The NFL’s common season is unpredictable, a chaotic tapestry not like some other main American sports activities league. The 2018 marketing campaign was particularly stocked stuffed with surprising falls from grace for supposed contenders and surprising rises from unheralded groups.
Right here, we go division by division to spotlight essentially the most stunning overachievers and largest disappointments from the final 17 weeks of gridiron motion:
AFC I NFC (Friday)
Greatest shock: Los Angeles Chargers
What went proper?: The 2018 Chargers have lastly fulfilled preseason expectations after years of disappointment, because of a profession 12 months from Philip Rivers, Professional Bowl seasons from Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen, and a top-10 protection. Head coach Anthony Lynn has bounced again from a forgettable rookie 12 months, masterfully guiding the Chargers this season regardless of being hit with main early accidents, most notably to Joey Bosa and Hunter Henry. Maybe most significantly to the well being of Chargers followers, although, was the emergence of kicker Michael Badgley, who put to mattress L.A.’s insane run of dangerous luck on the place.
Trying forward: This crew is constructed for the current. Honest or not, the Chargers should win on this postseason. They’ve missed the playoffs in seven of the final eight years, a ridiculous streak contemplating the play underneath middle and total expertise degree of previous iterations. Furthermore, the Chargers’ future in L.A. may depend on persevering with their momentum into subsequent season forward of their stadium transfer in 2020, with the Rams unlikely to fall off anytime quickly.
Greatest disappointment: Oakland Raiders
What went improper?: The place to begin? As feared, Jon Gruden’s dated offensive scheme didn’t deliver the most effective out of Derek Carr, inflicting hypothesis the quarterback may observe departed stars Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack out the door. Mack and Cooper could not have performed higher with their new groups, placing much more stress on the Raiders to nail the picks they acquired for them. The argument could be made Oakland might be higher sooner or later due to each strikes, however the crew would’ve undeniably been extra aggressive than 4-11 this season if each had stayed.
Trying forward: The Raiders have struggled to switch normal supervisor Reggie McKenzie after he was compelled to look at his two most profitable draft picks depart after which proven the door, as GM candidates are reportedly cautious of primarily working underneath the top coach. Though Oakland has an enviable secure of picks after Gruden dismantled the highest of the crew’s roster, the worth of the acquired first-rounders may fall even additional with the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys making the playoffs. Carr is prone to return, however his long-term future is way from safe and Gruden may doubtlessly look to herald his man, which has traditionally been a dependable veteran whose finest talent is defending the soccer. The crew must be specializing in how finest to retool for subsequent season and getting a GM who can rein in Gruden’s worst tendencies, however the lack of a house for 2019 hangs over the franchise.
Greatest shock: Baltimore Ravens
What went proper?: After the Ravens regarded down for the rely at 4-5 following a Week 9 loss to the Steelers, the crew turned to Lamar Jackson. The rookie phenom kickstarted the offense in a manner Joe Flacco, who went down with an harm, could not muster, because the Ravens’ operating recreation exploded for 230.Four yards per recreation in Jackson’s first 5 begins. This grind-it-out model of offense was the proper praise to the crew’s protection, which tops the league in each whole yardage and scoring.
Trying forward: Baltimore is one win away from its first playoff look since 2014, however the change to Jackson ought to imply much less stress to make a deep run. John Harbaugh’s future seems safe after the crew introduced he’ll return in 2019 and that extension talks have already begun. Chopping Flacco will incur a $16-million lifeless cash hit, so the Ravens are reportedly hoping to commerce him, although what return he may get along with his bloated contract stays to be seen. Jackson has cemented his place because the QB of the longer term, however Baltimore cannot relaxation on its laurels. The younger pivot wants extra weapons if he is to develop as a passer.
Greatest disappointment: Pittsburgh Steelers
What went improper?: Exterior of the Le’Veon Bell saga, inconsistency, poor self-discipline, and struggles in opposition to far much less gifted groups as soon as once more plagued Mike Tomlin’s squad. James Conner was one of many few items for the Steelers that managed to exceed and even meet expectations. Pittsburgh gave away the fifth-most yards via penalties; Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown regarded out of sync for a big a part of the season, with the receiver main the NFL in focused passes leading to an interception (11); and the Steelers’ move protection ranked 21st in Soccer Outsiders’ DVOA metric, seemingly brought on by the dearth of improvement by younger defensive backs comparable to Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and 2018 first-rounder Terrell Edmunds.
Trying forward: Pittsburgh’s possession is legendary for its unmatched endurance with coaches. Nevertheless, if the crew is sitting at dwelling in January, Mike Tomlin might be feeling intense warmth, because the Steelers misplaced to or tied with groups they need to’ve simply taken care of, such because the Raiders and the Hue Jackson-led Browns. Roethlisberger has teased retiring earlier than, but when Tomlin is gone, the QB may observe. No matter their futures, Pittsburgh must discover a manner again to its days of defensive dominance after coordinator Keith Butler’s unit tied for 26th in whole takeaways.
Greatest shock: Indianapolis Colts
What went proper?: The Colts produced a near-perfect second half to the season after beginning 1-5. Andrew Luck’s arm power has returned and he is put up profession numbers in Frank Reich’s scheme. GM Chris Ballard’s rookie class is among the many league’s finest, as Quenton Nelson – who’s turned the Colts’ much-maligned offensive line into an elite unit – and Darius Leonard are professional All-Professional candidates. Indy’s high free-agent addition, Eric Ebron, has the third-most landing receptions within the league (12), whereas Matt Eberflus’ younger and principally nameless protection emerged as a fringe top-ten unit.
Trying forward: Hastily, Indy seems to be like one of many AFC’s up-and-coming powerhouses. Luck and Reich are a match made in heaven, and the QB ought to have MVPs in his future. Even when the Colts cannot beat the Tennessee Titans in a win-and-you’re-in recreation and turn out to be simply the third crew to begin 1-5 and make the playoffs for the reason that merger, they’re going to have essentially the most cap house within the NFL this offseason and an additional second-round decide to spherical out their roster for a 2019 run.
Greatest disappointment: Jacksonville Jaguars
What went improper?: What a distinction a 12 months makes. Unsurprisingly – besides, apparently, for the Jaguars’ workers and administration – Blake Bortles regressed after showing to take a leap ahead throughout final 12 months’s run to the AFC title recreation. Nevertheless, Jacksonville merely wasn’t the QB-friendly setting it was a 12 months in the past. The crew’s feared move rush evaporated as shortly because it appeared, falling from second to 28th in sacks, and Leonard Fournette solely suited up for eight video games, which meant the Jaguars could not grind out victories whereas holding the coaching wheels on Bortles. Jalen Ramsey spent the offseason firing photographs at seemingly everybody within the league, however, on account of largely to the protection falling off round him, the All-Professional was compelled to eat crow for a lot of the 12 months.
Trying forward: It’d worsen earlier than it will get higher for the Jaguars, as solely the Eagles have much less projected cap house in 2019. Main strikes could be made to enhance the crew’s poor monetary outlook, however Jacksonville may very well be hamstrung by its resolution to increase Bortles this previous offseason, because the crew will incur a $16.5-million lifeless cash hit in the event that they minimize him after the 12 months. Discovering a brand new franchise pivot must be precedence No. 1, however an in depth second for the Jaguars must be repairing their relationship with Ramsey after commerce rumors surfaced, main the cornerback to demand that extension talks start to show the crew’s dedication to him.
Greatest shock: Miami Dolphins
What went proper?: The East, as typical, was among the many most predictable divisions in all of soccer. Nevertheless, calling the Dolphins a default decide could be an injustice to a crew that stayed in playoff competition proper till the penultimate recreation of the common season regardless of very restricted expectations in the beginning of the 12 months. The Miami Miracle was by far the spotlight of the Dolphins’ season, nevertheless it wasn’t a one-off. Adam Gase’s squad got here up clutch in 2018, going 7-1 in single-possession video games regardless of a rash of accidents to the offensive line. In the meantime, Frank Gore produced one of many feel-good tales of the 12 months by having fun with his most effective season since 2009.
Trying forward: Ryan Tannehill wasn’t dangerous in 2018, however he wasn’t good both. It is the story of his profession to date, and with a $26.6-million cap hit in 2019, this chapter is perhaps closing for the QB. The futures of each head coach Adam Gase and vice chairman of soccer operations Mike Tannenbaum are additionally in query. Miami has been reluctant to wash home fully in years previous, however will the fan base settle for one other try and paper over the cracks?
Greatest disappointment: New England Patriots
What went improper?: Disappointment is relative. The Patriots received the AFC East, bought to double-digit wins, and might safe a first-round bye in Week 17. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a sometimes dominant season from New England, which endured embarrassing losses to the Titans, Dolphins, and Detroit Lions. Tom Brady lastly confirmed indicators of decline, Rob Gronkowski was suffering from accidents, and Josh Gordon acquired one other indefinite suspension. Additionally, the protection relied closely on turnovers, rating sixth in compelled takeaways, and may very well be uncovered come playoff time.
Trying forward: Few might be stunned if New England pulls all of it collectively and goes on one other championship run, however that is arguably as a result of crew’s historical past quite than any proof from its play this 12 months. Though questions swirl round weapons like Gronkowski and Gordon, Brady’s future would be the most important subject of dialog for each offseason from now till he retires; how Invoice Belichick approaches the QB place within the offseason may very well be the most important indicator of how lengthy he believes this present iteration of the crew can final.
Contract statistics courtesy: Over The Cap