Looking at recent action -- Denver looks like the winner in the AFC and Tampa Bay in the NFC -- but which teams have taken a step back with losses or inaction? Here's a look at three potential playoff teams -- two made it last year -- that don't look better right now.
Carolina tied a franchise record in winning 12 regular-season games and the Panthers won the NFC South for the first time since 2008. They were a No. 2 seed in the playoffs but lost at home to San Francisco.
For some reason, the team has been very quiet this far in trying to build off that. Left tackle Jordan Gross, the man who protects Cam Newton's blind side and a three-time Pro Bowler, retired. Not only will his departure felt on the field but he was a team leader. He gave an impassioned speech to the team when Carolina was 1-3 that many credited as the impetus for the Panthers' turnaround. In addition, the best player in franchise history, wideout Steve Smith, was released. The receiving corps looks utterly awful now because No. 2 Brandon LaFell left for New England and No. 3 Ted Ginn to Arizona. The Cats were considering signing former Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks, a Charlotte native, but he signed with Indianapolis.
The defense, one of the NFL's best, lost safety Mike Mitchell and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. The only significant addition there was former Saints safety Roman Harper, who has seen better days. Frankly, the only positive in free agency so far for Carolina was putting the franchise tag on defensive end Greg Hardy and keeping him off the market.
Carolina opened with a 2014 wins total of 8.5 at sportsbooks, so clearly oddsmakers are expecting a step back. It won't help that Newton will miss the next four months due to ankle surgery.
The Cowboys were hamstrung in free agency because they were one of the few teams over the cap and had to rework some deals to get under. Part of that was also cutting defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Ware, he of the 117 sacks in nine seasons. The Cowboys wanted Ware to take a pay cut after he was limited to 13 games last season, but he refused. Ware landed nicely on a Super Bowl favorite in Denver. He's still only 31 and likely to have a few big seasons left even though he had a career-worst six sacks in 2013.
The Cowboys also couldn't afford to re-sign defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who was a Pro Bowler last season and led the team with 11 sacks. To make matters worse, he signed with the division-rival Redskins. It is presumed that defensive end Anthony Spencer also won't be back after missing all of last year. The Cowboys had the worst defense in the NFL in 2013 in yards allowed and it's hard to see that unit being any better with the loss of those three and the additions of D-linemen Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain. There's still a chance that Dallas lands former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.
On the bright side, the Cowboys did sign former Browns first-round pick Brandon Weeden to perhaps backup Tony Romo. That was sarcasm.
Dallas opened with a 2014 wins total of eight for sports bettors, meaning sportsbooks apparently expect a fourth straight non-playoff season in Big D. The Cowboys have finished on eight wins each of the past three seasons.
Kansas City Chiefs
Did the Chiefs overachieve last season? That argument can be made as Kansas City started 9-0, the last unbeaten in the NFL, before closing 2-5. The Chiefs gagged away a 28-point third-quarter lead and lost at Indianapolis in the wild-card round. It should be noted that Kansas City only beat one team that finished with a winning record last season: the Eagles.
The Chiefs offensive line lost three guys: tackle Branden Albert and guards Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz. Albert is the key guy because last year's No. 1 overall pick, tackle Eric Fisher, didn't look ready for the NFL. Receiver Dexter McCluster also is gone. He had 53 catches last year and was one of the NFL's best punt returners. Kansas City though it had a deal with Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders, but he allegedly reneged on an verbal agreement and signed with Denver. Defensively, Kansas City bid goodbye to end Tyson Jackson.
K.C.'s additions thus far have been defensive tackle Vance Walker, linebacker Joe Mays and guard Jeffrey Linkenbach. Nothing to get too excited about there.
Kansas City opened with a 2014 wins total of eight on NFL odds.