2019 NFL Preview: Best- and Worst- Case Scenarios for All 32 Teams

One of my annual traditions is to pick every game of the NFL schedule and make predictions from Week 1 all the way to the Super Bowl. I did that last Saturday for two hours, and then the news of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck’s retirement sent shock waves  through the sports universe (and destroyed my prediction of a Rams-Colts Super Bowl). So I’ve adjusted a couple things here and there,  and    now I’ve come to my 2019 NFL Projections.  I’ve included a best and worst case scenario for each team, as well as their predicted record and outcome. Full playoff predictions are soon to come, so stay tuned!

AFC East

  1. New England Patriots

2018 Record/Finish: 11-5, Super Bowl Champs

Best: 14-2 Short of one Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots don’t miss a beat and establish themselves as the overwhelming Super Bowl favorite. Tom Brady looks better at 42 than 32. 

Worst: 10-6 Even at their worst, New England eclipses the double-digit win mark. Turmoil between coach Bill Belichick and Brady becomes public and the legendary quarterback loses a step in the process.

Prediction: 12-4, 2nd seed in AFC The Patriots cruise through the regular season thanks to a balanced and powerful offense, though the rise of rivals in Kansas City and the AFC North puts them on edge of losing their perennial first-round bye. 

  1. New York Jets

2018 Record/Finish: 4-12, Missed Playoffs

Best: 10-6 Now under the offensive-minded Adam Gase and with studs Le’Veon Bell and CJ Mosley joining the team, second-year QB Sam Darnold takes the step into franchise quarterback territory and takes advantage of an optimal schedule.

Worst: 2-14 New coach, same dysfunction. The Jets’ roster holes are exposed in yet another disastrous season and Darnold fails to cut down on the turnovers.

Prediction: 8-8, Miss Playoffs. Darnold shows marked improvement under Gase and with a much-improved supporting cast, but the Jets are one year away from true playoff contention due to a lackluster defense. 

  1. Buffalo Bills

2018 Record/Finish: 6-10, Missed Playoffs

Best: 9-7 Sean McDermott, one of the most underrated head coaches in the NFL, gets the Bills to play greater than the sum of their parts and Josh Allen becomes the next best thing, allowing Buffalo to challenge New England for the division.

Worst: 2-14 Perhaps the blandest team in the league struggles to tread water in one of the easiest divisions in the NFL, and Allen hurtles toward the “bust” classification.

Prediction: 5-11, Miss Playoffs The Bills slot in ahead of terrible Miami and below impressive New York, and Buffalo enters the 2020 offseason with no more direction than they had coming into the year.

  1. Miami Dolphins

2018 Record/Finish: 7-9, Missed Playoffs

Best: 6-10 Miami steals its annual game in New England, plus ride a rebirth by new quarterback Josh Rosen to a surprising six wins and a trip out of the division’s cellar.

Worst: 0-16 12 years after division rival New England finished the regular season 16-0, the Dolphins complete the opposite. The roster may be the NFL’s worst, and an unproven coaching staff sees their inaugural season go off the rails. At least Tua’s on the way!

Prediction: 2-14, Miss Playoffs The Dolphins are on the clock at the end of the 2019 season, thanks to a lack of commitment to quarterback options and a depleted roster. 

 

AFC North

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers

2018 Record/Finish: 9-6-1, Missed Playoffs

Best: 12-4 With less controversy surrounding the team, the Pittsburgh culture returns to its blue collar roots and Big Ben leads the Steelers to a playoff bye. 

Worst: 6-10 Roethlisberger declines and the regression of the team continues, expedited by the exodus of All-Pro talents Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.

Prediction: 10-6, 4th seed in AFC With Big Ben at the top of his game and the team’s young players proving that the team doesn’t need AB and Le’Veon, the Steelers eke out a division title.

  1. Cleveland Browns

2018 Record/Finish: 7-8-1, Missed Playoffs

Best: 12-4 The most exciting football team in America actually lives up to the hype, with Baker Mayfield putting up a Mahomes-esque second campaign and first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens masterfully balancing the team’s personalities and expectations.

Worst: 5-11 Browns will be Browns, and a team that beat up on weaker squads in 2018 sees an emotional combustion of its headline-laden young core. 

Prediction: 10-6, 5th seed in AFC The Browns stumble to start out 2019, but they win eight of their last nine to reach the playoffs, their first since 2002. 

  1. Baltimore Ravens

2018 Record/Finish: 10-6, Lost in Wild Card Round

Best: 11-5 The offense that head coach John Harbaugh proclaims will be “revolutionary” takes the NFL by storm. Lamar Jackson breaks the 1,000-yard rushing mark and wows with his arm, while the new-look defense lives up to the Baltimore standard. 

Worst: 6-10 Jackson has growing pains in his second season, and key departures across the roster result in a step back from playoff contention.

Prediction: 9-7, Miss Playoffs The Ravens find immediate success in Year 2 with Lamar Jackson, but a second-half decline culminates in a disappointing Week 17 win-and-in loss to rival Pittsburgh. 

  1. Cincinnati Bengals

2018 Record/Finish: 6-10, Missed Playoffs

Best: 9-7 The Bengals emerge from the Marvin Lewis era and prove that this roster actually can win playoff games, thanks to a healthy campaign from Comeback POY Andy Dalton and All-Pro running back Joe Mixon.

Worst: 2-14 Head coaching newbie Zac Taylor inherits a deficient roster and fails to do anything with it in its first season. An old defense gets demolished in a talented division and Dalton recedes further from the public consciousness.

Prediction: 5-11, Miss Playoffs Joe Mixon runs wild, but the Bengals fall significantly behind the rest of their AFC North competition in Taylor’s first year.

 

AFC South

  1. Tennessee Titans

2018 Record/Finish: 9-7, Missed Playoffs

Best: 13-3 The exotic smashmouth takes off in a campaign reminiscent of the 2008 campaign, with quarterback Marcus Mariota earning a chunk of MVP votes in a make-or-break year. Head coach Mike Vrabel rightfully earns Coach of the Year and a first-round bye for his team.

Worst: 5-11 Mariota gets hurt, backup Ryan Tannehill gets hurt, and Logan Woodside plays roughly on par with expectations for a third-stringer. A brutal division sinks the Titans’ ship.

Prediction: 11-5, 3rd seed in AFC With the AFC South becoming anyone’s for the taking, Tennessee takes advantage. Serviceable play from the combo of Mariota and Tannehill is enough to boost the Titans to double-digit wins and the top spot in the AFC South.

  1. Houston Texans

2018 Record/Finish: 11-5, Lost in Wild Card Round

Best: 12-4 The Texans core four of Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney stay healthy and blow away the rest of the AFC. Watson puts together an MVP campaign behind a much-improved offensive line.

Worst: 4-12 Bill O’Brien’s tenure as head coach of the Texans come crashing down as a team with holes all over the roster gets left behind in the AFC. Watson fails to stay on the field, although Hopkins still puts up ridiculous stats with A.J. McCarron under center.

Prediction: 7-9, Miss Playoffs The Bill O’Brien era ends with an implosion. Clowney can’t find the field and Watson struggles while running for his life, sending the spiraling Texans out of the playoff field.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars

2018 Record/Finish: 5-11, Missed Playoffs

Best: 11-5 The Jags’ defense is the consensus best in the NFL and the upgrade from Blake Bortles to Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is beyond evident. A 1,600-yard bounce-back campaign from RB Leonard Fournette doesn’t hurt, either.

Worst: 2-14. They’re the Jaguars! Foles returns to the quarterback he is every time he plays outside of Philly, and the Tom Coughlin era erupts in flames in Duval. 

Prediction: 7-9, Miss Playoffs Foles doesn’t convict Jaguars coaches that he is Jacksonville’s savior. Last year’s disaster seems to be more the norm than a fluke. 

  1. Indianapolis Colts

2018 Record/Finish: 10-6, Lost in Divisional Round

Best: 8-8 A strong roster and proven backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett keep the Colts afloat after Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement, possibly putting them in position to compete for the division.

Worst: 2-14. With Luck not on their side, the Colts ascension comes to a screeching halt and the team falls to the bottom of the AFC.

Prediction: 5-11, Miss Playoffs The Colts struggle in Luck’s absence, though the team isn’t in shambles as it was in 2011 due to strong coaching and a rising defense.


AFC West

  1. Kansas City Chiefs

2018 Record/Finish: 12-4, Lost in AFC Championship

Best: 15-1 Patrick Mahomes follows up his MVP campaign with another brilliant effort, while the defense patches up its holes. The Chiefs enter the playoffs as the odds-on favorite to win coach Andy Reid’s first Super Bowl. 

Worst: 9-7 Mahomes regresses slightly as defenses start to pick up on his tricks, and the offense can’t will the team to win enough shootouts to win double-digit games. The defense becomes KC’s Achilles heel.

Prediction: 14-2, 1st seed in AFC The hype is real! The Chiefs soar to the best record in the conference behind Mahomes’ arm and a defense that bends but doesn’t break.

  1. Los Angeles Chargers

2018 Record/Finish: 12-4, Lost in Divisional Round

Best: 14-2 Philip Rivers finally achieves his MVP title as the Chargers supplant the Chiefs as the class of the AFC West. The roster shows that it is one of the best in the league and defensive end Joey Bosa contends for Defensive Player of the Year.

Worst: 7-9 Rivers falls to Father Time, running back Melvin Gordon’s holdout stretches on to the regular season, and a team catches the injury bug once more. 

Prediction: 10-6, 6th seed in AFC The Chargers regress slightly (with the loss of All Pro safety Derwin James a key culprit), but Los Angeles does enough to get Rivers another shot at postseason glory.

  1. Denver Broncos

2018 Record/Finish: 6-10, Missed Playoffs

Best: 9-7 Drew Lock beats Joe Flacco in training camp and puts together a surprising Rookie of the Year-caliber campaign. The defense, led by pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb and now coached by mastermind Vic Fangio, makes opponents want to turn around and go home.

Worst: 3-13 The Joe Flacco-Drew Lock offense is anemic, and an aging defense can’t keep pace with the AFC West juggernauts in Kansas City and Los Angeles.

Prediction: 5-11, Miss Playoffs Fangio’s defense excels, but the lack of offensive production dooms the win-now Broncos.

  1. Oakland Raiders

2018 Record/Finish: 4-12, Missed Playoffs

Best: 9-7 The pressure of Hard Knocks brings out the best in the Raiders. Jon Gruden coaches Derek Carr to Pro Bowl levels and the offense lifts Oakland into playoff contention. The team’s young talent fills roster holes and makes the Raiders no joke.

Worst: 2-14 The Raiders become a joke, with Gruden sapping all of Carr’s confidence and the team’s high profile acquisitions failing to mesh together. The defense is among the league’s worst, and the offense isn’t all that much better.

Prediction: 2-14, Miss Playoffs Oakland somehow regresses in its last season in the city, as 

the team in undermined by the media circus and Gruden’s criticisms. 

 

Awards

AFC MVP: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

AFC Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns

AFC Rookie of the Year: Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens

AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year: Devin Bush, Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC Comeback Player of the Year: Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets

AFC Coach of the Year: Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans

 

NFC East

  1. Philadelphia Eagles

2018 Record/Finish: 9-7, Lost in Divisional Round

Best: 15-1 Quarterback Carson Wentz stays healthy and notches MVP-type numbers, while the Eagles as a team run away with the top seed in the NFC and flirt with perfection. The team looks better than ever in the post-Nick Foles era.

Worst: 6-10 Wentz can’t stay under center, and without Foles as backup, Philly takes massive steps backward and fall out of the playoff picture.

Prediction: 12-4, 2nd seed in NFC Wentz stays on the field and the Eagles re-establish themselves as a powerhouse, earning Philly a first-round bye.

  1. Dallas Cowboys

2018 Record/Finish: 10-6, Lost in Divisional Round

Best: 13-3 With Ezekiel Elliott back in the picture and one of the most loaded rosters ever put on the field in Dallas, the Cowboys strut back into Super Bowl contention. Dak Prescott takes a step forward in his development and proves worthy of a mega-contract.

Worst: 7-9 The Cowboys fall back to mediocrity, with Prescott regressing to 2017 mode and the rest of the team failing to play up to their competition in what looks to be a difficult late schedule.

Prediction: 10-6, 5th seed in NFC Zeke returns to the field and the Cowboys’ young stars shine. Though the Eagles steal the division crown back, the ‘Boys make the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since the 20th century.

  1. New York Giants

2018 Record/Finish: 5-11, Missed Playoffs

Best: 7-9 Eli Manning passes the torch to rookie Daniel Jones with grace, and the team sees major improvements in the trenches to inch the team closer to .500. Saquon earns major MVP points and turns around the narrative of the dying RB position.

Worst: 2-14 2019 turns into an Eli Manning roller coaster and the Giants are taken along for a disastrous ride. The passing game produces a steady stream of turnovers, and the defense gets clobbered by the NFC.

Prediction: 5-11, Miss Playoffs Thanks to Saquon’s legs and the emergence of Daniel Jones as a promising rookie, the Giants avoid the NFC East cellar. But not by much.

  1. Washington Redskins

2018 Record/Finish: 7-9, Missed Playoffs

Best: 10-6 Seven seasons after RGIII broke onto the scene, Dwayne Haskins wins the starting job and takes the league by storm. A talented roster that has caught the injury bug the past few years stays mostly healthy and the Redskins squeeze out an NFC East crown.

Worst: 2-14 The quarterback situation becomes a revolving door and the Redskins post yet another uninspiring campaign, costing coach Jay Gruden his job and relegating Washington to the NFC East cellar.

Prediction: 4-12, Miss Playoffs Gruden’s tenure comes to an unceremonial end, as a roster devoid of a bona fide superstar falls behind in the competitive NFC.

 

NFC North

  1. Minnesota Vikings

2018 Record/Finish: 8-7-1, Missed Playoffs

Best: 13-3 The addition of the play-action happy Gary Kubiak as offensive advisor works wonders for quarterback Kirk Cousins and Co, igniting one of the best offensive attacks in the NFL. The defense is no slouch, either, with a talented secondary leading the way.

Worst: 6-10 Year Two under Kirk Cousins is even more disappointing than the first, as inconsistency ruins what was a promising season for the Vikings. Minnesota’s days as a contender seem to come to a close.

Prediction: 11-5, 3rd seed in NFC The offense becomes good… ridiculously good. The defense, one packed to the brim with Pro Bowlers, doesn’t disappoint either as the Vikings charge to the NFC North crown.

  1. Green Bay Packers

2018 Record/Finish: 6-9-1, Missed Playoffs

Best: 12-4 The marriage of head coach Matt LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is magical, as Rodgers puts together an MVP campaign. Combine that with a defense that has quietly progressed over the years and the Packers become a bona fide Super Bowl contender.

Worst: 6-10 It’s more of the same in Green Bay, as a locker room lacking in chemistry falls short of expectations once again. LaFleur fails to win over Rodgers, and the clash of egos is too much to overcome in the talented NFC North.

Prediction: 9-7, Miss Playoffs The roster is talented and the firing of old coach Mike McCarthy gives a culprit for last season’s disappointment, but LaFleur needs another season to get this team on the same page and become an actual contender. 

  1. Chicago Bears

2018 Record/Finish: 12-4, Lost in Wild Card Round

Best: 13-3 The Bears show that 2018 was no fluke. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky takes a huge step forward in his development, and Chicago finds a capable kicker to complete a Super Bowl-contending team.

Worst: 5-11 The roster looks strong on paper, but Trubisky shows that he is only the fourth-best quarterback in his division and the Bears fall out of the playoff picture. Balls that bounced the Bears way in 2018 suddenly slip out of grasp, and so do their Super Bowl hopes.

Prediction: 9-7, Miss Playoffs Chicago’s defense regresses to the mean, and though rookie David Montgomery shines on offense, that unit and the horrendous special teams holds the Bears back.

  1. Detroit Lions

2018 Record/Finish: 6-10, Missed Playoffs

Best: 10-6 Matthew Stafford enjoys a bounce back year, but second-year head coach Matt Patricia makes the greatest leap by taking an undermanned roster to a division title. His defensive prowess gives Stafford the boost he needs to fly up the NFL totem pole.

Worst: 4-12 The least inspiring roster in the NFC falls behind three playoff-worthy teams in its division, and Patricia fails to show that he can win games outside of Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Prediction: 6-10, Miss Playoffs There isn’t anything particularly inspiring about Detroit. The result is an average team that falls out of the race for the NFC North title.

 

NFC South

  1. New Orleans Saints

2018 Record/Finish: 13-3, Lost in NFC Championship

Best: 14-2 At last, Drew Brees runs away with a much-deserved MVP award and continues to stiff-arm Father Time, as the Saints brush off last year’s heartbreaking NFC Championship loss and return to the top of the conference. The young talent on both sides of the ball gives hope for many more fruitful years of contention to come.

Worst: 8-8 The late 2018 version of Brees returns, the losses of power back Mark Ingram and center Max Unger are duly felt, and the defense can’t keep up with the top-notch offensive arsenals on the schedule. The playoff exits of the last two years prove to be unshakeable.

Prediction: 10-6, 4th seed in NFC Brees isn’t quite at the MVP level he played at in 2018 and the defense regresses slightly, but it’s still enough to win the defensively deficient NFC South.

  1. Atlanta Falcons

2018 Record/Finish: 7-9, Missed Playoffs

Best: 13-3 With the defense back to a Super Bowl level, the Falcons take the NFC South crown away from their archrivals in New Orleans. Matt Ryan makes another strong case for being a top-five quarterback under new/old offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Julio Jones does Julio Jones things.

Worst: 6-10 The long Super Bowl slump continues for Atlanta, as the supporting cast around Ryan regresses further and an offense that was once one of the NFL’s best lacks balance. In an NFC with arguably 14 teams in playoff contention, the Falcons just don’t take flight.

Prediction: 9-7, Miss Playoffs The Falcons’ offense is great yet again with the returns of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and running back Devonta Freeman, putting Atlanta within reach of divisional supremacy.

  1. Carolina Panthers

2018 Record/Finish: 7-9, Missed Playoffs

Best: 12-4 No team in the NFL has been as boom-or-bust as the Panthers in the last decade, and given that this is the best-case scenario, their boom is pretty spectacular. Cam Newton wins an MVP through his rehabilitated rocket right arm and the defense gels like the Carolina defenses of old, as the Panthers capture an unexpected division title.

Worst: 5-11 Well, here’s the bust. Newton can’t stay healthy and Ron Rivera, a former Coach of the Year, runs out of excuses and finds himself on the hot seat. Not even Christian McCaffrey can lift the Panthers into playoff contention with Newton on the sidelines.

Prediction: 9-7, Miss Playoffs Newton stays healthy and McCaffrey puts up a historic 1,000-yard receiving/1,000-yard rushing campaign, but they fall short to the superior Saints.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2018 Record/Finish: 5-11, Missed Playoffs

Best: 10-6 New head coach Bruce Arians works his magic on former first overall pick Jameis Winston and turns him into a Pro Bowl-level player, igniting one of the league’s most underrated offensive attacks. The defense manages to keep pace, turning the Bucs into Wild Card contenders.

Worst: 2-14 Jameis is not the answer, and a defense that is spotty at best turns into the league’s worst in an offense-friendly division. The season turns into a Tank-for-Tua competition against in-state foe Miami, rather than anything resembling NFL football.

Prediction: 3-13, Miss Playoffs The defense is feasted upon by the pass-happy NFC South, resulting in an 0-6 divisional record, and the lack of improvement from Winston puts the Bucs in prime position… for the draft.

 

NFC West

  1. Los Angeles Rams

2018 Record/Finish: 13-3, Lost in Super Bowl

Best: 15-1 False alarm, Rams fans, Todd Gurley is still an MVP-caliber running back. Jared Goff impresses in his third season with head coach/NFL obsession Sean McVay, the transitions on defense prove seamless and the Rams continue their upward trajectory as they aim for their first title in Los Angeles.

Worst: 8-8 Gurley’s knee holds him back from being the dominant force the offense needs and the league catches up to McVay’s schemes. The defense, which has built its reputation on bending but not breaking, breaks as the Rams cede the NFC West division.

Prediction: 12-4, 1st seed in NFC McVay evolves in his third season, with one of the NFL’s best offenses on the ground and through the air. And with defensive playmakers like Aaron Donald and Eric Weddle, the Rams look unbeatable come playoff time.

  1. San Francisco 49ers

2018 Record/Finish: 4-12, Missed Playoffs

Best: 12-4 Break out the Jimmy Garoppolo hype! Now with a full season under head coach Kyle Shanahan, the former heir to the Tom Brady throne in New England proves himself capable of being the face of a franchise. A roster laden with first round draft picks matures into one that can compete with the best of the best in the conference.

Worst: 4-12 Jimmy G is really not all he’s cracked up to be, and a team that has languished in the bottom of the conference the past couple years doesn’t take the leap in 2019.

Prediction: 9-7, 6th seed in NFC The 49ers bounce back big time, improving by five wins and jumping into playoff contention under the rejuvenated Jimmy Garoppolo and a monster defensive line.

  1. Seattle Seahawks

2018 Record/Finish: 10-6, Lost in Wild Card Round

Best: 11-5 With one of the league’s best head coach-quarterback duos leading the way, the Seahawks build upon their surprising 2018 playoff appearance and make the postseason once more. Quarterback Russell Wilson puts together an MVP campaign, while rookie DK Metcalf flexes on the 31 other teams that passed on him in the draft with a memorable ROY-winning season.

Worst: 6-10 It’s the Russell Wilson show, as the stud quarterback tries to take Seattle to the playoffs all by himself and falls a couple wins short of the postseason. The defense hardly looks like its Super Bowl rendition, while the young offensive attack leaves a lot to be desired. 

Prediction: 8-8, Miss Playoffs Russ is not enough to catch the rising Niners. His supporting cast takes a step back after last year’s surprising playoff entry and the Hawks fall below .500.

  1. Arizona Cardinals

2018 Record/Finish: 3-13, Missed Playoffs

Best: 7-9 Kyler Murray! David Johnson! Larry Fitzgerald! The Cardinals’ offensive trio takes the mantle of most electrifying unit in the NFL, and though the Cards can’t compete in the talented NFC West just yet, they appear to be a couple years ahead of schedule. The rookie Murray and rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury prove they belong in the League.

Worst: 2-14 Take one of the league’s worst rosters and hand it to a coach who couldn’t win at Texas Tech and a quarterback who hardly fits the mold, and you get a team that should get used to picking at the top of the draft every spring.

Prediction: 5-11, Miss Playoffs Six wins counts as a W in Kliff Kingsbury’s book, as Kyler Murray looks like the next best thing at quarterback and David Johnson bounces back to Pro Bowl form. In a crowded NFC, it isn’t enough for Arizona to sniff the playoffs.

 

Awards

NFC MVP: Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

NFC Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears

NFC Rookie of the Year: David Montgomery, Chicago Bears

NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year: Devin White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC Comeback Player of the Year: Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

NFC Coach of the Year: Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers

Posted in NFL

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