NFL Teams Most Likely to Regress in 2019
We are 15 weeks through the 2018 NFL season, and once again a plethora of teams around the league have defied preseason expectations, for better or worse.
The Green Bay Packers will miss the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in Aaron Rodgers’ illustrious 11-year career as the starter, an incredibly disappointing reality given that many expected Rodgers to lead the Packers back to the postseason after missing most of the 2017 season with a broken collarbone.
Few expected the Minnesota Vikings to regress to 7-6-1 after retaining everyone from their dominant defense in 2017 and inserting Kirk Cousins in place of Case Keenum in the offseason. However, the Vikings are very much in play for the postseason still.
Even less expected has been the Philadelphia Eagles’ historically bad Super Bowl hangover. The 7-7 Eagles could still become the first team in the Super Bowl era to finish with a losing record the year after winning the Lombardi trophy.
Finally, almost nobody foresaw the Jacksonville Jaguars imploding to 4-10 after reaching the AFC Championship game in 2017 behind an all-time great defense.
Bottom line is this is not the first year we’ve seen plenty of teams underachieve across the league and more are most assuredly to amass next season. That being said, it’s never too early to look ahead to some potential teams that could decline next year:
The offensive acumen of rookie head coach Matt Nagy and a punishing defense have transformed the Chicago Bears into one of the top teams in the league despite finishing 5-11 in 2017.
The Bears absolutely still have the pieces to make another playoff push in 2019, but the formula will likely have to change. The 2018 Bears defense resembles that of the 2017 Jaguars and Vikings defense in that they have stayed unusually healthy.
Before cornerback Bryce Callahan broke his foot in Week 14, the Bears’ starting 11 had missed just three games combined. Callahan's injury will bring that number to six, and if Eddie Jackson misses the final two weeks of the regular season after injuring his ankle against the Packers, the Bears will total eight missed games from their defensive players.
It doesn’t help their chances that players like Prince Amukamara, Leonard Floyd and Danny Trevathan all have struggled to consistently stay healthy throughout their careers.
Another strength of the Bears’ defense that will likely regress to the mean in 2019 is the number of turnovers forced. Chicago has forced a turnover on 20.7 percent of opposing possessions this season, a full 4 percent above any other team in that category, along with 35 takeaways, five more than any other team in the league.
Odds are the Bears will not replicate this number in 2019. Jackson and Kyle Fuller have combined for 13 interceptions this season, and over the past 30 years, 270 defenders have compiled six or more interceptions in a season. However, only 32 of those players have mirrored the same effort the following season.
The Bears defense will likely still be very good in 2019 but probably not as dominant, meaning that in order to match this season’s win total, the Bears will need their offense to take another step forward.
Chicago has arguably the most creative play-caller in the league in Nagy combined with two emerging running backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen and an abundance of sure-handed wide receivers. However, while Mitchell Trubisky has improved in his second season, he is still a very limited quarterback.
Trubisky’s touchdown to interception ratio still is below 2:1 with 23 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, and he struggles to get to his second and third reads.
Much of the Bears offense is predicated on misdirection and illusion, but with a full offseason of film on Trubisky and Nagy’s new offensive concepts, defensive coordinators will likely begin to catch up. The Bears also do not have a first-round pick in the 2019 or 2020 NFL Draft after trading up to select Trubisky in the 2017 draft.
The Bears can still make the playoffs in 2019, but it is much more reasonable to expect a slight step back rather than further improvement next season.
Assuming the Cowboys avoid an epic collapse in the final two weeks of the regular season and make the playoffs, they seem like the obvious pick amongst playoff teams that could struggle to make it back to the postseason in 2018.
Although Dallas is 8-6, it has just a plus-7 point differential heading into Week 16 and is 6-2 in one-possession games, a trend that will probably not continue next season. For reference, the 2017 Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles were 7-2 in such games last season but have fallen to 5-6 in that category in 2018.
While Amari Cooper has provided an enormous boost in the passing game since making his debut for the Cowboys in Week 9, his production will likely tail off. Since his debut against the Titans, Cooper has racked up 44 catches for 674 yards and six touchdowns, which would amount to a line of 101 catches for 1,541 yards and 14 touchdowns over a full season. No receiver managed to hit those marks in receiving yards or touchdowns in 2017.
As much as one has to like Dak Prescott from an intangibles perspective, he is still an extremely limited quarterback who needs a lot of help to win. In his three years in the league, he has been surrounded by an elite offensive line, which has regressed a bit each year and arguably the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliot.
Since the start of the 2017 season, Prescott is just 2-10 when the Cowboys defense has allowed more than 21 points. He is also just 6-11 in that span when the Cowboys do not have a 100-yard rusher.
While Dallas’ defense has broken out into one of the best in the league this season, the Cowboys can only go as far as Prescott allows them. Right now he does not appear the long-term solution at the most important position on the field. It will get even worse for the Cowboys if they sign Prescott to an extension in the offseason and remove more cap space that the Cowboys can use to give Prescott the help he needs to win consistently.
Kansas City Chiefs
Who knew that Patrick Mahomes would take the league by storm and be a frontrunner for league MVP for the 11-3 Kansas City Chiefs in his first year replacing Alex Smith?
Mahomes is on pace to throw for 5,192 yards and 51 touchdowns, which would make him the second 5,000-50 quarterback in league history after Peyton Manning in 2013. Mahomes is one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks to ever come into the league so it’s hard to put any limitations on his potential.
However, Dan Marino set passing records as a second-year pro in 1984 and never topped his totals of 5,084 yards and 48 passing touchdowns over the remainder of his career, so there is reason to believe that even if Mahomes becomes an all-time great, he may never put up these gaudy numbers again.
It will be nearly impossible to keep up this level of play for another season. For one, Mahomes has thrown for touchdowns on 8.7 percent of his attempts, the fourth-highest rate since 1970. It is unlikely that he will repeat that sort of touchdown rate, and defensive coordinators will have a full season of film to study during the offseason and begin to figure out ways to slow him down.
Plus, without Kareem Hunt now, the Chiefs run game should take a step back, meaning more will be placed on Mahomes’ shoulders. Not to mention that Mahomes this year has gone 0-3 in his biggest games against the Patriots, Rams and Chargers, so he is still unproven when the spotlight is its brightest.
With the year that Mahomes has had, anything that isn’t a Super Bowl victory in 2019 will be a disappointment, which is far less likely than a slight step back.
Will Desautelle is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Junior / Broadcast Journalism and Political Science