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Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
Well, folks, it’s over. You can officially stick a fork in the 2019 NFL season.
After watching the confetti rain down at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami on Sunday night, we know two things. The first is that if you stake Kyle Shanahan to a double-digit lead in the Super Bowl, he apparently forgets that running the ball is a thing.
What? Too soon?
The second is that history will remember the Kansas City Chiefs as the NFL’s best team in 2019. With double-digit comebacks in all three playoff games on the way to a championship, it’s a title the team earned.
The players may take some time to celebrate, but the Chiefs organization is no doubt already looking ahead. That’s because life comes at you fast in the National Football League, and as soon as Super Bowl LIV ended, the focus of every team in the league turned toward Tampa and Super Bowl LV.
There are a multitude of things that are going to happen between now and the likely season opener in Kansas City on a Thursday night in September. There’s the NFL Scouting Combine. Free agency. The 2020 draft. Minicamps and OTAs. And training camp and the preseason.
A lot can change over the days and weeks to come. It certainly will change—that’s just how it goes in the NFL.
But it’s never too early to take a preliminary look at how the NFL’s teams stack up against one another as we turn the page from 2019 to 2020.
That’s just what Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski have done, with their first set of NFL power rankings for the offseason to come.
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Bryan Woolston/Associated Press
There isn’t a team in the NFL more eager to turn the page from 2019 to 2020 than the Cincinnati Bengals. The last campaign was a miserable one—a two-win season that started with a franchise-record 11 consecutive losses.
However, there’s room for at least some optimism in the Queen City. That 2-14 season earned the Bengals the first overall pick in 2020—a pick that most pundits expect the team to use on LSU quarterback (and Southern Ohio native) Joe Burrow. If that’s the case, Burrow will have some young talent at his disposal in running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver Tyler Boyd.
However, with both quarterback Andy Dalton and veteran receiver A.J. Green more likely than not headed out of town and the Cincinnati defense among the worst in the league, there’s also tremendous uncertainty surrounding the Bengals.
It may be the dawn of a new era for the team, but the winning isn’t likely to come for a while.
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Brian Blanco/Associated Press
In each of the last two seasons, the Carolina Panthers have completely imploded in the second half of the year—1-15 over that span.
It’s the sort of struggles that leads NFL teams to hit the reset button. The Panthers have already done so to an extent, replacing Ron Rivera with Matt Rhule at head coach. After middle linebacker Luke Kuechly stunned everyone by retiring, the Panthers are also staring at a rebuild on defense.
However, per Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports, Cam Newton indicated after a meeting with Rhule and general manager Marty Hurney that the change at quarterback some have predicted isn’t coming—at least not yet.
“It’s devastating to not have the coach who drafted you, but at the same time, you’ve got to turn the page,” the 30-year-old said. “I had an unbelievable conversation with Marty Hurney, the GM, David Tepper the owner, as well as Coach Rhule, the new head coach. And I left that meeting inspired. And I told them, ‘You won’t find another person in that locker room with more to prove, not only to you, but I’ve got to prove to myself.'”
Whether Newton remains with the Panthers is a storyline that won’t be settled until we see him on the field and under center in Week 1.
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John Raoux/Associated Press
Entering the 2019 season, the talk in Jacksonville was all about free-agent quarterback Nick Foles—the former Super Bowl MVP who was going to lead the Jaguars back to the playoffs.
Then Foles broke his collarbone in the season opener, rookie Gardner Minshew II captured the imagination of the fanbase, Foles was awful when he did finally play, and the season ended with Foles watching Minshew play out the string and the Jaguars missing the playoffs again.
Per ESPN’s Michael DiRocco, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said that no decision has been made as to who the team’s 2020 starter will be.
“I think we have two that I know about right now and I really feel comfortable with them. I think it’s something that we have to use in our favor. In the past, there have been situations where we haven’t had many or maybe I’ve just had one. I’ve never had two. We’ve got to do a heck of a job making sure we’re getting both guys ready.”
We may not know for a while who Jacksonville’s starting quarterback will be. It’s also not the only tough decision the Jaguars face, with edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue potentially looking at a massive payday in free agency.
What we do know is that there will be no shortage of offseason drama in Duval County.
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Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Ron Rivera has enjoyed more than a little success as both a player and coach in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears as the former and taking the Carolina Panthers to a Super Bowl as the latter.
Rivera faces a tall task as he begins to rebuild the Washington Redskins, and he told Zach Selby of the team’s website that turning things around will depend on building a solid core of talent.
“Philosophically speaking, you have six positions that are your primary positions, and then you build around those positions in all three phases,” Rivera said. “And once you do that and you establish that, now you have to make the moving parts fit.”
There’s young talent to build around on offense in quarterback Dwayne Haskins and wide receiver Terry McLaurin. A solid front seven on defense will be that much better if Ohio State edge-rusher Chase Young is (as most expect) the second overall pick in the 2020 draft.
But there’s a long way to go before this team is ready to challenge the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles for supremacy in the NFC East.
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Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Chargers earned a title in 2019 that no team wants—the most disappointing team in the NFL.
After going 12-4 in 2018, the Chargers came into the season a Super Bowl contender in the eyes of some. In the inaugural power rankings for the regular season here at Bleacher Report, the Bolts checked in just outside the top 10.
It was all downhill from there. As is seemingly the case every year, the Chargers had some of the worst injury luck in the league. Philip Rivers had a turnover-filled mess of a season that was his worst in years. And when the dust settled on a Week 17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers were a five-win team in last place in the AFC West.
Now, as the Chargers prepare to move into their new stadium that isn’t really theirs, the franchise is on the edge of a cliff. Rivers is a free agent, and after moving his family to Florida, some have speculated that he’s a goner.
Will the Bolts keep Rivers (or sign another veteran quarterback) and try to make one more run at the postseason with their current core? Draft a quarterback with the sixth overall pick and begin a rebuild? Do a bit of both?
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Charles Krupa/Associated Press
A pretty compelling argument can be made that the Miami Dolphins are the most talent-deficient team in the NFL. They traded their best offensive lineman before the 2019 season began and traded their best defensive back and running back in-season.
When the Dolphins rebuild, they start fresh.
After being outscored 102-10 over the first two weeks of the year and opening 2019 by losing its first seven games, Miami had the look of a team that might become the third in league history to post a winless season.
But talented or not, the Dolphins kept fighting for first-year coach Brian Flores. Highlighted by stunning the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Week 17, the Dolphins went 5-4 over their last nine games and had a better season than most pundits expected.
Those wins cost the Dolphins some draft position. But Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s hip injury could drop the young southpaw just far enough for Miami to get the young quarterback the team so badly needs. And with Ryan Fitzpatrick likely to return in 2020, Miami can redshirt Tagovailoa and continue adding talent.
The Dolphins made it no secret that they were playing the long game in regard to their rebuild.
So far, Miami is playing it pretty well.
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Vera Nieuwenhuis/Associated Press
It’s the beginning of a new age in the Big Apple. With Eli Manning calling it a career, the New York Giants are officially Daniel Jones’ team.
Manning wasn’t the only departure, though—head coach Pat Shurmur was shown the door, replaced by former New England Patriots assistant Joe Judge. Judge brought in former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator, and Jones acknowledged to Michael Elsen of the team’s website that learning a second scheme in as many years will be a challenge.
“It’ll be a challenge, but it’s part of the job. I learned a system this year so we’re doing it again, but it’ll be a challenge and it’s something I need to spend a lot of time making sure I’m working toward and making progress with. But it’s part of the job. I think we’ll all be able to do it, we’ll all attack it the right way and try to pick it up as quickly as we can.”
Getting the Giants back to respectability doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of their young quarterback. But after an uneven rookie year, Garrett is going to have to coax significant improvement from Jones for the G-Men to have any kind of consistent success.
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John Hefti/Associated Press
Success hasn’t been something that the Detroit Lions have enjoyed consistently since the team drafted Matthew Stafford in 2009. The Lions haven’t won the NFC North in Stafford’s 11 seasons. They have made the playoffs just three times and haven’t made it past the Wild Card Round.
Given that lack of winning, the back injury that sidelined Stafford last year and the team’s possession of the third overall pick in the 2020 draft, some have speculated that it’s time for the Lions to consider moving on under center. However, Hall of Fame quarterback and NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner isn’t a fan of the idea.
“There’s going to be some good quarterbacks out there,” Warner said, via Danny Bennett of Lions Wire. “But to me, it’s keep building what you’re trying to build here and see if you can get a team to allow Matthew the opportunity to get into the playoffs and see what you have.”
Stafford will probably be Detroit’s quarterback again in 2020. But if the Lions suffer through another three-win season, both Stafford and head coach Matt Patricia could find themselves looking for work.
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David Dermer/Associated Press
To say that the 2019 season didn’t start well for the New York Jets doesn’t come close to covering it. Free-agent linebacker C.J. Mosley got hurt in the opener. Quarterback Sam Darnold missed a month with a case of mononucleosis.
The Jets started the season 1-7 and set an NFL record by losing twice to winless teams with a record of 0-7 or worse.
But while losing to the winless Bengals in Week 13 was embarrassing, it was also one of just two defeats the team suffered over the season’s second half. As Eric Allen wrote for the team’s website, Darnold thinks that New York’s miserable first half will help the team weather future storms.
“I think we were tested in a lot of ways this year—good, bad, indifferent. But it really tested us and we showed a lot of resiliency through it,” he said. “There is something to be said for that. I feel like that will only make us better in the future, and I think that resiliency will show next year.”
The question now becomes whether the Jets can build on their second-half success and vie for their first playoff berth since 2010.
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David Richard/Associated Press
There wasn’t a more hyped team in the NFL heading into the 2019 season than the Cleveland Browns.
There also wasn’t a team that did a worse job of living up to expectations.
Just about everything that could have gone wrong in Cleveland did. Odell Beckham Jr. made more headlines for wardrobe issues and (alleged) trade requests than for his play. Edge-rusher Myles Garrett earned a long suspension for trying to clobber a quarterback with his own helmet. Quarterback Baker Mayfield regressed badly in his second season. Freddie Kitchens was an unmitigated disaster in his first (and only) year at the helm.
It was a five-alarm inferno of a dumpster fire of a season.
Now, there’s a new head coach in Kevin Stefanski and a new general manager in Andrew Berry. The team has made it clear that Beckham isn’t going anywhere. Mayfield admitted that he should have shot off his mouth less last season.
Everyone’s saying the right things. And there’s a reason why there was so much hype in 2019—the Browns have quite a bit of talent. Never mind a top-10 draft pick and $50 million (give or take) in salary-cap space, per Over the Cap.
However, it’s still Cleveland—and after last year’s fiasco, we’ll believe the Browns will be good when we see it.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr had arguably the best season of his career in 2019—the 28-year-old set career highs in passing yards, yards per attempt and completion percentage. But Carr was also booed off the field in the last game at the Oakland Coliseum, and as the Raiders begin their tenure in Las Vegas, they are reportedly ready to “Tom” the page under center.
That slipped out.
Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Raiders are expected to make a serious push to sign Tom Brady if the six-time Super Bowl winner makes it to free agency.
Young running back Josh Jacobs tried to offer a vote of confidence for Carr, but even he couldn’t do so without a caveat: “I think that Derek is an amazing quarterback. I think that he’s actually one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. I mean, whatever they decide to do, we’ll be in good hands. You can’t ever really compare another quarterback to Tom Brady. But, I think that whatever they decide to do we’ll be in good hands.”
It’s long been rumored that head coach Jon Gruden isn’t a huge fan of Carr. And getting Brady is admittedly unlikely. But there will be other veteran quarterbacks on the market, and after a surprisingly successful seven-win season, it appears some huge changes could be coming for the Silver and Black.
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Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press
On some level, it seems a bit unfair to keep harping on the quarterback position. But the reality is that for many NFL teams, question marks at that position dominate the offseason conversation.
That’s most assuredly true for the Chicago Bears and Mitchell Trubisky. After a 12-win season and NFC North title in 2018, Trubisky and the Bears both took a big step in the wrong direction last year.
There was some shake-up on the Bears staff, and new quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo thinks that he can work with Trubisky and coax a much better season from him in 2020.
“I’ve had a lot of experience with a lot of young players,” DeFilippo said, via Alyssa Barbieri of Bears Wire. “That’s just kind of been the situations I’ve been thrown into. I think that’s a good thing. I think that helps you learn how to teach a bunch of young guys. Obviously, Mitchell’s not a rookie or a second-year guy. But at the same time, he’s still kind of a fresh player in the NFL who’s impressionable. You can shape him in certain things you want him to do.”
Simply put, this is a make-or-break year for Trubisky. And head coach Matt Nagy, for that matter. If the 2020 Bears don’t play like the 2018 Bears, the 2021 team will likely look a lot different.
Given the massive disparity among our analysts, it would appear even we aren’t confident how it’s all going to play out.
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Jack Dempsey/Associated Press
The Broncos are not accustomed to posting three straight losing seasons. But that’s the situation Denver finds itself in after a 7-9 2019 campaign. Since winning Super Bowl 50, the Broncos are 27-37 with zero playoff appearances.
However, the tail end of last season brought with it hope for the future. After starting the year 3-8, the Broncos turned things over to rookie Drew Lock at quarterback. Lock played well, leading the Broncos to four wins in five games while completing over 64 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and just three interceptions.
The Broncos have added a pair of veteran coaches in Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula to help accelerate Lock’s development, and he told Aric DiLalla of the team’s website that he’s eager to get to work.
“If you look at the credentials on all the quarterbacks that they’ve coached, those guys have turned out to be extremely, extremely good quarterbacks in this league. I’m excited [as] a young guy to be able to get them at an early stage in my career. They did so well with Daniel (Jones) last year. Daniel played his butt off. I’m excited to be able to have them now and see where we can take this.”
There’s no guarantee (at least not yet) that Lock is the long-term answer in Denver.
But the Broncos appear willing to build around him as opposed to searching for his replacement.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
The Arizona Cardinals won just five games in 2019, but there’s been nothing but good news of late.
First, veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald announced that he would be returning for a 17th season. Then quarterback Kyler Murray won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after becoming just the second first-year player to surpass 3,500 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in a season.
As Kyle Odegard reported for the team’s website, Murray’s hope is to make the sort of second-year surge that Patrick Mahomes did in 2018 and Lamar Jackson did last season.
“I think their offenses are very quarterback-friendly; I think we have a very quarterback-friendly offense,” Murray said. “And as far as the elite status goes, I don’t play to be mediocre. I think that’s a deal that can be obtained. So we’ll see next year.”
That’s a tall ask—both of those young quarterbacks won MVP honors in the second year of their careers. But with more than a little young talent on offense and an underrated defense featuring Defensive Player of the Year finalist Chandler Jones, the Redbirds are already in good shape to take a step forward in 2020.
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Jason Behnken/Associated Press
Well, we’re right back to talking quarterbacks. This one’s more than understandable, though—there’s no doubt that Jameis Winston’s future with the Buccaneers is the story in Tampa as the offseason begins.
When Winston was good in 2019, he was really good—the No. 1 overall pick in 2015 led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards and tossed 33 touchdown passes. But turnovers continue to be a major sticking point with Winston—he led the NFL with 30 picks and became the first player in league history to throw 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season.
In five NFL seasons, Winston has turned the ball over a staggering 111 times.
That’s not a typo.
Per ESPN’s Jenna Laine, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians believes the Buccaneers have the talent to win—no matter who is under center.
“Another quarterback? Oh, yeah. [If] we can win with this one, we can definitely win with another one too. We’re going to have this defense,” he said.
There are more moving pieces in the market for veteran quarterbacks in 2020 than in any year in recent memory—all it could take is one domino falling to set off a chain reaction that will send shockwaves across the NFL.
And the Buccaneers are right in the path of that oncoming storm.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
Over the first half of the 2019 season, the Indianapolis Colts had the look of a playoff team. At the end of October, the Colts were 5-2 with wins over the Houston Texans and the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
But from there, the Colts hit the skids—just two wins over their last nine games. The play of quarterback Jacoby Brissett was a substantial contributor to that slump, and while general manager Chris Ballard didn’t single Brissett out at his season-ending presser, Ballard sounded like a man who is about to go shopping.
“Anytime we have a chance to acquire a player that makes us better, at any position, we’re going to do it. Any position,” Ballard said, via ESPN’s Mike Wells. “Whether it’s wideout, quarterback, running back, linebacker—it doesn’t matter. So, I wouldn’t just single out the quarterback. Any chance we have to get better, we’re going to do it.”
Whether it’s Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Jameis Winston or someone else, just about every veteran signal-caller that could be about to hit free agency has been linked to a Colts team that ranks second in the league in salary-cap space at $87.6 million, according to Over the Cap.
That war chest (and the Colts’ issues at quarterback) could make Indianapolis one of the more talked-about teams in the NFL over the next couple of months.
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John Bazemore/Associated Press
OK, we don’t have to talk about the quarterback with the Atlanta Falcons. There’s no question that Matt Ryan is the guy in Atlanta.
What is in question is which Falcons team will take the field in Week 1 of the 2020 season. Will it be the Atlanta team that looked like the playoff contender we expected in going 6-2 over the season’s second half? Or the bumbling squad that rendered that finish irrelevant by losing seven of eight to start the year?
That hot finish saved head coach Dan Quinn’s job. But as Michael Cunningham wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the odds are stacked against Quinn getting the Falcons back to the Super Bowl.
“According to Pro Football Reference,” he said, “31 coaches since 1993 have guided their team to the Super Bowl (New England’s Bill Belichick hogged nine of them). Quinn is one of seven to subsequently post at least two straight losing seasons and keep their job. The others: Tom Coughlin, Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Jeff Fisher, Sean Payton and Dan Reeves. Cowher is the only one of them to make it back to the Super Bowl.”
Hey, if Cowher did it, there’s a chance—right?
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Michael Wyke/Associated Press
The 2019 season for the Buffalo Bills ended in unceremonious fashion with a blown lead in the Wild Card Round in Houston.
But despite that rotten ending, there’s plenty for them to feel good about moving forward.
After a two-decade playoff drought, the Bills have now advanced to the playoffs in two of three seasons under head coach Sean McDermott. Depending on what happens down the road in Foxborough, the Bills could enter the 2020 season as the favorites in the AFC East.
You read that right.
As a matter of fact, Greg Rosenthal of NFL.com doesn’t think it’s out of the question that the Bills could challenge for the top spot in the conference next season:
“The Bills can be encouraged with Allen’s second-year progress without fooling themselves into believing he can carry a franchise with his arm alone. He has a scheme that covers up his weaknesses and accentuates his strengths under underrated play caller Brian Daboll. Now Allen just needs more offensive teammates who can make plays on their own. General manager Brandon Beane did a fantastic job upgrading the talent base last offseason with the additions of wide receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley, running back Devin Singletary and center Mitch Morse. Anything close to a similar haul this year will help Allen lean on his athleticism as a poor man’s Cam Newton, with Sean McDermott’s defense doing the rest.”
Stranger things have happened—like the Bills making the playoffs twice in three years.
But with just one analyst slotting Buffalo inside the top 10, the Bills remain a team with much to prove.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Rams haven’t been secretive about their personnel strategy—over the past two seasons, the team has gone all-in on the present, mortgaging future draft capital to acquire veteran players. It happened again in 2019 when the Rams traded their first-round pick in 2020 to the Jacksonville Jaguars for cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
The problem (in 2019 at least) is that it didn’t work. After representing the NFC in Super Bowl LIII, the Rams experienced a four-game slide, missed the playoffs and finished in third place in the NFC West.
There were multiple reasons for the decline. Quarterback Jared Goff, tailback Todd Gurley and the offensive line all experienced a substantial drop-off relative to the team’s Super Bowl run.
The Rams likely won’t be much different than they were this past season. The Rams have less than $15 million in cap space, and should they bring back leading tackler Cory Littleton, most of that will be gone. Never mind the looming extension for Ramsey.
If the Rams are going to return to the postseason in their first year at SoFi Stadium, the players the team already has are just going to have to step up.
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Elise Amendola/Associated Press
It ended in disappointing fashion in the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City, but it’s hard not to view the 2019 season as a rousing success for the Tennessee Titans. Nine games in, the Titans were 4-5. But thanks to the passing of Ryan Tannehill and the running of Derrick Henry, Tennessee peeled off five wins in seven games to sneak into the postseason.
Then the fun really started—an upset of the reigning Super Bowl champion Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Then another of the NFL’s best regular-season teams in Baltimore.
It was quite the ride, even if it came up short of Miami. But now the Titans face a pair of decisions that could define the franchise for years to come.
After leading the NFL in passer rating, Tannehill is slated to become an unrestricted free agent. So is Henry, who led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards. For that matter, so is veteran cornerback Logan Ryan, who led the Titans with 113 total tackles.
Either Tannehill or Henry will all but certainly receive the franchise tag. And with upward of $51 million in cap space, per Over the Cap, the Titans have the wiggle room to bring back both offensive stars.
Then it will be a matter of them living up to that massive new paycheck and getting Tennessee back to the postseason.
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Michael Perez/Associated Press
Given the injuries that tore through the team over the second half, the fact that the Philadelphia Eagles made the playoffs at all can be viewed as quite an achievement.
But this is an Eagles team that not too long ago hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. Once you do that, participation awards for the playoffs lose their shine.
The Eagles have their franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz. Tailback Miles Sanders looks like a keeper after a strong second half. But as Reuben Frank wrote for NBC Sports Philadelphia, two areas for the Eagles stand out as glaring weaknesses:
“The wide receiver position is in shambles, with a couple long-ago Pro Bowlers with uncertain futures, a 2nd-rounder who showed little as a rookie, a bus load of practice squad alums and a one-time Super Bowl hero facing free agency after a disastrous season. The cornerback position is worse, filled with heralded draft picks who’ve underachieved, later-round picks who’ve been inconsistent and veteran free agents who can’t stay healthy.”
Throw in decisions on in-house free agents like offensive tackle Jason Peters and linebacker Nigel Bradham, and there’s little margin for error in Philly. A successful offseason could put the Eagles back into Super Bowl contention.
A bad one could slip them well behind the Cowboys and into mediocrity.
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Josie Lepe/Associated Press
The Dallas Cowboys are the most talented team in the NFL that didn’t make the playoffs. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and Travis Frederick on offense. DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch and Byron Jones on defense. All are Pro Bowl-caliber talents.
That Dallas managed just eight wins in 2019 with all that talent is why Jason Garrett is now the offensive coordinator in New York. The Cowboys replaced Garrett with the most successful new coaching hire of 2020 in Mike McCarthy.
But coaxing more out of his players isn’t the only task facing the longtime Packers coach—because some of that talent probably won’t be in Dallas when Week 1 rolls around.
Prescott, Cooper, Quinn and Jones are all set to hit free agency in March. The Cowboys rank inside the top five in available cap space, but deals for players of that caliber will eat up that cash in a hurry. Add in that Vander Esch is returning from a serious neck injury, and the 2020 Cowboys could look a fair bit different than the 2019 version.
There isn’t a better GM in the league at creating cap space than Jerry Jones. But keeping the band together for a run at that fourth ring Jones so covets is going to take one heck of a round of musical moolah.
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Elise Amendola/Associated Press
Could this be it?
Is the day finally here?
Is the greatest dynasty in NFL history over?
There are apparently those who think the answer to that question is yes—two of Bleacher Report’s three analysts ranked New England outside the top 10. In some ways it’s understandable—the New England offense sputtered much of the 2019 season, and the uncertain future of Tom Brady with the team is possibly the biggest story in the NFL right now.
However, the Patriots did win the AFC East for a record 11th consecutive season in 2019. New England’s defense is one of the best in the game—or at least it was last year. And according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the Patriots are willing to make an investment of $30 million or more per season in keeping Brady on the only NFL team he’s ever known.
That the Patriots are in a position where they may have to pitch Brady to keep him in town would have gotten you laughed at just a few years ago. But if there’s one constant in the NFL, it’s change.
If the Patriots retain Brady and are able to add some offensive weaponry around him, it’s not out of the realm of reason that the team could make a run at a record seventh Lombardi Trophy.
But it’s equally possible that we’ve seen the last of these Patriots as one of the league’s best teams. And if that’s the case, we will have well and truly turned a page in the NFL’s history books.
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Adam Hunger/Associated Press
Oh, what could have been.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have an offense with young playmakers in running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. An opportunistic defense led by a Defensive Player of the Year finalist in T.J. Watt.
But Pittsburgh came up short of the postseason again in 2019—mostly because after Ben Roethlisberger got hurt, the team’s quarterback play was inconsistent at best and abysmal at worst.
Roethlisberger will be back in 2020, which is just about the best news the Steelers could hope to get in the offseason. But for Pittsburgh to make one last Super Bowl run with Big Ben, steps need to be taken.
Offensively, adding a dependable secondary option in the passing game would be a plus. James Washington showed the occasional flash in 2019, but not so much that teams didn’t double Smith-Schuster with regularity.
Defensively, the cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden remains an area of concern. Edge-rusher Bud Dupree and Javon Hargrave are both set to hit free agency after having career seasons last year.
Any improvements the Steelers make will either take creative accounting or come via the draft. Per Over the Cap, only two NFL teams are in worse shape relative to the cap than Pittsburgh.
However, with two of three analysts here at B/R slotting the Steelers inside the top 10, there’s real belief here that 2020 is going to bring that improvement.
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Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
Where the regular season is concerned, Bill O’Brien has had a solid run as head coach of the Houston Texans—a 52-44 record in six seasons with four AFC South titles.
But in the NFL, true success is measured by what happens in the postseason. And after the epic flameout against the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round, O’Brien’s Texans are just 2-4 in the playoffs.
However, what has gotten more than few coaches fired instead got O’Brien a de facto promotion—the team made things official and gave O’Brien the title of general manager after he handled personnel decisions in 2019.
His first season in that role didn’t go any better than his Texans have fared in the playoffs. O’Brien mortgaged the team’s future in trades for players like offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and cornerback Gareon Conley.
They may have made Houston better, but the season ended the same way. And the offensive line and secondary remain major problem areas.
If O’Brien is going to remedy those problems, it will probably have to come in free agency—Houston is sitting on over $55 million in cap space, but the team has just one pick over the first two days of the 2020 draft.
Of course, there’s also the matter of the megadeal looming for quarterback Deshaun Watson. And the pending free agency of cornerback Bradley Roby and leading rusher Carlos Hyde.
The Texans will be a good team in 2020. But getting markedly better will be difficult.
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Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press
The Minnesota Vikings might be the hardest team in the NFL to figure out as the offseason begins.
On one hand, the Vikings are replete with talent on both sides of the ball. Kirk Cousins isn’t wanting for playmakers around him in running back Dalvin Cook and wideouts Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The defense has difference-makers at all three levels in end Danielle Hunter, “Mike” linebacker Eric Kendricks and safety Harrison Smith.
But while the Vikings were able to stun the Saints in New Orleans in the Wild Card Round, the team had little success in 2019 against the big boys of the NFL. There were a pair of losses to the Green Bay Packers. A defeat at Kansas City in November. A setback in Seattle in December. And the lopsided loss to the 49ers in the divisional round.
The Vikings are a good team. But to vie for a spot in Super Bowl LV, Minnesota has to get better.
That’s not going to be especially easy. According to Over the Cap, there isn’t a team in the NFL that’s in worse shape relative to the salary cap. The Vikings presently have to shave well over $10 million off the cap just to get into the black.
It leaves the Vikings in a position that’s equal parts enviable and frustrating. There are plenty of teams that would be overjoyed just to have a legitimate shot at a playoff berth like the Vikings do.
But if 2019 was any indication, this team’s chances of navigating the postseason and making it to Tampa aren’t great.
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Three times since 2014, the Green Bay Packers have advanced to the NFC Championship Game. Three times, the Packers have been turned away—including a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago in a game that wasn’t as close as the score.
However, after the Packers were aggressive in free agency last year and parlayed it into 13 wins in Matt LaFleur’s first season as head coach, the team’s latest postseason setback hasn’t completely dampened the enthusiasm of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“I feel really confident in [GM] Brian [Gutekunst] and the job that he’s done and his staff,” Rodgers said, via ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. “They did go all-in—as much as they could—this year and the pieces that they brought in. I’m confident that he’s going to continue to add to this squad. So, that part is very exciting. It is a lot different feel than three years ago.”
It’s not hard to identify the one area above all others that Green Bay needs to address. The No. 2 wide receiver spot opposite Davante Adams is a hot mess. But after spending big last year, the Packers don’t have a ton of cap room, and there are a couple prominent in-house free agents to address in tackle Bryan Bulaga and inside linebacker Blake Martinez.
But even if the Packers improve the weapons around Rodgers, it doesn’t change the fact that the Rodgers we saw in 2019 isn’t the Rodgers we’ve become accustomed to—his numbers were the worst in a full season since 2015.
Uncertainty under center is something we haven’t seen in Titletown in a while.
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The New Orleans Saints have had all kinds of success in the regular season over the past few seasons, posting a 13-3 record each of the past two years and winning 37 of 48 games overall.
But in the playoffs it’s been another story. In 2017, the Saints season ended with the “Minneapolis Miracle.” The following year, it was the blown pass interference call against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game. And in 2019, the Saints didn’t even make it out of the Wild Card Round before being upset in overtime by the Minnesota Vikings.
After 19 years in the NFL, Drew Brees knows that that he’s much closer to the end of the line than the beginning. He allowed to reporters (via Nick Shook of NFL.com) that he knows his body will only hold up for so long.
“I pride myself on toughness and durability and this is a tough sport. And some injuries are out of your control. Whatever is in your control, I’m going to try to be the very best that I can be at that. From a training perspective, diet, sleep habits, everything especially at this stage in my career. I’m not getting any younger. I tell myself I am. The age keeps going up. I tell myself I’m getting younger. But bottom line is you gotta work harder to maintain and continue to take care of your body.”
There’s been nothing to indicate, however, that Brees won’t be back for season No. 20. And so long as he does return, New Orleans’ Super Bowl window remains open.
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Mike Roemer/Associated Press
Odd as it sounds to say it, the Seattle Seahawks have become the elder statesmen of the NFC. No team in that conference has enjoyed more consistent success over the past decade.
Since Russell Wilson entered the NFL in 2012, the Seahawks have won 10 or more games and advanced to the postseason in seven of eight seasons, played in a pair of Super Bowls and lifted a Lombardi at the culmination of a blowout win in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Still, for all the success the team has enjoyed during Wilson’s tenure, he told ESPN (via Michael-Shawn Dugar of The Athletic) that it’s important that the team be aggressive in the offseason if Seattle is going to continue to contend in a loaded NFC.
“Free agency is very, very key to getting superstars on your team, and try to get great players that can fill the space,” he said. “Then, the draft. We always do a great job in the draft; that’s going to be really important to get some young stars.”
Seattle is a very talented team, but it has holes. The offensive line was better this past season, but that doesn’t mean it’s especially good. The pass rush disappeared at times last year, and Jadeveon Clowney is set to hit free agency in March.
There’s work to be done. But Seahawks general manager John Schneider knows as well as anyone that Seattle’s Super Bowl window won’t stay open forever.
The Seahawks could easily be one of the league’s most aggressive teams over the next two months.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
Whether it’s fair or not, the 2019 Baltimore Ravens will be remembered as much for how the team’s season ended as what happened before that.
After starting the season 2-2, the Ravens rattled off 12 straight wins to close out the regular season. Baltimore peeled off a jaw-dropping 3,296 yards on the ground for the season—the most by a team in league history.
But it was all for naught—the AFC’s No. 1 seed was bounced from the postseason at home for the second straight season. This time, it was the Tennessee Titans who ended Baltimore’s season prematurely.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson set a couple records of his own—he’s the first player in NFL history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a season, and Jackson’s 1,206 yards on the ground are a new high-water mark for the position. But the 23-year-old told Ryan Mink of the team’s website that for all the Ravens accomplished in 2019, the way things ended still left a bad taste in many mouths.
“We’re trying to get somewhere. All of us wanted to be in Miami for the Super Bowl. We weren’t planning on cutting it short,” Jackson said. “It happened and we were hurt about it, but it is what it is, and we have to move on.”
There’s little reason to think that Baltimore won’t be right back in the mix in the AFC in 2020. But now the Ravens have a new hill to climb. A new hump to get over.
Showing they can win when it really counts in the playoffs.
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Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
With less than seven minutes to play in Super Bowl LIV, it appeared that general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan had rebuilt the San Francisco 49ers to champions from tomato cans in just three years.
That didn’t happen—the Kansas City Chiefs roared back with 21 unanswered points to capture the Lombardi Trophy.
But just because the Niners came up short in Super Bowl LIV doesn’t mean they won’t win a title of their own—soon.
There isn’t a more complete roster in the NFL than San Francisco’s. The Jimmy Garoppolo-led offense led the NFC in scoring in 2019. The defense is led by a stacked front seven.
Lynch has also demonstrated a keen eye when it comes to adding talent in free agency and the draft. Edge-rusher Nick Bosa brought home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2019, and second-round pick Deebo Sanuel quickly became San Francisco’s go-to wide receiver.
Decisions loom in the offseason on D-lineman Arik Armstead, fullback Kyle Juszczyk (team option) and veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders. The secondary (like most in the NFL) could use more depth.
But there’s no reason to call the 49ers anything but the front-runners to rep the NFC in Super Bowl LV.
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Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
It took half a century, but the Kansas City Chiefs finally won the second Super Bowl in franchise history.
It more than likely won’t take quite so long to win the third.
The Chiefs have an embarrassment of riches on offense. Lamar Jackson may be the NFL’s MVP, but Patrick Mahomes is the game’s best quarterback. Tyreek Hill is the league’s most dangerous receiver down the field. Travis Kelce is arguably the game’s best tight end.
The defense is also light-years better than in 2018. The additions of edge-rusher Frank Clark and safety Tyrann Mathieu paid massive dividends in 2019. So did the hiring of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who did a great job putting his personnel in position to succeed.
This isn’t to say that the Chiefs don’t have any worries as the offseason begins. The $16 million and change the Chiefs have in cap space, according to Over the Cap, isn’t enough to sign defensive lineman Chris Jones—much less any of the other free agents like corners Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller.
At some point in the not-too-distant future, Mahomes will have to be extended, too. And that contract is going to be an absolute knee-buckler that could easily exceed $40 million a season.
But for now, the Chiefs are both the reigning champions of the NFL and a franchise well-positioned to defend that title.
And that earns them the top spot in these power rankings.