NFL Nation reporters grade the regular seasons for every team out of the running for Super Bowl LIII and look ahead to looming offseason questions. Click the links after each team to view the full posts.
The Browns’ strong finish generates a lot of excitement for the future and that begins and ends with the quarterback. General manager John Dorsey nailed it when he made Baker Mayfield the first overall pick of the 2018 draft. Mayfield played with far more savvy than many veterans, and revived the Browns’ offense. Read more.
An improvement over their 6-10 record in 2017 is noteworthy and coaches likely will use that as a sign of progress. But as the Dolphins head into 2019, it’s hard to say we know more about the long-term future than we did six months ago. That makes it somewhat of a lost season. Read more.
The Super Bowl-or-bust expectation was set the moment quarterback Kirk Cousins signed his three-year, $84 million contract in free agency. A commitment of that magnitude put pressure on a team coming off a deep postseason run in 2017. The Vikings struggled against superior opponents and weren’t able to pull everything together until late in the season. Read more.
Their 6-3 start allowed them to stay in playoff contention until late in the season. They could have helped themselves by being far more disciplined; the Redskins committed more penalties on offense than any other team – and lacked the firepower to overcome the constant loss of yards. Read more.
The Falcons were picked as Super Bowl contenders entering the season yet finished with their first losing season in four years under coach Dan Quinn. The Falcons couldn’t figure out how to close games early in the season. A loss at Cleveland was the beginning of a five-game skid that knocked the Falcons out of playoff contention. Read more.
The Bills were ranked among the league’s worst teams in offensive and special-teams efficiency. However, Buffalo was expected to win only about five games and they did lay a foundation for rookie quarterback Josh Allen. Read more.
Quarterback Cam Newton was playing, in his own words, the best football of his career 10 games into the season. He had adjusted smoothly to offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s system. He looked like an MVP candidate and the Panthers were in a strong position to make the playoffs. Then Newton’s right shoulder became an issue. Read more.
The Bengals started the season 4-1 and seemed prepared to make a playoff run. However, they came out of their bye week with five straight losses and got blown out by several teams. They’ll miss the playoffs for the third straight year. Read more.
The Broncos had a pile of injuries, with seven starters and 11 players overall, on injured reserve. They also traded wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, had a propensity for penalties and a schedule that included nine games against playoff teams. Add it all up and things simply did not turn out as the Broncos had hoped. Read more.
The season began with playoff aspirations in coach Matt Patricia’s first year. It ended with the team’s worst record since 2012. Detroit, a year after firing Jim Caldwell after back-to-back 9-7 seasons, feels much closer to a rebuilding team than a contender. Read more.
Anything less than a playoff berth when Aaron Rodgers starts 16 games is disastrous. Part of that is on Rodgers for not playing at his usual MVP level, which would have covered up for myriad other issues. Part of it is on a roster that wasn’t nearly as talented or deep as it should have been thanks to some subpar drafts in Ted Thompson’s final years as general manager. Part of it is on coaching, which is why the Packers have a head-coaching search on their hands. Read more.
It’s hard to believe the Jaguars were 10 minutes away from the Super Bowl last season. Nineteen starters returned and yet the Jaguars finished with a losing record — and double-digit losses — for the seventh time in the past eight seasons. Read more.
The Giants missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years after losing seven of their first eight games. They should have at least been competitive, especially when adding Saquon Barkley in the draft and getting Odell Beckham Jr. back from injury. Read more.
No one expected a playoff berth, but this was a total failure — from the front office to the coaching staff to the players. The mandate from ownership was to show progress, but the Jets actually went backward. They were 1-5 in games decided by eight or fewer points. Read more.
Coach Jon Gruden, in his first year back with the Raiders, went about rebuilding the roster with owner Mark Davis’ blessing, and general manager Reggie McKenzie paid for it with his job. Entering Game 15, seven of McKenzie’s 50 pre-Gruden draft picks were on the 53-man roster, and 39 current players had not spent a day on the 53-man roster a year ago. Read more.
The Steelers averaged more than 11 wins per game from 2014-17 but made 2018 more difficult with a three-game losing streak over a stretch of AFC West matchups in November and December. Defeating New England for the first time since 2011 was a breakthrough, but in a year when a playoff bye was attainable with more consistent play, the Steelers’ many lapses let the Baltimore Ravens keep pace in the AFC North. Read more.
The Niners hopes for playoff contention this year centered on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo didn’t really get the opportunity, suffering a torn ACL in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Losing Garoppolo was the one hit the Niners couldn’t afford, not with the rest of their roster rebuild still under construction. Read more.
The 2018 season could not have been more of a roller-coaster ride in Tampa: an electrifying 2-0 start under backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick; the benching and reinsertion of starter Jameis Winston; the firing of defensive coordinator Mike Smith; a disgruntled DeSean Jackson requesting (and being denied) a trade; and yet another kicking change. Read more.