So here we are at the end of the regular season, but the start of playoffs and a new decade. I’m going to do a recap of the games I watched in week seventeen before I run through the AFC side of the Disappointed Twenty, and will follow up tomorrow with the NFC side.
What I Saw
The first game I watched in week seventeen had no bearing on the playoffs or draft position, but it still made me happy as the Cincinnati Bengals secured only their second win of the season as they beat the Cleveland Browns in a relatively comfortable manner. The Bengals pass rush was able to harass Baker Mayfield all game and got six sacks as well as picking him off three times. I’ll be talking about both of these teams in my roundup so only thing I will add here is that I was surprisingly happy about this win, even if it was ultimately meaningless in the wider scheme of things.
Whilst the Bengals win had no real affect on things, one of the other TWF teams had a definitive effect on the playoffs even thought they will not be playing either. For a bad season in terms of results, there has been much to be cheered about this season for a Miami Dolphins team, who got more wins that you are supposed to whilst rebooting your roster and look to have found a really good head coach who cemented this view with a win against the New England Patriots that cost their divisional foes a bye week and throws them into an eminently losable match-up against the Tennessee Titans next week. The problems that have plagued the Patriots offence resurfaced this week, but in addition Tom Brady threw a horrid pick-six where he sailed a ball between two receivers that Eric Rowe grabbed and took gratefully into the end zone. If that wasn’t bad enough, Stephon Gilmore did not look at all like the shutdown corner he has looked like for most of the season and the Pats’ defence did not look itself. I’m still not going to declare the Patriots done until I’ve seen them eliminated, but I can’t remember a recent time where the Pats looked this vulnerable this late in the season.
There were two divisions up for grabs in week seventeen and the first of them to be won saw the Philadelphia Eagles finish their mission impossible with four straight wins despite the injuries that plagued them all season. Their final victim were the New York Giants who offered up some glimpses of what Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley might be able to achieve between them as the Giants kept the game close into the fourth quarter, helped by an impressive sixty-eight yard touchdown run from Barkley, but whilst Jones managed to outgain the Eagles’ Carson Wentz through the air, he could not match his care with the ball and the Eagles finished strongly to win 34-17.
The final game of the regular season was to decide the AFC West as the Seattle Seahawks hosted the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers had dipped in form thanks to injury but looked to be getting back to some of their mid-season form in recent weeks and got out to a strong start in this one, building a thirteen point lead that should have been more whilst holding the Seahawks scoreless. The Seahawks have injury problems of their own, hence the signing of Marshawn Lynch out of retirement, who provoked a huge response from the Seattle crowd despite not producing that many yards but did get a touchdown. However, Russel Wilson was able to work out the 49ers defence in the second half and mount a comeback that very easily could have produced the win were it not for a combination of refereeing and the return of late game mismanagement. The Seahawks had three downs on the one-yard line to get the winning touchdown, or would have if they had not been called for delay of game and then failed to get in from the five. The result means the Seahawks travel to face the Eagles and could very well face the 49ers again before the end of the playoffs.
The Disappointed Twenty: AFC Edition
So here is my quick run through the AFC teams who missed out on the playoffs.
The New York Jets finished 7-9, despite losing their starting quarterback to mono and so you could say that this was not a bad year. The problem is that I am not convinced by Adam Gase as a head coach these days, but whilst I don’t think he has done anything to lose his job, a lot will be riding on next season.
I have already mentioned that the Dolphins looked to have found a really good head coach in Brian Flores, and with the influx of picks coming in the next couple of years things could really take off for the Dolphins. They need to find a franchise quarterback, and Dan would very much like them to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick as a mentor/capable backup, but if the Dolphins get the picks right they could be peaking as the Patriots enter into a new phase of the franchise.
Given the Pittsburgh Steelers lost their franchise quarterback to injury in week two, their 8-8 record is very creditable, and Mike Tomlin answered those who suggested that the Steelers might need to make a change at head coach. However, now having fixed the defence it is the offence that needs attention now, and given this franchise’s record of finding receivers in recent years you would like to think this is possible. However, the Steelers are another franchise who will need a new quarterback sooner than later, but we shall have to see if Ben Roethlisberger has another trip to the playoffs in him.
The Cleveland Browns had a horrible year full of dysfunction and disappointment that ended with the firing of both Freddie Kitchens and GM John Dorsey. I wrote that there were warning signs before the season, and having created a roster full of character issues and not been prepared to change his role after a discussion with owner Jimmy Haslam, Dorsey lost his job for it. There is a lot to put right in Cleveland and it feels like they need a coach capable of building a winning culture at the Browns and sorting out Baker Mayfield. Given their track record it’s hard to have faith that Haslam will get this decision right but the fans in Cleveland definitely deserve better.
The results for the Bengals may have been hugely disappointed, but the culture in Cincinnati certainly seemed to hold up through the season and the players were saying good things about Zac Taylor. It looks like Joe Burrow is going to be the Bengals selection with the first overall pick, which is exciting because of both the player he is and the person he seems to be (Heisman Speech). I always hoped that Andy Dalton would get the right team to prove people wrong as under the right circumstances he was a really good quarterback (that 2015 team will forever haunt me because of his injury) and I hope he gets to enjoy success going forward, but I am ready for a new leader and hopefully a better team. It will need to be given the how good the Ravens are likely to be for years to come.
The Indianapolis Colts had their plans for the season thrown into the air with Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement, but further burnished the credentials of head coach Frank Reich by going 7-9 with Jacoby Brissett as quarterback and with some different injury luck could have won more game. I wonder if they will be looking at quarterbacks in the off-season, but given their franchise progress over the last couple of years under GM Chris Ballard I see them being competitive again next season. That said, the other reason they struggled this year was that after a Hall of Fame career, kicker Adam Vinatieri had a bad year before having knee surgery that ended his season. It’s hard to see a forty-seven year old man coming back next season, but you would have said that for a number of seasons before now and it has been an incredibly impressive career that should not tarnished by a difficult season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars had a disappointing year where a sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew outplayed their prime off-season signing at quarterback. The Jaguars have provided a structural conundrum for a while and really need to establish an identity, but it is interesting that after a second season of missing the playoffs they are keeping GM Dave Caldwell and head coach Doug Marrone in place having fired Tom Coughlin once the players’ union announced that the Jaguars accounted for 25% of all their filed grievances. I’m really not sure what to expect next season as there are a lot of questions surrounding their roster and we shall have to see if they can get everyone pointed in the right direction next season.
The Denver Broncos finished the season with four wins out of five and in Drew Lock may well have finally found a quarterback to follow Peyton Manning. It may have taken some time for Vic Fangio to get things working for the Broncos in his first year, but if they can build on their late season success in the off-season then the Broncos can be back in contention next season.
The last year of the Raiders playing in Oakland saw them improve by three wins from 2018, but Jon Gruden still finished with a losing record and questions will continue to be asked about quarterback Derek Carr. The Raiders lost their first round safety early in the season, but rookie running back Josh Jacobs established himself as franchise back until he was injured and if the Raiders can continue to add talent they can compete for the playoffs in their first season in Las Vegas. There’s still something that is making me hesitate to say they will do this, but if Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden have a second good off-season and don’t have the distractions of Antonio Brown they could easily do so.
It felt like Philip Rivers was saying goodbye after the LA Chargers last game, and the franchise seems to be in flux having failed to build on last year’s success, hampered again by injuries and seeming short on fans in LA. I don’t know what is going to happen to this franchise in the off-season, head coach Anthony Lynn seems safe but the Chargers need a new quarterback and something to bring the fans in. To be honest I’m not sure they are going to make a success of life in LA and whilst I think a possible move to London is a non-story (as their owner colourfuly explained earlier this year), I do think they could rue the day they left San Diego, even if Dean Spanos is unlikely to admit it.
That’s it for today’s post – check back tomorrow for a round up of the NFC teams as Competition Thursday swings into gear.