Earlier, we addressed those teams most likely to make the ultimate NFL leap, jumping from last place into first place in their division. Now comes the opposite, the teams poised to crash and burn. This is arguably a harder exercise. It feels simpler to spot improvements from bad teams, but finding holes in the really great teams is often tricky. Who is likeliest to drop from first place into last?
In 2018, the Jacksonville Jaguars pulled off this slip. They won the AFC South in 2017 but finished last the following season (while their South brethren in Houstonpulled the reverse flip the same seasons).
The hardest pill to swallow is a total collapse, but somebody falls all the way down the hill every year. Will it happen again in the AFC South? These are your NFL predictions for 2019. Who will fall from first to worst?
Two brothers from New York, Dan Salem and Todd Salem, debate NFL predictions for 2019 in today’s NFL Sports Debate.
As with our past strategy, first comes ruling teams out. I’m ruling out the AFC East. That’s easy. The Patriots aren’t finishing worse than Miami, even if they somehow manage to get passed by both Buffalo and New York. The same goes for Kansas City and Los Angeles in the respective West divisions, with the Raiders in the AFC and the Cardinals in the NFC holding the dead-last spot with a firm grip. Even if an unexpected tumble occurs, I can’t see either team dropping below third.
From here, things get interesting.
New Orleans feels pretty safe, though the entirety of the NFC South could be solid if Tampa Bay puts together a formidable offense under Bruce
Arians. The Texans obviously fall in the same boat after seeing how close their quartet has been in recent seasons. That’s really what we’re looking for: four solid teams that could presumably finish in any order this season. That, or a weak winner from the previous season.
Dallas and Baltimore fall into the latter category. For Dallas, it just so happens that the Giants and Redskins will likely be much, much weaker. A bad Cowboys season wouldn’t surprise me. Them finishing behind both Washington and New York would. The Ravens could be primed for a drop-off after so much defensive turnover, but will they really be worse than Cincinnati after all is said and done?
What about Chicago? How strong is this team really if the defense takes a step back from elite to merely really good? It’s the same formula that befell Jacksonville between 2017 and 2018. And yet, the Detroit Lions linger here to save everyone else from last place.
That was a circuitous way to say a lot of teams could be primed for the crash-and-burn. I realize I didn’t really rule too many out because I feel like it could reasonably happen in at least four different divisions this season. My top choice to make the plummet? It has to be Houston just because it feels like the closest division top to bottom. That is the easy answer. After all, it just happened last year.
If forced to pick one more squad, I’ll go with Dallas. The Cowboys had by far the worst point differential of any division winner last year. With Ezekiel Elliott holding out and constantly facing disciplinary action, all it will take is a defensive regression (they leaped from 25th all the way to ninth in DVOA last season) to drop this team back into the fold.
The cellar dwellers in half of our divisions certainly make picking a first to worst plummet that much more difficult.
Miami has already staked claim to the AFC East cellar, while Arizona owns last place in the the NFC West. It’s not impossible, but I do not want to imagine the slew of injuries necessary to put New England beneath the Dolphins or Los Angeles beneath the Cardinals. I’m confident that Kansas City will not finish behind Oakland or Denver in the AFC West as well. Every other division is at least in play.
Five teams can “realistically” drop from first to worst this season. They are (in no particular order) the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Dallas
Cowboys, Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints.
The Saints are probably the least likely team to fall to the bottom, and below the Buccaneers no less. Tampa Bay has potential, but Drew Brees is not letting his team become a loser after the way last season ended in the conference championship.
I’m eliminating Houston as well, because I believe Deshaun Watson is that good. The Texans also have a very good defense. It’s hard to imagine
the Titans being better than Houston. It’s also hard to imagine the Lions being better than the Bears. Chicago’s defense is excellent as well, so they are not falling all the way to the bottom of their division.
This leaves Dallas and Baltimore as our first to worst teams. The Cowboys may enter the season without their star running back, who just so happens to be the lifeblood of their offense. Dallas is also on shaky ground defensively. All it takes is a little fire from the Giants to shoot ahead of an ailing Cowboys team.
The Ravens are in a similar spot, because it’s hard to say what their sophomore quarterback will bring in year two. Baltimore was also a running football team last year and lost a ton on defense during the offseason. It would take a miracle season from Andy Dalton to vault Cincinnati ahead of Baltimore, but it’s not unthinkable. He had the Bengals in the playoffs not that long ago.