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  • Recent history shows you don’t need a long rebuild to reach the Super Bowl. Our look at teams that missed the playoffs in 2018 but could make a title run in ’19.
By Conor Orr
April 02, 2019

The Browns’ celebratory display of talent on Monday cemented a strange kind of hype in Cleveland. Not just the oh maybe this general manager won’t burn the building to the ground kind of hype, but the holy crap, we’re good enough to win the division kind.

This is a fan base that should treat these rapid vacillations with caution. And often does. Never has a group of people perfected the ability to love something completely, but also with the necessary reticence.

Working for that fan base, though, is the fact that often, the other Super Bowl team that isn’t the Patriots is one year removed from the same kind of adrift existence that Cleveland was two years ago. The Rams had swallowed themselves whole under Jeff Fisher, becoming a picture of irrelevance, before their rebound under Sean McVay. The Eagles were 7-9 in each of the two years before they won the Super Bowl. The Falcons were 4-12, 6-10 and 8-8 in their three season preceding their their Super Bowl trip.

Will Cleveland be that team in 2019?

Here’s our crack at a top-five “worst to first” list, featuring teams that have the best chance of going from out of the playoffs in 2018 to contending for the championship in 2019.

1. Packers
Aaron Rodgers in a new offense, supplemented by a younger, faster core of defensive players. This roster isn’t perfect by any stretch, but we’ve seen the short-window value that a veteran quarterback with this much talent sometimes gets from an infusion of new ideas. 

2. Steelers
Still have a great offensive line. Still have a competitive quarterback. Still have a great football coach. Perhaps buoyed by the shedding of unhappy co-workers, this is a team that could function better than it did a year ago. Those who assume they’ll sink into nothingness without Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell may want to think again.

3. Browns
Baker Mayfield is the real deal. And while most all-star receiving corps are not worth their financial heft, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry could be something spectacular together. The offensive line will need to come together, as will a brand-name coaching staff with a mix of risers and former head coaches. This is a lot on a first-time head coach.

4. Raiders
A long-term rebuild has instead pivoted to a ‘win now’ scenario. Their division is still brutal, and you have to consider another season of maturation for Patrick Mahomes and Anthony Lynn’s defense in L.A. That being said, Derek Carr is going to be motivated, and he’ll have some great weapons.

5. Jets
I think Adam Gase was, under the radar, one of the best hires of this offseason. Year Two is when we seem to learn the most from rookie quarterbacks these days, and a glimpse of Sam Darnold’s new ceiling could produce some lofty expectations.


NOW ON THE MMQB: The lonely tale of Jachai Polite’s 2019 draft season…. The Josh Rosen conundrum…. ON THE LAW: Breaking down Robert Kraft’s repeated attempts to suppress evidence.

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: Why the NFL is really starting to love Alabama … Add Daniel Jones to the mix of first-round QBs? “Absolutely,” his college coach says …  Which teams have the best QB situations in the NFL? We rank them, from 1 to 32.


1. Explaining the Raiders’ thirst for knowledge on Kyler Murray, Drew Lock, Dwayne Haskins and Daniel Jones.

2. Julio Jones doesn’t care about being the league’s highest paid wide receiver (but his agent probably does!).

3. The fun Browns are in, but Duke Johnson would like to be out.

4. PFF’s big board loves them some Jerry Tillery.

5. No, NFL: You cannot cut down trees to stage the draft.


We’re 23 days away from the NFL Draft. We can make it. I’m ready for it now.

Question or comment? Email us at

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