Most Overrated NFL Teams Heading into the 2019 Season
This time of year marks a period of hope for all 32 NFL teams. With the draft and free agency mostly over, fans have a better idea of what the 2019 iterations of their favorite clubs will look like.
But even for the best teams on paper, reality sometimes doesn't match the hype.
Take a look at projected win totals, and at least where the contenders are concerned, it can be difficult to find a club that stands out as "overrated." But it's important to note that oddsmakers in Vegas are trying to generate action on both the over and the under. It's done to hedge their bet, just as is done with point spreads.
However, the most recent playoff and Super Bowl odds at Bovada tell something different.
There are a handful of teams that have flaws that are too often overlooked—problems that could derail a trip to Miami and Super Bowl LIV: a porous defense, a terrible offensive line, a quarterback who hasn't played up to his paycheck.
And those handful of teams, dear reader, are overrated.
If Vegas oddsmakers are correct, the NFC North is going to be an interesting division in 2019. There are three teams (Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings) within spitting distance of one another.
That last one is deja vu all over again.
A year ago, the Vikings were one of the favorites to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LIII. They had advanced to the NFC title game in 2017 and had made what they perceived to be an upgrade at quarterback by signing Kirk Cousins.
Things didn't work out: The team went 8-7-1, punctuated by a Week 17 drubbing versus Chicago, where Cousins had his worst yardage game of the year (132).
That game was a microcosm of Cousins' first year in the Twin Cities—and in the eyes of some, his career. His 4,298 passing yards and 30-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio looks good, but when the stakes were highest, he repeatedly came up short.
The Vikings have plenty of talent at the skill positions, including one of the best one-two punches at wide receiver in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. The defense is stout on all three levels, front to back.
But the addition of first-round rookie Garrett Bradbury doesn't completely fix a problematic offensive line, and if the Vikings are going to be a Super Bowl contender, then at some point Cousins is going to have to play like a $28 million quarterback in a big spot.
After missing the playoffs in 2017, it seemed like the days of the "Legion of Boom" as Super Bowl contenders were done. However, the Seahawks got back to the postseason in 2018 behind a ball-control offense and a surprisingly good defense.
The Los Angeles Rams are the front-runners in the NFC West, but the expectation from most is the Seahawks should at least contend for a wild-card spot. In reality, the time for a rebuild may be closer than we thought.
The Seahawks gave Russell Wilson the contract extension he wanted this offseason, but the financial realities of making him the NFL's highest-paid player have already had an impact. After trading franchise-tagged edge-rusher Frank Clark to Kansas City, the pass rush is an area of concern..so much so that Seattle signed injury-prone edge-rusher Ezekiel Ansah earlier in the week.
The situation is not any better at wide receiver. With Doug Baldwin released after failing a physical, the wideout corps is questionable at best. Can Tyler Lockett back up last year's mini-breakout? Can rookies D.K. Metcalf, Gary Jennings or John Ursua make a badly needed first-year impact?
Wilson is a top-five QB, and Seattle could make the postseason in 2019, but this is still a team with question marks in a tough division with the Rams and 49ers. There's little margin for error, and it would be less of a surprise to see the Seahawks finish in third than for them to pose any real challenge to the Rams.
As recently as Thursday afternoon, the Jacksonville Jaguars were not included in this article. The Houston Texans and their Swiss cheese offensive line were, but we'll get to that.
There was a renewed belief in Jacksonville after a miserable 2018 campaign, mostly due to the arrival of quarterback Nick Foles. The thought—in some circles, at least—was that a better quarterback could get the Jaguars right back in the playoffs. That last year could be shaken off.
But while the odds of the Jaguars making Super Bowl LIV didn't change in the eyes of Vegas oddsmakers Thursday, the team's odds of contending for anything got hammered.
Per ESPN's Michael DiRocco, outside linebacker Telvin Smith Sr. stunned the Jaguars (and the rest of the league) by announcing without notice that after recording a career-high 134 total tackles in 2018, he will sit out the 2019 season to "give this time back to myself, my family and my health."
To say this is a massive blow to the Jags doesn't come close to covering it. Smith isn't the most high-profile player on Jacksonville's star-studded defense, but he's absolutely one of the linchpins. This is a bombshell the Jaguars are in no way equipped to handle.
It may be unfair to call a team overrated 20 minutes after a piano gets dropped on it, but there's going to be a lot of talk over the next few days about how the Jaguars can weather this storm and absorb this hit.
Now about those Texans.
On some level, it's odd to call a team overrated when, by a pretty wide margin, it has the second-best odds to win its own division despite winning said division in 2018.
But winning that division brings with it expectations for the season to come. And regardless of the defensive disarray the Jaguars are now in at linebacker, Houston's biggest problem is the same as it was when it was trounced in the Wild Card round by the Indianapolis Colts.
The offensive line is offensive.
The Texans allowed a league-high 62 sacks in 2018. They took steps to address the issue, but none are good bets to actually do that.
That Matt Kalil (who missed all of 2018 with a knee injury) was a top-five draft pick in 2012 says more about bad drafting than good blocking. The Texans missed out on a legitimate Week 1 starting tackle in this year's draft when the Philadelphia Eagles sniped Andre Dillard, so the team panic-reached for Tytus Howard in Round 1.
Howard is both athletically gifted and highly unlikely to contribute right away.
Houston even pulled a small-school double-dip, selecting offensive tackle Max Scharping of Northern Illinois in Round 2. Maybe it's a move that will eventually fill a need, but the Texans aren't playing for eventually.
They're playing for now, and now looks a lot like 2018 on paper.
That's bad news for Deshaun Watson.
The Cleveland Browns have the fifth-best Super Bowl odds. I did not make that up, nor have I been day-drinking. The team is also favored to win their division by oddsmakers.
It's not just oddsmakers banging the drum, either. After being selected in the second round of this year's draft, cornerback Greedy Williams proclaimed the Browns Miami-bound.
"I know one thing—that the Browns are going to the Super Bowl this year," Williams said, per ESPN's Kevin Seifert. "That's a fact."
Some of the hype is justified. After engineering the biggest turnaround by a winless team in a non-strike year in the Super Bowl era, the Browns added impact players on both sides of the ball in a pair of trades with the New York Giants—including a deal that brought in superstar wideout Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham is talking a big game too.
"I plan on being there for the next five years and trying to bring as many championships there as possible," Beckham told Cam Wolf of GQ, "turning [the Browns] into the new Patriots."
However, all the new pieces aren't going to magically mesh because the team and fans desperately want them to. Baker Mayfield is still a second-year quarterback. Freddie Kitchens' next game as head coach will be his first—at any level. And even he has had the good sense to try to slow the runaway hype train.
There's reason to be optimistic, but until the team proves it on the field, anointing them the favorites in the AFC North is premature.
For several years, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the model of a well-run franchise. You knew the "Killer B's" were going to rack up yards and points, the defense was going to be physical and the Steelers were going to make the playoffs—the team did so every season from 2014 to 2017 and made an AFC Championship Game.
But last year, the wheels came off. Tailback Le'Veon Bell sat out the entire season in a contract dispute. The relationship between the team and wideout Antonio Brown grew more and more acrimonious as the year wore on. And the Steelers went 9-6-1 and missed the postseason.
"There has been a cleansing, if you will. I meant what I said when I said it. I think when you're trying to compete at the level we're trying to compete at and be world champs, that desire, that collective will, the things that you can't measure, I think that guys that really have a strong desire to be a part of it, there's a significant element of that."
That seems to be the prevailing school of thought: Last year was an aberration, and with the drama shipped away, the Steelers will go right back to winning.
But while third-year wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster had a breakout 2018, that was with Brown drawing coverage away from him. Running back James Conner had a great season overall in 2018, but he didn't rush for 100 yards in a game after Week 9. And while Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing yards last year and got a contract extension, there continue to be grumbles that he played a part in the team's drama.
It's too early to write off last year's backslide as a temporary blip.
Kansas City Chiefs
Among AFC teams, only the New England Patriots have better odds to win Super Bowl LIV than the Kansas City Chiefs at Bovada. Per Sportsline, the Westgate resort in Las Vegas gives them even better odds...the same as the Pats (6-1).
MVP Patrick Mahomes is coming off a historic 5,000-yard, 50-touchdown season. He is likely going to light up the stat sheet again in 2019, and he's going to need to.
A porous defense derailed Kansas City's Super Bowl hopes last year (31st in total defense, 31st in passing defense, 24th in scoring defense).
The Chiefs added edge-rushing help after trading for Frank Clark and his 22 sacks over the past two years. But that also happens to be the number of sacks from a year ago that left town when Dee Ford was traded and Justin Houston departed in free agency.
The arrival of safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill will help on the back end. The departure of cornerback Steven Nelson won't. A linebacker corps headlined by Anthony Hitchens is average at best. Also, while new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has experience, his recent stints haven't gone well (Giants, Saints).
The Tyreek Hill situation could throw the wideout corps into a bad spot, and the depth chart at tailback isn't especially imposing following Kareem Hunt's dismissal last season.
These Chiefs aren't making it to the Super Bowl. Or winning the AFC West.