Sunday was a bittersweet moment for football fans; we were treated to a very entertaining week of football with the outlook of the playoffs on the line, but for 20 teams, their seasons ended. We’ve finally made it though, as with the postseason up next, this will be our last edition of these regular season power rankings. So, for one last time in 2019, let’s rank every NFL team, assigning them grades for their performance and highlighting their top performer; we’ll also reflect on each team’s regular season.
#32: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 29)
Result: Lost 42-10 vs NO
Top Performer: LB Luke Kuechly
Ever since owner David Tepper made the move to fire head coach Ron Rivera, the Panthers have seemingly quit on the season. That trend continued in the last week of the season, as they failed to show up against the divisional-rival Saints. It’s a sad conclusion the season for a team that was once 5-3, as a Week 9 victory over the Titans was actually their last win of the season. Yet, that’s what happens when you have an aging roster with a running back (Christian McCaffrey) being the featured player. McCaffrey was able to achieve a 1000-1000 season in terms of rushing and receiving yards, but due to poor quarterback play this season from Kyle Allen and Will Grier, the team was doomed offensively, and with Cam Newton’s future with the team in question, they’re unsettled at the game’s most important position. Plus, although linebackers Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson (didn’t play in this game) are great, Carolina has zero pass rush, pass coverage, or run defense; they have a bottom-five offense and defense, and proved to be the league’s worst team down the stretch. With a new head coach and lead decision-maker, the Panthers will have a much different look next season, which is encouraging for a franchise that had become complacent. However, this is a regressing roster with a lot of players at the end of their prime; a heavy rebuild may be needed, even if it means potentially trading players like Kuechly. After all, you’re never settled as a franchise until you can get a quarterback, and by then, said quarterback (Trevor Lawrence?) will need a rebuilt supporting cast.
#31: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 32)
Result: Won 27-24 at NE
Top Performer: WR Devante Parker
Let’s be clear- the Dolphins still have the least talented roster in the NFL. However, if we’ve learned anything from this season, it’s the importance of a good culture, and that’s what head coach Brian Flores has established in his first season. With a minus-137 point differential through the first four weeks of the season, this appeared to be a team that was tanking for a high draft pick, as there were reports that several players wanted out. Heck, they were winless through half of the season, and looked like a good bet to finish 0-16. So naturally, they finished their season winning five of their next nine games, and wrapped up their season in emphatic fashion- they beat the Patriots in Foxborough for the first time in over a decade. Ironically, the Dolphins actually didn’t play well in this game, as it was essentially a four-player show: quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, wide receiver Devante Parker, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, and defensive back Eric Rowe. Still, with a series of trick plays and excellent coaching, they were able to find a way to win behind those four players’ stellar games. This is still a team that needs to acquire a whole new offensive line, more receivers around Parker, a pass rush, and some defensive backs, but with five first-round picks over the next two seasons and an abundance of cap space, they’re well-equipped to fill those needs. Most importantly, they found a gem in Flores, who’ll lead this team to the promised land once the rebuild is complete. In other words, this was a perfect season for the Dolphins, who also still finished with a top-five pick.
#30: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 31)
Result: Won 38-20 vs IND
Top Performer: EDGE Calais Campbell
As the Jaguars fell apart down the stretch, losing by more than one score in six of their previous seven games, they appeared destined to make a coaching change. Instead, they showed life in Week 17 with a blowout win against the division-rival Colts, and likely as a result, head coach Doug Marrone will return next season. In my opinion, it’s a mistake for a franchise than needed to find a more analytically-inclined, scheme-oriented coaching staff, but at the very least, it doesn’t seem like Marrone lost control of the locker room, as previously anticipated. Gardner Minshew had his best game since being re-inserted as the starting quarterback, and the hope has to be that behind a stronger offensive line and with more receiving talent, he and Nick Foles can be a competent enough duo to keep them afloat until they can find a franchise quarterback in the draft. With edge rusher Yanik Ngakoue likely to depart via free agency (they have no cap space), it’s going to be difficult for this defense to be any better than they finished, but still, first-round rookie edge rusher Josh Allen is poised to step up in his absence, and safety Jarrod Wilson and interior defensive lineman Taven Bryan are other young players that can give this team some hope. I don’t expect the Jaguars to be much better than 6-10 next season, but with two first-round picks, they can at least take the first steps towards what figures to be a somewhat painful rebuild; this will be a huge offseason for general manager Dave Caldwell.
#29: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 30)
Result: Won 33-23 vs CLE
Top Performer: EDGE Carlos Dunlap
By virtue of their 2-14 record, the Bengals technically were the worst team in the NFL this season. Yet, there are still talented players on this roster, and as a result, will likely be much better next season. After all, the #1 pick will almost certainly land them a franchise quarterback in LSU’s quarterback, and with the first pick in every round, they’re poised to add a lot of young impact talent around him. Plus, running back Joe Mixon and receiver Tyler Boyd are terrific playmakers, and if they can convince a healthy AJ Green (free agent) to come back, Burrow will have plenty to work with. That is, if an offensive line that improved down the stretch can be addressed this offseason, and getting back rookie left tackle Jonah Williams will help. Defensively, veteran edge rusher Carlos Dunlap had a fantastic season, and paired with Carl Lawson and Geno Atkins, this is still a pretty strong pass rush. Therefore, it’ll be up to the front office to find a way to improve the team’s pass coverage; adding to a young secondary and bringing in an athletic linebacker should be priorities. Obviously, Cincinnati probably won’t make the playoffs next season. However, they should be much more competitive next season, and with Burrow on the way, the future looks bright for them.
#28: Washington Redskins (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Lost 47-16 at DAL
Top Performer: IDL Matt Ioannidis
The Redskins may have been blown out by the Cowboys, but with several of their top players sidelined with various injuries, they definitely shouldn’t be disappointed, especially since they secured the #2 pick in next year’s draft. Instead, it is what’s happened since then that is most significant- they finally may be getting rid of their dysfunction. Owner Dan Snyder finally showed some accountability, firing president Bruce Allen and hiring former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. Even though Rivera flamed out in Carolina, he remains a good head coach, and most importantly, an excellent leader and culture-builder. Since he’ll have a huge say in who gets hired to be the new general manager, Washington will finally have proper communication between its front office and coaching staff. That means that their players will be in better position to succeed, and with Rivera coaching the defense, they could even be a top-ten unit on that side of the ball. Ohio State’s Chase Young will almost certainly be the selection with that #2 pick, and with him added to of veteran Ryan Kerrigan and rookie Montez Sweat on the edge, as well as Matt Ioannidis, Jonathan Allen, and Daron Payne on the interior, and this suddenly becomes one of the deeper pass rushes in the NFL. Now, the secondary is rightfully a major concern, but they’ll have the resources needed to improve, and even then, Rivera never had great defensive backs in Carolina. As for the offense, Rivera will need to identify the proper offensive coordinator to develop quarterback Dwyane Haskins, and the situation with left tackle Trent Williams needs to be sorted out. Still, if Haskins takes the next step forward and this is indeed an above-average defense, that this could be an underrated playoff contender next season; the hiring of Rivera could be monumental for the franchise.
#27: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Lost 23-20 vs GB
Top Performer: CB Justin Coleman
It’s been a rough season for the Lions, who were a pleasant surprise at the beginning of the season, competing with the league’s top teams. However, they weren’t able to win a game after a Week 8 victory against the Giants, and without quarterback Matthew Stafford, they went 0-8. That clearly hampered their ability to compete, as even as they found a way to take a lead against the Packers, they couldn’t hold onto it, thanks in large part to the horrendous performance of third-stringer David Blough. It also doesn’t help that the pass defense was a major disappointment this season, as cornerback Darius Slay was anything but the #1 corner he was supposed to be, and there was no threat of a pass rush all season long. The Lions will keep head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn for at least one more season, which would seem to be playoffs or bust for them. So far, Patricia doesn’t look capable of elevating the defense at all, and with his job on the line, will Quinn make rational decisions. This will be a very interesting offseason for the Lions as they look to build around Stafford, but on the bright side, the third pick in the draft should help.
#26: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 26)
Result: Won 13-6 at BUF
Top Performer: EDGE Tarell Basham
Facing the Bills’ backups, the Jets had a chance to end their season with a convincing victory. Rather, they struggled mightily and were lucky to even win. It was the same story as it’s been all season; Sam Darnold was very inconsistent, the offensive line struggled, and running back Le’Veon Bell once again looked like a very poor fit in head coach Adam Gase’s system. Meanwhile, they were able to force some turnovers defensively, but that shouldn’t overlook the fact that they had little success generating a pass rush and in pass coverage. They may have finished 7-9, but with Darnold failing to progress and rookie interior defensive lineman Quinnen Williams unable to make an impact, their outlook is honestly worse now than it was at the beginning of the season. With practically every position on the team a pressing need, general manager Joe Douglas has his work cut out for him this offseason.
#25: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 27)
Result: Lost 34-17 vs PHI
Top Performer: CB Antonio Hamilton
Coming into the season, I had zero optimism for the Giants whatsoever. They may have finished with a subpar 4-12 record, but there was still a lot of encouraging signs with this team. They were met with harsh criticism for selecting Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick, and even though that was still probably a reach, the rookie quarterback definitely showed flashes; harnessing the negatives will be key for his development, which will come with a new head coach. Frankly, I don’t believe Pat Shurmur should’ve been fired, as he really did a good job with an offense that dealt with a lot of injuries. However, the new head coach will have a lot of playmaking talent and a reasonable offensive line to work with, which will allow general manager Dave Gettleman to hopefully address the defense. His lack of awareness with positional value has set this team back, as investments made at running back and nose tackle have neglected him from addressing serious areas of need, such as edge rusher, linebacker, or a true #1 cornerback. I’m skeptical of any team being led by Gettleman, but if they can secure the services of Baylor head coach Matt Rhule, who can set a positive culture in place for Jones, perhaps New York can surprise people next season- Jones’ progression will be key.
#24: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 23)
Result: Lost 16-15 at DEN
Top Performer: S Curtis Riley
The Raiders may have entered Week 17 playoff hopes, but let’s not kid ourselves- this is, and has been, a bottom-ten team. Head coach Jon Gruden has done a great job getting the most of his players, but he simply didn’t have much to work with. Derek Carr is a serviceable quarterback, but his conservative nature makes him incapable of elevating talent, and with an average offensive line and subpar receiving talent, he’s not a good fit for this offense in its current state. Maybe reinforcements this offseason can allow him to thrive next season, but still, his style of play should cause Oakland to always keep looking for a better option. Maybe the offense can be a true above-average unit next season, but the defense? That’s a different story. Fourth-round rookie edge rusher Maxx Crosby flashed potential as a #2 edge rusher this season, but fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrell was a complete bust, so the pass rush is still an issue. Plus, they’ve completely wasted free-agent pickup Lamarcus Joyner, who is best as a free safety, but clearly isn’t fit to be a slot cornerback. With two first-round picks and a lot of cap space, the Raiders are in a great position to improve their roster significantly as they move to Las Vegas. Still, their upside is very limited with Carr under center, and after an overrated first offseason together, I still don’t trust the combination of Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock.
#23: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Lost 33-23 at CIN
Top Performer: CB Denzel Ward
In what was been an extremely disappointing and chaotic season, it’s only fitting that the Browns finished it off by losing by two scores to the previously one-win Bengals. To be fair, this was actually one of the offense’s better games in recent weeks, as star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. finally made an impact, and Baker Mayfield earned a sold 70.4 grade from Pro Football Focus. Still, the offensive line regressed significantly, and Mayfield’s lack of trust in them has caused his mechanics to be inconsistent. On the bright side, with head coach Freddie Kitchens gone, perhaps a new head coach can get Mayfield back on track and salvage Beckham Jr.’s future with the team- Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would be a homerun hire. Though, in the end, that’ll all be decided by a new general manager, as John Dorsey and the team parted ways; the defense isn’t as close as anticipated (second-round rookie cornerback Greedy Williams struggled mightily), and the offense definitely needs finishing touches. The talent is clearly there, but will this organization ever get out of its own way? Find out next season!
#22: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 22)
Result: Lost 31-24 at LAR
Top Performer: TE Dan Arnold
The Cardinals may have lost to the Rams in Week 17 to conclude their season, but that’s shouldn’t neglect the fact that this has been a very successful season for them. Not only did first overall pick Kyler Murray look like a perfect fit for first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s system; he takes too many sacks, but he limits turnovers and used his rushing ability really well. The offensive line, which is masked by Kingsbury’s system, could be improved, but in reality, what this team needs is an overhaul with the receiving corps; a receiver like Oklahoma’s Ceedee Lamb could transform this offense in the second year of the Murray-Kingsbury pairing. Where I’m most worried about is the defense, as Kingsbury remains committed to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who did a poor job this season. Veteran edge rusher Chandler Jones and cornerback Patrick Peterson remain key contributors, but besides that, there’s not much to build around at all. Assuming Murray can take the Patrick Mahomes/Lamar Jackson step to being an MVP-caliber quarterback in his second season, something I’m actually confident in, this is the type of young team that could make some serious noise next season; Kingsbury and Murray should give this franchise a lot of optimism moving forward.
#21: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 21)
Result: Won 21-19 at MIN
Top Performer: LB Kevin Pierre-Louis
The Bears may have avoided a losing record with a win in Minnesota, but in a way, their struggles against the Vikings’ backup illustrate their many flaws. It all starts with the quarterback, as Mitchel Trubisky clearly isn’t the answer, despite being a former second overall pick. Yet, general manager Ryan Pace has already committed to him being the starting quarterback next season, and as a result, the talent around him will continue to be wasted. Plus, quietly, the defense has regressed significantly from their historic levels in 2018, which although it was bound to happen, occurred at a much larger level than expected. Edge rusher Khalil Mack was a non-factor down the stretch, and around him, players like safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Kyle Fuller also had very disappointing seasons. Yet, it’s unlikely that Pace will be able to improve the roster much, as they have don’t have a first-round pick nor much financial wiggle room. The end result? Likely another mediocre 7-9 or 8-8 season next year.
#20: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Lost 28-10 at BAL
Top Performer: CB Steven Nelson
It’s been a turbulent season for the Steelers, as a season-ending injury to Ben Roethlisberger, and key injuries, should’ve absolutely deflated this team. Yet, they were 8-5 at one point, but in the final three weeks, they fell flat completely. Still, there is one major positive from this season- the growth of the defense. Edge rusher TJ Watt developed into a superstar pass rusher, trade acquisition Minkah Fitzpatrick is the best safety the team has had since Troy Polamalu, defensive linemen Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave are absolute menaces, and even the secondary developed tremendously. Now, there will be regression on that side of the ball, especially since they led the league in turnovers forced. Still, they should be a top-ten defense, and with Roethlisberger back at quarterback instead of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, the offense should also be back to its usual form. I’m still wary of the coaching staff, but the Steelers could certainly be a Super Bowl contender next season, and even if it didn’t end well, this was still a prosperous season for them.
#19: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 19)
Result: Lost 31-21 at KC
Top Performer: S Adrian Phillips
The signs were all there for the Chargers to take a step back in 2019, as their record in one-score games last season was definitely unsustainable. Yet, I neglected that in favor of their superb talent, but in classic Chargers fashion, practically their whole roster went down with injuries before the season started. Now, that doesn’t excuse them completely, as you don’t go 5-11 by accident, but then again, all but two of their losses came by one score- this is still a strong roster. Have we seen the last of Phillip Rivers? He couldn’t overcome a poor offensive line, which probably can’t be fixed in an offseason, so should he be brought back? Maybe on a one-year deal, but it would behoove Los Angeles to look for a more mobile quarterback as they transition into their new stadium. With an above-average defense and a deep collection of playmakers, this is a team that could easily make the playoff next season. However, it all depends on this offseason; quarterback and offensive line, the two most important spots in football, remain unsettled.
#18: Denver Broncos (Previous Rank: 20)
Result: Won 16-15 vs OAK
Top Performer: EDGE Von Miller
After starting the season 0-4, the Broncos responded tremendously, going 7-5 from there under head coach Vic Fangio. Fangio’s defensive prowess really showed up, as linebacker Alexander Johnson and safety Justin Simmons brokeout this season, and the unit overall remained above average despite going through a transitional period. Offensively, Denver showed life for the first time since the Peyton Manning era, as a strong offensive line, rookie tight end Noah Fant, and emerging #1 receiver Courtland Sutton gave second-round rookie Drew Lock plenty of support. Now, the Missouri product didn’t play great, but he showed enough flashes to be the team’s starting quarterback next season, and if shows some growth, than I have no doubts that this could be a playoff team- there were four games this season in which they lost at the last second, which signals positive regression for the future. Regardless, there’s finally hope for a serious turnaround in the Mile High.
#17: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Lost 38-20 at JAX
Top Performer: LB Darius Leonard
The Steelers and Chargers are right up there for having the toughest of seasons, but no team came close to dealing with as much adversity as the Colts. From Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement to a countless numbers of injuries, head coach Frank Reich had to rally this team on an extensive amount of occasions, and the fact that they remained in the playoff hunt for so long is a testament to the culture he’s built. However, their 5-2 start was done in unsustainable fashion- with poor quarterback play, a strong rushing attack, and winning close games – and as a result, they went through a minor collapse down the stretch. Jacoby Brissett is not a franchise quarterback obviously, but even then, I’m not sure he’s even a game-manager/bridge quarterback type, as he couldn’t produce big plays and was careless with the football; Indianapolis not only needs a franchise quarterback, but a starter for next season as well. Still, when you have arguably the best offensive line, which is very young, any quarterback they acquire will be in a great position to succeed. Defensively, there’s a lot of depth, and linebacker Darius Leonard is a star, but outside of him, there aren’t any game-changing players; the secondary is mediocre, and the pass rush and run defense is the same. That’s the theme with Indianapolis, as general manager Chris Ballard has built a deep roster, yet they’re missing some star talent to take them to the next level. With two second-round picks, a top-15 pick, and the most cap space, he’ll have as much resources as any team, however.
#16: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Lost 35-14 vs TEN
Top Performer: LT Chris Clark
The Texans opted to rest their starters in Week 17 against the Titans, so there’s not much to take away from their blowout loss. Still, it’s very ironic how similar this game was similiar to a normal bad game for them, as offensive incosistency and an at times atrocious defense really plague them from reaching their upside. Will we get a good Deshaun Watson and an explosive offense? Will edge rusher JJ Watt’s return from a pectoral injury revitalize the defense? It’s impossible to know, but we’ll find out when they host the Bills to kick off the playoffs.
#15: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 16)
Result: Lost 13-6 vs NYJ
Top Performer: TE Tommy Sweeny
Similar to the Texans, who are their opponent in the first round of the playoffs, the Bills did not play many of their key players against the Jets, and still probably would’ve won had it not been for a dreadful performance by backup quarterback Matt Barkley. Still, they weren’t able to avoid any serious injuries, as #2 cornerback Levi Wallace was carted off with an ankle injury, which is worrisome considering the upside of Houston’s passing attack. Overall for the season, Buffalo performed just as well as I thought they would, winning ten games with a relatively easy schedule, relying on their well-coached defense, while second-year quarterback Josh Allen served as a game-manager. They may be the worst team in the playoffs, depending on how you view the Texans, and are probably more of a “pretender” than a “contender”. Still, they’re another team with a lot of cap space to build around their large collection of young talent, and heck, there’s a legitimate chance they can win in Houston. A playoff win would definitely cap off what has been a excellent season for them as they officially get out of the final stages of their rebuild.
#14: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous Rank: 11)
Result: Lost 28-22 vs ATL
Top Performer: WR Breshad Perriman
Based on their play in recent weeks, the Bucs almost cracked the top ten for me, as I was completely buying into their improvements on defense and production offensively. Well, if their loss to the Falcons served as a reminder of anything for me, it’s that with Jameis Winston under center, you can never have complete confidence. Winston reached the 30 interception threshold, doing so in poetic fashion with a walkoff pick six in over time, and even though his high-end production involved him and Breshad Perriman forming a deadly connection down the field, Tampa Bay couldn’t compensate. Plus, the secondary also struggled, which dims what had been a productive season for their young defensive backs. With a great head coach in Bruce Arians, arguably the best receiver duo in the NFL, a top-ten offensive line, and a young defense, the Bucs are a serious threat to make the playoffs next season, but they have two key free agents whom they need to make a decision on- edge rusher Shaquil Barrett and Winston. Barrett, the sacks leader in the NFL, is a tricky case, considering that he was very incosistent on a game-to-game basis and failed to make an impact. Ideally, he’d receive the franchise tag, but that may have to go to Winston, who’s worth being brought back for a second year with Arians, but can’t be counted on beyond that. It’ll be a very interesting offseason for the Bucs, who finally appear poised to turn the corner if they can build off their strong finish to the season, despite this loss.
#13: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 15)
Result: Won 28-22 at TB
Top Performer: LT Jake Matthews
When the Falcons got off to their 1-7 start, it almost seemed inevitable that they would somewhat rebound down the stretch, but by finishing the season with a 7-9 record, they’re certainly done more than anyone would’ve anticipated. As a result, head coach Dan Quinn was brought back, which probably wasn’t the right choice for owner Arthur Blank, but then again, there’s no doubting the culture he’s built- the players clearly play for him. Most notably, defensive backs coach Raheem Morris will be the defensive coordinator next season, which is a positive development. Even when star corner Desmond Trufant went down with an injury, Atlanta held up reasonably well considering how depleted their secondary was, and once Morris took over, they also were much better at generating a pass rush. Now, a lot of that has to do with playing easier offenses, but at the very least, it was critical for the Falcons to make some sort of change. Offensively, I don’t expect much to be different for them Atlanta, which could be good for them, as long as their young offensive line builds on their strong finish, as they still have an incredible receiver duo with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, and a top-ten quarterback in Matt Ryan. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they also now won’t even have a top-15 pick, which is significant since they actually have negative cap space for next season currently. How general manager Thomas Diitroff goes about improving this roster will be extremely fascinating to watch.
#12: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 13)
Result: Won 47-16 vs WSH
Top Performer: LB Jaylon Smith
All season long, the Cowboys have been an incosistent mess, and honestly, are one of the best non-playoff teams I’ve watched- their plus-113 point differential is better than several playoff teams, but poor coaching doomed them. Therefore, it’s only fitting that they showed their high upside with a blowout victory against the Redskins, even with Dak Prescott having one of his worse games- his shoulder injury probably plagued him. This will mark the end of the Jason Garrett era in Dallas, which is long overdue, but who will be the next head coach? It appears that, and rightfully so, the Cowboys will target a college head coach, and in my opinion, they need to go all-in on Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley. With Riley at the helm, they can not only establish a disciplined culture, but also acquire the offensive wizard that could bring some offensive consistency; Prescott will be brought back, the same goes for star receiver Amari Cooper, and this is still a dominant offensive line. Furthermore, although top corner Byron Jones is likely to leave as a free agent, there’s still a lot of talent with the defense, as their pass rush, linebacker group, and secondary are all above-avergae; an impact safety like LSU’s Grant Delpit would elevate the, however. Can Dallas reel in Riley and manage their cap space? Jerry Jones can’t afford to make a mistake this offseason, but if he doesn’t, this could be an 11 or 12 win team next season.
#11: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Lost 26-21 vs SF
Top Performer: LG Mike Iupati
Let’s adress one major belief of mine- the Seahawks are not a very good football team. They’re conservative, have a very small point differential, and essentially rely on Russell Wilson to save them a weekly basis. That’s exactly what they showed in their loss to the 49ers, as even though they came an inch away from winning the division, they only did so after failing to show up for the first three quarters. Wilson didn’t play poorly, but because of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s reluctance to open up the playbooks, the star quarterback once again was in a very tough position to succeed. His pass protection was surprisngly strong, but 23 rush attempts was definitely extreme, as ineffective runs on early downs led to them being stuck in a lot of third downs- as expected, their offensive production came once they had no choice but to pass late in the game. Oh, and it didn’t exactly make matters any better for Wilson that the defense couldn’t get a stop the save their lives. Whether it was their run defense or pass coverage, they were exposed repeatedly by the 49ers offense, and if that’s how they are going to play against playoff-caliber scoring units, I don’t have much confidence in them at all; Schottenheimer’s play-calling hampers their ability to win in a shootout. Maybe the Seahawks can get a win against an injured Eagles team. However, that’ll almost certainly be the end of their playoff run, and when it’s all set it done, this loss will serve as a brutal reminder of the consequences of failing to adapt to the modern NFL.
#10: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 10)
Result: Won 31-24 vs ARI
Top Performer: IDL Aaron Donald
Congratulations Rams! With this ranking, they were the best team in the NFL not to make the playoffs, which just perfectly sums up their dissapointing season. They still have a lot of superstars on both sides of the ball, but the massive contracts given out to Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, and Aaron Donald has caused them to not be able to fill out their roster, and as a result, the offensive line suffered tremendously. Because of that, Goff, Gurley, and Cooks all underachieved this season, so in the end, it didn’t matter how well tight end Tyler Higbee and receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp played; Los Angeles’ offense has gone from explosive to merely above-average. Any defense that has Donald, who probably should win Defensive Player of the Year again, should provide resistance to opposing offenses, yet the pass defense around Donald, as well as the run defense (it was great this week though), made them close to an average unit. This is still a star-studded roster with a good head coach in Sean McVay, but nevertheless, with no salary cap space and no first-round pick for the next two years, it’s likely that the team’s flaws continue to hold them back- it’s incredible how quickly a team’s window to win a Super Bowl can close.
#9: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 12)
Result: Won 34-17 at NYG
Top Performer: S Malcolm Jenkins
Somehow, someway, the Eagles have found a way to win the NFC East. Despite essentially losing their entire receiving corps, including tight end Zach Ertz, as well as multiple offensive linemen, they’ve found a way to make the playoffs, which speaks to the winning evironment head coach Doug Pederson has established in Philadelphia. Now, with Ertz potentially not able to play, I’m not sure how the offense will fare, as most of their success with Carson Wentz came via heavy formations, which you can’t do without the tight end duo of Ertz and Dallas Goedert; injuries to right guard Brandon Brooks and right tackle Lane Johnson will also hurt Wentz’s protection and their rushing attack. That may put more pressure on the defense, which to their credit, finally generated a pass rush, stopped the run, and held up at the back-end against the Giants, yet given their previous struggles, should we trust them against playoff offenses? Either way, Eagles fans have to be pleased that Pederson and Wentz were able to lead this team to the postseason despite all the adversity, and even if their season ends this upcoming Sunday against the Seahawks, there should be a lot of optimism heading into next season.
#8: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Won 23-20 at DET
Top Performer: LT David Bakhtiari
After a huge road primetime victory against the Vikings, the Packers appeared to make a statement- they were a true Super Bowl-caliber team. Yet, one week later, they remined us why, despite finishing the season 13-3, why we’ve been so skeptical of them. Against a Lions team that hadn’t won since Week 8 and was completely deflated, Green Bay trailed for the entire game, and was very lucky to be able to win. It was another strange game for Aaron Rodgers, who struggled to throw the ball down the field, as even though he has great pass protection, his moderate decline, combined with a lack of a #2 receiver, has plagued the offense all season. The cracks with their defense even were present, as with a non-productive day from their elite pass rush, their poor run defense and somewhat thin secondary were put to the test much more often. Then again, Green Bay did clinch a first-round bye with this win, and with a massive home field advantage, they may find themselves in the NFC Championship. Should they confident about their chances from there? Absolutely not, if they continue to trudge along like they currently are.
#7: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Lost 27-24 vs MIA
Top Performer: S Duron Harmon
For most of the season, the Patriots haven’t been as dominant as we’ve come to expect from them, but that always came with the caveat that they would figure out a solution by the time the playoffs start. Well, the playoffs are upon us, and with the #2 seed on the line, they couldn’t even beat the Miami Dolphins- they’re officially in trouble. They still may have the best defense in the NFL, but they’re not a historic unit, as they were assisted greatly by turnovers and facing poor offenses. They once again were unable to generate any pressure on the opposing quarterback, and because of that, the duo of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Devante Parker tore apart their “incredible” secondary, and ironically, mostly picked on superstar cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Therefore, they need more from their offense, which they aren’t getting. Tom Brady had honestly one of the worse games in his career, “earning” an atrocious 38 grade from Pro Football Focus, though it’s not all his fault- this has to be the slowest offense in the NFL. There’s just not much for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to work with, and as a result, they’ve cemented themselves as the third best team in the AFC; as currently constructed, they almost certainly aren’t winning on the road against the Chiefs AND Ravens in consecutive weeks. Can the even beat the Titans in the first round of the playoffs? It’s never logical to bet against Bill Belichick, but they’re the inferior team.
#6: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 7)
Result: Lost 21-19 vs CHI
Top Performer: EDGE Ifeadi Odenigbo
The Vikings were the only team in the NFC to rest their starters, as they were guarenteed to be the sixth seed regardless of the outcome in their Week 17 affair with the Bears. The last we saw Minnesota, they lost to the Packers by multiple scores at home. However, quietly, they’re a true Super Bowl contender, as they have a top-five offense AND defense, per Pro Football Focus. With running back Dalvin Cook back healthy, the offense should flow much better than it did in that game against Green Bay, and with an elite group of linebackers and safeties, in addition to a strong pass rush, they should be able to limit any opposing offense. They’ll travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints in the first round of the playoffs in a rematch of the Minneapolis Miracle.
#5: Tennesee Titans (Previous Rank: 8)
Result: Won 35-14 at HOU
Top Performer: RT Jack Conklin
It may have come against the Texans’ backups, but with a blowout victory, the Titans have clinched a spot in the playoffs! It obviously wouldn’t have been as difficult had they not started Marcus Mariota for the first six games and gone 2-4, but that’s what has made their run with Ryan Tannehill so impressive. Tannehill actually finished as Pro Football Focus’ highest graded passer this season, and he has to be brought back next season; he, receiver AJ Brown, a top-ten offensive line, and running back Derrick Henry have forumlated an extremely explosive offense that no defense can currently stop. Heck, this was supposed to be a defensive team that won a lot of slugfests, yet considering that the defense has had its issues in recent weeks, this is a team that needs to, and can, win in shootouts. With top cornerback Adoree’ Jackson likely to return, this team is ready to be a surprise team in the playoffs. It’ll be extremely tough though, as right away, they have to have to face the Patriots in Foxborough.
#4: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 5)
Result: Won 42-10 at CAR
Top Performer: LB AJ Klein
The Saints weren’t able to get a first-round bye, despite finishing the season 13-3, but at the very least, they were able to dominate the hapless Panthers to close their season. They were alot of positives (strong offensive line play, great pass coverage), but still, this is a flawed team, and they won’t be able to hide it against playoff teams. The defense once had a strong pass rush, but with Marcus Davenport out for the season, Cameron Jordan has zero help. Because of that, the secondary is being exposed, as top cornerback Marshon Lattimore once again had a poor performance, and even though Janoris Jenkins and Patrick Robinson played excellently opposite of him, do we really believe that’ll be the case against better receiving corps? Plus, Drew Brees’ struggles outside of a dome continued, and with their road to the Super Bowl being so difficult, will he hold up for four games? He’ll at least get the benefit of playing in the Dome when they host the Vikings in the first round of the postseason.
#3: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 4)
Result: Won 31-21 vs LAC
Top Performer: DT Chris Jones
The Chiefs have had a very successful season, but as they fought with a lot of injuries, it didn’t look like they’d be able to escape out of the early hole they had created (they were just 6-4) en route to a first-round bye. Yet, that ended up not being the case, as they won their last six games, and with the Patriots losing to the Dolphins, they’ve gotten that first-round bye. By no means do they have a top-notch defense – in fact, it’s average at best – but unlike last season, they’re providing some resistance to opposing offenses- their pass defense has improved tremendously. Now, the loss of rookie sfatey Juan Thornhill isn’t ideal, but nevertheless, they’ve proven capable of holding opposing offenses under 30 points. That’s all they need to do; now back at full health, their offense is back to dominating. The offensive line has been excellent since getting back left tackle Eric Fisher and left guard Andrew Wylie, and with the game’s best group weapons, Patrick Mahomes is showing why he’s currently the best quarterback in the NFL, at least in my opinion. Most importantly, all the Chiefs now have to do is win one home game, and they’ll be in the AFC Championship; it’s been an up and down season, but they’re a great bet to win it all.
#2: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 1)
Result: Won 28-10 vs PIT
Top Performer: EDGE Matthew Judon
Don’t take this ranking personally, Ravens fans. Since they rested some of their best players, their 28-10 win over the Steelers did give them their 12th straight win, but there’s nothing new to analyze with them. When they can play within their structure, they’re as unstoppable as any team in the NFL. Nevertheless, when an opposing defense can take away the middle of the field (tight end Mark Andrews), life will be much harder for Lamar Jackson. Obviously, few teams have been able to do it, but one team was able to- the Chiefs. In that game, Jackson had his worst performance of the season by far, and since they have to constantly blitz to generate pressure, their own defense figures to be vulnerable to Kansas City’s explosive passing attack. Now, they may avoid playing the Chiefs, or may even beat them in, but unlike the top ranked team on this list, they aren’t flexible enough for me to have full faith in them to win the Super Bowl.
#1: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Won 26-21 at SEA
Top Performer: TE George Kittle
They were clearly the better team, but as per usual, the 49ers had to survive in order to clinch the NFC West and the #1 seed. However, as they’ve done all season long, they were able to persevere, and by doing so, cemented their claim as the best team in the NFC. For most of the season, the defense has been the talk of the season, but with them going through the inevitable regression (the pass rush is currently lacking), we’re coming to understand the true face of this team- the offense. Head coach Kyle Shanahan may be the best offensive play-caller I’ve ever seen, as he’s maximzed on his very talent personnel. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo garners a lot of criticism, but he’s been incredible down the stretch and is definitely a top-ten quarterback; the offensive line is also holding its own. Plus, not only does San Francisco have a true #1 receiver in Emmanuel Sanders, but rookie Deebo Samuel and fullback Kyle Juszczyk are extremely versatile weapons, and they may have the best player in the NFL in tight end George Kittle. Right now, San Francisco may be as close to a flawless team as it gets, and because of that, they’re my pick to win the Super Bowl; it’s incredible to think that Shanahan and general manager John Lynch were hired to overhaul this franchise. just three years ago.