By: Denery Noone
9. Minnesota Vikings
I am all here for the Kirk Cousins revival tour. Cousins was absolutely abysmal in his first season with the Vikings after signing that colossal 4 year/$84 million contract last March. Cousins was supposed to be the guy that came in and took them over the top. After all, the Vikings did make it to the NFC Championship game the year before with Case Keenum, and look how that worked out for John Elway. Yet, just when everybody started to predict a Vikings Super Bowl run, Cousins came in and stunk it up last season. With two of the best receivers in football in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, a premiere tight end in Kyle Rudolph, and a serviceable running game, the Vikings were 18th in the NFL in offensive DVOA. The offense was stagnant from October on, and despite ranking 4th in defensive DVOA, the defense couldn’t overcome Cousins’ inconsistencies. With all that being said, I’m buying into what the Vikings are selling in 2019. Yes, Cousins was bad last season, uninspiring at times too, but that doesn’t make him a bad quarterback. Cousins was great in Washington before coming to Minnesota, and with a full offseason to implement new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski's system, don’t be surprised if Cousins has a resurgence. Additionally, they brought back Anthony Barr after he spurned the Jets at the last second, and outside of the loss of Andrew Sendejo in the back end, that defense is still completely intact and ready to roll. Chicago and Green Bay won’t do them any favors in the division, but this is one of the most talented rosters in the NFL and I believe in Mike Zimmer and Kirk Cousins’ ability to the right the ship here.
10. Green Bay Packers
Speaking of Green Bay, the Packers enter in here at number 10. It’s pretty insane that a team with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback slides all the way down to 10th, but that has pretty much been the story of Rodgers’ career in Green Bay outside of that one magical super bowl run. This team has historically underachieved while Rodgers has been there despite being loaded with talent, but I guess they are trying to fix that with the Matt LaFleur hiring. I’ll be the first to say, well maybe I’m not the first but I’ll still say it, this was a bad move. LeFleur had the keys to one of the worst offenses in football in Tennessee last year as the offensive coordinator, they miss the playoffs, and his reward is the keys to a Ferrari. Will we look back in a few years and think how could they have possibly hired Matt LaFleur in the middle of Aaron Rodgers’ prime? Potentially, but time will only tell. In the meantime, they do still have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, an all-pro wide receiver in Davante Adams, and who knows, maybe the Packers will actually use Aaron Jones now that Mike McCarthy is gone. They also made some moves in free agency to sure up that defense a bit, and honestly there is no reason why this team can’t win 10-11 games next year.
11. Houston Texans
Boy, were these guys fun last year when they finally got out of their own way after the first month of the season. The Texans began last season 0-3 and then proceeded to win 11 of their next 13 games. I think it’s definitely fair to say a big part of those early season struggles were contributed to the fact that Deshaun Watson was wearing off the rust from his torn ACL a season ago, but when they finally got going it was a pleasure to watch. Watson has seriously started to come into his own as a premiere quarterback in the NFL. Everything that he was able to do a Clemson that helped lead them to a national championship has translated into the NFL, and as he continues to grow as a passer the sky is the limit because we know what he can do with his legs. It also doesn’t hurt when you get to throw to one of the top-three wideouts in football, which Watson is able to in Deandre Hopkins. The one thing I’ll say about that offense is they need to pick up a legitimate threat at running back. You can only do so much with Watson’s current limitations throwing the ball when Lamar Miller is your running back, and we saw that in the playoffs when that Colts defense completely shut them down. I’m excited about the future of this team, but they still have kinks they need to work out.
12. Seattle Seahawks
If only Russell Wilson had a legitimate receiver to throw the ball to. I mean seriously, Wilson threw 35 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions throwing the ball to Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, and David Moore. Mike Davis was third on the team in receptions, and trust me as someone who watched him at South Carolina, Mike Davis is no James White. What Wilson has done the past two seasons with virtually nobody to throw to has been simply remarkable, and to expect a drop off in 2019 would be foolish at this point. With the development of that offensive line and the sustained defensive success despite significant player turnover, the Seahawks are going to be right in the thick of things next season. One thing I am a bit concerned about is that division and the potential emergence of both the 49ers with Garoppolo returning and the Cardinals should they draft Kyler Murray considering they have the talent elsewhere to add to the defending NFC Champion Rams, it is not going to be an easy road for Seattle. They play almost half their games against those three teams which means they are in for a battle each time they take the field. Then again, that hasn’t fazed them in the past, why should it now?
13. San Francisco 49ers
I’m getting pretty good at these transitions, aren’t I? Speaking of the 49ers, should Jimmy Garoppolo return to form and stay healthy (Both big IF’s), this team is going to be good. They have another top-three pick in the draft this year, this time at #2, and if Joey Bosa falls to them because Arizona takes Kyler Murray (Which they probably should), San Francisco is somehow going to have the most talented player in this draft fall into their lap. Bosa, by far the most talented player and edge rusher in this draft, would join an already vaunted pass rush that includes Solomon Thomas, Deforest Buckner, and newly acquired Dee Ford who exceeded double digit sacks a year ago himself. These guys are going to be able to get to the quarterback at will, and that makes everything easier for everybody else on the defense. And oh, yeah, they have some pretty good players on offense too. They may finally get Jerick McKinnon back after he suffered a torn ACL a year ago, a guy who was projected to breakout in Kyle Shanahan's high-powered system. He’ll join Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman in that three-headed monster of a backfield. George Kittle is one of the three best tight ends in football, and he may be number two behind Travis Kelce now that Gronk retired. If Garoppolo can come back and regain form the way we all expect him to, this team is not only going to be really good and tough to beat, they are going to be potentially the most enjoyable and interesting team to watch next season.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers
Boy, has this offseason been a doozy for the Pittsburgh Steelers. First, they lose Le’Veon Bell in free agency. I know it was expected, and James Connor was really good last season, but you truly can’t replace a guy like Bell. Bell has averaged 122.9 yards from scrimmage per game throughout his NFL career. The only other player in NFL history that averaged more (Minimum 40 games played) is Jim Brown. Yes, that Jim Brown. Hall of Famer Jim Brown. You simply don’t replace that kind of production and stability in the backfield no matter how good James Connor is. To make matters worse, they then lost star receiver Antonio Brown in a trade to Oakland which he requested because he was unhappy with the current situation. Again, yes, Brown is a total diva and clearly a problem causer in that locker room, but Brown has consistently been a top-five receiver in football throughout his entire career. Whenever the Steelers have needed a big play at any point in the past several years, they have gone to either Brown or Bell, and both of them have produced. They’re both gone now, and the Steelers are going to have to deal with that. With that being said, don’t write them off just yet. They still have Big Ben under center, Juju Smith-Schuster has emerged as a premiere playmaker in the passing game, and Connor is still capable of putting up great numbers out of the backfield. Also, keep an eye out for James Washington this year. Washington was virtually unguardable at Oklahoma State and with Brown gone, that opens up a spot for somebody new to surface. In my mind, Washington has all the tools necessary to be that guy. They also have a really young defense that has continued to improve, that should be no different in 2019. This team will absolutely face adversity, but with everybody writing them off, there is going to be a cinder block sized chip on their shoulder next season.
15. Cleveland Browns
As bad of an offseason as the Steelers had, you can argue the Browns had one that was that good. I mean, when you add one of the best receivers in football to an already stacked group of weapons like the Browns did with Odell Beckham Jr., expectations are going to be high. The addition of Beckham should he stay healthy cannot be understated. Beckham is one of the most indefensible receivers in football when he has a quarterback that can get him the ball. Beckham ranked 10th in the NFL a season ago in yards of separation from the defender per route run at 1.65. He is able to get away from defenders in his routes at an elite level, but the guy throwing him the ball his entire career has been far below average. Moving to an offense with Baker Mayfield at quarterback who projects to be far more productive and accurate entering just his second season is music to Beckham’s ears. It is also important Beckham’s impact on the rest of the offense is not overshadowed. Jarvis Landy is a guy who in Miami who caught over 100 balls in 2015 and 2017, and caught 94 passes in 2016. Landry is one of the premiere slot receivers in the game, and with Beckham garnering the attention of the #1, Landry is going to be a monster in 2019. With all of the focus on the passing game, Nick Chubb is also going to enjoy a lot of success next season. Chubb really started to come on at the end of last season as a rookie, and with more attention allotted towards that lethal passing game, Chubb is going to face a lot of undermanned front’s that he will be able to expose. They have a young defense that is continuing to improve, but in all seriousness, they might be able to outscore most opponents anyway.
16. Dallas Cowboys
The end of last season was certainly promising for Dallas as they made a late run and reached the divisional round of the playoffs before being overmatched by the Rams. The addition of Amari Cooper did wonders for that passing game and for Dak Prescott’s production. It also meant that Ezekiel Elliott could breathe easy every once in a while, as the load was lightened for him out of the backfield. The loss of Cole Beasley is going to hurt this team, though. There is no way around it. Beasley was Prescott’s go to guy in the pressure moments, and more often than not Beasley delivered and bailed Prescott out. You can’t put a price tag on production out of the slot, just ask the Patriots and Rams. Having a guy that can get you seven yards on third and six when your number one receiver is double teamed is invaluable, and something the Cowboys are surely going to miss. I’m also slightly skeptical on Amari Cooper’s ability to replicate the success he had once joining the Cowboys last season. Cooper had been a chronic underachiever before coming to Dallas, and one monster eight-game run doesn’t eliminate those question marks. There is no doubt the talent is there, but with Prescott’s inconsistencies and his previous struggles, he is definitely no sure thing. That being said, they still have a strong defense lead by two great young linebackers. They resigned Demarcus Lawrence which was critical to that pass rush. They play in one of the most inconsistent and underachieving divisions in football. As we’ve seen for nearly a decade, it doesn’t always take 11 or 12 wins to win the NFC East. Although I think the Eagles are going to be really good again, who knows, 9 wins might just do it.
The Rankings page is used for any kind of list or power ranking.