they haven’t protected (Carson) Palmer … You wondered what was wrong with Green Bay last year after the 6-0 start and then not playing well. There was more carryover than anyone probably anticipated. The offense has some real issues and they gave up 89 points in the last two games and just get blown out.”
MARY KAY CABOT, Cleveland Plain Dealer (1. Green Bay; 2. Carolina; 3. Cincinnati): “When you’ve got the talent the Packers do with Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews you don’t expect to see 4-6. They’ve lost four straight. For them to take that kind of a nosedive has been surprising … The loss of Josh Norman has really hurt them (the Panthers) defensively. But you would think a quarterback like Cam (Newton) should be able to elevate the play of guys around him and kind of carry the team. It hasn’t happened … The AFC North is not very good at all this year. This should have been an opportunity for the Bengals to take this division by storm. I do think they’re struggling offensively without (coordinator) Hue Jackson. They just don’t seem to be the same without him.”
JEFF DUNCAN, New Orleans Times-Picayune (1. Green Bay; 2. Carolina; 3. Jacksonville): “We’ve come to expect such consistency from (Aaron) Rodgers and (Mike) McCarthy. Aaron Rodgers’ regression is staggering. A couple years ago you could make the case he was the best player in the league, and he’s clearly not there right now. I know they’ve had injuries and problems in the secondary but, goodness, they’ve given up 30 points in five of the last six games. They remind me of the Saints. You can’t win that way. Every week I keep thinking they’re going to get it together and it’s not happening. It’s also a testament to what they’ve done there. They’ve been so consistent that we think they’re immune to this drop-off. They just look lost. I’m confused about what’s going on there … We expected Carolina to have a little bit of a Super Bowl hangover but their offensive deficiencies have just been impossible to overcome. Cam Newton is trying to carry that team and he’s been terrible. He has to be on course for one of the worst follow-up seasons for an MVP ever. He’ll make three or four plays a game that just blow your mind but the rest can be terrible. It’s a team that’s lost its mojo … Jacksonville is way worse than I thought they were going to be. I thought they were on course. I heard good things about Gus Bradley. I was very high on Blake Bortles. His regression is kind of mind-boggling. He has the tools to be a top-notch quarterback.”
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MARK ECKEL, NJ.com (1. Cincinnati; 2. Carolina; 3. Green Bay): “The Bengals must have thought the playoffs started early this year. I thought they were the second or third best team in the AFC. They were a 12-win team last year. They lost a couple wide receivers but had another decent draft. Now they’re awful … I didn’t think Carolina was going to be real good because I believe in that Super Bowl loser thing. That team always struggles the next year. But I thought they’d win that division easy. They lost (Josh) Norman, and you figured that would hurt a little bit, but they got (Kelvin) Benjamin back. I thought Cam was as good a quarterback as there is but their offensive line is bad … The Steelers and the Packers are the same team. I like both of the coaches. They’re highly successful, to use Mike McCarthy’s own words. But I think they’ve been there too long and their message is falling on deaf ears. Both teams have talent. I thought the Packers were going to be really, really good. They lost Eddie Lacy and Sam Shields, two pretty good players. But even some of the games I saw them play they just didn’t look good.”
MATT MAIOCCO, CSNBayArea.com (1. Carolina; 2. Green Bay; 3. Arizona): “Let’s replace R-E-L-A-X with P-A-N-I-C. It’s hard to believe a team with Aaron Rodgers at the helm can be as bad as this team is. It’s not all on Aaron Rodgers. There are a lot of issues with that team. What has this world come to when the Detroit Lions are better than the Green Bay Packers? … Everybody always talks about the Super Bowl runner-up hangover. This is all that personified. The Panthers appear to be a mess … Arizona was Super Bowl or bust, and they’ve gone with the bust. Carson Palmer, so good a year ago, now looks old and washed up.”
JOHN McCLAIN, Houston Chronicle (1. Cincinnati; 2. Carolina; 3. Arizona): “I picked Cincinnati as a wild card behind Pittsburgh. Considering all the talent they’ve got, it’s inexcusable for them to have the record (3-6-1) they have … Even though Carolina has been hot lately they’re still 4-6 after being 15-1. Even though the Super Bowl loser hasn’t been back there since the Bills (in 1993) nobody that I know of could have envisioned Carolina being 4-6 and tied for last place … I actually had Arizona winning the division over Seattle. I want to apologize to Pete Carroll and the Seahawks. They began with the home loss to New England and just haven’t recovered. Just about everything that could go wrong has gone wrong with them.”
JERRY McDONALD, Oakland Tribune (1. Green Bay; 2. Carolina; 3. New York Jets): “I thought Green Bay’s passing game would get back to where it was. I look at Rodgers’ stats and they look great, but they don’t match the eye test. Green Bay, they just look stale to me … I thought Carolina’s defense would be good enough for them to weather whatever issues they had on offense, but that hasn’t been the case. It started with letting Josh Norman go. They just can’t stop anybody from passing the ball on them. That wasn’t the case before … The Jets set the tone for their year by the way they dealt with the whole Ryan Fitzpatrick thing. Treating the most important position on the team as if it’s not the most important. That sent kind of a bad signal.”
MANISH MEHTA, New York Daily News (1. Carolina; 2. Green Bay; 3. Arizona): “You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree with the notion that Carolina has underachieved … If somebody told you the Packers would be under .500 10 games into the season you’d have called them crazy. When you have a quarterback of Aaron Rodgers’ caliber this is unacceptable. I think everybody has underachieved. I know Aaron Rodgers likes to take some subtle shots and maybe point the finger in different directions but I think he’s certainly culpable for their subpar play … I thought Arizona was a lock to make the conference final. Maybe you could have seen it coming because Carson Palmer is trending downward.”
ALBERT BREER, The MMQB (1. Arizona; 2. Carolina; 3. Green Bay): “I picked Arizona to go to the Super Bowl. The feeling inside the building and the way they conducted themselves in the offseason, they were a Super Bowl team. There clearly was a sense of urgency. There may not have been a more complete team in the league at the beginning of the year. What makes them more disappointing than the others is it seems like their window might be shorter … The things Carolina was very, very good at last year, they haven’t been good at it this year. The running game and the front seven … The Packers, look, this is pretty simple. When you’ve got a Hall of Fame quarterback and a Super Bowl-winning coach the bar is higher and the bar should be higher. You should be competing at the (highest) level every year. New England should be the bar.”
KEVIN CLARK, The Ringer (1. Arizona. 2. Green Bay. 3. Carolina): “In my mind the Cardinals were the runaway favorite. Everything was stacked in their direction. Contracts, age. To lay an egg the way they have is shocking. Just look at how good Carson Palmer was last year. I expected anything but this. He can’t make routine throws now … Even when Aaron Rodgers has looked good they’ve looked bad. I’m surprised the talent deficiency is so severe that he can’t carry them anymore even when he’s playing well … I thought Cam Newton was at the point of his career where he couldn’t have a down season like this. I also expected more from that defense.”
RICK GOSSELIN, Dallas Morning News (1. Carolina; 2. Cincinnati; 3. Arizona): “Carolina’s definitely No. 1. They went 15-1 last year, then has six losses after 10 weeks. The depression you get after losing the Super Bowl really smacked them in the mouth. That’s a better team than that. I can’t believe Josh Norman has been the difference between one loss and six losses … The Bengals have been to the playoffs five straight years. A lot of people thought they would take the next step and win a playoff game. Now they may not even make the playoffs … Arizona, how do you explain having the No. 1-ranked defense and being 4-5-1? Green Bay’s fourth (on his list).”
ALEX MARVEZ, The Sporting News (1. Carolina; 2. Green Bay; 3. Jacksonville): “Ron Rivera tried to push the reset button by having the team (Carolina) start from scratch in the offseason to get them in the right mindset, and it didn’t work. Too many guys trying to overdo things under the pressure of having been to a Super Bowl. Combine that with Josh Norman, shaky offensive and defensive lines and you have a team probably not going back to the playoffs … I just thought Green Bay would be better than what they are. Lot of reasons why. Eddie Lacy let them down. He looked like the same big guy as the previous year, which wasn’t good. The injuries have just crushed them on defense. A team I actually thought was going to make it to the Super Bowl will be lucky if it makes it to the playoffs … Jacksonville was my offseason papier-mache Lombardi Trophy winner. I give one every year to the team that wins the offseason. Usually that team doesn’t win in the regular season. Blake Bortles’ regression. Lack of turnovers on defense. No offensive identity. The team’s a mess and will have a new head coach next year.”