And so we say our goodbyes to the teams that didn’t make the playoffs.
Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
The Cardinals were basically sunk by injury, as any team are going to struggle if they lose their starting quarterback to injury early in the season and the Cardinals also loss an elite level running back in David Johnson. They go into the offseason looking for a new head coach after Bruce Arians’ retirement as well as a new starting quarterback with Carson Palmer also retiring so big changes are in progress already and no one would be surprised if veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald also retired. With so many changes it is going to be hard to predict how the Cardinals will do next season and I am sure there are going to be some very anxious fans in the offseason.
Baltimore Ravens (9-7)
The Ravens fell out of the playoffs with their last minute loss to the Bengals, and there is a lot of work to do. The Ravens defence played well although they didn’t exactly play a difficult set of quarterbacks and with the retirement of co-ordinator Dean Pees this side of the ball may not be as rock solid as in recent years. Their offence finished twenty-first in the league by DVOA and really needs to improve if they are to get back to where we would expect them to be.
Chicago Bears (5-11)
The Bears were never supposed to make the playoffs but with the performance of their offence it was decided that John Fox was not the head coach to lead them forward. The decision to extend general manager Ryan Pace despite the questionable trade up to get Mitch Trubisky and the receivers they surrounded him with seems curious but we will have to see who their new head coach is and what moves they make to the roster. I would imagine the Bears will be looking for someone to develop their offence and perhaps retain staff on what was the fourteenth ranked defence by DVOA.
Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)
The Bengals have decided to hold on to Marvin Lewis, which whilst I understand from the perspective of an owner who believes in continuity, but feels like a decision based on the last couple of weeks’ results and doesn’t give fans the change that many were hoping for. I have a huge amount of respect for what Lewis has done for the franchise, but the offence needs to get fixed in a hurry and the discipline of this team worries me. I would be delighted to see a turn around and playoff success next season, and I am curious to see what Bill Lazor can do with the offence now that he has been retained and has the offseason to install what he wants, but I am not convinced that a playoff win awaits in 2019 and that should be the target.
Cleveland Browns (0-16)
The Browns became the second team ever to go 0-16, but Hue Jackson has clearly persuaded somebody that it was the GM’s fault and not his. However, he will need to demonstrate clear progress next season and it’s not like the offence looked particularly good this year despite having some good talent. At 1-31 there will be a lot of pressure on Jackson if he doesn’t get off to a fast start next season but at least there are a lot of picks for new GM John Dorsey to work with. A lot is residing on these offseason moves but then it feels like that every year for the Browns.
Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
I’m sure that the Cowboys feel like the Ezekiel Elliott six week suspension cost them the playoffs, but there were signs that the offence needs more options in the passing game this season. With head coach Jason Garrett remaining it is hard to see a huge redesign of the offence, but if they truly want to compete they may have to do something on this side of the ball. Special mention goes to Rod Marinelli for co-ordinating the defence with modest resources, but it wouldn’t hurt to get him some more players either.
Denver Broncos (5-11)
The Broncos have kept Vance Joseph as their head coach but are firing a lot of his coaches. Despite the upheaval, the focus of the offseason will likely be getting a franchise quarterback, but whilst John Elway will get some time thanks to his Super Bowl win, they will need to have some free agent wins and do better in the draft than in recent years to turn things around. It is also worth noting that with roughly $24 million in cap space there would need to be some cap gymnastics if they wanted to get into the quarterback free agent market. The defence finished top ten despite repeatedly getting put into a bad position by the offence, but has taken a step back from recent years so the Broncos really need to get the offence at least league average rather than the thirty-first ranked by DVOA that they were this season.
Detroit Lions (9-7)
The Lions have fired head coach Jim Caldwell, and I would imagine this for missing the playoffs this season. On initial look this seems harsh given that Caldwell has the best winning percentage of any full time Lions’ head coach, three winning seasons and two playoff appearances. However, if you dig a little deeper you will find that his teams had a 4-23 record against teams that finished the season with a winning record and given the way his team played against the Bengals when their playoff chances were on the line it appears that GM Bob Quinn decided he wanted to hire his own coach. The improvement of Matthew Stafford under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has been noticeable and this will be an interesting team to watch in the offseason to see how they step up to the challenge of competing with the Packers and a Vikings team that look set to be competitive for the near future.
Green Bay Packers (7-9)
The Packers failed to make the playoffs for the first time in nine season and with the loss of Aaron Rodgers to a broken collar bone that may not be surprising, but it has prompted the Packers to make a number of moves that may not have happened should Rodgers been available for a few more games this year. They have let go of their defensive co-ordinator Dom Capers and some assistant coaches, but GM Ted Thompson is also moving to a different role as the front office is being re-organised. How this shakes out we do not know yet, but it is just possible that they may be a bit more active in the free agent market than in previous years whilst I am sure they will retain a commitment to drafting and developing their own players. Assuming a healthy season from Rodgers you would expect them to be in the hunt for the playoffs next year.
Houston Texans (4-12)
The Texans season crumbled thanks to injury, but there is hope for this team thanks to the play of rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson before his injury and if they can stay healthy the Texans should be good on both offence and defence. That’s a big if, but it they will have some stability on the coaching side as Bill O’Brien is staying as head coach but Rick Smith is stepping back from GM role to look after his wife and we’ll just have to see how things shake out for the Texans in the coming months and into next season.
Indianapolis Colts (4-12)
The Colts were never likely to do well in the first season of their rebuild but when it became clear that Andrew Luck was not going to play at all it was hard to see anything but a lost year for the franchise. Chuck Pagano never really stood a chance this season and although he did not lose his team and finished the schedule with a win, GM Chris Ballard is looking to hire his own coach. Pagano has already been approached about the vacant co-ordinator position in Baltimore and so looks like he will have work next season. A lot of the Colts’ future depends on Andrew Luck getting himself into shape to play football, and having missed the year we now have to see it to believe it but as the league doesn’t have enough good quarterbacks I think most will be hoping Luck makes it. With another offseason to build and having picked his own coach, Chris Ballard will be expecting progress next season but a lot rests on Luck’s injured shoulder.
Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)
The Chargers came good in the end and nearly made the playoffs, but when you start the year 0-4 it is always going to be difficult to get into the post season. The Chargers finished the season ranked eleventh overall by DVOA with an offence ranked seventh and a defence that was just outside of the top ten so if they can progress in the offseason and fix their problems at kicker then they should be competitive again next season, although time is running out for veteran quarterback Philip Rivers.
Miami Dolphins (6-10)
The Dolphins season was pretty much dead on arrival with Ryan Tannehill’s season ending injury in pre-season. Head coach Adam Gase was able to pull Jay Cutler out of the commentary booth to play again, but he wasn’t able to stop him being Jay Cutler. He flashed occasionally but threw for a modest two and a half thousand yards, ninenteen touchdowns and fourteen interceptions. I was impressed with Gase in his first season but two shut outs for an offensive minded head coach is worrying and the Dolphins’ front office doesn’t fill me with hope. They have a lot of talent at the skill positions on offence, including a couple of young players who progressed nicely through the year, but the Dolphins will need to improve the offensive line and defence plus hope Tannehill can stay healthy or look to another quarterback. Who know how the Dolphins will do next season?
New York Giants (3-13)
This year was pretty much a disaster for the Giants, whose third win only came in the final week of the season. It got so bad they cleared house during the season and have already hired Dave Gettleman to be their new GM. Gettlemen is a familiar face to the Giants and had some success building the Panthers into a Super Bowl team but was not known for assembling great offensive lines and has been somewhat abrasive with players. There is a lot to do with the Giants roster and the future at quarterback hangs over the franchise. They’ll need to get their head coach in place first, but it looks like there will be a lot of changes this offseason and even if Manning can operate next season behind a line that can protect him, he is not the future. There are some big decisions to be made by Gettlemen in the coming months.
New York Jets (5-11)
The Jets’ coaching team led by Todd Bowles have exceeded the expectations of the media with five wins despite a roster that lost a lot of veteran experience in the offseason and stayed competitive until career backup quarterback now starter Josh McCown’s season was ended by a wrist injury against the Broncos in week fourteen. This success has saved the job of Tod Bowles but possibly costs the Jets a shot at one of the top quarterbacks in the draft as those five wins mean they will be picking sixth in this year’s draft. They could try to trade up, but with the fourth most cap space in the league they could try to make a play for Kirk Cousins in free agency or try to get hold of Alex Smith if he becomes available. However they do it, with McCown already being thirty-eight they will need a quarterback for the future and they do not look to have one on the roster at the moment. Another offseason of growth is on the horizon but if they continue to stick with Bowles they could surprise next season with the right additions to their roster.
Oakland Raiders (6-10)
The Raiders’ season started off strongly enough before four straight losses put them in a hole they were never able to climb out of. This cost Jack Del Rio his job and with the offence taking a step back after the change in offensive co-ordinator and the defence finishing the season ranked twenty-ninth in the league by DVOA there is a lot of work to do. The Raiders have been strongly linked with Jon Gruden and if they land their man it will be fascinating to see if after nine years in the commentary booth whether Gruden has kept up with the changes in the NFL and can build a staff to turn things round. It is way too early to tell how things might go but it appears thing are about to get even more interesting for the Raiders as they wait to move out to Las Vegas in a few years’ time.
San Francisco 49ers (6-10)
There can be few franchises that were ever as happy about a 6-10 record as the 49ers will be thanks to a five game winning streak at the end of the season brought about by their trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. The defence finished the season ranked twenty-sixth in the league by DVOA and there is still plenty to improve in the offence but as long as they can get Guroppolo signed up long term they can set about building the team around him. The 49ers have the most cap space in the league so there should plenty of money to sign Guroppolo and free agents as well as extra picks in the draft. It could all go wrong of course, but it feels like the 49ers should be at least competitive next season and that the trading of Guroppolo is going to be one of those huge what if conversations for years to come.
Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
The Seahawks run had to come to an end at some point, but it was sad to see an era defining defence fall apart through injury during the season. What is more, it is going to be hard for Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril to come back from their neck injuries and play again whilst Richard Sherman will be trying to come back from a torn Achilles whilst turning thirty. Given all this you get the feeling that the offseason will be a busy one as the Seahawks are likely to overhaul their roster. When you have a quarterback of the calibre of Russell Wilson then you should stay competitive but with a rejuvenated Rams team and a 49ers team that look to be ascending the NFC West could be very competitive next season. I wouldn’t bet against the Seahawks given their pedigree, but I imagine it will be a somewhat different team that hits the field next season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
The Bucs started of the season reasonably enough, but having got to 2-1 despite facing a Vikings team that turned out to be one of the best in the league they lost five straight and never got back into the playoff race. The injury to Jameis Winston that cost him three games didn’t help, but it wasn’t until late in the season that he began to find some form and certainly he did not make the progression that most thought he would given the upgrades to his receiving options in the offseason. It appears that Winston’s stronger finish was enough for the Bucs to keep faith with head coach Dirk Koetter despite it being widely expected that he could lose his job but it feels like things will need to turn round next season for Koetter to keep it. They could start this by fixing a defence that finished dead last in the league by DVOA and whilst I respect Mike Smith as a defensive coordinator, they will have to do something to change things regardless of any improvements by Winston. I don’t think anyone will be as excited going into next season as they were coming into this one, but away from the cameras of Hard Knocks and with the right additions in the offseason this team could still look to compete for the playoffs. The big question is whether Jameis Winston can develop or if he will continue to tease with his talent but not quite get there.
I am really not sure what to write about Washington. It felt like they came into the season a little short of peak form, which might not be that bad as it is a long season and team like the Patriots and Seahawk regularly do this but they had lost three divisional games by the end of week eight and four out of their total of seven games. They were never able to recover and with all the changes to the front office in the offseason and the overhaul of their receiving group that never quite worked it is possibly not that surprising. Having missed out on the playoffs, Jay Gruden was not exactly fulsome in his praise of Kirk Cousins who still managed to throw for over four thousand yards and twenty-seven yards this year. It is hard to see Washington using a tag on Cousins for the third straight offseason and so they look to be a franchise in flux searching for their next quarterback. However, I don’t see a clear plan and I’m not convinced they will find a quarterback better than Cousins but time will tell. It is beginning to feel like a very long time since Washington were a franchise capable of winning Super Bowls.