NFL Teams Set to Fall Off in 2019
On average, roughly half of the NFL's playoff teams change on a year-to-year basis. This postseason, for example, only five teams—the New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles—repeated as playoff participants.
As such, at least six teams from the 2018-19 postseason likely won't be back in the dance next year.
We're here to examine the six most likely candidates to fall off in 2019. We'll look at each team's 2018 campaign and why things could be different this coming season.
Our choices are based on factors like roster talent, divisional competition, pending free-agent departures and team health. Teams are listed in alphabetical order.
The Baltimore Ravens narrowly won the AFC North with 10 wins, largely thanks to the run-heavy offense led by rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. Teams struggled to find an answer for it, and with a stifling defense—Baltimore allowed a league-low 292.9 yards per game—the Ravens were a tough out for anyone.
However, the Los Angeles Charges did figure out how to stifle Jackson and the Ravens offense on Wild Card Weekend. Teams will now have an entire offseason to figure out how to do the same.
In 2019, opponents won't be caught off-guard by the Ravens' unconventional offense, which means Jackson will have to improve upon his execution. Don't be surprised if he has his fair share of growing pains this coming season.
In addition to opponents being prepared for the Ravens offense, Baltimore will also have to deal with the surging Cleveland Browns and the perennially relevant Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. The Ravens were only a few plays away from losing to the Browns in their regular-season finale and missing the postseason entirely.
If Baltimore wins one fewer game in 2019, it will likely be watching from home in January.
The Dallas Cowboys won 10 games in 2018, in part because midseason acquisition Amari Cooper gave a much-needed boost to the passing attack. However, getting back to 10 wins next season may prove difficult.
For starters, Dallas faces the possibility of losing several key players in free agency. Star pass-rusher Demarcus Lawrence, wide receivers Tavon Austin and Cole Beasley, offensive tackle Cameron Fleming and tight end Geoff Swaim are a handful of the Cowboys players set to hit the open market.
The Cowboys will also have a smaller draft class after trading away a first-rounder for Cooper. That will make it difficult to replace key players if several do leave in free agency.
Should quarterback Dak Prescott struggle to move the ball through the air—as he did before Cooper's arrival—the Cowboys will likely be the same below .500 team they were early in 2018. When you add in a first-place schedule, it's easy to see Dallas winning a game or two fewer in 2019.
Eight or nine wins probably won't be enough to win the NFC East, and it may leave Dallas out of the postseason entirely.
The Houston Texans looked like a dominant team for much of 2018, but let's be realistic: They got lucky a on a few different fronts.
For one, they were lucky to rattle off 11 wins after starting the season 0-3. The Indianapolis Colts proved with a 21-7 win during Wild Card Weekend that the Texans are not a dominant team.
Houston was also lucky to get through the entire season with a healthy Deshaun Watson under center. Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times this year, and if the Texans' offensive line doesn't improve dramatically, it's hard to envision Watson making it through another 16-game season upright.
Making matters worse for Houston, the Jacksonville Jaguars should bounce back in 2019 if they get their quarterback situation settled. Seeing as the Jaguars are the only AFC South team the Texans beat twice this year, an improved Jacksonville team could be enough to cost Houston the division title.
It doesn't help Houston that key players like defensive backs Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu, pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney and running back Alfred Blue are set to become free agents. While teams like Jacksonville and the Tennessee Titans could be on the rise, Houston could take a step back in terms of talent.
Much of what you just read about the Texans holds true for the Colts, too. While Indianapolis may be better equipped to handle increased competition in the AFC South than Houston, one minor setback could keep the Colts out of the playoffs.
That setback could come along the offensive line.
The line was one of Indianapolis' biggest team strengths in 2018, but some changes are on the horizon. The team has already parted ways with offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, assistant line coach Bobby Johnson left for the Buffalo Bills, and the Colts could lose starting guard Mark Glowinski in free agency.
Glowinski, guard Matt Slauson and tackle J'Marcus Webb are all slated to hit the open market. While the latter two leaving would impact depth more than the starting lineup, it's still significant for a team undergoing a transition under a new line coach.
After all, it isn't like Indianapolis coasted into the playoffs. The Colts overcame a 1-5 start to sneak in largely because of a line that allowed only 18 sacks all season.
If that line takes a step back in 2019, so could the Colts.
The Philadelphia Eagles' 2019 season will hinge largely on how quarterback Carson Wentz rebounds from his latest injury. If he struggles like he did in 2018, it's highly unlikely that Nick Foles will be around to galvanize the Eagles for another playoff run.
"Yes, Carson Wentz is the quarterback going forward," head coach Doug Pederson said Tuesday, per Tim McManus of ESPN.com.
Foles, who is due to earn just over $20 million next season, will likely be traded or released.
Foles isn't the Eagles' only likely notable departure. Philadelphia is currently projected to be nearly $14 million over the cap, and it has numerous players set to enter free agency. Among them are defensive ends Brandon Graham and Chris Long, wide receivers Golden Tate and Jordan Matthews, running backs Darren Sproles and Jay Ajayi, cornerback Ronald Darby and linebacker Jordan Hicks.
Because of its dreary cap situation, Philadelphia is likely to be a vastly different team in 2019, and it may lack the talent to make a legitimate push for the postseason. The Eagles may have to spend a season or two retooling their roster before they get back to the playoffs.
It feels unlikely that the Los Angeles Rams are going to relinquish their hold on the NFC West anytime soon. This means it's likely wild card or bust for the Seattle Seahawks, and potential offseason losses could leave them on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
Safety Earl Thomas is all but certain to leave Seattle, but the Seahawks could also lose linebackers K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks, defensive end Frank Clark, cornerback Justin Coleman, guards J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker and kicker Sebastian Janikowski, among others.
At minimum, the Seahawks could be starting a new guard, a new kicker and several new defenders in 2019. If these players don't mesh well early, Seattle could be in trouble. The San Francisco 49ers should be more formidable with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo under center, while the Arizona Cardinals cannot be any worse than they were in 2018, and two divisional games with the Rams loom large as well.
In addition to the usual divisional slate, Seattle faces tough games against the likes of the New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers.
One extra game in the loss column could be enough to keep Seattle out of the postseason.
All contract, salary-cap and free-agency information via Spotrac.