Final 2019 NFL Regular-Season Team Grades

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2019

Final 2019 NFL Regular-Season Team Grades

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    What worked, and where did things go wrong?

    NFL front office executives will contemplate the negatives and positives when the season ends for their teams.

    In every situation, there are multiple bullet points under both categories. More importantly, the decision-makers have to find out what to build upon and which parts of their blueprint to abandon before the next season. 

    Let's take a look at the 2019 term. We’ll shine a light on the warts and bright spots of each team.

    In some cases, the win-loss record doesn't provide enough context for a club's season. So, in addition to an overview, we'll also dig beneath the surface to uncover roster gems, shortcomings and trends. 

    Several teams with mediocre records earned grade boosts for finishing strong. Conversely, clubs that tailed off down the stretch may have a minus next to the bottom-line mark.

    The grades below reflect all of the results (wins and losses) through 17 weeks, but the statistics and rankings don't include Sunday's production.


Arizona Cardinals

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    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray
    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler MurrayAbbie Parr/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 5-10-1

    The Arizona Cardinals had a streaky season. They didn't earn their first victory until Week 5 and then won three straight outings, which preceded a six-game skid followed by a notable triumph over the Seattle Seahawks on the back end of consecutive wins.

    As expected, the Cardinals went through a rocky 2019 campaign filled with inconsistencies, but the season details cast a better outlook than the overall record.

    The Cardinals have their franchise quarterback in Kyler Murray, who's able to move the offense with his arm and legs. The rookie signal-caller had a combined 3,941 yards passing and rushing through 16 weeks.

    Murray's ability to tuck and run compensated for David Johnson's underwhelming production on the ground. The All-Pro running back battled back and ankle injuries, logging 345 rushing yards and two touchdowns. 

    Arizona made a shrewd move to acquire running back Kenyan Drake from the Miami Dolphins before the trade deadline. He led the team in rushing yards (583) going into Sunday's game. General manager Steve Keim has talked about re-signing the 25-year-old, which makes sense following Johnson's disappointing campaign.

    At 36 years old, wideout Larry Fitzgerald can still haul in impressive catches. He led the team in receiving yards with a modest total (759). Next year, someone else needs to step up along with Christian Kirk to elevate the passing attack.

    Defensively, the Cardinals fielded the second-most generous defense in yards allowed. Now with cornerback Patrick Peterson having shown inconsistencies in coverage after coming off a six-game performance-enhancing drug suspension, Arizona should look for help at cornerback while Byron Murphy develops in a starting role. 

    Season Grade: C-

Atlanta Falcons

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    Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones
    Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio JonesCarmen Mandato/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 7-9

    The Atlanta Falcons authored a tale of two halves, starting off 1-7 before their Week 9 bye and going 6-2 after the midseason intermission. 

    Owner Arthur Blank put some pressure on the coaching staff, which may have fueled the players to rally behind head coach Dan Quinn, who's going to remain in his position for 2020

    The Falcons put together impressive late-season wins against two playoff teams, the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers. Unfortunately, those significant victories came a little too late for a playoff push.

    Despite trading wideout Mohamed Sanu to the New England Patriots before the deadline, the passing attack entered Sunday third in yards. The offensive line's pass protection also improved as the season progressed, ranking 11th, per Football Outsiders.

    Even defensive end Vic Beasley, who's largely disappeared as a pass-rusher since 2016, showed a late-season spark, recording four sacks from Week 14 on. Cornerback Isaiah Oliver showed some promise in a starting role. Defensive backs coach and part-time play-caller Raheem Morris called him "The Blanket."

    The Falcons may have saved Quinn's job and looked adequate in areas of their defense in November and December, but that's not enough to avoid a mediocre grade. 

    Season Grade: C

Baltimore Ravens

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    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson
    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar JacksonNick Wass/Associated Press

    Win-Loss Record: 14-2

    The Baltimore Ravens came into the season with important questions at quarterback. Will the coaching staff allow Lamar Jackson to unleash his arm. Will he cut down on his carries?

    Although owner Steve Bisciotti downplayed Jackson's potential carry volume, the signal-caller broke Michael Vick's single-season rushing yards record for quarterbacks (1,206). 

    In addition to listing sixth in rushing through 16 weeks, Jackson threw for a league-leading 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He'll likely win MVP honors with those numbers.

    The Ravens field the league's best ground attack, but Jackson can beat defenses with his arm, which is an important ingredient in the team's offensive success. Play-caller Greg Roman, who took over for Marty Mornhinweg, deserves recognition for the young quarterback's development. He'll likely receive head coaching offers in the offseason.

    Defensively, the Ravens went from a mediocre unit to an above-average group once the front office acquired cornerback Marcus Peters from the Los Angeles Rams. Baltimore hasn't allowed more than 207 passing yards since Week 9.

    Because of tight coverage on the back end, defensive coordinator Don Martindale can blitz to generate a decent amount of pocket pressure. That's a necessity since the Ravens don't have a consistent pass-rusher other than Matt Judon.

    The Ravens have an A-plus coaching staff that fields a complete football team destined for a long playoff run.

    Season Grade: A

Buffalo Bills

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    Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White
    Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre'Davious WhiteRich Barnes/Associated Press

    Win-Loss Record: 10-6

    The Buffalo Bills don't bring a lot of flash on offense, ranking 23rd in scoring and 24th in yards, but their key playmakers will collectively put together enough plays to come out on top.

    Quarterback Josh Allen can use his big arm to occasionally catch defenders out of position. He'll also absorb hits as a ball-carrier in an effort to move the chains in short-yardage situations. The second-year signal-caller has nine rushing touchdowns for the season. 

    Running back Frank Gore passed the proverbial torch to rookie third-rounder Devin Singletary in the backfield. The latter lists second on the team in yards from scrimmage (969).

    Wideout John Brown reached a career-high 1,060 receiving yards in a limited offense. He's still capable of stretching the field and extending plays after the catch. 

    Buffalo doesn't need big point totals because of its second-ranked scoring defense. 

    Cornerback Tre'Davious White earned a well-deserved Pro Bowl invite, logging six interceptions and 17 pass breakups. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips has emerged as the team's sack leader (9.5). Rookie first-rounder Ed Oliver flashed potential with 39 tackles, four for loss and five sacks entering Sunday. 

    Buffalo battled the New England down the stretch in both matchups. Despite the two losses, the Bills proved they can hang with the defending Super Bowl champions. 

    Few people will pick the Bills to win a playoff game, but their defense will keep them in most contests. 

    Season Grade: A-

Carolina Panthers

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    Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly
    Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke KuechlySteve Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 5-11

    The Carolina Panthers lost starting quarterback Cam Newton, who aggravated a foot ailment in Week 2 and landed on injured reserve with a Lisfranc injury. The front office fired former head coach Ron Rivera following a Week 13 loss to the Washington Redskins. 

    With the loss of Newton and Rivera, it's difficult to judge the Panthers' 2019 performance, with Kyle Allen and rookie third-rounder Will Grier taking most of the snaps under center. 

    Still, running back Christian McCaffrey remained steady, recording a league-leading 2,294 yards from scrimmage entering Sunday. Wide receiver D.J. Moore took another step in his sophomore term. He was fifth in receiving yards (1,175). 

    On the flip side, the Panthers struggled to stop the run throughout the season, allowing 100-plus yards in all but two games. The defense gave up the second-most points through 16 weeks. 

    Like last season, Carolina couldn't break the spell on a second-half skid. The Panthers haven't won a game since Week 9. 

    Perhaps changes will push this franchise in the right direction. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Mike McCarthy has already interviewed for the head coaching job. If he's hired, his staff needs a qualified defensive coordinator to strengthen the front seven against ground attacks. 

    Season Grade: D

Chicago Bears

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    Chicago Bears edge-rusher Khalil Mack
    Chicago Bears edge-rusher Khalil MackQuinn Harris/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 8-8

    Coming off a 12-4 term with an NFC North division title, the Chicago Bears had high expectations. They fell short with an offense that regressed. 

    During the offseason, bettors placed their wagers on quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as a potential dark horse to win MVP, but reality came crashing down on those hopes.

    The Bears jumped off to a solid 3-1 start. Yet, Trubisky had thrown just three touchdown passes in the first four weeks of the season. He missed a game with a shoulder injury and didn't put together solid consecutive outings until Weeks 13 and 14.

    Trubisky's subpar play isn't the only issue. The Bears didn't find much success running the football with their rookie third-rounder David Montgomery. He averaged 3.5 yards per carry behind an offensive line that ranked 31st in run-blocking adjusted line yards (3.71), per Football Outsiders.

    Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano took over the top-scoring defense. Although the Bears listed fifth in the category, the unit lost a bit of its edge. In comparison to the 2018 campaign, Chicago's sack and takeaway totals dropped under its new play-caller.

    Every year, turnovers fluctuate, but star edge-rusher Khalil Mack didn't shine as he did last season. Roquan Smith lost some luster from a strong rookie term.

    The Bears took a step back, but they have enough playmakers for a better showing in 2020 if the coaching staff can optimize its roster talent.

    Season Grade: C

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon
    Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe MixonBobby Ellis/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 2-14

    The Cincinnati Bengals had a throwaway season under head coach Zac Taylor and his coaching staff. Essentially, this regime could view this term as a trial period that installed its schemes and philosophies.

    The Bengals benched quarterback Andy Dalton for rookie fourth-rounder Ryan Finley between Weeks 10 and 12. Cincinnati didn't win a game until the coaching staff reinserted the veteran signal-caller into the starting lineup against the New York Jets in Week 13.

    Wideout A.J. Green didn't play a snap because of his recovery from offseason ankle surgery. He tried to return midway through the campaign but suffered a setback.

    Cincinnati fielded a bottom-third scoring defense and an offensive line that ranked 28th in run-blocking adjusted line yards (3.85), per Football Outsiders

    Even though the Bengals lost rookie first-round tackle Jonah Williams because of his shoulder surgery, he's not the magic elixir to patch up a makeshift offensive line.

    With a first-year head coach calling the shots, the injuries and a quarterback who didn't receive a long-term vote of confidence from owner Mike Brown, we should've seen this coming. 

    While it's unfair to say this team tanked, all the losses put this club in a position to reset the roster in 2020. The Bengals clinched the No. 1 overall pick with a loss to the Dolphins last week. They'll move forward with their rebuild next season.  

    Season Grade: F

Cleveland Browns

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    Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield
    Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker MayfieldKirk Irwin/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 6-10

    The Cleveland Browns won the offseason, but they didn't win many games during the regular season.

    General manager John Dorsey acquired defensive end Olivier Vernon to pair with budding star pass-rusher Myles Garrett. Team brass traded for wideout Odell Beckham Jr. Quarterback Baker Mayfield had a promising rookie campaign, throwing for 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He teamed up with Freddie Kitchens, who was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach.

    With those aforementioned moves, the Browns should be preparing for a playoff run. Instead, they didn't come close. 

    Vernon battled a knee injury, missing six contests. He had a career-low three sacks entering Sunday. 

    In Week 11, Garrett swung his helmet and connected with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph's head, drawing an indefinite suspension. 

    Kitchens' rapport with Mayfield didn't pay dividends. The offense sputtered throughout the season and ranked 22nd in scoring going into Week 17. In many instances, the Browns seemed to force targets to Beckham, who logged an inefficient 55.9 percent catch rate.

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, the Browns fired Kitchens Sunday. Whoever takes over has a lot of work ahead of him. He must repair the offense with or without Beckham, if you believe the rumors about the wideout's discontent with the team from Fox Sports' Jay Glazer.

    The new head coach will need to use the Browns' offensive assets far better than Kitchens did this season. Once again, this team goes into an offseason without a clear direction, looking to hire its sixth lead skipper in nine years.

    Season Grade: D

Dallas Cowboys

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    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott
    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak PrescottMichael Perez/Associated Press

    Win-Loss Record: 8-8

    On the surface, the Dallas Cowboys' season production looks solid.

    Quarterback Dak Prescott posted career numbers in passing yards (4,599) and touchdowns (26) entering Sunday. Running back Ezekiel Elliott listed fourth in rushing (1,235). Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards. The defense ranked 11th in yards and points allowed. 

    However, the Cowboys' cumulative talent didn't put this team over the top. In fact, one can argue the coaching staff didn't squeeze enough production out of a loaded roster in critical situations. 

    Despite the Cowboys' offensive firepower, the unit failed to score more than 15 points in four games—all against playoff-caliber opponents. In the final moments of a season-defining matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, Cooper was not in the game as Prescott threw an incomplete fourth-down pass to Gallup. 

    Sitting Cooper was a curious decision.

    Down the stretch, the Cowboys defense suffered. It didn't force enough turnovers or three-and-outs, and by the end of games, the unit would be fatigued. Dallas needs to find some ball hawks in the offseason. 

    With all the talent on the roster, Dallas finished with a non-winning record.

    Season Grade: C- 

Denver Broncos

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    Denver Broncos edge-rusher Von Miller
    Denver Broncos edge-rusher Von MillerDustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 7-9

    The Denver Broncos acquired quarterback Joe Flacco, hoping to add an immediate offensive spark while the coaching staff developed rookie second-rounder Drew Lock behind the scenes.

    During the offseason, Lock suffered a sprained thumb and landed on injured reserve. In the meantime, Flacco struggled to move the ball through the air. He threw for multiple touchdowns in one of his eight starts. The Broncos offense scored more than 20 points once with the 12th-year veteran under center. Denver opened the year 0-4. 

    The Broncos' rocky start hurt their opportunity to play meaningful December games. On a positive note, the team activated Lock, and he showed flashes as the starter.

    Going into Week 17, Lock recorded 843 passing yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. The Missouri product had his best outing against the Houston Texans, completing 22 of 27 passes for 309 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. 

    Lock went 4-1 in his first five starts, but head coach Vic Fangio saw the positive even in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, per Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic.

    "I'm very encouraged by what Drew has done these four games," Fangio said. "Part of it is too because of the negative. We played a tough game in a tough environment a week ago against a great team, and things didn't go well. But I liked the way he handled it."

    The Broncos recorded their third consecutive losing season. On the positive side, president of football operations and general manager John Elway may have found a steady starter at quarterback. If so, Lock and Fangio's top-10 defense could help this team get back into contention for an AFC West title. 

    Season Grade: C+

Detroit Lions

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    Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford
    Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew StaffordLeon Halip/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 3-12-1

    To the chagrin of some Detroit Lions fans, head coach Matt Patricia will serve at least another year in his position.

    The fanbase may scoff at the decision because Patricia, who's a former defensive coordinator, failed to elevate that side of the ball this year. In their first six games, the Lions allowed 112-plus rushing yards in each contest.

    Although the run defense improved as the year progressed, Detroit ranked last in passing yards allowed going into its season finale with the Green Bay Packers.

    During the offseason, the front office signed interior lineman Mike Daniels, defensive end Trey Flowers as well as cornerbacks Rashaan Melvin and Justin Coleman.

    Daniels appeared in nine games and landed on injured reserve with an arm injury. The veteran acquisitions collectively came up short in plugging holes on defense, which is inexcusable on Patricia's watch.

    Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was one of the few bright spots. He lost quarterback Matthew Stafford because of back and hip injuries. Compared to last year, the offense still took small steps in the right direction, ranking 20th and 17th in scoring and yards, respectively.

    Running backs Kerryon Johnson and Bo Scarbrough could provide much-needed balance on offense going forward. The latter averaged 4.2 yards per carry and made five solid starts in place of the former entering Sunday. 

    Season Grade: D

Green Bay Packers

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    Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
    Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron RodgersStephen Maturen/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 13-3

    Among the new head coaching hires, Matt LaFleur landed in the best situation.

    The Green Bay Packers clinched the NFC North title with a 23-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings last week. In that contest, quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 216 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception. Running back Aaron Jones exploded for 154 rushing yards and two scores. The defense allowed just 139 yards.

    The Packers division-clinching performance is a microcosm of their season. Although Rodgers stands out as the team's star player, he has a stronger supporting cast in comparison to recent seasons. Keep in mind, Green Bay's passing attack ranked 19th leaguewide.

    Jones led the league in touchdowns (19) going into Week 17. He and fellow running back Jamaal Williams had a combined 2,128 yards from scrimmage.

    LaFleur kept defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as a holdover from the previous regime, which is of the most underappreciated offseason decisions.

    Pettine's unit ranked ninth in scoring and features a pair of relentless pass-rushers in Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith. They logged 25.5 combined sacks entering Sunday. On the back end, cornerback Kevin King played up to his second-round potential, registering 14 pass breakups and five interceptions.

    If the Packers defense continues to play well in the postseason, Rodgers won't have to carry as much weight as he has in the past. Green Bay goes into the playoffs with a balanced roster as a No. 2 seed.

    Season Grade: A

Houston Texans

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    Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson
    Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun WatsonJulio Aguilar/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 10-6 

    The Houston Texans made huge offseason moves, dealing outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks and acquiring left tackle Laremy Tunsil. 

    Clearly, the Texans didn't see Clowney in their future plans, but his absence hurt the defense, especially when defensive end J.J. Watt went down with a pectoral injury in Week 8. Between Weeks 11 and 16, Houston allowed 106-plus rushing yards in five out of six outings. 

    Throughout the year, the Texans allowed big plays through the air. Their pass defense ranked 30th in yards allowed going into Week 17. Without a strong pass rush, Houston will struggle to limit chunk plays during the postseason. 

    Yet, the Texans will have an opportunity to win games with Deshaun Watson under center. That's why the deal for Tunsil made sense. Houston ranked 25th in pass protection entering Sunday, per Football Outsiders, but the Pro Bowl left tackle has been excellent in pass-block win rate, per Pro Football Focus

    Running back Carlos Hyde provides a solid dimension to the offensive attack. The sixth-year veteran eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in a season for the first time in his career.

    The Texans are heavily reliant on Watson, which leads to some concern, but they won four of five to clinch the AFC South title last week. We can't argue against those results.

    Season Grade: B

Indianapolis Colts

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    Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton
    Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. HiltonJustin Casterline/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 7-9

    The Indianapolis Colts fared well in the face of adversity. This team lost its starting quarterback (Andrew Luck) nearly two weeks before the season opener, but head coach Frank Reich didn't use that as an excuse.

    At 6-4, the Colts had a legitimate shot to clinch a playoff berth with quarterback Jacoby Brissett learning on the job and a compromised wide receiver group. T.Y. Hilton missed six games because of quad and calf injuries, which left a combination of Zach Pascal, Marcus Johnson, Chester Rogers and Parris Campbell in prominent roles. 

    Indianapolis couldn't compete with Hilton sidelined down the stretch. Running back Marlon Mack missed a couple of games with a fractured hand as well. Clearly, the Colts could use another offensive playmaker to compensate for potential injuries.

    Within the front seven, Indianapolis needs another pass-rusher to step forward behind Justin Houston and Darius Leonard. In pass coverage, the Colts gave up a lot of yards (22nd) and touchdowns (21st).

    Season Grade: C

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell
    Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais CampbellJames Gilbert/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 6-10

    On paper, the Jacksonville Jaguars should've taken a significant step forward coming off a 5-11 campaign with Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler under center. The front office signed quarterback Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract. He didn't elevate the offense in his four starts. 

    In Week 1, Foles broke his collarbone, which thrust Gardner Minshew II into a starting role. The rookie sixth-rounder kept the Jaguars competitive, but he understandably struggled with consistency.

    The Jaguars reinserted Foles into the starting lineup once his collarbone healed, but the team went flat, losing 75-33 between Weeks 11 and 12. Minshew reclaimed the first-string job but couldn't save Jacksonville's sinking ship.

    In head coach Doug Marrone's first two seasons, the Jaguars fielded a top-five scoring defense. That unit fell apart during this campaign, ranking 22nd in points allowed.

    Jacksonville still racked up sacks (seventh), and running back Leonard Fournette looks like a foundational building block (1,152 rushing yards), but the front office will have to retool this roster for 2020.

    Season Grade: D

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes
    Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick MahomesNam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Win-Loss Record: 12-4

    The Kansas City Chiefs found their franchise quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, who came off an electrifying season as league MVP.

    Statistically, Mahomes had another decent year, throwing for 3,857 yards, 25 touchdowns and just four interceptions going into the final week of the season. He missed two contests because of a dislocated kneecap, but Kansas City managed to go 1-1 in those games with backup Matt Moore under center.

    The Chiefs miss running back Kareem Hunt's dynamic capability out of the backfield. LeSean McCoy, Damien Williams, Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson haven't been able to form a strong committee. Kansas City ranked 23rd in rushing yards.

    However, the Chiefs fielded a much-improved defense compared to last year. Cornerbacks Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland cover the perimeter while Tyrann Mathieu brings his versatility, tracking the ball in coverage and helping out in run defense. Frank Clark and Chris Jones have wreaked havoc up front, logging a combined 15 sacks. 

    The Chiefs allowed just 7.8 points per game in their first four December games, which bodes well for their upcoming playoff journey.

    With the New England Patriots' loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Kansas City will host at least one playoff game as the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Despite their subpar ground attack, the Chiefs are still a top-five team.

    Season Grade: A

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers
    Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip RiversKevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 5-11

    For the first time under head coach Anthony Lynn, the Los Angeles Chargers finished below .500.

    The season started off on the wrong foot. Running back Melvin Gordon III's holdout extended into the regular season. Left tackle Russell Okung landed on injured reserve with a blood clot issue. Safety Derwin James missed the first 11 games with a stress fracture in his right foot. 

    Even with the injuries, we can't overlook quarterback Philip Rivers' sharp decline. He'll miss the Pro Bowl for the first time since the 2015 term. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the 38-year-old was in danger of losing his job late in the season but held on to throw for 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions through 15 outings. 

    On a positive note, Gordon's holdout allowed running back Austin Ekeler to shine in a bigger role. He logged 1,461 yards and 11 touchdowns from scrimmage.

    The Chargers have an important decision to make with Rivers going into the offseason on an expiring contract. Nonetheless, whoever starts under center won't need to overcompensate on offense with a top-six unit in yards allowed on the other side of the ball.

    Season Grade: D

Los Angeles Rams

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    Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley
    Los Angeles Rams running back Todd GurleyRoger Steinman/Associated Press

    Win-Loss Record: 9-7

    Don't use the Super Bowl hangover cliche to explain the Los Angeles Rams' underwhelming campaign.

    During free agency, the Rams lost left guard Rodger Saffold. The front office declined the option on center John O'Sullivan's contract. Clearly, the coaching staff didn't feel confident about running back Todd Gurley II handling a massive workload. Compared to the 2018 campaign, he averaged nearly four fewer carries and saw a significant drop-off in target volume. 

    The Rams ranked 24th in rushing offense with a front line that listed 17th in run-blocking adjusted line yards (4.34), per Football Outsiders

    Gurley, rookie third-rounder Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown all averaged fewer than four yards per carry through Week 16.

    Without a consistent ground attack, quarterback Jared Goff struggled to carry the offense, throwing for 19 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The Rams have a talented wide receiver corps featuring Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks, but the aerial attack sputtered for long stretches.

    Aaron Donald, Dante Fowler Jr. and Clay Matthews formed a strong pass-rushing trio, combining for 32 sacks. However, the Rams whiffed on stopping on the run, ranking 22nd heading into Week 17. Four of their last five opponents rushed for 106-plus yards.

    Assuming the front office re-signs cornerback Jalen Ramsey, he'll help the secondary for years to come. Nonetheless, the Rams need to re-establish physicality on both sides of the trenches to compete with San Francisco and Seattle in the division. 

    Season Grade: B-

Miami Dolphins

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    Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker
    Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante ParkerMark Brown/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 5-11

    Looking at the Miami Dolphins' depth chart before the season opener, you could guess this team would finish with a losing record and somewhere near the top of the 2020 draft order.

    Over the last four months, the Dolphins traded defensive end Robert Quinn, left tackle Laremy Tunsil and versatile defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick—three of their best players. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick won the starting job over Josh Rosen.

    Miami started the season with an unhappy locker room, but the team pulled together under head coach Brian Flores with competitive efforts through three-quarters of the season.

    The Dolphins' spirited showings down the stretch bode well for the new coaching staff. Clearly, the players responded to Flores. Miami pulled off an improbable victory over the New England Patriots Sunday, essentially taking away their first-round bye week. That's an encouraging victory for this squad.

    The defense allowed the most points and yards entering Sunday. Still, the unit has some promising talent in undrafted rookie cornerback Nik Needham, rookie linebacker Jerome Baker and fifth-year veteran Eric Rowe who juggled multiple roles this year.

    Next season, the Dolphins could show a vast improvement in bottom-line results if the front office uses its three first-round picks and some of the projected $103.6 million in cap space wisely.

    Season Grade: D+

Minnesota Vikings

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    Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook
    Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin CookTed S. Warren/Associated Press

    Win-Loss Record: 10-6

    The Minnesota Vikings earned a playoff berth, but questions remain about quarterback Kirk Cousins after he lost his ninth consecutive Monday Night Football contest in a 23-10 defeat to the Packers.

    Nevertheless, the Vikings successfully transitioned from a pass-heavy offense to a unit that's effective running the ball and using play-action throws from the pocket. 

    Running backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison carried the majority load for the Vikings' seventh-ranked scoring offense until they both sat out with injuries in Week 16. 

    Even without wideout Adam Thielen for five games (hamstring), the Vikings moved the ball efficiently in most of those contests. Still, like most average quarterbacks, Cousins needs the key parts of his supporting cast to flourish in big games. 

    Offensively, Minnesota doesn't have much to worry about with its personnel at full strength.

    On the other side of the ball, head coach Mike Zimmer must tweak the secondary. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes continues to struggle in coverage. The Vikings field a mediocre pass defense that ranks 16th in yards and touchdowns allowed through the air. 

    Season Grade: B

New England Patriots

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    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady
    New England Patriots quarterback Tom BradyMaddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 12-4

    The New England Patriots started the season 8-0. The offense lost its steam midway through the season. Since Week 9, the defending champions have scored more than 24 points once. 

    In recent years, analysts have prematurely predicted the Patriots' fall from grace. New England has proved them wrong at every turn. That said, this year seems a little different. 

    Quarterback Tom Brady doesn't have the best set of assets within his pass-catching group. Other than wideout Julian Edelman and running back James White, the Patriots lack high-end playmakers.

    Wideouts N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers are rookies. The Patriots acquired wide receiver Mohamed Sanu from the Falcons before the trade deadline. He needs time to settle into the offense. Tight end Ben Watson, who's in his age-39 term, doesn't provide a significant boost to the aerial attack. Even Sony Michel has been hit-or-miss running the ball, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. 

    Yet, the Patriots are 12-4 with the No. 3 seed in the AFC. A top-notch defense can still win championships, and New England fields the No. 1 unit in points and yards allowed. Overall, the group has forced 36 takeaways, which is tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most leaguewide. 

    Typical of the Patriots, they have weaknesses, but they're able to beat opponents with their strengths. This season, New England has held the opposition to the bare minimum on the scoreboard. 

    The Patriots' overall record suggests they had a great season, but Sunday's meaningful loss to the Dolphins seems a bit troubling. New England couldn't beat a 4-11 team with home-field advantage in the divisional round at stake.

    Season Grade: A-

New Orleans Saints

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    New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees
    New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew BreesButch Dill/Associated Press

    Win-Loss Record: 13-3

    The New Orleans Saints didn't cruise to 13-3. They faced some adversity and overcame a few shortcomings.

    The Saints lost quarterback Drew Brees for five games. Tight end Jared Cook didn't emerge as a consistent No. 2 pass-catcher until midway through the year. Dynamic running back Alvin Kamara has three fumbles (one lost) and only four touchdowns from scrimmage.

    On the other hand, backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater filled in for Brees, leading the Saints to a 5-0 record without their starting signal-caller. Michael Thomas likely put himself on several top-three wide receiver lists. He's hauled in an eye-popping 145 receptions (a new single-season record) for 1,688 yards and nine touchdowns. 

    With Thomas on the field, the Saints can move the ball whether Brees or Bridgewater is under center.

    New Orleans doesn't have a stifling defense. The unit has been stout against the run (fifth) and solid in crucial situations, allowing a 35.1 percent conversion rate on third downs. When necessary, defensive end Cameron Jordan can seal a three-and-out with a stop off the edge. He leads the team in tackles for loss (14) and lists third leaguewide in sacks (14.5). 

    The Saints have talent gaps on the depth chart, specifically at wide receiver and defensive end with Marcus Davenport on injured reserve with a foot injury. Nonetheless, their stars on both sides of the ball usually show up with big plays in critical spots. 

    Season Grade: A

New York Giants

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    New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley
    New York Giants running back Saquon BarkleyMatt Rourke/Associated Press

    Win-Loss Record: 4-12

    During the offseason, New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman took criticism when he selected quarterback Daniel Jones with the No. 6 overall pick.

    Jones flashed glimpses of his playmaking ability by using his arm and legs. He's thrown four or more touchdowns without an interception in three games. In addition, the Duke product has 253 rushing yards and two scores on the ground. 

    Jones still needs to show a lot more to earn the franchise-quarterback label, but he took some encouraging steps this season.

    Gettleman also deserves credit for finding a fifth-round gem in wide receiver Darius Slayton, who leads the team in receiving yards (690) and touchdowns (eight).

    Assuming the Giants general manager retains his position, he must revamp the offensive line, which ranks 23rd in run-blocking adjusted line yards (4.10) and 17th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders. Big Blue's inability to minimize the opponent's pass rush and open running lanes for Saquon Barkley hampered the offense this season.

    James Bettcher's unit took a step back in his second term as the Giants' defensive play-caller, ranking 29th in scoring and 24th in yards allowed. Perhaps the influx of rookie talent—interior lineman Dexter Lawrence, cornerback Deandre Baker and outside linebacker Oshane Ximines—contributed to the rough patches. 

    Right now, the Giants have promising pieces on both sides of the ball. The coaching staff must pull the cumulative talent together to improve this team's outlook.

    Season Grade: D+

New York Jets

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    New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold
    New York Jets quarterback Sam DarnoldSteven Ryan/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 7-9

    The New York Jets' season started out on a disastrous path.

    Gang Green lost its season opener to the Bills, squandering a 16-point second-half lead. Quarterback Sam Darnold contracted mononucleosis and missed the following three games. Once he returned, the second-year signal-caller didn't have much pass protection.

    The Jets offensive line ranks 30th in that category, per Football Outsiders. None of the Day 1 first-stringers within the five-man group started through a complete season because of injury or demotion.

    To make offensive matters worse, running back Le'Veon Bell has a career low in average yards per rush attempt (3.3) and rushing yards per game (53.4). We can blame the run blocking, but ESPN's Rich Cimini thinks the 27-year-old is a poor fit in head coach Adam Gase's scheme.

    "He has left some yards on the field," Cimini wrote in mid-November. "He's not a great fit in a zone-blocking scheme because he can't plant and make the quick, upfield cut. His average speed at the line of scrimmage is 8.25 mph, according to NFL Next Gen Stats—which ranks 25th out of 26 running backs with at least 100 carries."

    Trumaine Johnson, who's in the second term of his five-year, $72.5 million deal, didn't mesh with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' system. The coaching staff benched the lead cornerback for two games.

    Yet the Jets showed fight in the second half of the season, winning five of their last seven outings going into Week 17.

    The Jets run defense had a great stretch, holding five consecutive opponents to fewer than 69 rushing yards. For the year, the unit has surrendered the second-fewest yards on the ground.

    Although Quinnen Williams has stuffed ball-carriers, he's provided moderate impact when you consider his draft position at No. 3 overall. The Alabama product has registered 28 tackles, four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks with 11 quarterback pressures

    The Jets must solve their issues on the offensive line to elevate Darnold and the ground attack. They entered Week 17 at 28th in scoring with the fewest yards gained. 

    Season Grade: C

Oakland Raiders

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    Oakland Raiders running back Josh Jacobs
    Oakland Raiders running back Josh JacobsSeth Wenig/Associated Press

    Win-Loss Record: 7-9

    The Oakland Raiders came into the season with a young roster. Several rookies had to take on prominent roles.

    The Raiders' inexperience didn't hurt the Silver and Black out of the gate. The club opened the season 6-4 with impressive wins over a gritty Colts team on the road and the Bears in London. 

    Oakland will finish the season without a victory over a team with a winning record. On the flip side, many expected the Raiders to be a below-average squad. 

    We must acknowledge this club has terrible double-digit blowout losses to Kansas City (twice), Minnesota, Green Bay, Gang Green and the Tennessee Titans. The Raiders also collapsed in the second half of their last game at Oakland Coliseum, losing 20-16 to Jacksonville.

    Head coach Jon Gruden and his staff must do a better job with adjustments after halftime. According to Team Rankings, the Raiders rank seventh in average points scored in the first half (13.0) but 31st (6.9) over the last 30 minutes. 

    Oakland receives a grade boost because running back Josh Jacobs (eighth in rushing), cornerback Trayvon Mullen (the team leader in pass breakups) Maxx Crosby (the defense's sack leader) have flashed in a big way. All three could become roster cornerstones.

    Season Grade: C+

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz
    Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson WentzMitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 9-7

    In a weak division, the Philadelphia Eagles took over the driver's seat with a crucial victory over the Cowboys. Head coach Doug Pederson's group isn't living off its Super Bowl LII reputation. The players earned the right to control their destiny going into Week 17.

    Although the Eagles had some disappointing losses that put them in a dire predicament, the team showed its mettle with the stakes raised to a near-playoff level. 

    More importantly, quarterback Carson Wentz played through a full season and put together a string of impressive performances without starting wideouts DeSean Jackson (core-muscle surgery) and Alshon Jeffery (Lisfranc). The fourth-year signal-caller hasn't thrown an interception since Week 13. 

    During the Eagles' three-game win streak, they saw running back Miles Sanders handle the majority load. He eclipsed 150 yards from scrimmage in Weeks 15 and 16.

    Defensively, Philadelphia has a mixed bag, ranking 19th in pass defense and third against the run. With cornerback Ronald Darby on injured reserve with a hip flexor injury, Jalen Mills and Sidney Jones could become favorable targets in coverage during the postseason.

    Philadelphia has clear flaws in the secondary and its wide receiver corps. Fortunately, Wentz proved he can mask those deficiencies with efficiency in the pocket. The Eagles have a mediocre record, but their current four-game win streak and NFC East title boost the final grade as they perform at an optimal level without key playmakers.

    Season Grade: B

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt
    Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. WattSteven Ryan/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 8-8

    The Pittsburgh Steelers ceded control of their destiny with a loss to the Jets in Week 16. Nonetheless, many would admit they didn't expect to see this team play meaningful games in December after it lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season due to an elbow injury. 

    Roethlisberger appeared in two games before going to the sideline. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges took over as game managers. Running back James Conner (shoulder) and wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe, knee and concussion) battled injuries throughout the year, limiting their ability to contribute.

    With the 31st-ranked passing attack and a ground game that lists 26th, Pittsburgh has struggled to reach the end zone throughout the year. It hasn't scored more than 23 points since Week 9.

    For the most part, the Steelers defense has been a tremendous factor in this team's push for a playoff spot, ranking fourth in points and yards allowed going into the final week of the season.

    The Steelers made a good move by acquiring versatile defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who plays safety. This year, he became a Pro Bowler with 53 tackles, nine pass breakups, five interceptions, two fumble recoveries for 79 yards and two defensive touchdowns for Pittsburgh.

    Despite the injuries, the Steelers held onto a playoff spot for a good portion of the season. Head coach Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff deserve a ton of credit for doing so much with less talent available.

    Season Grade: B-

San Francisco 49ers

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    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo
    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy GaroppoloLachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 13-3

    The San Francisco 49ers field one of the most complete rosters in the league. General manager John Lynch shored up weak areas on the depth chart with immediate impact players.

    The 49ers acquired Dee Ford via trade with the Chiefs and selected Nick Bosa with the No. 2 overall pick to revamp the front seven. As a result, San Francisco has arguably the best pass-rushing defensive line, which ranks fifth in sacks (47) and quarterback pressures (155). 

    Before the trade deadline, the 49ers acquired wideout Emmanuel Sanders, who elevated the aerial attack in a few contests. He's logged two 112-plus-yard performances with three touchdowns since his arrival from Denver. 

    Most importantly, head coach Kyle Shanahan has implemented his outside-zone running scheme to near perfection. The 49ers field the No. 2 ground attack, and it features a plethora of running backs including Raheem Mostert, who's emerged as the lead ball-carrier, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida. Jeff Wilson Jr. has also had bright moments with five touchdowns from scrimmage.

    The 49ers have a steady quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, who's played through his first full season and helped deliver a few wins with his arm. He doesn't have a top-notch wide receiver corps, but George Kittle is one the best tight ends in the game. He's an exceptional pass-catcher and puts a lot of effort into his blocking assignments. 

    As the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the 49ers should go into the playoffs with favorable Super Bowl odds because of their widespread talent.

    Season Grade: A

Seattle Seahawks

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    Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson
    Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell WilsonAbbie Parr/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 11-5

    On paper, the Seattle Seahawks come across as a team that's slightly over .500, especially when you see their plus-12 point differential. 

    The defense struggles to generate pressure, ranking 30th in sacks (26) and 26th in quarterback pressures (122). The unit lists 21st in scoring and 26th in yards allowed. Quarterback Russell Wilson also plays behind an offensive line that's 26th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders.

    That said, Wilson has pulled the Seahawks through close games with the help of the ground attack, which ranks third leaguewide. For about half the season, the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback was in lockstep with Lamar Jackson for league MVP mentions. Despite a string of modest performances, he's put his team in position to win the NFC West title.

    Because of the Seahawks' generous defense, the offense must put up a significant number of points to win games. Without Rashaad Penny (torn ACL) and Chris Carson (hip), Wilson carries more pressure to move the ball with his arm. Marshawn Lynch and rookie sixth-rounder Travis Homer will handle the rushing workload going into the postseason.

    Nonetheless, head coach Pete Carroll's group has been able to overcome its shortcomings to win double-digit games in impressive fashion. If Wilson is healthy, the Seahawks have a chance to make a deep playoff run as a wild-card team. 

    Season Grade: A-

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston
    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis WinstonDon Juan Moore/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 7-9

    Bruce Arians and his coaching staff elevated quarterback Jameis Winston—with his flaws.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers chose not to go conservative to limit Winston's mistakes. Instead, they went full-throttle on the passing attack, allowing the signal-caller to produce gaudy numbers. The fifth-year veteran has thrown for 5,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. 

    Winston leads the league in yards and interceptions, but Arians proved the Buccaneers could win with their turnover-prone quarterback. Before the erratic passer threw four picks against the Texans last week, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport revealed the club plans to retain him for 2020.

    Clearly, the Buccaneers believe in Winston to an extent, especially with two Pro Bowl wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin on the perimeter.

    If it can add a proven dual-threat running back and develop its defense into a solid group, Tampa Bay could make a move up the ladder in the NFC South. 

    Play-caller Todd Bowles and his assistants will need to continue their work developing rookie defensive backs Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards. The front seven has a bona fide playmaker in Shaquil Barrett, who's second leaguewide in sacks (16.5). He's an impending free agent and should be a top in-house priority during the offseason. 

    Season Grade: C

Tennessee Titans

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    Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill
    Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan TannehillBrett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 9-7

    At 2-4, the Tennessee Titans needed a spark. Enter quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

    Tannehill didn't just save the Titans' season. He's a potential solution for the short-term future. The front office has already discussed signing the 31-year-old to a new deal, per ESPN's Dianna Russini.

    By all means, the Titans should keep Tannehill around and allow Marcus Mariota to hit free agency. The coaching staff exercised patience with the latter, but the former provided satisfactory results, leading the team to a postseason play-in game against the Texans on Sunday.

    Head coach Mike Vrabel's defense took a significant step backward, falling from the top 10 in points and yards allowed to 13th and 22nd, respectively. In fairness, it's worth mentioning cornerback Adoree' Jackson has missed four games with a foot injury. After Week 9, fellow cover man Malcolm Butler landed on injured reserve with a broken left wrist.

    Despite the Titans' regression on defense, the offense has led this team to victories in the second half of the season. Running back Derrick Henry has looked phenomenal on the ground, logging career highs in rushing yards (1,329) and touchdowns (13). The fourth-year ball-carrier registered 103-plus yards in four consecutive outings between Weeks 10 and 14.

    Assuming the front office re-signs its starting quarterback and featured running back, Titans fans should be excited for a Tannehill-Henry tandem going into the 2020 season.

    The Titans earn a solid grade for their midseason turnaround en route to a wild-card playoff berth.

    Season Grade: B

Washington Redskins

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    Washington Redskins wide receiver Terry McLaurin
    Washington Redskins wide receiver Terry McLaurinWill Newton/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 3-13

    Former lead skipper Jay Gruden likely came into the season on the hot seat with a 35-44-1 record through his first five campaigns as the Washington Redskins head coach. The front office opted to relieve him of his duties after an 0-5 start this year.

    As Alex Smith recovered from a broken leg, Washington opened the season with two placeholder quarterbacks in Case Keenum and Colt McCoy. Eventually, the coaching staff gave rookie signal-caller Dwayne Haskins a chance to show his potential in a few starts—more so under interim head coach Bill Callahan.  

    The Redskins won their first game after Callahan took over for Gruden and then lost the next three outings, scoring a combined 18 points.

    Washington has gone through a public dispute with left tackle Trent Williams, who's on the NFI list after dealing with a cancerous tumor on his head. The seven-time Pro Bowler says team doctors downplayed the condition, which led to his distrust toward the organization. The 31-year-old's absence has certainly affected the offensive line. 

    The Redskins' front line ranks 18th in run-blocking adjusted line yards (4.32) and 31st in pass protection, per Football Outsiders, providing little push for the running backs and unstable support around Haskins before he landed on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain.

    At least the Redskins found their No. 1 wideout in Terry McLaurin, who leads the pass-catching group with 58 receptions for 919 yards and seven touchdowns. 

    Defensively, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau and Jimmy Moreland could become a solid group in the secondary. The Redskins will likely count on them moving forward after the current coaching staff benched Josh Norman following Week 11. 

    Season Grade: D-


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