Earlier this week, we broke down a handful of teams that have taken the necessary steps to overcome a losing record in 2018—so much so that they may actually make the playoffs. That also means some teams from last year’s postseason must go.
Here’s our first pre-training camp crack at the five playoff teams from 2018 that are in danger of missing out in 2019.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (2018 season: 10-6)
This isn’t a Lamar Jackson take; this is a thought about the kind of offense in which he’ll be playing. The Ravens were insanely difficult to prepare for over the latter half of 2018 until the Chargers deployed a savvy safeties as linebackerslook in the playoffs that took Baltimore’s coaching staff by surprise and stifled the best of what Jackson had done to that point. After that game, it seemed head coach John Harbaugh was committed to digging deeper into their current offense, with more focus on ball security and offensive line play tailored to the athletic ability of Jackson. Enter: A new offensive coordinator and a new system completely foreign to Jackson. It doesn’t feel productive, and even if Baltimore scored one of the most talented receivers in the 2019 draft in Marquise Brown, this offensive scuffling could ultimately be their undoing.
CHICAGO BEARS (2018 season: 12-4)
While Chicago has the feel of an ascending team, there are also some shaky components here. No picks until round three of the draft. A new defensive coordinator. A relatively quiet free agency. Matt Nagy is a phenomenal play caller with a deep rolodex of ideas and may be able to keep this offense afloat with creativity alone, but is there a chance that, after two or three years of the Andy Reid tree thwacking the NFL and gouging hapless defensive coordinators, the rest of the NFL might finally catch up? We’ve written about the counter-intelligence war happening on the defensive side of the ball, and while some aspects of the current game provide a built-in advantage, there are good ideas matriculating their way into the NFL.
Grand ideas aside, the Packers are going to be tougher opponents this year, and the Vikings have shed most of their lingering issues from 2018.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (2018 season: 13-3)
I think it’s fair to closely reexamine the latter half of Drew Brees’ 2018-19 season and not bundle it into some irresponsible narrative about his decline. I’m not suggesting that he’s nearing the end or is beyond the stage where he can produce ridiculous, arena football numbers on a weekly basis. But it is fair to wonder whether the rest of the division has improved enough to accumulate pieces to stop what the Saints have done best. If anything, this is a complement to the personnel New Orleans accumulated over the last three seasons, and is the one downside to nailing a few drafts. You pick good players, they get expensive and they get studied relentlessly for weaknesses. A counter is inevitable.
DALLAS COWBOYS (2018 season: 10-6)
This is either going to be the beginning of Jason Garrett’s new life as the CEO of Dallas’ coaching staff, or a fizzling out amid a last-ditch effort to rescue the offense. The hasty promotion of Kellen Moore was smart in that it gives Dallas a chance to explore some new horizons offensively without straying from a staff that they are largely comfortable with. At the same time, without any major additions this offseason, there is a lot of pressure for a green coordinator to maximize Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper before they all become far too expensive to keep together.
HOUSTON TEXANS (2018 season: 11-5)
The Texans are a team that got way better this offseason. The problem? So did the rest of the AFC South. The buzz around Indianapolis at the combine was real this year, with a lot of talk about the depth beginning to accumulate there. The Titans are still going to be a very difficult team to beat and the Jaguars are not going to be in the same implosion mode that they were a year ago. Their division feels like it is headed toward an NFC East style logjam, which may better suit some of the other teams in the division.
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