As we head into the end part of the NFL season, there’s always the conversation that gets brought up as to who were the teams that exceeded expectations and who did not live up to the hype from the preseason. There were plenty of teams that took the league by surprise whether that be the impressive 11-game winning streak from the Baltimore Ravens to the Buffalo Bills recording their first ten win season since 1999. There were plenty of teams that weren’t able to live up to their full potential and failed in their quest to please their fan base. Here’s a look at five teams that underachieved in the 2019 season.
1. Dallas Cowboys, 7-8 (2nd, NFC East)
No doubt that this team has not lived up to where there should have been. This team had one of the most talented rosters in the NFL with top talent in Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and their loaded offensive line led by Tyron Smith and Zach Martin. Not to mention a defense that features great talent in Demarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee, Leighton Vander Esch, and Jaylon Smith. As it turns out, they are one of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL.
Their offense at times this season has been explosive as they have one of the top three passing attacks in the league and went into Sunday as the number one ranked offense in the NFL. The issue has lied in when they played teams that have a winning record, they could never perform to the highest level. The Cowboys are 2-6 this season against teams that currently have over a .500 record. Elliott, despite having over 1,200 yards heading into the final week of the year, has had some bad games. When Dak Prescott has faced a good defense, he has not been able to elevate his game. He has not been able a good pass rush and in the last five weeks, has struggled with accuracy. The playcalling from first-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has never been consistent. Yes, he helped improve the passing game, but there has been questions as to not being imaginative in play creation or gutsy.
The defense has seen a lot of missed tackles from their linebacking core that was once considered one of the top five units in football. Smith and Vander Esch each have taken a step back in their development. The secondary has not been able to create turnovers with only six interceptions total this season which is one of the lowest in the NFL. Outside of Robert Quinn’s 10.5 sacks, no defender has more than five sacks.
Of course, the biggest complaint about this team: Jason Garrett. For years, fans have been calling for his job to be taken away, but the close relationship between Jerry Jones and Garrett has helped him keep his job. This season though, we have noticed a change in the guard as Jones has publicly shown disapproval in Garrett’s coaching decision. He has had times when he isn’t aggressive enough in going for it on fourth down in high percentage situations to not making the right coaching decisions and taking control when his assistants don’t do something right.
Some experts had the Cowboys winning the NFC East and make a run for a Super Bowl title. This season will be overshadowed by questionable coaching and inconsistent play. Even if this team somehow wins the NFC East title this Sunday, expect plenty of coaching changes including at head coach.
2. Cleveland Browns, 6-9 (3rd, AFC North)
What happened to this Cleveland Browns team? The expectations were the highest it has ever been as they acquired Odell Beckham Jr. to join Jarvis Landry as one of the best wide receiver duos in the league along with a quarterback in Baker Mayfield who excelled in his rookie season. They picked up Kareem Hunt for cheap to be one of their featured backs. Sheldon Richardson was added to a young, talented defense joining emerging stars Denzel Ward and Myles Garrett. So let’s tell you what happened.
Myles Garrett decided to use a helmet as a weapon against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and get banned for the rest of the season. Mayfield becomes a gunslinger and make numerous questionable passes recording 18 interceptions this season. Hunt has only records 167 rushing yards in seven games. OBJ goes into the final game of the season under 1,000 yards and only three touchdowns.
Freddie Kitchens has had his own concerns as we saw him and OBJ getting into it on the sidelines as well as the front office reportedly split on whether to keep him or fire him. Kitchens was praised last season for helping Mayfield develop into one of the most promising quarterbacks in the league, but this season it looked like Mayfield took a major step backwards.
There were some positives as we saw Nick Chubb break out as one of the NFL’s leading rushers with 1,453 yards and eight touchdowns. Landry earns a Pro Bowl appearance with 1,092 yards and five touchdowns. That’s really it though.
This team had high hopes of stealing away the AFC North from the aging Pittsburgh Steelers and the young Baltimore Ravens. The team got off to a bad start and had too many distractions between OBJ reportedly telling teams to “come get him” and Mayfield’s sour relationship with the media. It’s been a mess all season for them with too much drama. The question comes as to whether any changes will be made or if they will try to ride the course.
3. Los Angeles Rams, 8-7 (3rd, NFC West)
The defending NFC champions were absolutely explosive offensively last season with Todd Gurley was running over everyone, Jared Goff taking a major leap with the most talented receiving core in the NFL, and a defense led by the defensive player of the year in Aaron Donald. There’s no reason this should have regressed, right? I mean, they added Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews in the offseason and traded for Jalen Ramsey during the season so this should be a cake walk for this team. Wrong.
It all begins when the team looked pitiful against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl losing 13-3. The team got off to a great start though at 3-0, but things go south when they lose their next three games. After that point, this team losses their Super Bowl swagger. Gurley has struggled to establish anything on the ground as he is on his way to under 1,000 yards for the season. Goff takes a major step back with 16 interceptions and losses the confidence in making the right decision on passing plays. Brandin Cooks has had a down season with only 39 catches as Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp took targets away from him in the passing game.
At times, the defense has looked great as they have done a great job up front to getting to the quarterback, but too many times, the secondary got torched for big plays. Ramsey was suppose to be added on to be a shutdown corner, but hasn’t lived up to that and has had an up and down season.
The magic of Sean McVay’s innovative style has worn off and now is looked like as an average head coach. This team has all the talent in the world around them, but they haven’t been able to put it together. The team has given away too many future assets and now will be faced with some tough decisions in the offseason as they become the second team since 2009 to make the Super Bowl and miss the playoffs the next season. Roster moves will have to be made to make cap room to sign players as they have spent too much money.
4. Los Angeles Chargers, 5-10 (4th, AFC West)
This was baffling to witness how this team fell as hard as they did. Last season, they were 12-4 with Phillip Rivers having one of his best seasons ever with Melvin Gordon emerging as one of the top five running backs in the league. Not to mention, their defense was improving dramatically thanks in part to Joey Bosa being a dominate force on the defensive line. So when the team went into their bye week this season at 4-7, fans were left scratching their heads.
The running game has been non-existent as Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler each only have over 500 yards rushing for the season. Gordon’s holdout did not help things for the team as he came in unprepared and never gained confidence with only one 100 yard game. Rivers reverted to his old ways as he threw 18 interceptions as his age has started to show. While the receiving core looked good, tight end Hunter Henry seemed to take a step back as past injuries seemed to affect his play. Turnovers have plagued this team all season as they are 31st in turnover margin.
Anthony Lynn might be able to keep his job, but some kind of changes have to be made. First, the team must consider who will be the future quarterback for this team. Speculation has been Lynn holds backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor in high regard as a potential choice or they could look at a quarterback in the draft whether Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa or looking elsewhere.
5. Chicago Bears, 7-8 (3rd, NFC North)
A double-doink will haunt the city of Chicago for years to come and the curse has crossed over to this season for the Bears. The defense was suppose to be one of the best in the league after causing havoc last season and this was suppose to be the year that without Jordan Howard, Mitchell Trubisky was going to control the offense and carry the team to the playoffs. He couldn’t do that.
Instead, Trubisky takes a step back, but it’s not all his fault. Playcalling has been called into question as many believe that Matt Nagy hasn’t been using Trubisky correctly. He thrives on play action plays and getting out of the pocket to make throws. Trubisky is an underrated athlete who can make plays with his legs. He didn’t get much help from his running game as Tarik Cohen couldn’t carry the load in the backfield without Howard so David Montgomery stepped into that lead back role and needs more time to develop. The tight end position is left with much to be desired as it is by far the weakest position without Zach Miller in the lineup.
The defense is still having a good season, but there has been significant differences between last year’s unit to this year’s defense. Their sack numbers have gone down and their turnovers have gone down as well. The defense scored six touchdowns to lead the NFL last year, but they only were able to score one touchdown this season as a team.
The offense was never able to click for them as Nagy has not been able to translate his offensive mind to helping improve this team. Their biggest mistake was trading Jordan Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles for a late round draft pick. That did damage to their offense as Trubisky benefits from a strong running game. This offseason, they may need to address the running game and look at their offensive linemen to see if they have the linemen to make great running blocks.