Stick a Fork in Them: NFL Teams That Can Already Start Looking at 2019

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistNovember 2, 2018

Stick a Fork in Them: NFL Teams That Can Already Start Looking at 2019

0 of 8

    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    The first half of the 2018 NFL season is over, and the trade deadline has passed. That means teams are done making drastic changes to their rosters.

    While we don't yet know which squads are championship-caliber and which are pretenders, we do know which ones can begin keeping an eye on 2019.

    Some may overcome a slow start to the season, but many more will not. Some simply have too big of a hole to climb out of and don't have the tools to do so. Below, we'll focus on where such teams are heading down the stretch, why it's time for them to focus on the future and what kind of goals they can accomplish with the postseason effectively out of the question.

    Teams are listed alphabetically.


Arizona Cardinals (2-6)

1 of 8

    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals just picked up their second win, and both have come against the banged-up 49ers. They might manage to grab a couple more victories before season's end, but it's time for Arizona to play for the future. There's virtually no chance of catching the undefeated Los Angeles Rams in the division.

    There are a few things for the Cardinals to sort out over the final eight games of the season.

    Obviously, Arizona should focus on developing young players like rookie quarterback Josh Rosen and rookie receiver Christian Kirk. The Cardinals also need to evaluate veteran talent and decide which players should stick around as the youth movement continues.

    Arizona didn't trade away veterans like Patrick Peterson, David Johnson or Chandler Jones before the deadline, but it may be smart to move some pieces when next year's trade period opens March 13.

    The Cardinals also must see whether new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich should own the job permanently. The offense floundered under recently fired coordinator Mike McCoy—Arizona is averaging just 13.8 points per game—and that's one of the biggest reasons the Cardinals have failed to compete this season.

    In fact, the Cardinals need to evaluate coach Steve Wilks and his entire coaching staff. One-and-done coaches are rare in the NFL, but Arizona must figure out if it's on the right track.

Buffalo Bills (2-6)

2 of 8

    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Against the New England Patriots on Monday night, the Buffalo Bills proved their defense is good enough to hang with any team. However, the Buffalo offense, which is averaging an NFL-low 10.9 points per game, needs to be evaluated and developed over the last half of the season.

    The evaluation has to start with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and the coaching staff in general. Head coach Sean McDermott got the Bills to the playoffs in 2017, but his team has regressed.

    Coaching isn't the only issue on offense, though, because there is a serious lack of talent. The Bills must determine which offensive players deserve to be part of the future and if veterans like running back LeSean McCoy—who has one year with a $9.05 million cap hit remaining on his contract after this season—can or should be dumped in the offseason.

    Developing rookie quarterback Josh Allen has to be a priority, but Buffalo has to question whether that development should come on the field. Allen has regularly appeared overwhelmed with the pro game as a passer. He refuses to avoid hits, which is a major issue with the poor pass-blocking of Buffalo's offensive line.

    Allen was sacked 21 times in six games and landed on the sidelines with an elbow injury. The Bills aren't going to win anything of note with Allen in 2018. They need to figure out how to best set him up for success in 2019 and beyond.

Cleveland Browns (2-5-1)

3 of 8

    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    The Cleveland Browns are better than they've been over the past two years, but that isn't a high bar to clear. After firing head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Monday, it's time for them to focus on 2019, no matter how owner Jimmy Haslam wants to spin it.

    "This is not a throwing in of the towel," Haslam said in a press conference. "It is a rebooting, if you will, an opportunity to give them a fresh start these last eight games."

    In reality, Haslam and general manager John Dorsey need to use the last eight games to evaluate how the roster performs under interim head coach Gregg Williams. The Browns would likely need to go 7-1 down the stretch to have a shot at the postseason. That isn't going to happen.

    Cleveland also needs to assess to what degree Jackson and Haley were holding the team back and what kind of coaching staff can get the best out of the roster starting in 2019.

    The biggest problem with the Browns has been an inconsistent and inefficient offense (21.1 points per game), and the internal struggle between Jackson and Haley may have been a cause.

    Most importantly, the Browns need to figure out how to develop rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield while also protecting his health and helping his confidence. Cleveland has a long history of chewing up young quarterbacks. Now that the Browns finally appear to have hit on a first-round quarterback, they cannot let it happen again.

Denver Broncos (3-5)

4 of 8

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    At 3-5, the Denver Broncos aren't in position to catch the 7-1 Kansas City Chiefs and 5-2 Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC West. Team president John Elway all but admitted as much when he traded away longtime Broncos wideout Demaryius Thomas.

    "With the youth we have at receiver, we wanted to get them on the field, and Demaryius goes to a team that wanted him," Elway said, per Mike Klis of KUSA.

    With Denver already focused on evaluating youth, the Broncos need to spend the next nine weeks evaluating the coaching staff and the quarterback position.

    Case Keenum was brought in on a two-year, $36 million deal in the offseason. Only $10 million of that is guaranteed after this season, though. Keenum has shown flashes of good play, but he's also turned the ball over 11 times and tossed just 10 touchdowns.

    Head coach Vance Joseph and his staff have produced an underwhelming 8-16 record to this point.

    A franchise can't have sustained success without the right pieces in place at quarterback and in the front office. Denver needs to decide if it has them and/or how it can get them.

New York Giants (1-7)

5 of 8

    Al Bello/Getty Images

    A 1-7 record dictates that the New York Giants can start playing for next season. However, there are other reasons to look ahead.

    The biggest is the fact that the Giants need to figure out their future at quarterback. Eli Manning is clearly on the decline, and he's hindering an offense that should be explosive with Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard in the fold.

    It's not all Manning's fault, though, as a porous offensive line is a liability with the aging and immobile quarterback under center.

    Manning has already been sacked an incredible 31 times. A little math will tell you this puts him on pace to be sacked over 60 (60!) times this year. It's no wonder Manning is having one of the most disappointing seasons of his career.

    New York will almost certainly target a quarterback in the 2019 draft. One of the biggest goals down the stretch should be assessing whether any of this offensive line can be salvaged in order to protect that quarterback once he's on the field.

Oakland Raiders (1-7)

6 of 8

    Robert Reiners/Getty Images

    It's felt like the Oakland Raiders have been playing for the future all year. Jon Gruden came in as the man in charge, reshaped the roster, traded away Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper and appears to be positioning the team for its move to Las Vegas.

    Because of the trades, the Raiders are armed with three first-round picks in 2019 and two first-rounders in 2020. The five players taken with these picks—assuming Oakland doesn't trade any away—will help form a new nucleus for the Las Vegas Raiders.

    Can Gruden's Raiders pick up a couple more wins this season? Sure, and you can bet the head coach would love nothing more. However, the remainder of the season needs to be about evaluating the roster and deciding which players will be part of the transition to Vegas.

    Like the Broncos, the Raiders are simply too far behind the Chiefs and the Chargers to compete in the division. If Thursday night's performance was any indication, they don't even have enough fight left in them to try.

    We've seen a lot of turnover since Gruden took over the franchise, and we're going to see more before the move. After all, the Raiders average just 17.6 points per game on offense and allow 31.5 points on defense. Only the standouts on the roster are likely to make the move to the team's new home.

San Francisco 49ers (2-7)

7 of 8

    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    While the Raiders are waiting to start the building portion of their rebuild, the San Francisco 49ers already have. Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch added veterans like Jimmy Garoppolo, Jerick McKinnon and Richard Sherman to provide a base to build on with young drafted talent.

    Unfortunately, injuries have derailed their plan to compete this year.

    McKinnon was lost to injury before the start of the season. Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL in Week 3, and Sherman has missed two games already.

    While the 49ers came into the season with high expectations, it's still early in the rebuild, and there is still a lack of talent on the roster.

    "It's just getting more playmakers in," 49ers legend Jerry Rice told 95.7's Joe, Lo & Dibs. "And the fans are going to have to be a little bit patient right now because you lose a player like Jimmy G. You lose the running back (McKinnon). You lose him and so many other players too."

    The 49ers can win a few more games this season, especially if Nick Mullens stays in at quarterback and plays like he did against Oakland. However, the rest of 2018 needs to be spent developing depth and identifying weaknesses that don't involve injured players. These are the areas San Francisco will want to address in the draft and free agency next offseason.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)

8 of 8

    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers might be the most intriguing subpar team in the NFL. The offense is explosive and capable of putting up points in a hurry. Quarterback play has been inconsistent, though, and a defense that allows a league-high 33.3 points per game too often costs Tampa chances to win.

    At 3-4, the Buccaneers can still climb back into the playoff picture. However, the benching of quarterback Jameis Winston in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 8 made it clear that the focus needs to be on the future.

    "This is just for right now. Right now," head coach Dirk Koetter told reporters of the switch. "I mean, the most important thing we got is this week."

    The reality is that Koetter has to win now to have a chance of saving his job. The Buccaneers are 17-22 with him in charge, while 2015 first overall pick Winston has shown no growth under his guidance.

    This may be the end of the line for Winston, who has just the non-guaranteed fifth year remaining on his rookie deal. Tampa must figure out if the Florida State product deserves one more chance, if Koetter needs to go and if Fitzpatrick is worth keeping around to be a bridge quarterback in 2019.

    If Winston and Koetter are both out the door, it will signal the start of another full-on rebuild. This means a lot of guys will be playing for their jobs over the final nine weeks of the season.