It’s never too early to look towards next season, especially considering that’s what most NFL fans are doing. Fans want to know what the state of their team will look like in the future, as that is usually more important to them than which teams are in the playoffs. So, we can get into it.
Every season, teams change. Free agency, the draft, retirement, injuries, coaching changes, etc. – they all play a part in the change. That’s not even including what can change internally without taking roster additions or subtractions into account. The facts are, most teams change, whether it be for the good or the worse. Some teams will look similar to this season, but the vast majority of teams will have changed throughout the offseason.
From 2017 to 2018 we had a lot of teams change. The Bears became the best defense in football, the Browns became a playoff contender, and the Steelers went from AFC favorites to missing the playoffs entirely. Those are some pretty significant changes that you wouldn’t expect to say in 2017. It’s what makes the NFL great, is that the league is constantly changing. The way the draft works along with the cap space allows those struggling teams a legitimate chance to improve. If a team is struggling, it’s all on them.
Some teams will improve, some will fall apart, and some will look identical to their 2018 team. We will break down seven from each category, which could give you a good idea of what the 2019 playoffs will look like with the changes in all of these teams.
21 Fall Apart: Cincinnati Bengals
Some people forget, but the Bengals started off this season 5-3 and looked like the best team in the AFC North. That was quickly forgotten, with injuries to key players including Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and Tyler Boyd. From first place to last, the Bengals tumbled down and went 1-7 the remainder of the season.
There’s a very good chance that the Bengals look to re-build this offseason with new head coach Zac Taylor. They may go ahead and draft Andy Dalton’s successor, and there have been rumors that A.J. Green could be on the trade block. This team went from a playoff team to one that can be one of the worst in the league.
20 Improve: Carolina Panthers
Look at 2012 and on, there’s a common pattern for the Carolina Panthers. Every other year they have a winning record. It’s not something most people pay attention to, but it’s true. It’s just ironic that they started off hot, like the Bengals, and then completely fell apart.
Besides the fact that it’s just their trend, this offense will have an offseason where they can go ahead and add more offensive weapons. They really need to find themselves another wide receiver, especially with Devin Funchess hitting free agency. With a full offseason where Cam Newton and D.J. Moore can practice together more, this team will come out fighting next season.
19 Stay The Same: Tennessee Titans
Under Marcus Mariota, the Titans have been consistently average. The past three seasons, the Titans have finished at 9-7, making the playoffs one of those times. A lot of Titans fans love Mariota, but the truth is that he’s not that good of a quarterback. Only once during Mariota’s career has he thrown for over 20 touchdowns.
With Mariota at quarterback, this team will never be better than mediocre. He struggles to be a playmaker and has continuously gotten hurt the past two seasons (not to mention breaking his leg in 2016). During the offseason, the Titans have never really done a great job finding that X factor. Chances are the Titans will continue to be mediocre if they don't find someone better behind center.
18 Fall Apart: Washington Redskins
There was a point this season where the Redskins were leading the NFC East, but they ended up finishing in third place. A big reason why they fell apart was due to the injuries Alex Smith and Colt McCoy sustained, which allowed teams to take advantage of them.
Mid-way through the season, the Redskins looked to have a bright future. Next season though, they will begin to rebuild. Smith is likely to never play a game again, which will force the Redskins to draft a quarterback. Unfortunately, this draft is thin on quarterbacks, who won’t be ready to start right away. It’s going to take a year or so at least for them to get back to where they were.
17 Improve: Baltimore Ravens
Once Lamar Jackson took over as the Ravens starting quarterback, this became a winning ball club. They had the best running game in the league along with a top-three defense. This was a team that was able to turn their season around after a 4-5 start.
Jackson really grabbed this team and got them in a rhythm that no one could stop until the playoffs. The success was bound to eventually come to an end considering they weren’t a threat in the passing game. It’s difficult to really revamp an offense mid-way through the season, but the Ravens should have a lot of success in the future with a full offseason to adjust.
16 Stay The Same: Seattle Seahawks
Seattle is in a much better position than they thought they would be. When the Seahawks let a bunch of their most talented players walk in free agency (or cut them), everyone thought this could be the team to finish at the bottom half of the NFC. Instead, their young talent proved everyone wrong and they finished the season on a strong note, finishing as a Wild Card seed.
Next season, that team is going to come back more experienced. Anyone that the Seahawks are bound to lose like Earl Thomas, made no impact for the most part of this season due to an injury. Not to mention, Seattle now has cap space to work with for the future. Seattle will be just as good as they were this year.
15 Fall Apart: Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is 35 years old and isn’t getting any younger. While Rodgers was great at times season, it’s going to take time for this team to mesh together and develop.
This spring, the Packers could very well lose Randall Cobb and Clay Matthews in free agency. Cobb looks like a guarantee, and Matthews is very likely to be let go due to his age. Those are two big name players that will cost this team and set them back even further than they already were. Not to mention, Matt LaFleur will be in his first year as a head coach and will have the no.1 defense to worry about twice a year. Speaking of which...
14 Improve: Chicago Bears
Just when you think the Chicago Bears couldn’t get any better, they could. The Bears had a special season, but it fell short due to the inability to drive the ball against the beat up secondary of the Eagles. Mitchell Trubisky still has some ways to improve, along with this secondary.
This team can be similar to last season’s Rams, where they were really good but just couldn’t get it done in the postseason. Every part of this team is going to continue to improve, and have a full offseason together. A strong 2018 offseason will give the Bears a chance to win a championship for the next few seasons.
13 Stay The Same: Houston Texans
Typically, you don’t want to hear that a team was at their peak and lost in the Wild Card round. It seems like the 2018 Texans team was one of the most complete teams we’ve seen in their history. Next season, the Texans will likely come back with all of their players, assuming they re-sign Jadeveon Clowney. The biggest change could be at the running back position, as there’s a possibility they cut Lamar Miller.
Even with another running back, this team is still likely in the same position. They don’t seem like they would be in a position to add a big name wide receiver, which is something they need opposite of DeAndre Hopkins.
12 Fall Apart: Minnesota Vikings
If you thought the Vikings hit rock bottom in 2018, you were wrong. The Vikings made the biggest move of free agency last offseason when they signed Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed deal worth $84 million. What seemed to be a player the Vikings couldn’t pass up, may be the player they wish they never had.
There were offensive line concerns, but Cousins also failed to make plays when his team needed him the most. This offseason, the Vikings have a long list of free agents including Anthony Barr, Sheldon Richardson, and George Iloka. Everyone predicted the Vikings to possibly make it to the Super Bowl, yet, was a team who can miss the playoffs now in back to back seasons.
11 Improve: Jacksonville Jaguars
Things can only get better for the Jaguars. They plan on parting ways with Blake Bortles, which is the biggest issue, and may even part ways with Leonard Fournette this offseason. While this seems like a rebuild, they could improve sooner than people think.
Last season, it seemed like the Jaguars were a quarterback away from winning a Super Bowl. They may not make it back to the playoffs, but this team could be in playoff contention. Don't forget, they'll now have a last-place schedule in 2019, as opposed to the first place one they played in 2018. Despite who they draft, expect them to go after a quarterback in free agency or via trade. Post-Bortles will be a better time for Jaguars fans.
10 Stay The Same: Kansas City Chiefs
The 2018 Kansas City Chiefs will likely be very similar to the 2019 team, except with a slightly better defense. How much better can this team really get? Patrick Mahomes led this team to be the No. 1 team in the AFC, and have the most explosive offense. A solid defensive unit would make this team better, but record-wise, it would look very similar.
This is a good thing. The Chiefs are going to continue to be one of the best teams in the AFC for years to come. Finding Damien Williams is big too, because it helps avoid having to spend a lot of money on a running back in free agency. While it's tough to envision the Chiefs putting up the same offensive numbers next year, this could be a more balanced team, even better equipped for January football.
9 Fall Apart: Pittsburgh Steelers
Once the drama unfolded with Le’Veon Bell, it should’ve been expected that there would be more to come. Mid-season, Ben Roethlisberger openly criticized wide receiver, James Washington, which led to a story of its own. The biggest, in most recent news, is the drama that has unfolded with Antonio Brown.
It seems like Brown will likely be traded this offseason, after there was drama between him and Roethlisberger, which led him to miss a Week 17 game that could have sent them into the playoffs. The Steelers still see themselves as contenders as long as Roethlisberger is their quarterback, but how many great years does he have left?
8 Improve: Cleveland Browns
This is one of the more obvious teams to improve. When Hue Jackson lost his job, this Browns team improved greatly. After Jackson was fired, the Browns finished 5-3, staying in playoff contention up until Week 16. That’s impressive for a team that went 0-16 last season, and all three losses came against teams that would go on to play in the playoffs.
This Browns team rallies around Baker Mayfield, and a full offseason with him as the focal point will really help this team. Add another wide receiver and draft more defensive talent (in a defense heavy draft), and the future is bright in Cleveland.
7 Stay The Same: New Orleans Saints
2019 could very well be the final season of Drew Brees's career, and it would be a perfect opportunity for him to win a Super Bowl in his final season. The Saints look the best they have in a while and will benefit as this defense continues to improve this offseason. If this defense can rally and come back better next season, the Saints may very well send Brees off into the sunset with another Super Bowl title.
Unless some major injury occurs, the Saints will likely be on top of the NFC South for the third straight season. After going 7-9 three straight seasons, this team is looking to keep winning the division and have a shot at the Super Bowl while they still have Brees under center.
6 Fall Apart: Los Angeles Rams
When we say the Rams are going to fall apart, we don’t mean this team is going to finish with a losing season. Next season, the Rams are going to be competing late for a Wild Card spot. As good as the Rams are, teams began to figure out how to beat them in the second half of the season. Once pressure got to Jared Goff, he really struggled.
The biggest reason they’re going to struggle is that of the names they have hitting free agency. Ndamukong Suh, LaMarcus Joyner, Dante Fowler Jr., and Rodger Saffold – those are some pretty heavy names that they won’t be able to replace. Not to mention, they have massive contract extensions kicking in, with Aaron Donald and Brandin Cooks set to get paid big money, which will limit their ability to spend big, like they have the last couple of offseasons.
5 Improve: New York Giants
If Dwayne Haskins gets drafted by the Giants, this will be a much better team. Even if they keep Eli Manning, it will be a better year. If Haskins becomes the starter, they get the top quarterback of the 2019 draft along with some of the best offensive weapons in the league. If Eli starts, he’s going to feel the pressure and take a lot more shots than he would with his starting job on the line.
Odell Beckham Jr. is also coming back, and the offensive line will get another season together. Don’t be fooled by their record; this team has a lot of talent that just needs to put it all together.
4 Stay The Same: Dallas Cowboys
It would be pretty miraculous if the Cowboys fall apart this offseason, especially considering Jerry Jones plans to re-sign everyone who needs to get paid. If that’s the case, this team would get a full offseason where Amari Cooper is the No. 1 receiver, and hopefully, Scott Linehan is no longer the offensive coordinator.
This team is so young and so talented, and they haven’t even hit their peak yet. Dallas has stars at every position you can think of on the field. They also didn't have a starter over 30 in the playoffs. It might be scary to think about, but the Cowboys are looking like they're going to be great for a long time.
3 Fall Apart: Philadelphia Eagles
Eagles fans, enjoy times while you can. Next season, only Carson Wentz or Nick Foles will be on the team. As of right now, it seems like the Eagles plan on moving forward with Wentz, and trading away Foles. That could be a bad decision due to Wentz’s durability concerns, and Foles’ ability to win in the playoffs.
Even without accounting for the quarterback situation, the Eagles have a lot of defensive players hitting free agency, along with some offensive talent. Some notable names include Jay Ajayi, Golden Tate, Chris Long, Haloti Ngata, and Brandon Graham. That's a lot of names the Eagles may have to replace.
2 Improve: Indianapolis Colts
Imagine finishing the regular season as one of the hottest teams in football, and having the most cap space in the offseason. That’s almost unheard of, but it’s the lucky situation the Colts are in right now. Nobody expected the Colts to be where they are, but they have all the tools to win games.
With the amount of money they have available to spend this offseason, the Colts can load up and build a Super Bowl team. For any other AFC South teams looking to win anytime soon, good luck. The Colts seem to have this division locked for years to come.
1 Stay The Same: New England Patriots
If you’re a Patriots fan, staying the same doesn't sound like a bad thing. What's staying the same? The team winds up winning another AFC East title and is right in the mix come late January? That's a pretty good status quo. Yes, Father Time will eventually hit Tom Brady, as he'll be 42 going into next season. Josh Gordon being suspended indefinitely was a huge blow to the team, as they are now without a No. 1 receiver. There's also the likelihood of Gronk retiring this offseason.
However, every year the Patriots just find a way to keep the run going, and at this point we simply can't bet against them, until several other teams finally catch up to them.