The 2018 NFL season came to an end with a great thud.
Well, at least that's how most fans and football folk felt late Sunday. In an era of offensive explosion, and so many games coming down to the waning moments, a 13-3 defensive slugfest was few people's idea of an appropriate close to an oft-exciting campaign.
Super Bowl LIII did not feature deep touchdown connections on post-corner-posts or 150 yards from a stud tailback. The highlight plays were at a premium. That doesn't mean there wasn't any good football. Frankly, New England's defense put on a clinic. The Patriots placed guys up on the line -- particularly safety Patrick Chung early, before his injury -- then they were dropping out in coverage, playing numbers on the back end. During the second half, New England started applying more pressure and less backpedaling. All the while, the Pats' interior defensive line balled out. That left Jared Goff out of sorts, and flipped the script on Tom Brady being the centerpiece of another Lombardi grab.
Bill Belichick's defense gave up three points, only the second time in Super Bowl history that a team has not allowed a touchdown. For that matter, Wade Phillips' Rams unit was up to snuff, too. Yet, in a defensively controlled Super Bowl, New England's effort stands among the best ever. NFL Network asked me to rank the top five defensive showings in Super Bowl history for "The Power Rankings Show" (watch on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET!), and what we just saw sits near the top:
5)Steelers, Super Bowl IX: Still the fewest yards allowed in a Super Bowl (119).
4)Cowboys, Super Bowl XII: Eight turnovers forced, with Co-MVPs on defense.
3)Patriots, Super Bowl LIII: Kept a team that averaged 32.9 points per game during the regular season out of the end zone.
2)Bears, Super Bowl XX: Allowed 123 yards, forced six turnovers and scored twice on defense.
1)Cowboys, Super Bowl VI: Gave up just three points and 185 yards to a team that would dominate the next two Super Bowls.
On to your thoughts ...
Consider these Power Rankings an early look toward the 2019 season as much as an end-of-season pecking order. How teams finished is weighed against coaching changes, players getting healthy, cap space, etc. There is always space for your take: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Let the dissension commence!
PROGRAMMING NOTE: For more in-depth analysis on the updated league pecking order, tune in to NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET for "The Power Rankings Show." Want to add YOUR voice? Provide your thoughts in a tweet to @HarrisonNFL, and your comments could be featured on air.
Somewhere in the fourth quarter Sunday, fans thought, Here we go! The Rams were moving the ball, the Patriots were protecting a scant, seven-point lead against the 11th-highest-scoring offense in NFL history. All the anxiety, a record-tying sixth Lombardi trophy on the line ... and a duck landing right in Stephon Gilmore's hands. Luck? Hardly. Although no one bought Tom Brady's people think we suck mantra, there is an underrated element to the success of New England, perhaps the greatest NFL Dynasty: the defense. You look at this 2018 team, and it really harkens back to the 2001 and '03 teams. Those were Bill Belichick's first two title-winning outfits, and they both won (mostly) on the defensive side of the ball. While this year's unit lacked the star power of Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest and friends, it played coordinated defense. Play recognition, coupled with honoring your keys -- and, of course, talent -- will always trump offense in the postseason. All of which leads to the Patriots challenging Lombardi's Packers as the greatest football machine ever assembled.
SIDE NOTE 1: Was asked to rank New England's Super Bowl-winning teams for NFL Network. My list ...
6) 2018: Incredible team effort, but the weakest of a stacked group.
5) 2001: They were underdogs for a reason, starting with their sophomore quarterback.
4) 2014. Looked lost early in the season. Beast Mode should've gotten the ball; Ravens could've ousted them three weeks prior.
3) 2003: Loaded defensive unit in terms of veteran leadership. When the offense was needed, Brady and a Hall of Fame kicker showed up.
2) 2016: More complete than just Brady and the offense. The 28-3 comeback was fueled as much by the top-ranked scoring defense shutting down the Falcons.
1) 2004: Not sure anyone can debate this. Destroyed the Steelers in the playoffs -- at Heinz. Brady was phenomenal. Added element: Corey Dillon running all over everyone in the AFC.
The fallout from the overtime loss in the NFC Championship Game has ceased falling out. Finally. There can be no debating that the non-call was unfortunate. Yet, looking ahead, I'm not sure an instant replay tweak will help in this kind of situation, because there was no penalty flag thrown in the first place. That is, folks might want the Competition Committee to make it possible to review pass interference, but the hit on Tommylee Lewis wouldn't have qualified, because no P.I. was called. The truth is, officials make mistakes in the same manner that players do. Much like Marcus Williams in Minnesota in the 2017 playoffs. It was an honest mistake. So what the pass interference non-call seen around the football world comes down to is this: Are we going to accept human error on the part of refs, or do we want technological oversight of the entire game? We are either going full Cyberdyne Systems or not. This space isn't advocating for one route or the other, rather implying that this is the choice to be made. Either way, I definitely feel for Saints fans. And as far as the team goes, New Orleans was my preseason Super Bowl pick for a reason. The team formerly known as the Aints ain't going anywhere next season. Look out, 2019.
The Super Bowl didn't go as planned. Many things in life don't, even for stars. Jared Goff made no excuses in the postgame. For that, Rams fans should be confident in their quarterback. The Super Bowl, at least from an offensive standpoint, was offensive. Goff, Todd Gurley and Co. fared quite poorly. Try to remember that Goff has only played three years of pro football and doesn't turn 25 until October. Yet, he answered the questions and was accountable, like a franchise player should be. The real story of the Super Bowl, at least from L.A.'s silver-linings perspective, is how well Wade Phillips' defense performed. For a team known for racking up points, it was actually Phillips' side of the ball -- and plan -- that worked. Much like it has for over 30 years. For multiple teams. At some point, @SonOfBum will retire, and the NFL will be lesser for it. Bum would have been awfully proud Sunday.
From non-call-gate to laser tag. Yes, apparently, someone was shining a laser pointer at Tom Brady during the AFC Championship Game in Arrowhead. So much going on in the NFL these days that I'm sure we'd all like to go back to the era when Sam Wyche could simply grab a mic and tell the crowd to behave. As for the Chiefs, I'm surprised the dismissal of longtime defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, whose unit couldn't slow down Brady, didn't happen sooner, given Kansas City's struggles the last two years on defense. Andy Reid can't be asking Patrick Mahomes to score 30 points just for his team to have a chance. After all, that's what derailed the career of the guy doing color for Pats- Chiefs. Speaking of Tony Romo's Cowboys, the Chiefs could have offered Dallas assistant Kris Richard a boatload of money to jump ship (er, horse). Instead, it's Steve Spagnuolo's unit to fix now.
Looking back on the 2018 season, no team -- no organization -- reinvented itself more than Indianapolis. General manager Chris Ballard deserved to win Executive of the Year. ( Which he did.) Frank Reich deserved to win Coach of the Year. ( Which he didn't.) Throw in a rookie draft class that contributed right away, and this team has the makings of an AFC superpower. Because the Colts were full of kids and no-name contributors in 2018, they're in great shape, cap-wise. In that way, they're a rarity among teams with quarterbacks who have Andrew Luck's ability and are no longer playing on a rookie deal. Going back to the 2018 NFL Draft: Indy received contributions from Quenton Nelson, Tyquan Lewis, Kemoko Turay, Braden Smith, Darius Leonard, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Zaire Franklin and Matthew Adams. Only two guys failed to make an impact: fifth-rounder Daurice Fountain and sixth-rounder Deon Cain, the latter of whom suffered a torn ACL in August -- and I've heard plenty of good things about him, too. This team is juiced, dude.
Total destruction in the Divisional Round wasn't how anyone associated with the Chargers wanted the season to end. The question league observers have about the Bolts is, are they here to stay? Should be. The free agents-to-be are key parts, but not of the integral variety: Denzel Perryman, Adrian Phillips, Brandon Mebane and Tyrell Williams. Although Williams has evolved into the big-play weapon on this team, at least on the outside. Keenan Allen is still the WR1, a third-down chains-mover who commands attention. Mike Williams took off late in the season, and although he will push Allen for targets, his area really could be the red zone. Hunter Henry will be fed his fair share of RZ throws, too. But as for chunk plays? It's all about Williams, Tyrell -- he posted 15.9 yards per catch (most among Chargers receivers) and a team-high five catches of 30-plus yards. Re-signing Perryman would be nice, too.
The Eagles' terrific late-season run, which spilled over into the postseason, was suddenly obscured by a PhillyVoice.com article, laden with anonymous sources, that depicted QB Carson Wentz in not the best light. The article was denounced by several of Wentz's teammates. But even if Wentz hypothetically rubbed teammates the wrong way on occasion by, say, targeting one player more than others, well, what quarterback hasn't? Quarterbacks handle the ball. They pick and choose who else handles it. It's that simple. True for eighth graders, true for adults; happened in 1955, happens now. I am sure somebody was ticked off at Ron Jaworski in a preseason game in 1982 over the same @#$%. Enough already.
Here's the real question: Does this matter come August, when Wentz is the clear starter? No. Of all the Philadelphia players who spoke up on behalf of their teammate, Nate Sudfeld*stood out the most to me.* Yeah, sure, he's a third-stringer. But he's also in the QB room with Wentz and Nick Foles all the time -- and he's on the sideline, meaning he hears players' frustrations in the heat of the moment. Thinking Sudfeld, more than anyone else, would be the voice of reason.
It didn't take long for the Cowboys' offseason to become interesting. First, Jason Garrett caused a stir among fans when he said he foresaw no major changes on the coaching staff. Then Garrett did an about-face, with the team and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan making "a mutual decision" to part ways. Don't think that many Cowboys fans were heartbroken over that bit of news. ("Mutually decided" has been an ugly phrase in Dallas since the spring of 1994.) In between those happenings, Stephen Jones had said it was too early to declare the fates of coaches or players. Then Kellen Moore was elevated to OC. All of which made it appear that maybe Garrett isn't the marshal on the Stratego board. In the meantime, Cole Beasley decidedly did not toe the company line. After the slot receiver (and soon-to-be free agent) tweeted that "the front office pushes who they want to get the ball to,"*Cowboys* followers started to fear a fan favorite would be gone. The former SMU star later backtracked somewhat, but the comments were notable. What was once known as a wild franchise, where winning and partying ruled the day (sometimes in reverse order), has morphed into one where the players rarely say anything incongruent with the Jones family. Of course, the Jones family's real concern is Tank Lawrence, not Twitter comments. His asking price ain't cheap.
SIDE NOTE: In many ways, Beasley is much like former Dallas star Bill Bates. The undrafted free-agent safety made a name for himself with his all-out style of play, inspiring those around him, especially fans. Beasley isn't much different in this regard, especially when fans watch him sell out for a ball over the middle, despite his physique being reminiscent of a racquetball player. Both Bates and Beaze have something in common, something you can never measure in a player at the combine: heart. And, for what it's worth, Stephen Jones absorbed Beasley's Twitter comment well. Just like Jerry took care of Bates in the mid-'90s. #randomCowboysmusings
Despite what I alluded to above about Reich being my personal pick for Coach of the Year, Matt Nagy took home the honor -- and for good reason. He turned a perennial also-ran into a division winner in one year. Think the Bears will be back in the playoff mix, especially with a couple of tweaks in the draft (with help added on the offensive line, at corner and on the defensive line). On another note, did you hear Chicago is trying out kickers? Yay. What a stupid saga the Cody Parkey thing is. At the risk of upsetting some Chicago readers, let me state this real clearly: Parkey is not the first kicker to miss a big kick, or struggle. If you want to be mad at him, and if you want to applaud Nagy calling him out so vocally for being on a morning TV show to discuss the most public miscue of his life, super. Forgot that people are supposed to be perfect. Well, what about the absence of a running game? Or Tarik Cohen receiving four touches in that loss to the Eagles? Scapegoating is not how you win. Never has been. Moreover, that kick was tipped -- yes, ever so slightly. Here's some 10 cent physics: If an object is moving at a certain velocity, and is even slightly contacted at an angle, its trajectory will change. Then, although the degree of change is tiny, it will only veer further off-course the further it travels ... say, 43 yards. Rant done.
Seahawks fans spent much of the postseason wondering why Seattle would not open up the offense. That's fair. OC Brian Schottenheimer must play to the Seahawks' strengths on his side of the ball, much of which, it could be argued, centers on Russell Wilson improvising. What to eliminate? Sacks. For outside reading of note, take a gander at this article over at fieldgulls.com. It's an intermediate dive into how sacks negatively affected Seattle's offense more than other issues. Even in a pass-happy era, Wilson's 51 sacks taken registers as a huge number. When you factor in the fact that the Seahawks led the NFL in rushing, that number becomes even more bloated. Which brings us back to another key addition to think about. Will the team address (gulp) the offensive line high in the draft?
The relevant news out of Baltimore in the run-up to the Super Bowl was the decision to re-up coach John Harbaugh, giving him four more years to deliver the franchise its third Lombardi Trophy. Although GM Ozzie Newsome has left, the stability atop this organization merits praise. Over the last 20 years, Baltimore has been led by two coaches: Brian Billick and Harbaugh. Each led his team to an NFL title. While not everyone views Harbaugh as a premier head coach, it is difficult to find fault with his overall track record: seven playoff appearances, three trips to the AFC title game and that aforementioned Super Bowl crown. He's endured one losing season during that time. It also appears he made the right call in going with rookie Lamar Jackson at QB in 2018. Will it continue to look like the right call? We'll all find out together. Wondering how many people know that Ted Marchibroda was the first head coach this franchise ever had -- and that he also led the Colts for two different stints, once in Baltimore and once in Indy.
How easily can the Texans make it back to the postseason? Let's take a look at the AFC South. The Colts aren't going anywhere. The Titans should be just as tough in Mike Vrabel's second year as they were in 2018, and there's no way the Jags -- considering their talent -- can be worse in 2019. Houston got an incredible year out of J.J. Watt (16 sacks, 25 QB hits, seven forced fumbles) and a darn good one out of Jadeveon Clowney (nine sacks and 21 QB hits). Whether or not those guys can reproduce those kinds of numbers (assuming Houston keeps Clowney in tow) will be paramount to Houston's chances of repeating as division champs, especially if the team brass doesn't use early picks to address an offensive line that was wrung out by tough defensive fronts in '18. Running back is a concern, as well, as Lamar Miller has been up and down, and the franchise has yet to receive much ROI on D'Onta Foreman. Alfred Blue's deal is up. While we're here: Work on the secondary, too.
On paper, the Vikings should've fared much better than they did in 2018. No, not because off all the paper they dumped in Kirk Cousins' wallet, although the starting quarterback has become the whipping boy for all of Minnesota's troubles. Start with the play-calling. Hopefully, former interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski will take a different tack than the Vikings did in 2018 as he takes over those duties full-time in 2019. Your overrated writer got tired of writing about the under-usage of Dalvin Cook last year. Minnesota is set at running back (Cook) and wide receiver ( Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen). The defense is mostly set. Offensive line? Draft, draft, draft. Free agency? Anthony Barr and Sheldon Richardson are both set to hit the market. Depth on the defensive line is part of the draft/F.A. equation here, too.
How good are the Titans? You tell me. (@HarrisonNFL) Is Mike Vrabel's group destined to become a player in the AFC postseason? Or -- going in the opposite direction -- is Marcus Mariotanot the answer at quarterback (at least, if you want to do more than finish 9-7)? Tennessee is a hard team to figure out. Derrick Henry didn't do diddly-poo for two months, then erupted in back-to-back games against the Jags*and Giants.* The passing game was totally nonexistent, then produced major outlier performances (SEE: 327 passing yards against the Eagles*in Week 4).* Finally, add in the uncertainty of losing offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and elevating Arthur Smith to play-caller. What will Arthur's theme be? (Note: You will only catch that if you are well over 40 and like Christopher Cross. Otherwise, apologies.)
Who knows where to put the Steelers on this league hierarchy? For all the ugly press -- from Le'Veon Bell sitting out the season, to Antonio Brown*pouting out the final game,* to Ben Roethlisberger giving himself carte blanche to be team critic -- Pittsburgh still was right there in Week 17. Like, the Steelers were a C.J. Mosley tipped ball away from making the playoffs for the fifth straight season. So what's next? Well, everyone thinks Brown will be gone come training camp. Maybe. Bell is definitely not coming back, barring a miracle of Franco Harris proportions. The Steelers could arguably use help on all three levels of the defense, so don't be surprised if the organization uses much -- if not all -- of its draft capital on that side of the ball. Offensively, the line will be addressed, finance-wise, with most of the other question marks for 2019 to be answered in-season ... Is JuJu Smith-Schuster a legit WR1? Can James Conner serve as a capable successor to Bell for the long haul?
Now that the Super Bowl is in the books and everyone has a chance to take a macro view of the 2018 campaign, I ask this: Which story matches the Browns finally becoming a competitive franchise? Sure, their record (7-8-1) was no great shakes. But given where this organization has been -- going 1-31 over the previous two seasons and 0-for-almost-that-much in the franchise QB search -- the season was a success. With Baker Mayfield providing newfound stability in that realm, GM John Dorsey can truly take the best player available in the upcoming draft. What a desirable state it is to not need a quarterback. What could the Brownies use? Players to bolster the defensive front, the secondary (like every team) and, perhaps, the receiver corps. Many draftniks are pointing to the acquisition of a large tackle to protect Mayfield. Makes sense. No matter what, new coach Freddie Kitchens is inheriting a talented nucleus.
Nothing went right for the Falcons in 2018, which includes getting owned by the team directly ahead of them on these rankings. Like the Browns, Atlanta enjoys the luxury of being out of the quarterback business come draft time, procuring GM Thomas Dimitroff much more wiggle room than other teams have to fill holes. With safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones back in the fold for '19 after losing much of '18 to injury, is defense still a need? Well, yes. My colleague Daniel Jeremiah has Dimitroff tabbing DT Ed Oliver with his first pick. But while it's doubtful that the Falcons would hit offense with their high draft picks, especially in the first round for a second straight year (WR Calvin Ridley was the pick in '18), coach Dan Quinn could use help on the interior side of the line. Guard Andy Levitre is a free agent, and center Alex Mack (33 years old) is getting longer in the tooth.
Like the Titans in the AFC, the Packers are tough to place, albeit for different reasons. Green Bay's roster is middle-of-the-pack, but as long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy and under center, the Packers have a puncher's chance to at least make the playoffs. Despite the magnificent touchdown-to-interception ratio he sported last year (25:2), Rodgers started hearing criticism. Put another way: 2018 wasn't his best season. He could use more support, starting with the offense. With longtime coach Mike McCarthy out, new coach Matt LaFleur takes the conn with the strongest first officer in the fleet. Whether or not he can draw more from Rodgers is key. Trying to squeeze extra juice out of a play is precisely what landed Rodgers in sack trouble last year, and, frankly, has been his biggest issue throughout his Hall of Fame career. LaFleur's passing attack never amounted to much in Tennessee during his year as the offensive coordinator there, although personnel and team identity had much to do with that development. As for the draft ... I'm thinking pass rush and wide receiver. Seen a smattering of TE talk on the interwebs. The Packers say they are bringing Jimmy Graham back, though.
The Giants are in decent shape in terms of the salary cap. They have a top-flight RB1 (Saquon Barkley) and WR1 ( Odell Beckham Jr.), as well as an emerging player at TE1 (Evan Engram). Offensive line will likely be tackled via free agency. The defense is OK, but it will surely be better off with a healthy Landon Collins ... if, that is, the team franchises/re-signs him. And another decision must be made on Olivier Vernon. That leaves quarterback. Eli Manning is clearly on the downswing of his career, but he has not been nearly as awful as advertised, either. New York will likely draft a successor to Manning, as it should. Still, Eli only tossed 11 interceptions and enjoyed a few shining moments (like in the win in San Francisco). At this point, he should serve as a veteran leader and a placeholder for the future, while perhaps putting one more good year out there with a solid nucleus. Can said nucleus lead the Giants back to the top of the NFC East?
Was wondering which direction to go in with the Lions. Then I thought of Sean Ryan, former Texans QB coach, coming over to work with*Matthew Stafford* as his new position coach. Ryan has been in the league since 2007, starting with the Giants, then earning a career jump to coach Houston's quarterbacks. Talk about a QB change: Ryan partnered with Brock Osweiler before tutoring Deshaun Watson the last two seasons. In Stafford, he'll see a bit of both former charges: a pocket passer like Osweiler whose potential stands in the Watson tier. Potential. While the 30-year-old Stafford has already logged a decade in the league, there are many quarterbacks who performed at a higher level upon entering their mid-30s. Here are a few names: Charlie Conerly, Norm Van Brocklin, Y.A. Tittle, Fran Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, Brett Favre (after a mid-career lull) and even Drew Brees. As far as the talent surrounding Stafford, the Lions should consider drafting help on the defensive line and in the secondary during the early rounds.
The Panthers' offseason and upcoming season centers around Cam Newton. Not in the usual sense, as he has been team MVP since being drafted in 2011. No, this time, it is about his health. Newton's recovery from late-January shoulder surgery is paramount to Carolina's fortunes come September. Now that the organization has unleashed a prime tailback in Christian McCaffrey and a wide receiver with much upside in D.J. Moore, what's next on offense? With Ian Thomas slated to eventually replace Greg Olsen, acquiring offensive line help should be the priority. Ryan Kalil, the team's outstanding center for the last decade, has hung 'em up. Left tackle Matt Kalil hasn't worked out. Right tackle Daryl Williams is a free agent. You get the point. The front seven certainly will be a point of emphasis, especially with the great Julius Peppers retiring and Thomas Davis gone. Safety ... wideout ... OK, this is kinda tiring.
The 49ers were not themselves last year. At least, they were not what they were projected to be. Now Jimmy Garoppolo will once again be healthy. So will Jerick McKinnon, whose absence in 2018 was forgotten when pundits delivered their criticism of this football team. Along with those core players returning, San Francisco owns a ton of cap space. GM John Lynch might have been spurned by the Hall of Fame, but he will find the free-agent market more welcoming. At least, he should, as San Francisco owns quite the war chest with which to acquire parts for Kyle Shanahan. Shanny Jr. didn't own the luxury of having a full stable in 2018. As for the draft? Thinking BPA on the defensive side, although a pass rusher in Round 1 would be fantastic. Wouldn't be surprised if Lynch went with two DBs, including a prospect at the position Lynch excelled in (safety), on Day 2. Unless San Francisco goes with a wideout in the second round, that is.
The Bills require many items from free agency and the draft, yet rank higher here than many other teams with losing records. Sean McDermott has proven himself in his two years as head coach, taking Buffalo to the playoffs in Year 1 while keeping his squad afloat in games they probably shouldn't have been in (or won) in 2018, despite a horrendous start to the season. GM Brandon Beane must supply Josh Allen with better tools. Last year, Allen was like a guy taking a girl on a date on his dad's moped, with turquoise crocks on and a $10 gift certificate to Long John Silver's in hand. Allen is long on talent, short on experience and shorter on weapons. Buffalo's free agency/draft wish list should include a future replacement for LeSean McCoy (as the running back enters Year 11), major offensive line help, a wide receiver and other assorted parts. Please draft another wideout. Please. Asking for #BillsMafia, those crazy $#%#s.
The Raiders have their head coach. Quarterback, too. (Just be ready to get in the octagon if you've got something to say to the latter.) Derek Carr picked his game up last year, posting career highs in completion percentage (68.9), passing yards (4,049) and yards per attempt (7.3). He didn't suffer an interception from Week 6 through Week 16, before coughing up two during a rough outing in Kansas City on the final day of the season. Beyond coach and quarterback lies the great unknown ... although that could be a pleasant unknown, given Oakland's truckload of draft picks (three first-rounders, yay oh yay!) and enough cap room to buy three Ken Stablers, three Marcus Allens and two Cliff Branches. New GM Mike Mayock is sure to go best player available with all the Raiders' holes, but look for pass rush and wide receiver to be addressed among those three first-rounders.
The Bucs reside slightly higher than they did the last time we did the full 32-team exercise. The reason: new coach Bruce Arians. While I'm shocked he came out of retirement, I will not be as surprised if Arians leads Tampa Bay into playoff contention this year. So much has been made about the dude's Kangol hats and sleek specs that people seem to forget how he has greased the path for many a developing player, especially vets. Can Arians elevate Jameis Winston's play? That's part of the reason he was hired. That, and spinning the culture on its axis. The Bucs have celebrated all of two winning seasons over the last 10. Yuck. The front office will look to fill Arians' grocery bag mostly through the draft, as Tampa is more cap-strapped than most teams. Mock drafts are all over the place with their projections of the Bucs' pick at No. 5. My colleague Daniel Jeremiah sees them going RB1 in RD1. That's a quick bail on 2018 second-rounder Ronald Jones. Depending on how GM Jason Licht allocates finances, this group could look to recruit a wideout and tackle. Secondary -- safety or corner -- is a safe bet, too.
The Broncos enter into an offseason with a new head coach in Vic Fangio, and the same quarterback in Case Keenum ... or no? No one is really sure which direction John Elway and Co. will go in this season. The sensible approach: Play to strengths. Take advantage of Fangio's discipline, along with an elite pass rusher teamed with an ascending one and a ground game that has the pieces to play old-school football. Run the rock, field imposing defense and use up the clock. Phillip Lindsay is legit, or at least it appears that way after Year 1 of his career. In that scenario, Keenum must be careful with the football. But then again, consider the quarterback of the last team Fangio coached for. Is Mitch Trubisky any better than Keenum at this point? Fangio's defense in Chicago had to cover for an offense that stuttered its way through 2018. The attack will be less up-and-down if Denver can fortify the offensive line (tackle) and add a tight end in free agency or the draft. Unless, of course, the priority is to locate a new QB1. Keenum, baby.
Well, new coach Zac Taylor must walk right into a whole new assignment now. If he can lean on Screech to talk to the teacher, maybe ... yeah, I never liked that show, either. That Zack had frosted tips.This Zac can't glaze over the Bengals' problems. But I can tell you this: Taylor is inheriting an overall roster that is in better shape than the more cynical among us might realize. Andy Dalton is still a quality quarterback, even if he's not the long-term answer. Joe Mixon quietly rushed for over 1,100 yards at nearly 5 yards per carry. A.J. Green is A.J. Green. Tyler Boyd filled in nicely as a WR1 in Green's stead when Green was injured. Having John Ross for more than three games sure helps. He caught seven TDs in 2018, while appearing in 13 contests. While the offensive line will be addressed at some point, the main worry is the other side of the ball. Taylor's new defensive coordinator could be Jack Del Rio. Whoever it is will hope the front office plugs leaks at all three levels in the draft. This organization is not typically a money player in free agency, but the resources are there. Interested to see what Mike Brown and staff will do this spring.
If you're talking today, few teams are in worse position than the Redskins. Alex Smith's future is unfortunately clouded, with my colleague Ian Rapoport reporting that the QB could miss the entire 2019 campaign. Then there's the RB spot. Adrian Peterson just churned out a 1,000-yard season, but a) he turns 32 in a month and b) he's set to hit free agency. The hope is Derrius Guice, who missed his entire rookie campaign with a torn ACL, will be ready at some point early in the season to take on a substantial workload. At wide receiver, the investment in Paul Richardson did not pay off, while former first-round pick Josh Doctson hasn't posted a prolific game in three NFL seasons. His single-game high is 84 yards. On the other side of the ball, safety is a major concern, with D.J. Swearinger gone and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on the verge of unrestricted free agency. The Redskins are in the bottom half of the league in cap space -- and are lacking in Day 3 draft picks, too. All of which is to say team brass must manage its resources more carefully.
The Jets sit above the Jaguars, Dolphins and Cardinals for two reasons: They clearly found their quarterback and have enough cap room to purchase an island (not Revis Island). Sam Darnold has yet to show the football world his full potential, or anything close to it. Not everyone can be Patrick Mahomes. Then again, Mahomes was able to ride the pine for a year and learn, while Darnold was thrust into the lineup almost immediately. Now, the front office must do its part to provide its franchise QB with ancillary parts. GM Mike Maccagnan survived New York's poor season. Now he and the scouting department must knock the free agency period out of the park. With as much discretionary monies as they have to spread over different holes, being aggressive (and effective) in their moves is paramount. O-line help, pass rush and wide receiver immediately spring to mind. A running back who can spring through defenses wouldn't hurt, either. (Lev Bell, anyone?) And this is another in the legion of teams that could use a corner.
No team has bounced up and down the Power Rankings over the last two years more than the Jaguars. They went from No. 31 in Week 1 of 2017 to No. 2 in the 2018 preseason ... and then plummeted to 31st again in December. The trouble remains at quarterback. Specifically, Jacksonville must find one. For fans who think that the Jags are much better than where they are listed here, keep in mind that the team just went 2-10 down the stretch. Players were pouting on the bench, Tom Coughlin called out said players, and now there are plenty of league observers wondering about Leonard Fournette's future. His acting up in Week 17, and Coughlin's rebuttal, led to a purported clearing of the air. Jacksonville needs him if this team is to rebound, because who knows how many accurate passes will clear the air into receivers' hands next fall. (Provided Jags receivers don't drop 'em.) The organization has almost zero cap availability, so optimizing the draft will be huge. Coughlin, Doug Marrone and company might draft a quarterback higher than his expected value at No. 7.
It might seem weird placing the team that hired Adam Gase over the team that fired him. The issues in Miami are talent, and how to replenish that talent. Unlike their division rivals in New Jersey, the Dolphins don't have much in the way of cap money to rejuvenate the nucleus. For that matter, what -- or who -- is the nucleus? Ryan Tannehill is on shaky footing. Kenyan Drakeappears to be the RB1, but he's yet to truly fulfill that role. The receiver group is so-so. Offensive line is an area that carries some upside, yet injuries derailed that group last year (particularly losing free-agent signee Josh Sitton). The defense wasn't superior, either, and lacks multiple impact players. Also: What of the unknown of former New England assistant Brian Flores, the latest head coach in post-Shula Miami? This is not to suggest Flores will fail. The franchise is clearly trying to take a piece out of the Patriots dynasty and grow its own Lombardi-filled garden. Yet, with a new head coach -- and new head honcho in Chris Grier -- Miami has far more questions than answers.
Of all the coaching movement, news and transactions that transpired from the end of the regular season until the Super Bowl, perhaps nothing was as stunning as the Cardinals hiring Kliff Kingsbury. The former Texas Tech coach experienced anything but total success in Lubbock, then immediately jumped ship at USC before the 2019 Trojans even set sail. Now fans in Arizona are hoping they are not getting a Trojan horse, with all of their enemies in the NFC ready to overtake them ... again. The Kingsbury add is, in theory, an effort to maximize Josh Rosen (oddly enough, a former UCLA star). Say this: Kingsbury won the reigning NFL MVP's endorsement. If he can make Rosen into half the player Mahomes has become, then the Cards are on to something. As for the rest of group, look for GM Steve Keim and the personnel staff to look at sprucing up the offensive line, defensive line/pass rush and adding another corner in the draft. Larry Fitzgerald is coming back, but another wideout will be drafted. The beauty here is that the Cardinals own the top pick, and don't need a quarterback. That means flexibility. So do a ton of cap dollars, which they have.