Only one team in the NFL is able to win the Super Bowl each season, but every franchise deserves a grade. How did your team do this season?
Every team in the NFL claims its only goal each year is to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Obviously, that’s an exaggeration for quite a few franchises. Most teams in the league can achieve success without winning the Super Bowl.
In this piece, we’ll assign a grade to each of the league’s 32 teams. In most cases, we’ll base our grade on their preseason expectations. A team that was expected to finish last in their division but made the Playoffs would get high marks. In contrast, a team projected to win their division who only managed to scrape into the postseason with a Wild Card berth might receive an ugly grade.
We will start our piece with a team that didn’t enjoy a good season in the desert.
It’s hard to give the Cardinals any credit for their 3-13 campaign. Any time you fire a coach after just one season it’s pretty obvious things have gone poorly. That’s precisely what happened to Steve Wilks in Arizona.
The franchise went into their 2018 campaign with the foolish hope that Sam Bradford might be able to lead them to the playoffs. That dream lasted a grand total of three regular season games. The Cardinals deserve some modicum of credit for going ahead and handing the starting job over to Josh Rosen early in the season.
The result with Rosen at the helm of the offense were predictably ugly. He threw 14 interceptions against just 11 touchdowns and perhaps more concerning, he only completed just over 55 percent of his passes. He’ll need to improve in every area of his game during his sophomore campaign.
The Cardinals didn’t enter the season with any legitimate expectations, but they were simply dreadful. There’s a reason Arizona’s decision makers elected to hit the reset button as soon as the season was over.
The Falcons may have finished the season at 7-9, but they never really felt like a team that was really going to be a playoff threat. In fairness to Dan Quinn and his coaching staff, a boatload of injuries really put this team behind the eight ball.
The biggest problem the Falcons offense experienced in 2018 was an inability to run the football. For all of the justified hype that Matt Ryan and Julio Jones receive, this team was built around dominating the line of scrimmage. Injuries to the offensive line and Devonta Freeman made Atlanta far too dependent on the pass. Ultimately, the Falcons finished 27th in the NFL with 98.3 yards per game on the ground.
Things for the team’s defense were even worse. Losing Deion Jones certainly hurt the group, but the drop off should not have been this severe. Finishing 25th in the league in points allowed doomed this team to mediocrity.
The biggest question for the Falcons moving forward is whether or not they can close the gap with the Saints in one season. Getting players healthy will be a big help, but fans should be nervous over just how big the difference between Atlanta and New Orleans really is.
John Harbaugh and his staff deserve a lot of credit for successfully transitioning from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson. Switching quarterbacks midseason and still making the playoffs is an impressive feat. Doing so with two signal callers who approach the game so differently is nothing short of amazing.
In fairness, the Ravens still won games in the same manner they have for years. The Baltimore defense was first in the NFL in yards allowed per game and second in points. Harbaugh’s offense didn’t need to make explosive plays to win football games.
Some people will want to really ding the Ravens for losing a home playoff game to the Chargers, but that seems merely like a bump in the road. It was certainly a disappointing day for Ravens fans, but expecting Jackson to play great in his first postseason game was always unreasonable. Frankly, the Ravens lost to a more talented opponent.
The challenge for the Ravens organization now is to fully commit to Jackson as their quarterback. He needs different weapons than the team looked for with Flacco leading the offense. It’s safe to expect a really active offseason in the Charm City.
The Bills aren’t going to hang any banners after their 6-10 campaign, but it was a step forward for a franchise that really needed some momentum. The most important takeaway from Buffalo’s season is that Josh Allen looks like a quarterback they can legitimately build around.
That doesn’t mean he’s anything close to a conventional signal caller. At this point in his career, he’s a much better runner than passer. Allen ran the ball an incredible 89 times for 631 yards in just 12 games. That gave the Bills offense a big advantage over defenses used to combating conventional quarterbacks.
Allen’s lack of progress as a passer is what keeps this grade from getting any higher. Adding the run threat is nice, but the Bills still finished 31st in the NFL in passing yards per game. Zay Jones was unable to fill the role of No. 1 wide receiver. If Buffalo expects to take a step forward in 2019, they must give Allen more weapons to help him improve in the passing game.
The way forward for the Bills is to control the game with a stout defense and an offense that’s excellent at moving the chains. They aren’t going to outscore elite opponents anytime soon, but that’s not the blueprint. Don’t be surprised if this team stays in the playoff hunt deep into their 2019 regular season.
The Panthers looked to be cruising toward a playoff berth with a 6-2 record in Week 9. The wheels came off for Ron Rivera after that point in the season. Carolina limped to an ugly 7-9 finish which leaves fans with a lot of questions heading into this offseason.
The biggest issue for the Panthers this year was the injury to Cam Newton. Their swoon directly coincided with his inability to push the ball down the field. Franchise officials are optimistic he can use this offseason to return to full health, but it’s far from a certainty.
The one shining star of the season for the Panthers was Christian McCaffrey. Heading into the season, there were serious questions about whether or not he could hold up as an every down back. The former Cardinal star answered those questions emphatically. He carried the ball 219 times for 1,098 yards and 7 touchdowns. Combine that with the fact that he led the team with 107 catches for 867 yards and it’s easy to see he’s a franchise back.
Not all of Carolina’s issues were on offense though. The team’s pass rush took a massive dip, too. That put too much pressure on a young secondary to hold up against elite receivers. The Panthers will look to find edge rushers in free agency and/or the draft to get the defense back up to par.
The status of Newton will dominate the offseason headlines in Charlotte, but there are more issues for this franchise to address. Don’t sleep on all the questions Marty Hurney needs to answer.
Even the most optimistic Bears fans would have been happy to accept a 12-4 regular season record in 2018. Of course, the acquisition of Khalil Mack did a lot to strengthen Matt Nagy’s squad.
The Chicago defense was nothing short of spectacular. The trade for Mack and drafting of Roquan Smith gave the group two dynamic playmakers they didn’t have on their squad last year. The results were frightening for opposing offenses. Chicago finished first in the NFL in terms of points allowed per game. It’s hard to do much better than that.
The only criticism we have for the Bears’ season is the inability to help Mitchell Trubisky really take a leap forward. He was fairly efficient running Nagy’s offense, but when Chicago struggled, it was because Trubisky couldn’t elevate his play. Fair questions still remain over whether or not Trubisky is anything more than the product of a really good offensive system.
That might limit the Bears’ ceiling over time, but this is still a really good football team that enjoyed a breakout season. It wasn’t quite enough to earn them a straight A, but an A- is a pretty good result for a franchise that’s clearly headed in the right direction.
The Marvin Lewis era in Cincinnati has finally reached its merciful conclusion. Bengals fans have to be excited at the prospect of a new voice leading their beloved team.
The defense was really the group that let fans down in 2018. They were awful in almost every statistical category. They finished dead last in the NFL in terms of total yards and passing yards allowed per game. Predictably, they also gave up a ton of points. In some ways they were fortunate to only rank 30th in that statistical category.
The offense wasn’t all that much better, but injuries to Andy Dalton and Joe Mixon definitely contributed to that unit’s struggles. Mixon is certainly a player the new staff will build around, but Dalton’s future with the franchise is very much up in the air. Jeff Driskel showed he isn’t an NFL starter, so if the Bengals do go away from Dalton they’ll need to acquire his replacement.
Next year the Bengals might struggle to replicate their 6-10 record, but they could get a higher grade just by emphatically turning the page on the Lewis era. It’s time for Cincinnati to strive for something other than an occasional Wild Card berth.
We were tempted to give the Browns an A+ simply as a product of moving on from Hue Jackson, but truthfully there are more encouraging things to discuss for Browns fans. The emergence of Baker Mayfield as a quarterback the franchise can build around is definitely cause for optimism in northeast Ohio.
Building a quality offense around a rookie quarterback isn’t easy, but it’s precisely what the Browns managed to do. Mayfield certainly held up his end of the bargain by completing just under 64% of his passes and throwing for 27 touchdowns against just 14 interceptions. A few savvy offseason additions combined with natural progression from Mayfield could make this a top-10 offense next season.
Unfortunately, things on the other side of the ball weren’t quite as good. The defense’s inability to stop opponents was the real reason Cleveland finished at 7-8-1. Finishing 25th in the NFL against the pass and 28th against the run is a really good recipe for giving up lots of points. The Browns have some interesting pieces on defense, but the group has a long way to go before it becomes a league average unit.
Despite the defensive issues, Browns fans have every right to feel good about the future of their franchise based on the results of the 2018 regular season. Cleveland should enter 2019 with legitimate playoff aspirations for the first time in quite a while.
Jason Garrett wasn’t able to lead his team to a magical postseason run, but finishing 10-6 was a fair accomplishment for the roster at his disposal. More importantly, the midseason acquisition of Amari Cooper really raised the offense’s ceiling moving forward. It’s very possible the Cowboys can assemble a top-10 offense in 2019.
As good as Cooper is, Ezekiel Elliott still runs the show when Dallas has the football. He led the team in rushing attempts and catches for the year. The dynamic running back accounted for over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. The scary thing is that he may have even more room to develop as a pass catcher out of the backfield.
Dak Prescott was really good for the team down the stretch, as well. If Dallas can hire an offensive coordinator that can help take advantage of his running ability, he’s going to draw a lot of Russell Wilson comparisons moving forward.
While the offense got all the attention, the defense turned in another really good season. They finished sixth in the NFL in points allowed and their athletic linebacker corps made them particularly tough against the run. This group may dip if DeMarcus Lawrence leaves in free agency, but there’s still a lot of talent in the front seven.
Add it all up and it was a good season for the Cowboys, but it wasn’t special. 2019 may be the season where expectations really get ramped up in Big D.
The Broncos signed Case Keenum to solidify their quarterback position and he played like a backup. Throwing for 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions really torpedoed any chance Denver had at making the playoffs. His ineptitude is a big reason why the Broncos finished at 6-10.
The quarterback question is going to hang over the franchise this offseason, but at least they found a running back they can count on. Phillip Lindsay was one of the surprise players of the season in the NFL. He ran the ball 192 times for 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns. He gives Denver a guy they can count on in the backfield moving forward.
Quietly, the Broncos defense took a significant step backwards this season too. That’s something that has to change in 2019 if they want to get back to the postseason. Finishing 22nd in the NFL in yards allowed per game isn’t going to get it done for a team that lacks offensive firepower.
The Broncos were hoping they could rebuild on the fly in 2018 but instead they are a franchise trapped in mediocrity. That’s one of the worst places to be. Things may well get worse in Denver before they get better for John Elway and company.
Some Lions fans entered this season with high expectations, but Detroit’s roster was never poised for greatness. Matt Patricia didn’t do a great job in his first season at the helm, but the team’s mediocrity really shouldn’t have been all that unexpected.
The most disconcerting thing about the Lions season was the inability of Matthew Stafford and company to move the ball. In previous seasons, Detroit could put up points even if they couldn’t stop anyone. This year that changed in an instant. The Lions only finished 25th in the NFL in scoring per game. Trading Golden Tate in the middle of the year didn’t help, but it’s possible this franchise needs to blow the offense up and start all over again.
The results of the defense were actually pretty encouraging. Patricia absolutely improved the Lions on that side of the ball. Finishing 10th in the NFL in yards per game was a solid return for the talent available on the Detroit roster. It’s easy to see that group improving next year if they can make some savvy additions via the draft and free agency.
Detroit’s immediate future comes down to whether or not Stafford can get this offense humming again. If he can, the Lions may be playoff-bound next year. If not, it may be time for a complete rebuild in the Motor City.
Green Bay Packers-D
The Lions weren’t the only NFC North team that disappointed this season. The Packers had an even uglier campaign. Ultimately, Green Bay’s season was bad enough to cost Mike McCarthy his head coaching job.
Plenty of Packers fans will see that as a massive opportunity to improve, but the fact that he was fired is a clear sign of just how bad this season was for Aaron Rodgers and his offense. The future Hall of Famer managed to drag the group to an average of 23.5 points per game, but this unit never really looked like it hit its stride.
Things on the defensive side of the ball were even worse. The Packers have spent a lot of draft capital on improving this unit in recent years, but it’s not paying off on the field. Giving up 25 points per game is not a solid blueprint to make the playoffs. Significant schematic changes will be required to get this defense up to the NFL average.
The Packers get a D for largely wasting one of Rodgers’ last good years in the NFL. His inability to get along with McCarthy certainly deserves some criticism, but Green Bay can’t afford to waste any more of his peak years.
Undoubtedly, some of you are appalled at a B- grade for a team that won their division. We understand that point of view, but this team has entirely too much talent to bow out at home in the playoffs.
The Texans get downgraded further for allowing Deshaun Watson to get battered for long stretches of the season. Houston simply has to find a way to protect their franchise quarterback. Letting him get sacked an astounding 62 times is a prime example of football malpractice by Bill O’Brien and his coaching staff.
On defense, the secondary was a massive issue for this team. Injuries really hurt the group, but Houston couldn’t find any answers. The Texans have to hope for better injury luck next season, but they also need to bring back Tyrann Mathieu or another top-notch safety if they want to really improve.
The worst thing about this season for Texans fans is that they really didn’t learn anything about their team. The offense still puts Watson at risk too frequently, but he can make enough big plays to get them by most weeks. The defense has some big name stars, but they lack the depth to be a dominant unit. Things broke well enough for them to go 11-5 this year, but they’ll need a really good offseason to maintain that record next year.
The top priority for the Colts this season was to discover whether or not they could count on Andrew Luck being their franchise quarterback moving forward. He emphatically answered that question by putting up a Pro Bowl-caliber season. Anything else the Colts got out of the year was pure gravy.
As it happens, Indianapolis got a lot of gravy. Frank Reich may not have been the franchise’s first choice, but he looks like a guy who really has command of his locker room. In particular, he crafted one of the NFL’s best offenses. The Colts put up 27.1 points per game which was good for fifth in the league. Luck’s resurgence was a huge part of the successful formula, but adding guys like Quenton Nelson also helped the Colts start to develop a physical running game.
The defense was slightly above average across the board, but that significantly exceeded preseason expectations. The emergence of Darius Leonard as a monster linebacker puts the group on solid footing moving forward. It’s not difficult to envision this group becoming a top-10 unit if the front office can make some smart additions in the offseason.
As long as Luck can stay healthy, the Colts are well-positioned to be serious Super Bowl contenders in the future. Any reasonable fan would have taken the season’s results in a heartbeat when this campaign began.
Doug Marrone’s team entered the season as a sleeper pick to win the Super Bowl. Instead, they turned in an ugly 5-11 campaign filled with drama and dysfunction. That’s enough to earn the team a grade of F for the season.
No one expected Blake Bortles to suddenly turn into Tom Brady, but he played even worse than before. Throwing 13 touchdowns versus 11 interceptions on just 6.7 yards per attempt doesn’t get it done in today’s NFL. Jacksonville’s number one priority this offseason needs to be finding a long-term answer at the game’s most important position.
Bortles play wasn’t helped by Leonard Fournette’s disastrous season. The highly-touted running back only managed to produce 439 yards on 133 carries. He battled injuries and suspensions all year long. Next year is going to be a make or break season for the talented, but troubled battering ram.
A narrative developed in some circles that claimed the Jaguars defense wasn’t quite as good this season, but that’s largely overblown. The unit finished fourth in the NFL while giving up just 19.8 points per game. The group might not have been quite as dominant as they were last year, but this debacle isn’t on Jalen Ramsey and company. This team failed because of offensive ineptitude.
Kansas City Chiefs-A-
It’s easy to forget that Patrick Mahomes was a bit of a question mark before the season began. Most executives thought, at the very least, he’d show some real inconsistency from week-to-week. Instead, he turned in an MVP season under the watchful eye of coach Andy Reid.
In many ways, Mahomes was the best story for a league that desperately needed a new poster child. His magical ability to wing the ball all over the field was appointment television for the nation. He wasn’t able to guide the Chiefs to the Super Bowl, but it’s hard to imagine him giving this franchise anything more in his sophomore season.
If the grade was entirely based on the Chiefs offense, the group would get an easy A+. Unfortunately, defense is also a part of the game. That’s where Kansas City really struggled. The group was torched for an average of 405.5 yards per game and finished 24th in the NFL in scoring defense. It’s not an exaggeration to say this team would have blown the rest of the league away if they could have stopped opponents at even an average clip.
Bob Sutton finally got the axe as the team’s defensive coordinator after the Patriots loss, but it’s fair to say this team waited too long to pull the plug on his vanilla schemes. Mahomes figures to give the Chiefs several more chances to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, but their stubbornness on defense cost the talented quarterback his first chance.
Los Angeles Chargers-B+
If Mahomes hadn’t dominated the headlines for much of the season, Philip Rivers would have been the MVP in the minds of a lot of NFL observers. He had an amazing campaign for a 37-year-old signal caller with so many miles on his arm. Throwing for 4,300 yards and 32 touchdowns is pretty good at any age.
As you might expect, the Chargers offense was pretty good. They weren’t great in any single category, but they were solidly above average at everything. That mix makes you one of the top-10 offenses in the league by a pretty comfortable margin.
Interestingly enough, the team’s defense was even better. Even though they played significant games without Joey Bosa, this group still finished the campaign in the top-10 of every major category. The addition of Derwin James can’t be overstated. He gave the Chargers a real difference-maker all over the field and he even managed to lead the team in tackles. The Chargers defense is well positioned to be a good group for years to come.
Winning the playoff game at Baltimore was a nice feather in this team’s cap, but it didn’t cause them to exceed expectations. Winning at New England would have accomplished that feat, but Rivers just couldn’t conjure up that type of magic. It was a good, but not great season for Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Rams-A
The Rams will be lamenting their Super Bowl loss to the Patriots for the entire offseason. That shouldn’t distract anyone from their brilliant season. The future remains very bright for Sean McVay’s squad.
After all, making it to the Super Bowl is an accomplishment in and of itself. At times, the Rams offense looked completely dominant during the 2018 campaign. The group kept right on ticking even after Cooper Kupp went down to injury. Todd Gurley wasn’t right during the playoffs, but he was stellar during the regular season.
The Rams defense also enjoyed plenty of star power. The combination of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh wreaked havoc on opposing offensive linemen. Suh might not be back next year, but the duo worked really well while it lasted.
Some might call the Rams season a failure because they didn’t finish things off by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, but this team’s window to contend didn’t end with Super Bowl 53. This team still has a ton of talent coming back next year. There’s no guarantee the Rams will make it back to the big game next year, but no one should bet against McVay’s coaching genius either.
Finishing with a 7-9 record makes it pretty obvious the Dolphins were almost the definition of mediocrity in the NFL this year. Ultimately that cost head coach Adam Gase his job, but he landed on his feet with the Jets.
The real issue with Miami this year is that they didn’t get a clear answer on whether or not they can count on Ryan Tannehill moving forward. It’s imperative for the franchise to pick a direction at quarterback and stick with it. Tannehill wasn’t really a part of Miami’s problem this year, but he wasn’t a part of the solution, either. Expect his inability to stay healthy to be his undoing this offseason.
The Dolphins defense was a disaster all over the field. Minkah Fitzpatrick showed signs of being a real difference-maker, but his unit still gave up 27.1 points per game. That number will have to come way down in 2019 if Miami has any hopes of returning to the postseason.
This team deserved a C if you only judged it by its final record, but the fact that they didn’t position themselves for a brighter future drops their grade to a C-. Things may have to get worse before they can meaningfully improve in South Florida.
The Vikings pushed all of their chips into the middle of the table when they signed Kirk Cousins to a massive contract in free agency. It’s fair to say Mike Zimmer’s team went bust. Finishing 8-7-1 was a huge disappointment to fans in Minnesota.
The real challenge for the Vikings is they lack the financial flexibility to really change things in the offseason. This team, for better or worse, is going to come back next season with the vast majority of their roster in tact. They may lose a few prominent free agents as well. Minnesota has to count on a good draft and internal improvement to get back to the Playoffs.
The good news is that the defense was still very good in 2018. They struggled a little bit to stop the run, but everything else was rock solid. It’s not hard to envision this group returning to elite status next year.
The offense, however, needs to improve drastically. In particular, they need to significantly improve their rushing output. There’s no reason a team with this much talent at the skill positions should only run for 93.3 yards per game.
The Vikings entered this season with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations and they didn’t come close to meeting them. In some ways, they are fortunate to receive a D.
New England Patriots-A+
It only makes sense that the team that wins the Super Bowl should get our only A+. We’re all running out of superlatives for Tom Brady and company, but we’ll do our best in this space to accurately articulate their greatness.
Brady is going to start slowing down sometime, but we didn’t see any real signs of age-related regression this year. He was still the same brilliant signal caller he’s been for the better part of two decades. Bill Belichick didn’t put as much on Brady during this regular season as he has in previous seasons, but he’s still one of the most dangerous passers in the NFL.
The steady improvement of the defense over the full campaign was the real secret to New England’s success. Specifically, the defensive line really gelled as time went on. Trey Flowers was the standout, but the group functioned well as a unit. Even if Flowers bolts via free agency, you shouldn’t bet against this group finding a way to overcome his departure.
The only real question about the Patriots heading into the offense is whether or not Rob Gronkowski will come back to play another season. He wasn’t the same dynamic weapon this season as we’ve seen in previous seasons, but he still terrifies defensive coordinators.
Anyone looking for slippage from this franchise next year will need to squint really hard to see any signs of hope.
New Orleans Saints-A
Let’s be real here. The Saints should have made it to the Super Bowl. The referees absolutely cost them a chance at history. As such, we’re going to grade them as if they made it to Atlanta.
Everyone knows Sean Payton’s offense was electric. Drew Brees played at an MVP level despite being 40 years old. Alvin Kamara continues to be one of the most diverse weapons in the NFL. The ascendancy of Michael Thomas to arguably the league’s top wide receiver makes trying to stop New Orleans downright unfair. This unit put up 31.5 points per game and made it look relatively easy most weeks.
The defense was a different story. The group wasn’t necessarily bad, but they definitely regressed from their performance level during the 2017 season. Strangely, the Saints were great against the run (2nd in the NFL) but horrible against the pass (29th). The end result was a league average defense. Expect the organization to focus their limited draft assets on that side of the ball in April.
The simple truth for the Saints is they did exactly what a roster with this kind of talent should do. At some point age will rob Brees of his ability to play like a Pro Bowler, but it hasn’t happened yet. It was an excellent year for the Saints despite the unjust end to their season.
New York Giants-C-
Pat Shurmur’s first year in charge of the Giants was interesting, but it wasn’t all that productive. Finishing 5-11 is probably about right for the talent level at his disposal, but New York didn’t really answer many questions about their future. That’s not acceptable in a season where postseason qualification was never a realistic goal.
The quarterback issue is going to hang over the franchise until a long-term successor for Eli Manning is identified and installed. Manning wasn’t awful this season, but he’s got zero upside as a signal caller. Big seasons from Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, Jr. helped make the offense an average NFL unit. Scoring 23.1 points per game isn’t great, but it’s not terrible either.
The defense wasn’t a train wreck either, but they were comfortably below average. Landon Collins led the team in tackles, but he’s a free agent. If New York can’t retain him or acquire a suitable replacement on the open market they could become one of the league’s worst units in 2019.
Ultimately, the Giants attempted to thread the needle between rebuilding and contending. They didn’t really accomplish either objective. That’s why they come away with a pretty ugly C-.
New York Jets-D+
The Jets finished with an ugly record of 4-12 and that cost Todd Bowles his job. Now it’s up to Adam Gase to prove he can elevate the play of Sam Darnold and company. Given the way the team played in 2018, there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Darnold showed flashes of greatness, but he played like a rookie struggling to adjust to the NFL game for most of the season. His struggles really shouldn’t surprise anyone given the lack of weapons available to him. Isaiah Crowell is a decent running back, but he’s not going to carry an offense. The same can be said about Robby Anderson at the wide receiver position.
The real reason Bowles got axed was the poor play of the defense. Sure, the offense put them in some difficult spots, but the Jets really didn’t stop anyone. They played a vanilla scheme that allowed teams to operate comfortably against them all season long. Finishing 29th in the NFL in scoring defense is not a good way to win football games.
The one advantage the Jets have over the Giants is that they’ve already endured the pain of playing a rookie quarterback as their starter. That’s not good enough to get them a higher grade for this season, but it might pay dividends in the future.
It’s very obvious Jon Gruden took this job with the intention of blowing the entire roster to smithereens. Trading away guys like Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper acquired Oakland plenty of draft capital, but it made the team pretty dreadful in the short-term.
Truthfully, that makes the Raiders tough to evaluate. Finishing 4-12 in the AFC West clearly isn’t good, but the organization did make a somewhat intentional decision to be bad. We’re not saying the Raiders were tanking, but it’s the next-closest thing in the NFL.
Offensively, it’s hard to point to anything Oakland really did well. Derek Carr had an average season, but when Jared Cook is your top target it’s unfair to expect anything more from your quarterback. The running back group was led by Doug Martin. You can practically hear the Tampa Bay fans laughing at that notion. Clearly, the offensive talent must be upgraded in the offseason.
Dealing Mack for draft picks really put Gruden’s defense behind the eight ball. Their inability to generate any sort of pass rush allowed the group to be lit up most weeks. Giving up 29.2 points per game is going to get you a high draft pick every year.
We almost gave the Raiders a straight F, but bumped them up to a D since they seemed to lose on purpose. Oakland fans didn’t want to jump into a straight rebuild, but that’s what’s happening.
This is absolutely the toughest team to grade. Doug Pederson’s group suffered quite a few serious injuries that caused them to change their style of play on the fly multiple times this year. The end result was a 9-7 regular season with one surprising playoff victory.
Beating the Bears by a point isn’t going to don the annals of NFL Films anytime soon, but it was a resilient result for a group that was banged up. Carson Wentz was obviously missing, but Jay Ajayi’s injury early in the season really hurt the offense. Finishing 28th in the NFL in rushing yards per game put too much pressure on Philly’s pass attack. It’s tough to make any long-term conclusions about how the offense played all season long.
The defense was similarly inconsistent. They were stout against the run but horrible against the pass. Revamping the secondary should be this team’s top priority during the offseason.
Expect the status of Nick Foles to dominate the Eagles’ offseason, but there’s a lot more work to be done around the entire roster. Give Pederson credit for keeping things together despite tough injuries. Lesser coaches would have simply mailed it in.
The Steelers season was an absolute soap opera. It began with the Le’Veon Bell holdout and concluded with Antonio Brown openly rebelling against Mike Tomlin. In some ways, it’s amazing this team managed to keep it together enough to finish with a 9-6-1 record.
That’s the positive way to look at things. The more accurate view on Pittsburgh’s 2018 campaign is that Tomlin underachieved with one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. There’s no reason this team shouldn’t have been competing for home field advantage in the playoffs.
Offensively, the loss of Bell absolutely stung. James Conner stepped in admirably, but the group still finished 31st in the league in rushing yards per game. They were electric throwing the ball, but the lack of balance on offense made it much easier for defenses to handle.
The defense played well, but not great. In some ways the unit was a little unlucky. Groups that finish 6th against the run and 10th against the pass shouldn’t finish 17th in terms of points allowed. A few smart offseason additions could get this unit right back into the top-10.
Pittsburgh wasn’t a disaster this year, but it absolutely didn’t meet expectations. A C- might even be a little bit generous considering the elite talent on the roster.
San Francisco 49ers-C-
In all honesty, the 49ers season effectively ended when Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an injury that cost him the entire year. Everything that happened after that point was all about developing players for 2019.
Kyle Shanahan deserves a ton of credit for keeping the offense respectable even without their franchise signal caller. The emergence of Matt Breida as a reliable starting running back and George Kittle as a potential star at tight end bode well for the franchise’s future. They should be huge pluses for Garoppolo next year.
The results on the other side of the ball weren’t as encouraging. Richard Sherman was brought in to elevate the secondary but he didn’t get it done. The only clear standout on that side of the ball is DeForest Buckner. Shanahan is an offensive guru, but he might need to find a better defensive specialist to round out his coaching staff.
This wasn’t a terrible season for the 49ers, but the loss of Garoppolo really killed the team. C- is a decent result considering the hand Shanahan was dealt.
A lot of NFL experts thought this would be the season where Pete Carroll’s team fell out of contention altogether. Instead, Russell Wilson and company produced a solid 10-6 regular season campaign before they fell to the Cowboys in the playoffs.
If you would have told most Seahawks fans before the year began that this team would make the playoffs, almost everyone would have taken it and asked zero questions. They should thank their running game for the team’s success. It might have been too predictable in the postseason, but grinding out 160 yards per game during the regular season is the biggest reason why Seattle won 10 games. Doing it without a big-name running back made it all the more impressive.
The slippage of the defense is what keeps Seattle from receiving a straight A. The Legion of Boom is no longer present in the Pacific Northwest. The group wasn’t bad, but it doesn’t scare anyone any longer. In particular, the secondary needs to be revamped if the Seahawks want to make the playoffs again next year.
The manner of the Cowboys loss will leave a bad taste in some fans’ mouths, but overall Seattle really exceeded preseason expectations. This team fully deserves the A- they are receiving.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers-D+
It seems like a long time ago when Ryan Fitzpatrick lit up the NFL to open the season. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, his electric stretch to begin the year was the best stretch of Tampa Bay’s campaign.
In the end, they limped to a 5-11 finish in a very competitive NFC South. Fitzpatrick gave way to Jameis Winston, but it’s unclear whether or not he’s got what it takes to be a franchise quarterback moving forward. The former Florida State star simply gives the ball away too much. Throwing 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions is not an acceptable ratio.
While the offense had manageable problems, the defense was a dumpster fire. The group didn’t do anything well. Teams that wanted to run the football did so easily against Tampa Bay’s uninspiring front. Teams that preferred to pass it simply picked apart a weak secondary. The defense will require a complete overhaul before it can be an average unit.
The only good news for Buccaneers fans is that the season was bad enough to put an end to the Dirk Koetter era. Bruce Arians is a major upgrade in terms of coaching talent. There’s hope in Tampa for the first time in quite a while.
The Titans had a season that closely resembles the Seahawks in a lot of ways. For all the talk about opening the offense up, Tennessee still relied heavily on the run game for success. Unfortunately, their passing game was unable to do enough to keep opposing defenses honest.
That led to the Titans finishing 7th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and 29th in passing. This team has to find a way to generate some balance if they want to move up the standings. A 9-7 finish is probably as good as Tennessee can do until they find a quality passing offense.
The good news for Mike Vrabel and company is that the defense looks like a group that can be well above average for years to come. There aren’t a ton of stars on that side of the ball, but the unit works well together. Vrabel arrived in Nashville with a reputation for building a versatile defense and that translated immediately in his first year in charge of the Titans.
The key for Tennessee moving forward will be to raise their ceiling. Providing Marcus Mariota with some more offensive weaponry is the only way they can achieve that goal. He may not be the right guy to lead the franchise forward, but they won’t know until they give him a solid supporting cast.
The Redskins looked like they were headed towards an NFC East title until Alex Smith’s gruesome leg injury derailed their season. The end result was a 7-9 campaign that was slightly disappointing, but only because of the team’s hot start.
The ability of Adrian Peterson to resurrect his career was the biggest story of the year for the ‘Skins. No one thought he could be the team’s feature back and go over 1,000 yards. That’s precisely what he did by toting the ball 251 times for 1,042 yards.
The passing attack wasn’t nearly as effective. Washington really struggled to identify a No. 1 wide receiver. In the end, Jordan Reed led the team in receptions. That’s a big reason why Washington finished 28th in the league in terms of passing yards per game.
The defense wasn’t dominant, but their ability to perform at a league average level was a pleasant surprise. The personnel just isn’t good enough to do anything more than that. The addition of Daron Payne made the group more competitive in the middle, but the defense still needs a significant talent infusion.
The Redskins season wasn’t great, but they did exceed preseason expectations considering Smith’s ugly injury. Washington may not be well positioned for the future, but this season was a moderate success for the franchise.