With the 2018 NFL regular season over with, teams have had enough time to sit back and evaluate what went right and wrong. We're now in the midst of the ever-busy head coach hiring season, but there's plenty of work to do for such teams to get back into the postseason.
It's hard to believe that so many pre-season Super Bowl favorites faltered all in one season. Who could have thought that the Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars would all miss the playoffs? These were supposed to be four bonafide championship contenders, not clubs that would be watching the playoffs at home.
For players and teams that fell short of expectations, all they can really do is try to learn from the mistakes in 2018 - and figure out how they can learn from this. They'll have the chance to fix up their rosters over the next four months, when the trade market, free agency and draft take place. So which teams and players disappointed most, and how can they repair the damage of 2018?
On a side note, you'll notice I didn't put the Carolina Panthers or Atlanta Falcons on this list. This is because I believe both teams were derailed by injuries to key players. If they're healthy next season, Atlanta and Carolina should be Super Bowl contenders. They do not need drastic changes.
Now, a look at the 10 biggest disappointments from the 2018 NFL season, and what needs to be fixed heading into next year.
*Stats courtesy of ESPN.com*
20 Disappointment: Denver Broncos
The Broncos weren't necessarily a trendy Super Bowl pick, but many expected them to at least contend for a playoff spot, especially after a solid draft and busy free agent period for team president John Elway.
Bradley Chubb emerged as a superstar pass rusher to complement Von Miller. Rookie running back Phillip Lindsay surpassed 1,000 rushing yards, while rookie Courtland Sutton wound up finishing second in receiving.
But the secondary was downright terrible, something the Broncos aren't used to seeing. $36 million quarterback Case Keenum also had a terrible season, finishing with a mere 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Denver finished 6-10, marking their first stretch of consecutive losing seasons in 46 years.
19 Fix: Replace Case Keenum
Keenum can't be blamed for all of the problems, but given the amount of talent around him, the $36 million man had to play better. Keenum beat up on some weak opponents early in the season, but he wasn't able to come through in clutch situations.
The Broncos have plenty of talented pieces to build around on both sides of the ball. But why have they missed the playoffs in three straight years? The quarterback situation, of course. Keenum joins Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly on the long list of Bronco quarterbacks that have failed to deliver over the past three seasons.
Denver could draft a quarterback and look to build around him. Missouri product Drew Lock would be a good option. Or they could look to trade for a Joe Flacco. Perhaps Nick Foles or Teddy Bridgewater could be had in free agency. But the bottom line is that Denver has to make a change at quarterback, plain and simple.
18 Disappointment: Detroit Lions' Offense
The Detroit Lions fired Jim Caldwell after the 2017 campaign- even though they recorded winning seasons in three of his four years there. In hiring New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as head coach, it was clear that the Lions were expecting to take that leap in 2018.
Though the Lions had one of the league's better defenses in 2018 (10th in yards, 16th in scoring), the offense held them back from contending. Matthew Stafford had his worst campaign in which he played all 16 games (2011 to 2018). The rushing game showed flashes here and there, but it wasn't exactly game-changing.
And outside of wide receiver Kenny Golladay, Lions didn't get much production from their pass catchers. The Lions finished 6-10 and last in the NFC North.
17 Fix: Reinforce The Passing Game
Stafford is used to attempting around 600 passes a season, but he only threw 555 this season. He's not an elite quarterback, but Stafford has always succeeded when the Lions put the game in his hands.
Detroit just doesn't have the pieces in place to run a more balanced offense, which Patricia was trying to install. For 2019, their goal should be to let Stafford throw the ball more and carry the offense himself. Taking the ball out of his hands frequently simply hurt the Lions.
Golden Tate was dealt at the deadline, leaving Golladay as the only reliable pass catcher on the team. Finding more wideouts and/or tight ends via free agency or the draft would surely help Stafford reform and make the offense better in 2019.
16 Disappointment: Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins probably made the right choice to let Kirk Cousins go in free agency, and trading for Pro Bowler Alex Smith did wonders in the early season. Prior to his season-ending broken leg injury, Smith had Washington in firm control of the NFC East - and they looked poised to win the division.
But the Redskins' usual mismanagement and ignorance of ownership cost them a chance at holding onto the division. When backup Colt McCoy went down for the season (also a broken leg injury), the Redskins didn't sign nor trade for a proven veteran. They rolled with Josh Johnson, who hadn't thrown a pass in seven years.
And so, the Redskins fell apart and finished with a 7-9 record. There was a major decline in attendance and ticket sales this season, with fans showing they've had it with Dan Snyder's failed promises. 2019 will mark a pivotal year for the franchise.
15 Fix: Brand New Management
The Washington Redskins have done very little right since Bruce Allen took over as president of football operations in 2014. The Redskins haven't found many impact players in the draft, their free agent signings have failed and the decision to stay patient with head coach Jay Gruden is questionable.
Snyder has to stop lying to himself and realize he doesn't have the right guys in place to rebuild a title contender. Washington is nowhere close to competing with the division rival Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles. Even the New York Giants have a brighter looking future.
The Redskins can keep Gruden's staff and this roster together. But it's time to start clean and completely overhaul the front office. Hire some experienced vets (see the Jacksonville Jaguars and their hiring of Tom Coughlin), to oversee the operations. That's the only hope Washington fans have now of seeing their football team turn it around.
14 Disappointment: Jameis Winston
2018 was considered a make-or-break year for the 2015 first overall pick, but the front office confirmed they'll be keeping him for the 2019 season. That doesn't mean we should forget about another disappointing season for Jameis Winston, though.
Winston was suspended for the first three games over an apparent off-field incident. When he returned to the field, there wasn't a whole lot to be impressed about. He and Ryan Fitzpatrick took turns getting benched throughout the season, and Winston didn't really find his ground until the last three weeks.
Winston had 19 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions in 11 games played. If it weren't for weaker competition in the final weeks of the season, Winston's stats would have looked a whole lot worse.
The 25-year-old Winston is entering his fifth season in 2019. If he doesn't put it all together, the Buccaneers will be moving on. Plain and simple.
13 Fix: Install A More Balanced Offense
With head coach Dirk Koetter fired, the Buccaneers are searching for a new coaching staff. No matter who takes over, the coach's job should be to install a more balanced and conservative offense.
As flashy as Winston can be, it's hard for him to win when there isn't much support from the rushing offense. The Buccaneers always put the game in his hands, and when Winston tries to do it on his own, it usually doesn't end well.
With Peyton Barber enjoying a productive season, the Bucs should look to give him more carries and take some of the pressure on Winston. Asking the latter to throw shorter passes and run less himself would also work. The Buccaneers just need to ease on Winston's workload and install a more two-way offense. Otherwise, Winston won't make any progress.
12 Disappointment: New York Giants
There was a great reason for optimism in the Meadowlands this year. The New York Giants hired Pat Shurmur to take over as head coach. You know, the former offensive coordinator who got Case Keenum to lead the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship last year?
The Giants also drafted Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and signed offensive lineman Nate Solder to a $62 million contract. Throw in a pair of talented wideouts in Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, the Giants were expected to take another leap in 2018.
Instead, the Giants offense was downright bad - despite excellent years from both Beckham and Barkley. New York finished 6-10 and last in the NFC East for the second straight year.
11 Fix: Replace Eli Manning
There aren't any indications that the Giants are going to move on from the 38-year-old Manning in the offseason. They're making the wrong decision if they keep him. It's time to start over and move on from the two-time Super Bowl champion after 15 years.
The 2019 Draft class is weak for quarterbacks, and with Barkley and Beckham in their primes, the Giants don't want to wait around for a young signal-caller to develop. They have to find a reliable veteran to replace Manning.
This year's free agent/trade market will include the likes of Nick Foles, Ryan Tannehill, Joe Flacco and Teddy Bridgewater. All of those would provide significant upgrades over Manning, and they're all considerably younger as well. The Giants should move on from Manning and add one of those five starters to take over.
10 Disappointment: (Most) Rookie Quarterbacks
Yes, most quarterbacks fail to impress in their rookie seasons - even the great ones. But unless we're talking about Baker Mayfield or Lamar Jackson, the bulk of this year's rookie quarterbacks failed to impress much.
Sam Darnold - taken third overall by the New York Jets - completed just 57.7 percent of his passes and had 17 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills had 10 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.
Josh Rosen of the Arizona Cardinals barely completed over half his pass attempts and had 14 interceptions. Arizona finished 3-13, the worst record in the NFL. This was despite having David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald by his side.
Unlike Mayfield and Jackson, these three rookies really didn't do a whole lot to impress their teams or fans. It's early in their careers, yes. But it's clear there is a very long way to go for all these three guys.
9 Fix: Better Playmakers
If Darnold is going to develop accordingly in New York, the Jets better find him a true No. 1 running back and one or two more pass-catchers. The decision to extend Quincy Enunwa was genius, but Darnold is going to need more. Might we suggest signing Le'Veon Bell?
Though Rosen was blessed with Fitzgerald and Johnson, both of them produced below their usual standards in 2018. The former is 36 this offseason, so the Cardinals better find a true No. 1 receiver and a quality second running back to help Rosen grow.
And finally, Allen needs just about everything around him to get better. Superior offensive linemen, better wide receivers, better tight ends and a quality running back to replace LeSean McCoy, a potential trade or release candidate this offseson.
That's simply how you get more out of these three rookie quarterbacks. Find them legitimate, top-flight playmakers to help out.
8 Disappointment: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers looked every bit like a Super Bowl contender through the first half of the season, sitting pretty at 7-2-1 atop the AFC North. Ben Roethlisberger, James Conner, Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster were all contributing offensively, and the defense was once again a top-tier unit.
But the Steelers lost four of their final six games to miss the playoffs, and it all came down to costly mistakes. In Week 12 against the Denver Broncos, Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception at the goal line to lose the game. A week later, they blew a 16-point home lead and fell to the Los Angeles Chargers. In Week 14, Chris Boswell slipped and missed a game-tying field goal against the Oakland Raiders.
And in Week 16 against the New Orleans Saints, the Steelers ran a fake punt that could have put the game away. It failed. Later on, Smith-Schuster fumbled when Pittsburgh was on the cusp of field goal range. Pittsburgh finished 9-6-1 and missed the postseason for the first time in five years. What a letdown of a season it was.
7 Fix: End All The Locker Room Drama
The Steelers roster doesn't require too many changes. Roethlisberger led the league in passing yards, and the defense allowed the sixth-fewest yards per game. Without a doubt, the Steelers have the pieces to compete for a Super Bowl in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Perhaps even longer.
But boy, does head coach Mike Tomlin ever need to get GM Kevin Colbert to clear out the drama in that locker room. Moving on from Le'Veon Bell is an easy choice; he's undoubtedly leaving in free agency.
Pittsburgh might also benefit from trading Pro Bowl wideout Antonio Brown, who skipped meetings, practices and the team's Week 17 game because of a dispute with Ben Roethlisberger. As great as Brown is, the Steelers may be better off trading Brown if he's going to put himself before the team.
Tomlin and Colbert need to see which players are all-in and want to win together and keep them. The players who only worry about themselves should be traded and/or released. They can't have all these problems in the locker room again in 2019.
6 Disappointment: Green Bay Packers
With a healthy Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers were widely expected to contend for a Super Bowl in 2018. The front office brought in Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson via free agent, and they nailed the draft selections of Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson.
The Packers got off to a promising 3-2-1 start and looked to be in firm control of the NFC North. But after a pair of heartbreaking road losses to the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots, the Packers' season spiraled out of control - and they wouldn't recover.
Head coach Mike McCarthy was fired after the season, and the Packers finished with an embarrassing 6-9-1 record. Rodgers is now 35 years of age, and Green Bay managed to waste another one of his prime years.
5 Fix: New Offensive Playmakers
Obviously, the Packers will expect their new coaching staff to help rebuild the offense into a formidable unit. But it's hard to think anybody could do much with a team whose only reliable wide receiver is Davante Adams, and whose ground game is eh-okay.
The Packers need to trade or release Graham, who simply didn't fit in with Rodgers the way we expected. The Packers need to sign somebody like Donte Moncrief, Golden Tate or perhaps even Larry Fitzgerald in free agency (if he's willing to leave Arizona). On top of that, Green Bay should look to draft one of the top wide receivers in the 2019 class - like A.J. Brown or N'Keal Harry - with their first pick.
Finding Rodgers a couple of more reliable pass-catchers is necessary if Green Bay is to rebound in 2019. Adams cannot do it all on his own, and Rodgers will simply succeed again if the has three reliable guys that can catch for him.
4 Disappointment: Jacksonville Jaguars
Has there ever been a team disappointed this much? Nobody could have thought 2018 would be this much of a flop for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who were only a couple of plays away from reaching the Super Bowl last season.
With the league's best defense, a power running game and hopefully rejuvenated Blake Bortles, the Jaguars were supposed to be a shoe-in for the playoffs - and a heavyweight in the AFC.
But after a promising 3-1 start to the season, the Jaguars faltered big-time and lost 10 of their final 12 games. The struggles from Bortles and the offense held Jacksonville back, as the defense kept them alive in most games. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was fired, and it's believed they'll be making a change at quarterback.
3 Fix: Acquire A Veteran Quarterback
The Jaguars have no choice but to move on from Bortles, even though they only gave him a three-year extension worth $54 million last offseason. He's had five years to prove himself, and it's clear that Bortles just isn't capable of leading this franchise to the promised land.
Fortunately for Jacksonville, there are plenty of options available when free agency opens up. Nick Foles, Joe Flacco, Teddy Bridgewater Case Keenum and Ryan Tannehill are both set to leave their respective teams. Any of them would be upgrades over Bortles.
The Jaguars are in win-now mode with that expensive defense and running back Leonard Fournette. They can't draft a signal-caller and wait for him to develop. It should be an easy decision to let Bortles go and acquire a veteran quarterback in the offseason.
2 Disappointment: Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
It was Super Bowl or bust for the Minnesota Vikings in 2018. They went 13-3 last season and reached the NFC Championship Game with Case Keenum, but the front office thought a quarterback upgrade was all they needed reach the Super Bowl.
Thus, Kirk Cousins was signed to a three-year deal worth $84 million. Every penny of it was guaranteed. Again, it was Super Bowl or bust in Minnesota. Amazingly, they didn't even make the playoffs. Minnesota lost a must-win came to the Chicago Bears in Week 17, due to Cousins' struggles.
He couldn't beat any of the elite teams and sits at 4-25 all-time against clubs with winning records. Cousins and the Vikings went 8-7-1, missing out on the playoffs in what was supposed to be a promising season. So how do they turn it around following such a bad campaign?
1 Fix: Upgrade The Offensive Line
Make no mistake, this is still a very talented Minnesota team that should be great for years to come. Their defense is an elite unit, and the offense has three big-time playmakers in Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
Cousins didn't live up to expectations in 2018, but you can blame the offensive line for that. Cousins was always under pressure and had little time to throw in that fateful Week 17 game against Chicago. If GM Rick Spielman can fix the offensive line, Minnesota won't have any glaring weaknesses in 2019.
There's obviously the draft, but Minnesota could target some veteran talent in free agency as well. Ryan Kalil, Mike Iupati, Andy Levitre, Ramon Foster and Jared Veldheer would all be nice adds to that Viking offensive line, and they shouldn't cost too much money to land.
Spielman needs to add at least two new starters on his offensive line. If he can do that, Cousins should get better in his second year with the Vikings, and Cook could have an even better season in 2019.