Every NFL Team's Biggest Reason to Be Excited for the 2019 Season
Heading into Week 1 of the 2019 NFL season, every team has reason for hope. The playoffs are still four months away, which means that technically, every team has a shot at getting there.
Of course, reaching the postseason isn't a realistic goal for every franchise, and winning a championship definitely is not. Some teams are going to struggle, and some are going to struggle hard. However, there are bright spots to be found for even the most downtrodden teams.
Whether it's getting to witness the rise of a promising young player, seeing the core of the future come together or, yes, having a realistic chance at a Super Bowl, every team has a reason to be excited about the 2019 season.
Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray
There have been few collegiate players in recent years as dynamic, explosive and exciting as Kyler Murray. The reigning Heisman winner lit up college football last season, passing for 4,361 yards, rushing for 1,001 more and scoring 54 total touchdowns.
Now, Murray is the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.
Arizona should be stoked to have Murray as the new face of the franchise. He has a rare skill set plus the confidence and mental tools needed to thrive as a pro. Will there be growing pains? Probably. And it remains to be seen if Kliff Kingsbury's college-themed system will work in the NFL or if he'll flame out a la Chip Kelly.
Regardless of whether Kingsbury works out, or if the Cardinals are any good this season, Murray's ability to run, pass and make all the reads will ensure Arizona is must-watch television in 2019.
Atlanta Falcons: These Guys Are Healthy
Forget about 28-3. Forget about the fact that the Atlanta Falcons lost the Super Bowl in 2016 entirely, because that's in the past. The future likely holds more playoff trips and more title chances for the Falcons because this team is finally healthy.
It's easy to forget Atlanta got back to the postseason in 2017, and it's easy to forget they could have been contenders last season. Unfortunately, injuries to guys like running back Devonta Freeman, linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal derailed the Falcons' 2018 season before it could really get started.
Atlanta still finished 7-9, and four of its losses came by less than a touchdown. With a complete roster, those Falcons could have easily finished 9-7, 10-6 or even better. Their key contributors are healthy now, and the rest of the NFC South had better take notice.
Baltimore Ravens: A New-Look Offense
Once then-rookie Lamar Jackson took over the Baltimore Ravens offense in 2018, everything changed. With Jackson at quarterback, the Ravens became a run-first, run-heavy team that opponents didn't know how to handle. They ripped off six wins in their final seven regular-season games and stormed into the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Now, things are about to change again, likely for the better.
Not only does Jackson have a full year under his belt, but Baltimore also has a new offensive coordinator in Greg Roman. The Ravens also have new weapons like Mark Ingram, Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin for Jackson to utilize.
The Ravens offense should be even more explosive, more physical and more consistent than it was a year ago.
"I just can't wait to put on a show," Jackson said, per Clifton Brown of the team's official website.
Buffalo Bills: Year 2 of QB Josh Allen
Though he was far from a finished product as a rookie, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen flashed plenty of potential, both with his legs and his spectacular arm strength. With another offseason under his belt, Allen should be a step closer to being a complete pro quarterback.
That means Buffalo is one step closer to having a franchise quarterback, and possibly one step closer to returning to the postseason.
In addition to giving Allen more time to grow, the offseason brought the Bills new offensive pieces like wideout Cole Beasley and running backs Frank Gore and Devin Singletary. With an improved offense and a defense that allowed just 294.1 yards per game last season, the Bills should be quite the formidable foe in 2019.
The excitement for the future, though, is all about watching Allen develop.
Carolina Panthers: A Healthy Cam Newton
It only required watching the Carolina Panthers for a series or two late last season to recognize something wasn't quite right with quarterback Cam Newton. The usually lethal dual threat wasn't able to challenge defenses deep, and the Panthers offense as a whole suffered.
It ended up being a shoulder issue for Newton, and surgery was the end result.
Indianapolis Colts fans will be quick to tell you that shoulder surgery is a dicey proposition for a quarterback. However, Newton seems to be getting back to his old self—he went 4-of-6 in his lone preseason appearance—and that should have the Panthers elated.
This is a team that went 6-2 before Newton's shoulder started to become a problem, and it's one that could be barreling back into the playoffs in 2019.
Chicago Bears: David Montgomery
The Chicago Bears left a lot to be desired in their season opener against the rival Green Bay Packers. Their defense looked as good as ever, but quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the offense floundered for most of the night.
What should have Chicago excited is the performance of rookie running back David Montgomery. His final stat line—six carries for 18 yards—wasn't impressive. The burst, elusiveness and physicality he demonstrated, however, was.
Montgomery should add another explosive element to Chicago's backfield, which also includes Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis. That gives the Bears a winning formula—run the ball, play defense and limit mistakes—that they can utilize even when Trubisky is having off days.
Chicago will get an opportunity to rebound next week against the Denver Broncos, who allowed an average of 119.6 yards rushing per game last season. Expect Montgomery to be a big part of the game plan.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Beginning of the Zac Taylor Era
There's no telling exactly how the Cincinnati Bengals will actually perform in 2019. They're starting the season without No. 1 receiver A.J. Green (ankle), and they're not going to have the services of rookie first-round offensive tackle Jonah Williams.
What the Bengals do have is a new head coach in Zac Taylor, and that should have Cincinnati excited.
Whether or not Taylor turns out to be successful, he represents change. The Bengals became a stagnant franchise under former coach Marvin Lewis, missing the playoff for three straight seasons and posting losing records in each of them.
Taylor will bring something new to the franchise—hopefully something better, but definitely not the same thing Cincinnati has seen in recent years.
Cleveland Browns: All That Swagger
Maybe the Cleveland Browns will finally break into the playoffs this year. Maybe they won't. Either way, they're going to bring a heck of a lot of swagger into the 2019 season—and no, we're not talking about the team's mascot, though he is definitely a good boy.
The 2019 Browns are full of big personalities, from Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. to Myles Garrett and Damarious Randall. Heck, even their punter, Jamie Gillan, has the nickname "Scottish Hammer."
Just as they were in the second half of 2018, these Browns are going to be fun. They're going to have fun, and they're going to let their personalities shine through, regardless of what outsiders may think.
"It might rub some people the wrong way," Randall told Bleacher Report's Tyler Dunne, "but we do not care."
Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott Is Under Contract
Zeke who? Oh yeah, Ezekiel Elliott, the two-time league rushing champion and centerpiece of the Dallas Cowboys offense. Yeah, he's back on a new contract and locked up through the 2026 season. That should have the Cowboys excited about their future. More immediately, it should have them excited about 2019.
With Elliott, quarterback Dak Prescott and wideout Amari Cooper, the Cowboys have the core of a championship team. They also have one of the best offensive lines in football—complete with returning center Travis Frederick—a defense that allowed just 329.2 yards per game last season and promising new additions like receiver Randall Cobb and backup running back Tony Pollard.
These Cowboys are talented, deep and ready to make a playoff push. With their best player back in the fold, there's little reason to not be excited.
Denver Broncos: A Defensive Coach for a Defensive Team
While many teams with coaching vacancies spent the offseason searching for a young offensive innovator a la the Rams' Sean McVay, the Denver Broncos scooped up defensive mastermind Vic Fangio.
Fangio has been coaching in the NFL since 1986 and has helped forge some tenacious defensive units. He led last year's Bears defense, which allowed a mere 17.7 points per game. Why should the debut of Fangio the head coach get Denver excited? Because the Broncos are still a defensive team.
Sure, they went out and got quarterback Joe Flacco and drafted Drew Lock in order to bolster the offense. However, the real playmakers on this team are guys like Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Chris Harris Jr. and Shelby Harris—you know, the defensive guys.
If Fangio can unlock the potential of Denver's defense this season, the Broncos could quickly return to relevance in the AFC West.
Detroit Lions: The Return of Kerryon Johnson
The Detroit Lions have been waiting what seems like an eternity for a franchise running back. Heck, they had been waiting since 2013 for a back to eclipse 100 yards rushing in a single game. Then, 2018 second-round pick Kerryon Johnson busted out and topped that mark twice in his first six games.
Unfortunately, Johnson also finished his rookie season on injured reserve due to a sprained knee. His inaugural campaign, though, was likely a sign of things to come.
Johnson rushed for 641 yards and three touchdowns in his 10 appearances as a rookie and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. Now that he's healthy, he'll have a chance to prove Detroit does indeed have a franchise running back. He can become a perfect complement to quarterback Matthew Stafford and finally bring a sense of balance to the Lions offense.
Green Bay Packers: That Defense
Packers fans eagerly anticipating the debut of Aaron Rodgers in new head coach Matt LaFleur's offense were likely a bit disappointed on Thursday night, but who cares? The performance that defensive coordinator Matt Pettine's unit turned in should have Green Bay salivating over the season to come.
The Packers defense looked like a championship-caliber squad all night against Chicago. New additions like Preston Smith, Za'Darius Smith and Darnell Savage flashed frequently, and the entire defense simply overwhelmed the Bears.
Chicago finished the game with more punts (eight) than points (three).
Everyone knows that Rodgers can make magic on the field. He and LaFleur should figure things out as the season wears on. Games won't be entirely on Rodgers' shoulders in 2019, though, because as the quarterback put it...
"What we did on defense, I think we showed the league and folks watching that we're not just an offensive football team anymore," Rodgers said, per Mike Spofford of the team's official website. "We've got a defense."
Houston Texans: Laremy Tunsil
Hey! The Houston Texans got themselves a left tackle!
The team has itself a legitimate franchise signal-caller in Deshaun Watson. Up until recently, though, they've done a poor job of protecting him. The Houston offensive line was questionable at best in 2018, allowing Watson to be sacked an alarming 62 times.
Therefore, it made sense the Texans invested heavily in the line during April's draft, using a first-round pick on tackle Tytus Howard and a second-rounder on tackle Max Scharping. When the opportunity presented itself to acquire a proven starter in Laremy Tunsil, however, they acted quickly.
One can argue about the price paid for Tunsil—the Texans sent two first-round picks and a second-rounder in exchange for Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills—but it's hard to argue with the value Tunsil will have on the field. He's one of the better young tackles in the game, and he will help keep Watson both upright and healthy.
Indianapolis Colts: Frank Reich's Next Challenge
You can forgive Indianapolis Colts fans if the sudden and shocking retirement of quarterback Andrew Luck put a damper on the 2019 season. However, the Colts should find a silver lining in the situation: It gives them another chance to see what head coach Frank Reich is capable of.
Reich has already met a couple of big challenges head-on. For starters, he wasn't Indianapolis' first choice as head coach. But after Josh McDaniels decided to stay with the New England Patriots, Reich took the job and ran with it. Then, the Colts found themselves with a 1-5 record early in 2018. Reich coached them to the AFC Divisional Round.
Now, he has the task of turning the Jacoby Brissett-led Colts into a playoff team. It may not be as difficult as many outsiders think. Indianapolis is still a supremely talented team, and Brissett has spent the entire offseason as the team's No. 1 quarterback.
The Colts may no longer have Luck, but this is an opportunity to prove they have a long-term head coach in Reich.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Nick Foles
Normally, a team shouldn't get too excited about adding another franchise's backup quarterback. However, Nick Foles isn't your average backup. He's a former Super Bowl MVP who's helped lead his team to the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
For the Jacksonville Jaguars, he represents a massive improvement over decidedly mediocre quarterback Blake Bortles. If Foles produces even above-average quarterback play in 2019, the Jaguars should see themselves back in the playoff mix.
Adding to the excitement is the fact that Jacksonville also named John DeFilippo its new offensive coordinator. DeFilippo was Foles' quarterbacks coach with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017—you know, when he won that MVP award.
Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes' Encore
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a breakout performance in his first year as a starter—and it was one of the most exciting aspects of the 2018 season.
Now, the Chiefs—and the rest of the NFL—will get to see what Mahomes has in store for his second year under center.
It's possible Mahomes will be even more exciting. He'll have another year under his belt, plus new weapons like Darwin Thompson, Mecole Hardman and LeSean McCoy. But perhaps he won't have to be, as the Chiefs have revamped their defense by adding new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and players like Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu.
So, maybe Mahomes won't match the 5,097 yards passing and 50 touchdowns he had a year ago. The Chiefs should be excited to see him grow and play regardless.
Los Angeles Chargers: A Legitimate Championship Opportunity
Not every team can compete for a championship this season. The Los Angeles Chargers can. They finished 12-4 last season and only missed out on a first-round bye because the Chiefs won the division.
Should Kansas City stumble at all, the Chargers could be considered favorites for a first-round bye.
There are obstacles, of course. Los Angeles will likely rely on the duo of Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson instead of Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon. The team won't have standout safety Derwin James for at least half the season, as he's on injured reserve with a foot injury.
However, the Chargers are still one of the most talented and balanced teams in the conference, and this could be the year that Philip Rivers finally gets his ring.
Los Angeles Rams: A Chance to Rebound
The Los Angeles Rams had an incredible season in 2018. They racked up 13 regular-season wins, earned a first-round playoff bye and fell just short of taking home the prize in the Super Bowl.
That 13-3 loss in the big game will haunt Los Angeles for some time, and there's no guarantee this team will get back—just ask Dan Marino. However, this is a young core that should remain in contention for the foreseeable future.
Just consider that Sean McVay, 33, is only entering his third season as a head coach. Quarterback Jared Goff is only 24 and just inked a new four-year extension. Super Bowl hangovers are real, but a youthful and resilient team like Los Angeles should have a good chance at bouncing back.
Miami Dolphins: A Taste of Brian Flores
There are plenty of reasons for the Miami Dolphins to not be excited about 2019. They don't have a stable quarterback situation, they lack offensive playmakers, and they just traded away left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wideout Kenny Stills.
While no one from the organization will publicly admit it, the Dolphins are tanking in 2019.
However, Miami will get a long look at new head coach Brian Flores, who is coming off calling one of the most brilliant defensive games in recent Super Bowl history. He brings a winning pedigree to the franchise, along with plenty of divisional familiarity.
Miami has been searching for a reliable head coach for as long as it has sought a franchise quarterback. Joe Philbin wasn't the answer. Neither was Adam Gase. Perhaps Flores will be. That possibility is reason enough to be excited.
Minnesota Vikings: The Promise of Dalvin Cook
The Minnesota Vikings can be a playoff team in 2019. What the Vikings should be really excited about, though, is the chance to finally see what running back Dalvin Cook can do.
Minnesota took Cook with the 41st pick in the 2017 draft. Unfortunately, a torn ACL limited him to just four games as a rookie and likely hampered his performance in 2018.
"It's tough," Cook said, per Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune. "It's definitely one of the worst injuries, and definitely something that I don't wish on nobody."
Now two years removed from the injury, he should be a workhorse back for the Vikings. Could a healthy Cook be the missing piece to Minnesota's playoff puzzle? Plenty of folks will be excited to find out.
New England Patriots: Belichick and Brady Still Run the Show
Tom Brady is 42 years old. Rob Gronkowski has entered retirement. Yet the New England Patriots are still set up to make another run at another Super Bowl.
This Patriots team is going to look different; there's no doubt about that. But the pieces are in place to make it a dominant team in a different way. Gronkowski is gone, but the Patriots have added Demaryius Thomas and Damien Harris. They've also gotten Josh Gordon back from suspension and return the majority of a defense that allowed just 20.3 points per game last season.
Oh, and New England still has Bill Belichick as its head coach. As long as Belichick and Brady are part of the franchise, there's no reason for the Patriots not to be excited heading into a season.
New Orleans Saints: Alvin Kamara, the Featured Back
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara has been electric during his two NFL seasons. He's racked up 1,611 yards rushing, 1,535 yards receiving and 31 touchdowns. What he hasn't done—with the exception of a four-game stint to start last season—is be New Orleans' workhorse back.
For all but those four games, Kamara has split time in the backfield with Mark Ingram, who is now in Baltimore. During that four-game stretch? He totaled 275 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving and six touchdowns.
With Ingram gone, the Saints should finally get a look at Kamara as the featured back for a full season. Yes, he'll give up touches to backups Latavius Murray and Dwayne Washington, but the 2019 season should still be the Kamara show in New Orleans.
New York Giants: Daniel Jones
Eli Manning is going to be the New York Giants' starter in 2019. The franchise has made that perfectly clear. However, he's only going to keep the job as long as he plays well and the Giants remain in playoff contention.
At some point, quite possibly early in the season, New York will need to turn the keys over to rookie sixth overall pick Daniel Jones.
This will mark the start of a new and refreshing era in Giants football, and that should have New York excited.
While the selection may have been unpopular at the time, the Duke product showed in the preseason he has the tools to play in the pros. In his four appearances, Jones completed 85.3 percent of his passes for 416 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Even if the Giants aren't good this season, 2019 should give everyone a glimpse of the franchise's future.
New York Jets: Sam Darnold's Year
While Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson stole the rookie-quarterback spotlight in 2018, Sam Darnold showed his fair share of promise—particularly late in the season. Now, the New York Jets signal-caller should have his time to shine.
The Jets made a few notable changes in the offseason that should benefit Darnold. They hired Adam Gase as head coach, and while he may not actually be a quarterback whisperer, he should bring a more creative offense in than what the Jets saw under Todd Bowles.
New York also added Le'Veon Bell, who should take pressure off Darnold via the running game and provide him with a prime outlet in the passing game. If Darnold can improve his consistency and his decision-making, he'll be a candidate for 2019's most improved player.
Oakland Raiders: The End of One Era, the Start of Another
This will likely be the Raiders' final season in Oakland before the franchise relocates to Las Vegas. While that is saddening for many loyal Raiders fans, it also brings a sense of rebirth.
These Raiders can and should be much better than the 2018 version. Even looking past Antonio Brown and his murky future, the Raiders added loads of talent during the offseason—from Lamarcus Joyner and Tyrell Williams to Clelin Ferrell and Josh Jacobs.
The 2018 season represented the start of the rebuilding process, and it was painful at times. This season should be more about building the Raiders into a winning franchise.
Philadlephia Eagles: A Fully Healthy Wentz
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was well on his way to being an MVP finalist in 2017. Then, he suffered a torn ACL and had his season cut short. The Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl anyway, but they haven't seen a fully healthy Wentz since.
Wentz only played in 11 games last season because of his recovery and, eventually, a separate back injury. For the second straight year, Philadelphia turned to Nick Foles to lead them into the playoffs.
Foles is now in Jacksonville, and Wentz is roughly 18 months removed from the ACL tear. This could be his chance to lead Philadelphia all the way to a title. If he plays like he did when healthy over the past two seasons, the Eagles will have a good shot at returning to the big game. They still have one of the most talented rosters in the league.
Pittsburgh Steelers: No More Drama
With Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown both gone, the Pittsburgh Steelers can put last year's drama behind them and focus entirely on playing football. At least, that's the plan.
"We got a great vibe," running back James Conner said on NFL Network's Good Morning Football. "We don't need no attention. We don't need nothing. We just going to go out there and play."
While there's always the possibility that some locker room friction will present itself, most Steelers fans are likely glad that Brown, specifically, is out of the building. Sure, he's a Hall of Famer, but he can also be a headache, as we're seeing again this season.
For the Steelers, all of the action should be on the field, and that should have fans excited.
San Francisco 49ers: The Return of Garoppolo
The San Francisco 49ers believe that Jimmy Garoppolo is a franchise quarterback. They wouldn't have given him a five-year, $137.5 million contract otherwise. However, Garoppolo has yet to go out and prove he can be the face of the franchise.
Injuries are a big part of the reason. Injury kept him from finishing his four-game stint as the Patriots' starter in 2016, and a torn ACL cut his 2018 season short after just three games.
Now, Garoppolo is nearly a year removed from his latest injury, and the 49ers should finally get a look at him over the course of a full season. They've upgraded the talent around him—adding pieces like Tevin Coleman, Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd—giving Garoppolo every opportunity to flourish in 2019.
Seattle Seahawks: Jadeveon Clowney
Back when the Seattle Seahawks were reaching Super Bowls, their defense featured elite players like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. Much of that unit is now gone, but Seattle can again have a championship-caliber defense in 2019.
The recent acquisition of pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney is a big reason why.
Clowney, who has 29 sacks in five seasons, is the headliner of Seattle's new-look pass rush. The Seahawks also added Ziggy Ansah and first-round rookie L.J. Collier this offseason, but Clowney should quickly become the face of the defense.
The Seahawks were a playoff team a year ago. With Clowney now leading the defensive charge, they should have a shot at winning the NFC West.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bruce Arians
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a new head coach in Bruce Arians, and that should have the team excited. He's a seasoned leader, with two Coach of the Year awards on his resume, and he's an offensive innovator.
Why is that important? The Buccaneers are still trying to determine if Jameis Winston is a franchise quarterback.
Arians is exactly the kind of coach Tampa needs to get the most out of Winston, who has flashed potential over the years. We'll soon get a definitive answer on if he's a franchise QB.
Tennessee Titans: A Make-or-Break Year for Mariota
Normally, the prospect of finding out that your "franchise" quarterback actually isn't one wouldn't be something to get excited about. For the Tennessee Titans, however, it should be.
The Titans appear to have a solid head coach in Mike Vrabel. He's given Tennessee a tough identity and coaxed more wins out of this squad in 2018 than it probably should have had. The Titans also have a solid core, featuring players like Derrick Henry, Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, Taylor Lewan, Malcolm Butler, Adoree' Jackson and others.
It's time for 2015 No. 2 pick Marcus Mariota to prove that he's the guy to lead this franchise into the future. If he is, great. The Titans should be excited about finally having solved the quarterback problem. If he isn't, that's fine too. Tennessee's next quarterback will walk into a nice situation, with a strong coaching staff and a great supporting cast.
Either way, the 2019 season should get the Titans excited about their future.
Washington Redskins: A New Face of the Franchise
The Washington Redskins have long struggled to find a franchise-caliber signal-caller. Kirk Cousins looked like he could be the guy, but a long-term commitment was not to be. Now, the Redskins turn their sights and their hopes to Ohio State product and 15th overall pick Dwayne Haskins.
Washington won't get a good look at Haskins immediately, as the team is taking its time with the rookie. Journeyman Case Keenum is slated to start the season, which is probably for the best. The Redskins have a brutal opening schedule—with the Eagles, Cowboys, Bears and Patriots on tap within the first five weeks.
There's no reason to rush Haskins into the fire, but at some point, the Redskins will get him onto the field. When the time comes, it will mark the beginning of a new era in the nation's capital.