NFL 2019 Season Preview Part 2: Ceilings and Floors for Last Year’s Non-playoff Teams in the AFC

Last week I got my NFC side of this story out. Now it’s time to examine the ten AFC teams that missed out on the postseason in 2018 and what they can do to make it into January this year.

Here’s my thoughts in Part 2 of the multi-part season preview piece.

Buufalo Bills

One thing I’m certain of with the Bills is that the defense will be nasty. I’m really high on rookie Ed Oliver and his ability to make an immediate in Sean McDermott’s defense. In order to take this team to the next level however, second year quarterback Josh Allen will need to improve his accuracy. Sub-60 is not going to do it.

Ceiling: 9 wins

Floor: 5 wins

New York Jets

Say what you will about new head coach Adam Gase’s strange behavior over the past few months, from his opening, “eye-popping” press conference to his inhalation of smelling salts on the sideline of the first preseason game, the guy gets the most out of his quarterbacks. In 2008 in Detroit, Gase guided Jon Kitna to career highs in both yards per attempt and completion percentage. Then in San Francisco, Gase got surprising production from the likes of J.T. O’Sullivan and Shaun Hill. In 2011, Tim Tebow struggled statistically in Denver, but under Gase’s tutelage Tebow still led the Broncos to an AFC West crown and playoff win. Even Peyton Manning enjoyed some of his best seasons under Gase in Denver, leading the league in completion percentage, net adjusted yards, and QBR. Manning had only led the NFL in those categories once before — in 2003. The list goes on: Jay Cutler had the best passer rating of his career with Gase in Chicago, and in Miami, Gase’s teams still managed to be competitive despite poor play at quarterback. All that to say that we should expect Gase to have a very positive impact on second year QB Sam Darnold — and if this marriage works, the Jets could surprise people.

Ceiling: 9 wins

Floor: 5 wins

Miami Dolphins

I can’t give you anything tangible here. Everything on that Dolphins roster screams 2 wins — and that’s entirely possible. But call me crazy — I believe in first year head coach Brian Flores. He’s a defensive-minded coach, who learned under Bill Belichick, and he values character guys and leadership. I think the Fins will play hard, and if they buy-in to Flores and what his vision is, the Dolphins could steal a few Ws this year.

Ceiling: 6 wins

Floor: 2 wins

Pittsburgh Steelers

Addition by subtraction is what I keep hearing. But I still need to see how Big Ben responds this year and if Mike Tomlin’s voice still resonates with this team. If the locker room is behind these two, the Steelers might not be dead quite yet.

Ceiling: 10 wins

Floor: 7 wins

Cleveland Browns

Cleveland’s roster is chalk full of talented playmakers. There is no question that the talent is there. I’m interested in how first year head coach Freddie Kitchens keeps the egos in check while still making sure everyone is happy. One thing is for sure — Baker Mayfield is the right QB to lead this team.

Ceiling: 11 wins

Floor: 7 wins

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals were already a team under fire before the injury bug hit them. Losses on the offensive line plus a foot injury to A.J. Green could solidify Cincy as a team in the running for the number 1 pick in the 2020 draft. If two things happen, maybe the Bengals avoid the NFL cellar this season: (1) Zach Taylor’s offense takes Andy Dalton to a whole new level; and (2) John Ross steps up big as a very good and reliable number 2 option while Green is sidelined.

Ceiling: 5 wins

Floor: 1 win

Tennessee Titans

You might have heard my thoughts on the Titans if you listened to Episode 206 of the Sports Talk Center podcast. This defense is very good, but the quarterback play must take a giant leap forward this year for Tennessee to compete for the playoffs. Sign me up as someone who has his doubts, though. Neither Ryan Tannehill nor Marcus Mariota fills me with a tremendous amount of confidence — not to mention the weapons in Tennessee aren’t striking fear into very many defenses.

Ceiling: 9 wins

Floor: 3 wins

Jacksonville Jaguars

With Andrew Luck’s retirement, the Jags may have become the team with the most to gain. This is still an awesome defense and now they upgrade the QB position with Nick Foles. My question — can Leonard Fournette stay on the field in 2019? If he can, he helps Foles, he helps ball control, he helps that defense.

Ceiling: 10 wins

Floor: 6 wins

Denver Broncos

Hiring Vic Fangio as head coach when the rest of the NFL was searching for their version of Sean McVay showed savviness on the part of John Elway. I want this to work. The problem could be that the quarterback problem might not be totally fixed. For the Broncos to be good, Joe Flacco has to take his game to a level it hasn’t been at since that remarkable playoff run that culminated in a Super Bowl title and MVP in 2012. If he plays the role of Trent Dilfer and allows the defense to be the star of the show in Fangio’s system, Denver could be the surprise team in the AFC.

Ceiling: 9 wins

Floor: 5 wins

Oakland Raiders

Everything in Oakland hinges on Derek Carr. And if we’re going to boil it down to one thing, it has to be whether Antonio Brown’s presence on the field can help to elevate Carr’s overall game. Yes, the offensive line needs to hold up and yes the defense needs to be better, but AB might just hold the key to unlocking his quarterback’s potential.

Ceiling: 6 wins

Floor: 4 wins


Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Listen to EPISODE 206 (“Andrew Luck’s Abrupt Retirement Plus Breaking Down the AFC and NFC South”) right here:

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NFL 2019 Preview Part 1: How Can Last Season’s Non-Playoff Teams Make a Jump This Year

Twenty NFL teams missed out on postseason play last year. What can these franchises do to make a run this year? Something? Anything? More importantly, can they simply improve upon 2018 and be better in 2019 — regardless of the playoffs or not. That said, it’s always real easy to sit back and say, “Well if Team X would just fix ‘blank’, they’d be better.” In reality, these teams usually need to remedy more than just one thing. But it’s a fun exercise to think if these non-playoff teams from a year ago could be better in just one area, they’d have a shot to reach their ceiling of wins. In other words for them to reach or exceed expectations in 2019, this one thing absolutely must must happen. And if it doesn’t…..well….

Here’s my thoughts on the NFC teams in Part 1 of a multi-part piece.

Arizona Cardinals

This is simple. New head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s fast-paced, high-flying offense has no chance of succeeding if that offensive line can’t keep Kyler Murray upright. There is a ton of optimism in the desert that Kyler, DJ, Christian Kirk, and their new skill position rookies could be exciting and fun to watch. But all that will stall out in a major way if that line, which surrendered 52 sacks and 109 hurries in 2018, cannot block.

Ceiling: 6 wins

Floor: 2 wins

San Francisco 49ers

This defensive line looks strong, their QB is back and healthy, they have an All-Pro tight end, and the running back position is deep. What’s left to do? Kyle Shanahan’s offense needs to turn second year wideout Dante Pettis into a star. Pettis has fewer than 30 career catches, but the talent is there and the ceiling is high.

Ceiling: 11 wins

Floor: 7 wins

Washington Redskins

The Washington defense is really good. With the firm of Allen, Payne, and Ioannidis up front pressuring the pocket, the Redskins should be a force on that side of the ball. That triple threat led the team to 46 sacks a year ago — 4th in the NFL; and now they’ve added Landon Collins at the backend. The defense is not the question here. This team’s success — and probably Jay Gruden’s future — rests in the hands of the offensive line. How effective that unit is will directly impact whoever is under center and the run game (which has some interesting pieces if healthy).

Ceiling: 9 wins

Floor: 4 wins

New York Giants

I have very little faith in this team this season. The fastest way for this team to be anything close to good is that rookie QB Daniel Jones makes everyone, who scoffed at his selection in the draft, eat crow. And this includes his coaching staff — who need to see that he is a better option than Eli.

Ceiling: 6 wins

Floor: 4 wins

Detroit Lions

I’m having a hard time finding wins for the Lions. At least when the offense was playing uptempo and Matthew Stafford was slinging the rock all over the field, there was hope they’d just outscore opponents. Now, this sluggish offense with Darell Bevell calling plays lacks that fiery punch that we’ve seen with this team. A lot will depend on how well Kenny Golladay plays as the number one WR and how much Kerryon Johnson is trusted by the coaches to carry the load. So I guess it boils down to if Matt Stafford can indeed elevate the play of those around him, this team should better than they were a year ago. (A caveat would be that the coaches put players in positions to be successful — especially on offense.)

Ceiling: 8 wins

Floor: 5 wins

Minnesota Vikings

This team looks very similar to the team that entered 2018 as a Super Bowl contender. The offensive line was a constant thorn for this team a year ago, and by drafting NC State’s Garrett Bradbury in the first round of last Spring’s NFL Draft, the Vikings should be more stable up front. For me, their success hinges upon their quarterback’s ability to beat the good teams. The jokes are out there — Kirk Cousins beats the bad teams, but can’t beat t he good ones. For Minnesota to have a realistic shot at the playoffs (and beyond), Cousins must beat teams above .500. Simple, right? It is.

Ceiling: 11 wins

Floor: 7 wins

Green Bay Packers

If you’ve heard me talk on the Sports Talk Center podcast in the past couple months, you know how I feel about the Packers in 2019. New offense? New head coach? Doesn’t matter if this team’s young talent can gel together on both sides of the ball. From WRs Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison to running back Aaron Jones to second year cornerback Jaire Alexander, the talent is everywhere. If it all comes together, this is one dangerous football team that no one will want to play in January.

Ceiling: 13 wins

Floor: 9 wins

Carolina Panthers

Before Cam Newton got hurt and couldn’t throw a football straight, the Panthers were looking like a playoff team in 2018. If he’s healthy, there’s absolutely no reason to think they won’t be in the mix again this season.

Ceiling: 12 wins

Floor: 7 wins

Atlanta Falcons

This can’t be any simpler: the defense is good when healthy, the weapons on offense are super productive, and the quarterback is more than capable of being a top 5 QB by season’s end. The only question: can the offensive line do their job? If not, we’ve seen the Falcons go a little sideways. Two first round picks were spent in the last draft to bolster that unit.

Ceiling: 12 wins

Floor: 7 wins

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Can Bruce Arians be a positive influence on Jameis Winston? Big Ben, Andrew Luck, and Carson Palmer all benefited under the tutelage of Arians. Can Jameis join that group? For the Bucs to be a good team, he is going to need to because 14 interceptions in 11 games last season isn’t the formula for success in what should be a very tough division.

Ceiling: 6 wins

Floor: 4 wins


Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Listen to EPISODE 204 (“What to Take from Preseason Week 2 in the NFL”) right here:

 

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