Every NFL Team's Biggest Liability Heading into 2020 Season
No matter how talented, prepared and consistent an NFL team might be, every franchise has at least one liability that could cost it wins at some point—potentially at the worst time.
Take the 2019 Baltimore Ravens, for example. They ran wild over the NFL after a 2-2 start, winning their final 12 games and locking up the AFC's No. 1 seed in the process. However, the Ravens showed during the regular season that their run defense could be a liability—opponents averaged 4.4 yards per carry against them in the regular season—when teams had the patience to stick with the run.
The Tennessee Titans did exactly that in the playoffs, thumping Baltimore 28-12 as Derrick Henry rumbled for 195 yards.
Of course, not every team boasts as much top-to-bottom talent as Baltimore, so some liabilities could cost a team more than just a key game or two. Here, we'll examine the biggest liability for each team based on factors like past performances, roster movement and any relevant offseason buzz. Individual players, position groups and coaches are considered.
Arizona Cardinals: Pass Defense
There's a lot to like with the Arizona Cardinals. They have an electric young quarterback in Kyler Murray, an innovative young head coach in Kliff Kingsbury and a suddenly stacked group of offensive weapons—one that includes DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and Kenyan Drake.
Arizona's pass defense, however, is not an attractive piece of the proverbial puzzle.
The Cardinals fielded the league's 31st-ranked pass defense in 2019, which was an issue that stemmed from multiple fronts. The secondary was a big liability, but the Cardinals also produced just 40 sacks on the season despite getting 19 from Chandler Jones.
The Cardinals have the offensive firepower needed to win shootouts in 2020, and they will likely have a prevail in several of them to be a playoff team.
Atlanta Falcons: The Pass Rush
While the Atlanta Falcons do have questions surrounding their secondary—particularly after parting with starting corner Desmond Trufant—their pass rush is a bigger liability. As a team, Atlanta produced a mere 28 sacks in 2019.
In a division that features both Drew Brees and Tom Brady, a lackluster pass rush could push Atlanta out of the NFC South race.
The Falcons did sign free agent Dante Fowler Jr., who had 11.5 sacks with the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. However, they also parted with Vic Beasley, who had eight last season. There's a real chance that Atlanta is not dramatically improved in the pass-rushing department this season.
Baltimore Ravens: Perimeter Weapons
Run defense shouldn't be as big a liability for the Ravens this season, as the signing of Calais Campbell and drafting of Patrick Queen should help address the issue. Therefore, we'll shift to the other side of the ball and Baltimore's relatively unproven group of wide receivers.
Really, this is more of a question mark than a proven liability, as the Ravens were efficient utilizing the ground game and throwing to tight ends in 2019. However, it is worth noting that then-rookie Marquise Brown led all Ravens wideouts with just 584 receiving yards. Willie Snead was next among wide receivers with just 339.
This could prove to be a problem, as the Ravens are looking to make Lamar Jackson more of a traditional passer.
"I doubt if I'm going to be carrying the ball a lot going on in the future," Jackson told reporters.
If Baltimore's receiver group proves underwhelming, Jackson may be far easier to contain than he was a season ago.
Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen
The Buffalo Bills had the league's second-ranked scoring defense in 2019. They have a budding running back in Devin Singletary and added a new No. 1 receiver in Stefon Diggs this offseason. They are close to being a complete team. However, quarterback Josh Allen could hold them back.
Specifically, Allen's unreliability as a passer could be a major issue. The Wyoming product has struggled with accuracy—he has a career completion rate of just 56.3 percent—and has not risen to the occasion in big games.
In the playoffs against the Houston Texans last season, Allen completed just 24 of 46 attempts for 264 yards with no touchdowns.
Allen has a ton of physical upside and is dangerous as a runner. However, the Bills cannot be overly confident about their odds of winning key games through the air this season.
Carolina Panthers: Linebacker Corps
The Carolina Panthers lost star linebacker Luke Kuechly to retirement this offseason, leaving the second-level run defense as one of the team's biggest question marks. The linebacker corps—and the defense as a whole—struggled against the run even when Kuechly was on the field.
In 2019, Carolina ranked just 29th against the run and last in yards per carry surrendered (5.2). This made it difficult for the Panthers to get stops and take advantage of their own elite rushing attack in the ball-control department. As a result, Carolina ranked 31st in scoring defense.
While the Panthers did use their entire 2020 draft on defensive players, they didn't spend a single draft pick on a linebacker. Their big offseason acquisition at the position was Tahir Whitehead, who is a solid player but not an adequate replacement for Kuechly.
Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky
If new Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles can beat out Mitchell Trubisky and play well in 2020, the Bears might be a playoff team. If he cannot, Chicago might be looking at a lost season.
While the Bears roster is very talented, Trubisky has been anything but a steady presence under center. He has struggled to push the ball down the field—he averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt in 2019—and has limited what head coach Matt Nagy is able—or perhaps, willing—to do on offense.
Chicago ranked 29th in passing yardage last year and declined Trubisky's fifth-year option this offseason.
If the Bears are again one-dimensional, they're going to find it difficult to be relevant in the tough NFC North.
Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive Line
The Cincinnati Bengals have themselves a new franchise quarterback in No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow. The LSU product isn't joining a completely talent-strapped offense either, as weapons like A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon will make his job easier. However, Burrow will be playing behind a questionable offensive line, which could create major problems.
Cincinnati's projected left tackle, Jonah Williams, missed his entire rookie season in 2019 with a shoulder injury. Right tackle Bobby Hart was responsible for six sacks and seven penalties last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and 2018 first-round center Billy Price has struggled to maintain a starting role.
As a unit, the Bengals line surrendered 48 sacks in 2019 while springing a rushing attack that averaged just 3.9 yards per play. If Burrow has a tough transition to the NFL, the Cincinnati line could be responsible.
Cleveland Browns: Another Inexperienced Coaching Staff
Maybe the Cleveland Browns finally got it right. Perhaps new head coach Kevin Stefanski is the guy to turn things around, finally get the most out of young quarterback Baker Mayfield and push Cleveland into contention.
The fact remains, though, that Mayfield is now on his fourth head coach in three seasons. Stefanski has never been a head coach before, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt has just one year of coordinator experience—with the Bills in 2009—and defensive coordinator Joe Woods has just two.
This is a new and relatively inexperienced staff working through a bizarre offseason and with no preseason with which to prepare. If the Browns get off to a slow start, it could be due to the team's lack of experience—and the season could spiral out of control as a result.
Dallas Cowboys: Cornerback
The Dallas Cowboys lost standout cornerback Byron Jones in free agency, which leaves the team lacking talent and experience at the cornerback position. Jourdan Lewis has just 13 starts in three seasons. Anthony Brown has 33 but had only four starts and nine appearances last season. Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson II are both rookies.
Chidobe Awuzie is the only full-time starter from 2019 who is returning. He and Lewis are the only Cowboys cornerbacks who logged interceptions last season, and they had a combined total of just three.
As a whole, Dallas' defense should be serviceable. The Cowboys ranked 10th in pass defense and 11th in points allowed last season. Against teams with high-end weapons on the perimeter, however, they could struggle.
Denver Broncos: Garett Bolles
The Denver Broncos are betting heavily on second-year quarterback Drew Lock. They used their first two draft picks on receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler and have handed the offensive keys to the former Missouri gunslinger.
"When it comes to Drew, I think he deserves the hype," guard Dalton Risner said, per Chad Jensen of Mile High Huddle.
The problem is that Risner is part of an offensive line that leaves plenty to be desired—particularly at the left tackle position.
As a unit in 2019, the Broncos line surrendered 41 sacks. Only four of them were surrendered by Bolles—according to Pro Football Focus—but the 2017 first-round pick was responsible for a whopping 17 penalties.
Mistakes along the offensive line can derail an offense quickly. While it's not fair to label Bolles as a total bust, his penchant for miscues is a major liability for an offense trying to build around a young signal-caller.
Detroit Lions: Pass Defense
Head coach Matt Patricia was supposed to help make the Detroit Lions defense formidable, but the former New England Patriots defensive coordinator has failed to do so. In fact, Detroit's pass defense has been a relative disaster under Patricia.
Last season, Detroit ranked last in passing yards allowed, 27th in touchdowns allowed and 30th in interceptions with just seven. The Lions then traded away Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, who had two of those interceptions and 13 passes defended.
Detroit did use the third overall pick in April's draft on cornerback Jeff Okudah, but he is unproven at the pro level. The additions of Desmond Trufant and Duron Harmon should help bolster the secondary some, but this is still one of the shakiest pass defenses in the league.
Green Bay Packers: No. 2 Receiver
One of the Green Bay Packers' biggest issues in 2019 was their lack of a reliable No. 2 receiver. Davante Adams is an elite pass-catcher when healthy, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not have a consistent second target. That problem could persist in 2020.
Allen Lazard finished second to Adams among Green Bay receivers with a mere 477 yards last season, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling was second in starts with 10. While the Packers did sign Devin Funchess in free agency, he decided to opt out for 2020.
This leaves the likes of Lazard, Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow again vying to be the team's No. 2 option—and again, that No. 2 option could underwhelm. Further complicating matters is the fact that the Packers don't have a proven pass-catching tight end on the roster aside from 36-year-old Marcedes Lewis.
Houston Texans: Pass Defense
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson had to play a lot of hero ball in 2019 because his defense had a penchant for giving up yards and points in a hurry. Houston produced just 31 sacks as a team and allowed the fourth-most passing yards in the league during the regular season. It also surrendered 33 touchdown passes, sixth-most in the NFL.
Despite being so inefficient against the pass, the Texans did virtually nothing to address their secondary, aside from re-signing Phillip Gaines and Vernon Hargreaves III.
Ideally, a healthy J.J. Watt will help improve the pass defense from the front end, but this is still the team's biggest liability. Compounding the issue is the fact that Watson may have a harder time carrying the team now that DeAndre Hopkins is in Arizona.
Indianapolis Colts: Receiver Depth
Theoretically, the addition of veteran quarterback Philip Rivers will provide the Indianapolis Colts passing attack with a significant boost. However, Rivers won't be working with as deep a receiving corps as he had with the Los Angeles Chargers.
After No. 1 receiver T.Y. Hilton, the Colts' receiver group is largely filled with question marks.
Hilton only appeared in 10 games last season, and Zach Pascal led the Colts wideouts with just 607 yards receiving. Parris Campbell is relatively unproven after appearing in just seven games as a rookie, and second-round pick Michael Pittman Jr. has yet to take an NFL snap.
Rivers could help get the most out of his receivers, but a lack of depth at the position is arguably Indianapolis' biggest question mark heading into the regular season.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Run Defense
The Jacksonville Jaguars are giving 2019 sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew II a crack being the team's next quarterback of the future. If Minshew struggles, the Jaguars are unlikely to have a successful season, but he isn't the biggest liability on the team. Jacksonville's terrible run defense is.
The Jaguars ranked just 28th in the NFL against the run last season and 31st in yards allowed per carry with 5.1. That run defense arguably got worse this offseason, as Calais Campbell was traded and Yannick Ngakoue remains away from the team and unhappy with being franchise-tagged.
With the Colts and Tennessee Titans possessing run-first offenses—though Indy's philosophy could change some with the addition of Philip Rivers—Jacksonville is in a precarious position in the AFC South. These divisional foes could run all over the Jaguars.
Kansas City Chiefs: Run Defense
Like the Jaguars, the Kansas City Chiefs' biggest liability last season was their run defense. Unlike the Jaguars, the Chiefs have a quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and enough offensive firepower that overcoming a lackluster defense was usually not a problem.
Still, if we're looking for flaws from the defending Super Bowl champions, this is the big one. Kansas City ranked just 26th against the run and 29th in yards per carry allowed.
This is potentially problematic, as opponents will want to utilize the ground game to keep Mahomes and Co. off the field. Of course, the Chiefs are quite capable of racking up points in a hurry, but an underwhelming run defense could cost them a game or two in 2020.
Las Vegas Raiders: Pass Rush
If the Las Vegas Raiders are hoping to catch teams like Kansas City, Houston and Baltimore at the top of the AFC, they're going to have to stop some of the top quarterbacks in the game. This means they'll have to be better at pressuring those quarterbacks, something that was a challenge in 2019.
The Raiders amassed just 32 sacks as a team in 2019, with 10 of those coming from rookie Maxx Crosby. Fellow rookie and fourth overall draft pick Clelin Ferrell was responsible for a disappointing 4.5 sacks, and the rest of the team combined produced a mere 17.5.
Yet the Raiders didn't upgrade their pass rush, with the exception of adding Carl Nassib, who had 6.0 sacks in 2019.
There's always the chance that things click for Ferrell or that Crosby ratchets up his production. If not, Las Vegas will struggle to compete with the best teams in the conference.
Los Angeles Chargers: Sam Tevi
When the Los Angeles Chargers traded tackle Russell Okung for guard Trai Turner, it added a Pro Bowler to the interior of their offensive line while also creating a sizeable hole on the edge. Presumably, free-agent addition Bryan Bulaga will be given an opportunity to fill it—he played both tackle spots in college—though that leaves Sam Tevi as the likely starter on the right side.
Tevi plated 782 snaps in 2019 and allowed eight sacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
Tevi starting would be an issue regardless of who is in at quarterback, but he could be particularly problematic if rookie Justin Herbert gets the nod over Tyrod Taylor.
The last thing a young and developing passer needs is a turnstile at tackle, even if it isn't on his blind side—though there's a possibility that that's exactly where Tevi ends up if Bulaga makes the jump from right to left.
Los Angeles Rams: Running Back
When Todd Gurley was fully healthy and playing at a high level, running back was one of the Los Angeles Rams' biggest strengths. However, Gurley was released in the offseason, making the position one of L.A.'s biggest question marks.
The Rams drafted former Florida State back Cam Akers in the second round, but there's no guarantee that he'll adequately replace Gurley. The team's other options, longtime backup Malcolm Brown and 2019 third-rounder Darrell Henderson, are also largely unproven.
Brown is the most experienced of the group, while Henderson saw just 39 carries as a rookie last season.
If the Rams cannot find some semblance of a strong rushing attack, it's going to put even more pressure on quarterback Jared Goff—who is already coming off a disappointing 2019 campaign.
Miami Dolphins: Offensive Line
There's one big reason the Miami Dolphins should be hesitant to start rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa early in 2020: their offensive line. The unit surrendered a whopping 58 sacks in 2019 and wasn't significantly upgraded in the offseason.
While the Dolphins did use a first-round pick on former USC tackle Austin Jackson, he isn't close to being a complete prospect. While he has a lot of physical upside, it has not yet led to a high level of play.
"The biggest reason for the divide between PFF and the scouts and other media is the lack of consistency and physicality, as well as how badly he performed against NFL-caliber pass-rushers," Pro Football Focus' Anthony Treash wrote. "Jackson ranked outside the top 30 left tackles in both pass-block grade and run-block grade in each of the last two seasons."
Miami's line is going to be a problem for whichever quarterback is under center. With Tagovailoa still recovering from last year's dislocated hip, that quarterback should probably be journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Minnesota Vikings: Receiver Depth
The Minnesota Vikings traded star wide receiver Stefon Diggs this offseason, which netted the team an extra first-round pick. However, the Diggs trade also left the Vikings with questionable depth at wide receiver.
It's important to note that fellow starting receiver Adam Thielen was limited to just 10 games and 30 receptions in 2019. If he struggles to return to form, the Vikings could be in serious trouble.
Minnesota used one of its first-round picks on wideout Justin Jefferson. The Vikings' other top options after Thielen include Olabisi Johnson and Tajae Sharpe. Those two combined for just 623 yards in 2019.
New England Patriots: Quarterback
With Dont'a Hightower, Marcus Cannon and Patrick Chung among the Patriots opting out for 2020, roster depth could be a major problem. However, if their season truly goes south, it will likely be because of poor quarterback play.
Tom Brady, if you weren't aware, is no longer in New England. The Patriots will either roll with journeyman Brian Hoyer, unproven 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham or Cam Newton, who is coming off of two injury-plagued seasons and learning a completely new system—though that's less of a concern than Newton's health.
"At the end of the day, football is still football and you just can't make too much on it than what it already is," Newton said, per Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston.
If Newton is fully healthy and completely grasps Josh McDaniels' offense, the quarterback could turn from a liability to a strength. However, we won't know how Newton can fare against live competition until he sees the playing field—which won't be until Week 1 at the earliest.
New Orleans Saints: Pass Defense
The New Orleans Saints have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL, especially after adding a legitimate No. 2 receiver in Emmanuel Sanders. However, an inconsistent pass defense is a liability, even though the Saints have plenty of talent on the back end.
Marshon Lattimore is a Pro Bowl-caliber talent at cornerback, and Marcus Williams is one of the best young safeties in the game. Yet the Saints still ranked a disappointing 20th in passing yards allowed and 21st in passing touchdowns allowed.
The Saints gave up 242 yards and a touchdown to Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on Wild Card Weekend, which helped lead to a surprisingly early playoff exit.
Bringing back safety Malcolm Jenkins should help the Saints improve their back-end defense. If it doesn't, however, New Orleans could again be looking at a short postseason run.
New York Giants: The Offensive Line
New York Giants left tackle Nate Solder decided to opt out of the 2020 season, which leaves a lot of questions about the Giants offensive line. While Solder was not exactly a model of consistency—he surrendered 11 sacks last season, according to Pro Football Focus—he was an experienced starter.
The Giants will now likely rely on some combination of rookie fourth overall pick Andrew Thomas, rookie third-round pick Matt Peart and former Cowboys and Patriots backup Cameron Fleming at tackle.
Could this group of tackles prove capable of protecting quarterback Daniel Jones? Sure. With no preseason, however, it could take them some time into the regular season to jell. Given Jones' struggles with pocket awareness and fumbling—he had 18 fumbles in 13 games last season—this could be a major issue in 2020.
New York Jets: Adam Gase
The New York Jets hired former Dolphins head coach Adam Gase hoping that the supposed "quarterback guru" cold help turn Sam Darnold into a legitimate NFL starter. However, Gase struggled to do so in 2019, and the Jets finished the season ranked a disappointing 29th in passing offense.
While Gase cannot bear all the blame for this underwhelming performance—the lack of a legitimate No. 1 wideout was also an issue—he did little to prove that his subpar stint in Miami was a fluke. He was 23-25 in Miami and is now 30-34 as a head coach.
"I don't feel like he's the right leader for this organization to reach the Promised Land," new Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams said of Gase, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. "As a leader, what really bothers me is that he doesn't have a relationship with everybody in the building."
The reality might just be that Gase is an above-average offensive coordinator and a below-average head coach. In an AFC East that sent two teams to the playoffs in 2019, Gase's questionable coaching could keep New York out of the playoff picture.
Philadelphia Eagles: Receiver Depth
On paper, the Philadelphia Eagles receiver corps should be a stronger unit than it was in 2019. The Eagles dumped Nelson Agholor, drafted Jalen Reagor in the first round and should have a healthy DeSean Jackson back in the lineup.
However, games aren't played on paper, and receiver depth could be just as big of an issue as it was late in 2019.
For starters, there's no guarantee that Jackson will be back to 100 percent after missing the majority of 2019. Reagor is completely unproven at the pro level, and Alshon Jeffery started training camp on the PUP list as he continues to recover from a Lisfranc injury.
While having standout tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert help make up for Philadelphia's questionable receiver group, quarterback Carson Wentz could still face an uphill battle when trying to find reliable perimeter targets in 2020.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Quarterback Depth
The Pittsburgh Steelers had one of the league's best defenses in 2019, one that ranked fifth in both points and yards allowed. But that defense won't be making the playoffs if starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffers another significant injury.
The 38-year-old missed all but two games last season with an elbow injury. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges proved inefficient at quarterback, and the Steelers finished just 30th in total yardage and 27th in scoring.
Rudolph, Hodges and former Broncos draft bust Paxton Lynch are Pittsburgh's backups at quarterback—and that's problematic. If they don't add to the position and Big Ben goes down again—or fails to regain his Pro Bowl form—the Steelers could be looking at another lost season.
San Francisco 49ers: Run Defense
The San Francisco 49ers were the best team in the NFC last season, and they rightfully should be considered one of the league's most complete teams. However, the 49ers did have one weakness last season—though opponents rarely had the opportunities to exploit it.
While San Francisco had the league's second-ranked overall defense, it ranked just 17th against the run and 23rd in yards per carry allowed (4.5). The lack of a lockdown run defense did come back to bite the 49ers in the Super Bowl when Kansas City back Damien Williams averaged 6.1 yards per carry and racked up 104 yards and a touchdown.
Teams weren't regularly able to take advantage of San Francisco's run defense because the 49ers, who ranked second in scoring, usually played with a lead. However, this is a liability that better opponents may show enough patience to test in 2020.
Seattle Seahawks: Pass Rush
The Seattle Seahawks are perennial contenders and will likely be relevant again in 2020. However, they're going to have a hard time making a deep playoff run if they cannot improve a pass rush that produced just 28 sacks in 2019.
The trade to acquire safety Jamal Adams could help some—Adams had 6.5 sacks last year—but there's still plenty to be desired when it comes to Seattle's pass rush. Seattle signed former Seahawk Bruce Irvin and added Tennessee edge-defender Darrell Taylor in Round 2 of April's draft. However, those two are largely just replacements for free-agent pass-rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Ezekiel Ansah.
They are unlikely to provide Seattle with an elite pass rush.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A Lack of Time
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed six-time champ Tom Brady in the offseason, and presumably, they hope to compete for a Super Bowl during his two-year window. However, a largely virtual offseason and the lack of a preseason altogether will make it difficult for Brady to get up to speed in Bruce Arians' offense early.
"You're trying to learn a bunch of different things and you're trying to not only learn an offense, but learn your way to work or learn guys' names," Brady said, per ESPN's Jenna Laine.
Brady is learning a new system and an entirely new roster for the first time since his rookie year. The lack of a normal offseason could cause him to have a slow start—something the Buccaneers can ill afford with games against the Saints and Panthers to open the season and with the Packers looming in Week 6.
Unfortunately, there's not a lot that Tampa can do to rectify the situation, and we may not see the best of Brady and the Bucs until late in the season or in 2021.
Tennessee Titans: Pass Defense
The Titans reached the AFC title game in 2019, but Tennessee was far from a perfect team. It ranked just 21st in overall defense and 24th against the pass.
Tennessee produced a respectable 43 sacks in 2019. However, 12 of those came from the trio of Cameron Wake, Jurrell Casey and cornerback Logan Ryan. Casey was traded in the offseason, while Wake and Ryan remain free agents.
While the Titans did bring in Vic Beasley to address the pass rush, he isn't going to help the secondary, which is now without Ryan. A below-average pass defense could be Tennessee's downfall like it was in the AFC Championship Game.
Washington Football Team: Quarterback
The Washington Football Team doesn't know who its starting quarterback will be just yet. It has 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins on the roster, but it also added Kyle Allen in the offseason. Allen played for new head coach Ron Rivera last year and could have a shot at the starting gig. If Allen does beat out Haskins, it will put the Ohio State product into early bust territory.
"If he doesn't start September 13th against the Eagles, it's a major indictment on Dwayne Haskins," Team 980 radio host Kevin Sheehan said Thursday on Washington Talk & Friends.
Even if Haskins does win the starting job, he could be considered the weak link offensively. Though he did show some promise toward the end of his rookie season, he appeared ill-prepared for the NFL for much of it.
Haskins completed just 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,365 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in nine appearances and seven starts. That's not the sort of production that will make Washington a contender.