With one week remaining in the 2019 NFL regular season, it's time to start thinking about offseason makeovers. To be honest, some teams have been thinking about this for months. I've had my eyes on three offenses that are in need of a transformation in the months ahead. Two of them will have their 2019 campaigns conclude in Week 17, and the other is slated to play on Wild Card Weekend.
Let's begin with the most obvious choice, a team that ranks dead last in scoring: the Cincinnati Bengals.
It took a furious fourth-quarter rally, but the Bengals scored a season-high 35 points in their last outing, an overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins that secured Cincy the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft. I know you are expecting me to say the team should absolutely kick Andy Dalton to the curb and draft Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, but the quarterback position isn't the area that needs the most help.
First of all, I think we're all in agreement that the Bengals' offensive line needs a massive upgrade. Cincinnati must also re-sign pending free agent A.J. Green (who hopefully will return healthy next season) and add a playmaker at tight end who can also impact the run game. If Dalton, who is signed through 2020, has weapons and a solid offensive line, he's a good enough quarterback to move the ball down the field. The biggest thing this offense -- namely head coach Zac Taylor -- must rethink is play-calling. The Bengals are tossing the ball all over the yard despite having one of the league's most talented running backs in Joe Mixon. It doesn't make sense for them to be throwing on 60-plus percent of their offensive snaps when they have Mixon in the backfield and are without their best offensive player of the last decade (the injured Green).
Moreover, I would expect Taylor to bring more of what he learned from Sean McVay to the Bengals' offense. The Rams feasted on defenses during last year's run to the Super Bowl by using play-action. Cincinnati, although not as explosive, has the pieces to excel with play-action, but the offense has hardly used it in Taylor's first season at the helm. The Bengals have recorded the fifth-most dropbacks (649) but are tied for 17th in the league in dropbacks off play-action, utilizing the tactic on a fifth of their offensive plays, per Pro Football Focus. I believe this team would see vast improvement in its offensive production if it beefed up the O-line, invested in a tight end and leaned on Mixon, who's averaging 19.1 touches per game. He should get the ball at least 25 times a game.
The Carolina Panthers are next on my list. I wrote about the Panthers in Week 4 and mentioned I don't love the pairing of Norv Turner and Cam Newton, who has undergone shoulder and foot surgeries in the past year. Backup quarterback Kyle Allen played well at times while filling in for the injured Newton, but he was demoted in favor of rookie Will Grier last week, and the offense has underwhelmed, to say the least, down the stretch. The Panthers have good, young receivers and an exceptional running back in Christian McCaffrey, so there's a lot to like about the skill-position talent. The scheme and quarterback must now marry, no matter who is calling the plays or taking the snaps next season.
The Panthers interviewed Mike McCarthy for their head-coaching vacancy on Sunday, and while I don't know if he'll ultimately be the choice to replace Ron Rivera, I don't see his system as a good fit for Newton. The most important aspect of running McCarthy's pro-style offense is having a great pocket passer (remember, McCarthy had Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay), but that's not Newton's game. Maybe the Panthers think they have an answer in Allen or Grier. Time will tell.
Then there's the Buffalo Bills, who are riding their suffocating defense to the playoffs. The offense ranks in the league's bottom third in total yards, pass yards and points per game. The Bills have built a solid offensive foundation and quarterback Josh Allen has improved in Year 2. The thing that will make this unit exponentially better is tweaking the offense to get Allen more involved in the run game. He leads all quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns (nine), but he's not used enough on designed runs. Just 28 percent of his rush attempts are designed runs, while 44 percent are scrambles. With a Cam Newton-like frame, Allen has the speed and athleticism (he hurdled Vikings LB Anthony Barr last season, for goodness sake) to take this offense to the next level with his running ability. Instead of employing a traditional pro-style offense, why not use Allen's strengths as a runner more often? Look at what Baltimore is doing with Lamar Jackson. Buffalo won't be as explosive, but certainly could be much more effective moving the ball downfield.
Each week in the 2019 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. Now, let's get to it -- the Week 17 pecking order is below.
Jackson threw for three touchdowns and rushed for 103 yards (his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season) against the Browns to help the Ravens clinch the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Lamar is playing at such a high level right now that I'm not sure anyone can stop him. It seems like he jukes at least three defenders every time he touches the ball. Imagine how fresh he'll be after a couple weeks off.
McCaffrey continues to be the most exciting part of the Panthers' 2019 season. He already broke his own record for most receptions in a season by a running back (109), and needs 216 scrimmage yards in Week 17 against the Saints to break Chris Johnson's single-season record (2,509). Averaging 152.9 scrimmage yards per game this season, McCaffrey has only recorded 216-plus scrimmage yards once this season (Week 5 vs. Jacksonville), so it'll be tough for him to surpass CJ2K.
I realize the Chicago Bears' defense isn't the same unit it was last season, but Mahomes moved the ball at will from the start and built a 17-0 lead at the half on Sunday night. Based on his performance at Soldier Field (251 pass yards, two pass TDs, one rush TD), you'd have no idea he dislocated his kneecap earlier this season.
A week after Drew Brees set an all-time record, Michael Thomas got his turn vs. the Titans, as he broke Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison's single-season NFL record for receptions (143). Thomas' 12 receptions increased his season total to 145, and because the Saints are still playing for that first-round bye, I honestly wouldn't be shocked to see Thomas flirt with around 160 on Sunday.
The Cardinals' defense, or should I say Chandler Jones, swarmed Russell Wilson all game long on Sunday. Jones finished with four of the Cardinals' five sacks. With the exception of Sunday's opening drive -- an 89-yarder that culminated in a TD pass -- Wilson and the Seahawks' offense stalled for much of the game. Wilson has certainly faced in-game adversity in the past, but he lost two running backs to injury on Sunday ( Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise) after also losing Rashaad Penny -- and receiver Josh Gordon -- earlier this month. Even with Marshawn Lynch getting back in the mix, Seattle's going to need better from Wilson.
It has certainly been a happy holiday season for Drew Brees, who kept his offense calm and on track Sunday after falling behind early vs. the Titans. He's playing his best football of the year coming down the final stretch. In the last three games, Brees has completed 78.7 percent of his passes for 12 TDs, zero picks and a 139.8 passer rating to keep the Saints in contention for a first-round bye.
If anyone forgot that the Chiefs have one of the league's most dangerous offenses, they needed to simply watch them play against the Bears for a reminder. Kelce was once again Patrick Mahomes' favorite target, hauling in eight receptions for 74 yards and a score. That tandem should continue to wreak havoc into January.
The Houston Texans clinched the AFC South title with their defeat of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Deshaun Watson has to be better than he was on Saturday if they have any intention of making it out of Wild Card Weekend. Watson led the Texans in rush yards with 37 and couldn't get much going in the pass game, completing 59 percent of his attempts for 184 yards and an INT. The fact that he was sacked five times and didn't throw a single touchdown pass against a Bucs unit that ranked 30th in pass defense coming into the game doesn't give me much confidence at this stage in the season.
The Los Angeles Rams didn't have an answer Saturday night for Kittle, who's been on fire pretty much all season. His numbers have been particularly eye-popping over the last two weeks, as he's logged 18 catches for 213 yards and a TD reception. He continues to play great ball for the 49ers, who can clinch the NFC's No. 1 seed with a win over Seattle on Sunday.
The Cowboys have imploded over the last month, winning only one of their last five games. My NFL Network colleague Kyle Brandt had it right this week when he discussed the Cowboys' devastating loss to the Eagles on Good Morning Football, saying it was the worst defeat of their worst season in his lifetime. Coming into the game, Zeke was 5-0 and averaged 114.8 rush yards per game in his career vs. the Eagles. On Sunday, he finished with 13 carries for a measly 47 yards. If that doesn't tell the story ...
It was a tough day all around for the Browns, who were eliminated from playoff contention with their loss to Baltimore. Chubb rushed for a season-low 45 yards Sunday but still holds the league lead in rushing yards (1,453) with one week to play.
Jones has been exceptional over the last two weeks (both Atlanta victories) with 23 receptions for 300 yards and two TDs. On Sunday he set the record for fewest games to 12,000 receiving yards in NFL history, besting the previous mark (held by Jerry Rice) by 17 games. Jones will have his sixth straight 1,400-yard campaign if he registers at least 84 in Week 17 against the Bucs.
Rodgers and the Packers' offense stayed patient during a rocky start Monday night in which they turned the ball over three times before the end of the first half. Their patience paid off. Green Bay scored two TDs in the second half at Minnesota, helping the Packers claim the NFC North title for the first time since 2016. Rodgers had an up-and-down performance that included some errant throws but also some dimes -- basically what we've seen all season from the veteran passer.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans: The Houston offense couldn't do much of anything Saturday against the Bucs, so it's a good thing the defense showed up. Hopkins had five receptions for a season-low 23 yards, but those five receptions were enough to put him over 100 for the season.