In the world of professional sports, if you aren’t improving every year, chances are you’re moving backward. It’s no surprise that teams are willing to go to great lengths in the off-season to set themselves up for success, spending mountains of money and making major personnel changes. We love it when these moves work out, but it’s not uncommon for a team to fall victim to its own lofty expectations, whether because of injuries, regression, or a collapse of team chemistry. Here are some teams from the past ten years that just couldn’t live up to the hype.
2011 Philadelphia Eagles: Expectation...
The Eagles seemed to be in great shape heading into 2011, after a 2010 season that featured an incredible comeback year from Michael Vick, who led the team with 9 rushing touchdowns, and strong performances from LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin, ranking them as the third best offense in the NFL. With that offensive core returning and the addition of big-name defensive free agents like Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin, hopes were high that the Eagles could make a deep playoff run in 2011.
Unfortunately, Philadelphia lost four of their first five games in 2011, due in part to Vick falling back to earth. The quarterback scored just one rushing touchdown throughout the entire season, and his interception total more than doubled from 2010, including a brutal four picks in a week five loss to the Bills. The 2011 Eagles ultimately managed to eke out eight wins, but in the nearly evenly matched NFC East division it wasn’t enough, and they missed the playoffs entirely.
2011 Boston Red Sox: Expectation...
The greatest hype you could give an MLB team is to compare them to the 1927 Yankees, and that’s exactly what several Boston media outlets did for the 2011 Red Sox. GM Theo Epstein had acquired star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and outfielder Carl Crawford in the offseason to round out a lineup that already featured Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and a formidable stable of starting pitchers. Fans expected no less than 100 wins and a World Series appearance.
The rose-colored glasses started to come off when the Red Sox opened the season with a 2-10 record, but the team seemed to turn it around in the coming months despite season-ending injuries to starting pitchers Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka. By the end of August, Boston had established a 9-game lead in the wild card standings, but they imploded in spectacular fashion in September, losing 20 of their last 27 games to fall out of playoff contention and ten wins short of 100.
2012 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Expectation...
The Angels’ 2011 - 2012 blockbuster offseason rivals almost any in MLB history, as the team signed the league’s two most highly sought-after free agents, slugger Albert Pujols and left-handed pitcher C. J. Wilson, for a combined total of over $300 million in an attempt to unseat the Texas Rangers from first place in the AL West and return to the playoffs for the first time in two years.
Wilson was a fine addition to the Angels’ rotation, starting a team-high 34 games and finishing with a 13 - 10 win-loss record, but Pujols didn’t quite live up to the hype. His 85 runs, 30 home runs and .285 batting average in 2012 were all career lows up to that point, and he ultimately couldn’t push the Angels past the defending Rangers or the ascendant Oakland Athletics in the AL West standings, and Los Angeles missed the playoffs once again.
2012 Miami Marlins: Expectation...
The 2012 season brought not only a new manager, new stadium and new name for the Miami Marlins, but also a revamped roster thanks to the signings of shortstop José Reyes, starting pitcher Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell. With so much change in the air, there was hope that the Marlins could compete for a spot in the playoffs for the first time in years.
Not only did the new-look Marlins fail to make the playoffs in 2012, they finished last in the NL East with only 69 wins, their lowest total in 13 years. Heath Bell was especially disappointing, blowing several saves, losing his closer position, and clashing with manager Ozzie Guillen. The result of the season was so dire that Miami shipped off all of its high-profile 2012 acquisitions before the 2013 season.
2012 - 2013 Los Angeles Lakers: Expectation...
After back-to-back NBA championships in 2009 and 2010, the Lakers failed to reach the Western Conference Finals in both 2011 and 2012. GM Mitch Kupchak hoped to right the ship by bringing in Dwight Howard at center and Steve Nash at point guard to complement returning staples Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace. The lineup had undeniable star power and gave the Lakers what could have been their counterpart to the Heat’s “Big Three.”
Someone probably should have realized that a bunch of stars on the wrong side of 30 wasn’t the best recipe for success. The Lakers suffered from injuries and underperformance throughout the 2012-2013 season and their core five only managed to start together in seven games. To make matters worse, Head Coach Mike Brown was fired after just five games and owner Jerry Buss passed away during the All-Star break. Despite facing almost every hardship imaginable, the Lakers did manage to squeak into the playoffs, but Bryant was out with a torn Achilles and the Spurs swept the Lakers in the first round.
2013 Baltimore Ravens: Expectation...
The Ravens came on strong in the playoffs at the end of the 2012 - 2013 season thanks to a defense led by Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, and the big arm and unbelievably efficient performance of quarterback Joe Flacco, ultimately beating the 49ers in the Super Bowl. After the season, the team gave Flacco a new 6-year, $120 million contract that made him the highest paid QB of all time, seemingly locking in a key piece for success in 2013 and many years to come.
Ray Lewis retired after the Super Bowl, and with so much cap space devoted to Flacco, the Ravens decided to let go of other key contributors like receiver Anquan Boldin, safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, and some budding young defenders. The hit to the team’s chemistry in 2013 was palpable, as was the drastic decline in Flacco’s efficiency. He finished the season with more interceptions than touchdowns and the Ravens missed the playoffs with an 8 - 8 record.
2013 - 2014 Brooklyn Nets: Expectation...
Optimism was running high for the Nets in 2013 after a return to the playoffs the previous season, their first in Brooklyn. During the 2013 offseason the team hired former Nets standout Jason Kidd as head coach and traded for Celtics stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to complement younger starters Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. Altogether, the Nets had the highest payroll in the league going into the season and were ready to watch the investment pay off.
The Nets struggled through the first couple of months of the season, compiling a 10 - 21 record through December and losing Lopez to a season-ending injury in the process. Garnett also failed to live up to expectations, averaging just 6.5 points per game, by far the lowest of his career to that point. The season wasn’t a total loss as Brooklyn did make the playoffs, but their sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference and second round playoff exit at the hands of the Heat were not anywhere close to what the team had hoped for.
2013 - 2014 Vancouver Canucks: Expectation...
In the years leading up to the 2013 - 2014 season, the Canucks were consistently one of the strongest regular season teams in the NHL and a staple atop the Northwest Division. This unfortunately didn’t always translate to postseason success, but team management hoped to change their fortunes by bringing in Head Coach John Tortorella in the 2013 offseason to lead a roster featuring experienced goaltender Roberto Luongo, talented twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and new additions Brad Richardson and Mike Santorelli.
Instead, things took a major turn in the wrong direction. After a solid start and a strong December, the Canucks went 13-24-4 over the second half of the season. During this time, Tortorella was suspended for instigating an altercation with Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley, and he alienated players like Luongo, who left the team in a trade near the end of the season. The Canucks would finish fifth in their division, missing the 2014 playoffs, and Tortorella and GM Mike Gillis were both fired as a result.
2014 - 2015 Colorado Avalanche: Expectation...
The Avalanche defied expectations in the 2013 - 2014 season, compiling 52 wins, a first-place finish in the NHL’s Central Division, and their first playoff appearance in four years. With their top four scorers returning in 2014, along with high-performing goalie Semyon Varlamov, many expected Colorado to pick up right where they left off and possibly even improve upon their postseason performance.
Unfortunately, the 2013 - 2014 season proved to be an outlier rather than a harbinger of better things to come. The 2014 - 2015 Avalanche saw a significant drop in scoring, and the team’s inconsistent defensive performance proved to be too much for Varlamov to overcome. As a result, the Avalanche fell from first to last in the Central Division and kicked off another streak of three playoff misses.
2015 Detroit Tigers: Expectation
After four straight years atop the AL Central Division, the Detroit Tigers were ready to take the next step and make a World Series push in 2015. With returning offensive powerhouses Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera, star pitcher Justin Verlander and the newly acquired Yoenis Céspedes, all of the components appeared to be in place.
The trouble began when Verlander opened the year on the disabled list, keeping him out for the first two months of the season, while DH Victor Martinez aggravated a knee injury in April that severely hampered his batting production for the rest of the year. Meanwhile, pitcher Aníbal Sánchez struggled to a 3-7 start and saw his own season cut short due to injury in August. Throw in missed time from Cabrera, a midseason trade of Céspedes, and the removal of GM Dave Dombrowski, and it’s easy to see how the Tigers dropped all the way to last place in their division.
2015 Indianapolis Colts: Expectation...
The 2014 season was Andrew Luck’s best yet with the Colts, with an 11-5 record and a deep playoff run. While it ended with a crushing 45-7 loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship (the infamous Deflategate game), GM Ryan Grigson was convinced the Colts were just a few pieces away from a Super Bowl victory. To that end, he signed big-name, aging free agents Frank Gore and Andre Johnson and drafted speedy receiver Phillip Dorsett in the first round, hoping to give Luck as many weapons as possible for 2015.
The seemingly ageless Gore turned out to be a solid contributor in Indianapolis, but Johnson and Dorsett both massively underperformed. This wasn’t the worst of the Colts’ troubles, though, as Luck missed all but seven games with a shoulder injury and lacerated kidney, and the quarterback’s absence exposed glaring holes all over the team’s roster. Chuck Pagano’s coaching also came under question thanks in large part to a bizarre fake punt call against the Patriots. The 2015 Colts stumbled to an 8-8 record and did not qualify for the playoffs.
2018 Jacksonville Jaguars: Expectation...
Fans had high hopes for the Jaguars in 2018 after a pleasantly surprising 2017 season in which the team finished 10-6 (by far their best record in years), led the AFC South, and made it all the way to the AFC Championship game. Quarterback Blake Bortles continued his solid, if somewhat erratic, play and earned a new contract in the 2018 offseason. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette also delivered as promised, but the real bright spot was the dominant “Sacksonville” defense led by Calais Campbell, Telvin Smith and Jalen Ramsey.
The Jags’ sack total dropped in 2018, but the defense still did almost everything it could to keep the team competitive. Unfortunately, Bortles was abysmal, racking up turnovers and more than once losing his starting job to the underwhelming Cody Kessler. Fournette also missed half the season due to injury and suspension, and the Jacksonville offense finished 31st in points scored while the team dropped to the bottom of the AFC South.
2018 - 2019 Los Angeles Lakers: Expectation...
LeBron James’s announcement that he would head to Los Angeles in 2018 was not nearly the media spectacle that 'the decision' was eight years prior, but it was still huge news for the NBA and especially the Lakers, who had been mired in mediocrity for nearly a decade. Joining James in L. A. was point guard Rajon Rondo, and while the roster still had holes, there were high expectations that James would bring a championship to the Lakers like he had for the Heat and Cavaliers before.
The actual result was really just unfortunate, as injuries kept LeBron out of almost 30 games. The injury bug also bit Rondo and other key contributors like Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, and this proved to be too much for the team to overcome as they failed to significantly improve upon the previous year’s finish. Lakers fans can most likely expect better things in the future, with newcomers Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard and a healthy LeBron in 2019.