As several teams ramp up for a playoff race in the NFL, a handful of others are coming to terms with the fact that their seasons are already essentially done. They can play things out and go for the strongest possible finish, but the reality is they won’t be making it to the playoffs in 2018 and should begin thinking ahead to next year. Several of them have major personnel decisions to make, be they at quarterback or head coach or somewhere else.
Some teams need more changes than others after disappointing or ugly seasons. Here are ten in need of serious makeovers before 2019 begins.
This just hasn’t been the same organization since that crippling Super Bowl loss, but the playoffs aren’t even on Atlanta’s radar in 2018. Part of that is down to injuries, but that doesn’t explain everything. The defense hasn’t been forcing turnovers, the team has struggled in the red zone, and most recently, the run game has been reduced to a total non-factor. Steve Sarkisian simply may not be the right coordinator for this offense. They’ve come a long way down from the days of Kyle Shanahan calling plays.
No team has given up more points in 2018 than the Bengals, which has to be a particular embarrassment for a defensive-minded coach like Marvin Lewis. Injuries have been a factor here too after a hot start has given way to another lost season, but that’s simply not a sufficient explanation for this level of defensive incompetence. Lewis may not be long for his job, and many will argue that he shouldn’t have been brought back in the first place. More realistically, they’re not winning anything with a defense this bad no matter how well their offense performs.
The Lions fired Jim Caldwell after consecutive 9-7 seasons hoping to take the next step in their evolution to a regular playoff team. Under new coach Matt Patricia, they’ve gone in the opposite direction. Patricia inherited a flawed roster with a struggling pass rush and an average secondary at best. The team then traded Golden Tate midseason to undercut the offense and effectively punt on the season. They need a sturdier defense and weapons for Matthew Stafford if they’re serious about making a return to the playoffs.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers have rapidly come to a crossroads and decided what route to take. Their franchise quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, should still have a few good years left in him, but the organization is wasting him with an ineffective defense, few weapons on offense and bad coaching. Mike McCarthy was fired after Sunday’s home loss to the lowly Cardinals, which was the first step in a makeover. They need a new coach who will help Rodgers with creative playcalling, and they need a front office that will bring in some better talent on both sides of the ball.
The Jaguars made a truly fatal mistake by not only sticking with Blake Bortles, but handing him a two-year contract to put themselves in a bad spot for 2019. Bortles isn’t the answer and should not be the team’s quarterback next season, but they’ve made that inevitable parting of ways more painful than it ever needed to be. The defensive situation is less clear: they’ve stopped generating pressure and forcing turnovers despite their accumulation of talent, though Sunday’s shutout reminds us of their potential. A turnaround starts by fixing the offense and fast; few teams have failed more this season.
Is Ryan Tannehill Miami’s long-term solution at quarterback? That’s the answer the Dolphins must answer ahead of the 2019 season. He’s never going to be an elite player and may never be much more than average, and they have to decide if that’s enough for them. The defense has been a problem, though injuries can be taken into account. One real question is whether Adam Gase is the coach they want long-term. He hasn’t really shown anything worthy of moving on from, but improvement has been limited, too. They need an aggressive offseason.
New York Giants
Giants GM Dave Gettleman is going to have to make some painful but necessary decisions this offseason. There are clearly identifiable issues — the pass rush hasn’t been good, for instance — but the offense towers above the rest. One difficult decision has to be finding a way to move on from Eli Manning, who is no longer an effective NFL starting quarterback. The Giants have talent and can build offensively around Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley, but they need to find a quarterback for the future. Manning isn’t even the quarterback of the present anymore, and the sooner they realize that and start rebuilding with that in mind, the better off they’ll be.
New York Jets
No, the football in New York hasn’t been particularly good this year. The good news for the Jets is that they have the franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold, and now they just need to get to work giving him something to work with (Le’Veon Bell, anyone?). The offense around Darnold has been brutal, while the defense has offered little resistance to quality opposition. The roster is wholly flawed, and it may cost coach Todd Bowles his job. Now that the Jets have a quarterback in place, the job is to start stocking the roster with talent wherever they can get it.
The Raiders’ plan, as much as they have one, seems to be getting rid of assets, accumulating as many draft picks as possible, and hoping for the best. The Khalil Mack pick from Chicago is going to end up being toward the end of the first round as the Bears have had a successful season. The Cowboys’ pick might not be great either. It’s too late to do anything about any of that. Jon Gruden and Co. simply must nail the draft to make this teardown worth it. If they don’t, they’re facing huge problems in the years to come, with a roster devoid of talent and an organization seemingly devoid of a coherent strategy, blending together for potential disaster.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
One central question that the Bucs will have to answer is a simple one: Is Jameis Winston still the franchise quarterback? The production and proneness to turnovers says that the answer might just be no, at which case Tampa Bay is back to square one in need of a rethink from the ground up. Dirk Koetter’s seat is hot, and that may be a place to start. From there, Winston’s future must be clarified and settled quickly, because that alone won’t fix everything. The defense could use a boost, the offense is lacking in big-play options, and the future is unclear. They’d be justified in starting over.