The NFL is full of surprises. This year, we found pleasant surprises while seeing teams suffering catastrophes. Heading into the playoffs, many teams have drifted away from the projections given to them before the season started, and this article will explore these boom/bust teams.
Buffalo Bills: BOOM
Going into the regular season, the Bills shockingly cut star running-back, LeSean McCoy, when slicing their roster size from 90 players to 53. However, the Bills managed to have the eighth-most yards per game average. Going into the playoffs, rookie Devin Singletary, veteran Frank Gore, and second-year quarterback Josh Allen all have accumulated over 500 rushing touchdowns individually. But, the defense has been phenomenal. The Bills stifled offenses, being one of just three teams that managed to keep offenses from garnering over an average of 300 yards. This is largely in part due to the breakout season of Tre’Davious White who had a league-leading six interceptions. The Bills also had a top ten turnover differential, allowing them to hold high-powered offenses to just an average of 16.2 points per game, second-best in the NFL. Going into the playoffs, the Bills will play a much-deserved wild card game versus the Houston Texans.
Los Angeles Rams: BUST
After suffering a devastating loss to the Patriots 13-3 in the Super Bowl last season, the Rams were able to bolster their defense with Clay Matthews and Eric Weddle. After their career-best seasons, Todd Gurley and Jared Goff were given large contract extensions. Through the draft and free agency, they went from being the worst team in the NFL back in 2015 to a seemingly unstoppable offense with a scary defense. Even during the season, the Rams were able to trade for top-tier cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Where could they go wrong? First, they had an extremely difficult schedule, with one of the hardest strength of schedules. But the real issue was that Jared Goff heavily regressed. Despite throwing for 4,638 yards, Goff threw the fourth-most interceptions in the NFL, having one of the league’s worst QBRs. He was unable to give Robert Woods many red-zone opportunities, with Woods scoring his first touchdown of the season when the Rams could not save their season. The Rams end their season with a disappointing 9-7 record and hope to go back to their playoff ways next year.
San Fransisco 49ers: BOOM
On April 25th, 2019, the first day of the NFL Draft, Roger Goodell said this: “With the second pick in the NFL Draft, the San Fransisco 49ers select: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State”. I am now going to analyze this statement. The San Fransisco 49ers had the second-worst record in the entire NFL. That is right. The same team that started the season 8-0 and went 13-3, the best record in the NFC and second-best in the NFL. They were the second-worst team in the NFL. The 49ers selected Nick Bosa. Bosa was a high-esteemed prospect in the NFL and was arguably considered the best in his draft class by analysts. Nick Bosa not only proved to be the best rookie in the NFL, posting nine sacks, one forced fumble and one interception, but he now gets double-teams because of the impact he makes on the field when guarded by just one man. But Bosa’s play is just a microcosm of what this defense has done. They allowed the second least amount of yards per game, and the sixth most takeaways. In his second full year with his team, Jimmy Garropolo threw for almost 4,000 yards and had a top ten quarterback rating. With the near-perfect play by the 49ers, they managed to get DL Nick Bosa, FB Kyle Juszczyk, TE George Kittle and CB Richard Sherman to all be selected as starters in the pro-bowl. Also, DL Arik Armstead, DL DeForest Buckner, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, RB Raheem Mostert, C/G Weston Richburg, T Joe Staley, DB Jimmie Ward, and LB Fred Warner were selected as alternates. With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the 49ers are a favorite to win the Super Bowl.
Cleveland Browns: BUST
Last offseason Giants GM Dave Gettleman traded Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns, reuniting Beckham with a friend and all-star wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Baker Mayfield was going into the offseason with a spectacular first-year campaign at QB. They hired Freddie Kitchens as their next head coach, believing that Mayfield and Kitchens would be this generation’s Brady and Belichek. But, this was not the case. They started the season off terribly, getting blown out by 30 to the Titans, but bounced back in Week 4 with a strong win against the Ravens. They were not the greatest team at the beginning of the season, yet they were in the wild card hunt. Then came Week 10 against the Steelers. Both teams played sloppily, but there was an unusual amount of dirty hits. On the final play of the game, Myles Garrett hit Myles Rudolph late, sending both players to the ground. This initiated a fight between the two, but where it goes to extreme violence is when Garrett rips Rudolph’s helmet and strikes him on Rudolph’s head. Immediately after, punches were being thrown at Garrett, pushing and shoving was being done by both teams. After this all settled, three suspensions were given, most notably being potential defensive player of the year candidate Myles Garrett suspended indefinitely. This took a toll on the team, as they were able to win just two of their last six games to finish the season, ending on getting blown out by the worst-record Bengals. Mayfield threw a whopping 21 interceptions, the second-highest in the league. While Landry had a pro-bowl season, OBJ managed just four touchdowns and career-low numbers. Many believe that Beckham is unhappy with the team and will be traded this offseason. Immediately after the Bengals game, HC Kitchens was fired, and GM John Dorsey parted ways with the team two days later. They go into next season with a lot of uncertainty on what path they want to work with moving forward.
Miami Dolphins: BOOM
I know what you are all thinking. “Jack, they went 5-11 this year!” “How can you say that a team that was tanking exceeded their expectations?” Well, here is why. Coming into the season, people believed that the Dolphins would have a 0-16 record. This estimation seemed more convincing after getting pummeled by the Ravens with a score of 59-10 and being routed by the Patriots 43-0. New HC Brian Flores seemed lost. They had uncertainty at quarterback. If you were a fan of a team playing the Dolphins, you would be excited to see your team blow them out. However, Week 5 seemed like a chance for the Dolphins to win. They were playing a fellow winless team in the Redskins. This was their chance! They lost 17-16, missing out on a game-winning two-point conversion that would have pushed their win total up to one. But, this game was a turning point in the season. They never were routed again. One may argue by just looking at final scores that this is not true, but when watching games, they were closer than what the score appeared. In Week 8, they had a strong win against the Jets 26-18. People thought this was a fluke. However, they kept their dominant play with a 16-12 win against the playoff-hopeful Colts, which derailed the Colts season. Three weeks later, they beat the NFC East winning Eagles 37-21, with HC Doug Pederson calling the Dolphins “a really good team”. HC Brian Flores’ consistency was starting to work out. They lost close games the next two weeks to the Jets and Giants, but the end of their season showed signs of true potential in a young, fiery team. They won against the Bengals in overtime 38-35, but the Dolphins had controlled the flow of the game the whole way. Week 17 was a rematch against the Patriots. The Dolphins were heavy underdogs, yet they were able to take control of the game, with Eric Rowe pick-six in the second quarter, gaining a double-digit lead. But, in Patriot fashion, Tom Brady lead a long, fourth-quarter drive to put the Patriots up top. However, they underestimated the abilities of veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. He lead the game-winning drive, throwing a strike to Mike Gesieki to win the game. Not only did this give the Patriots a loss, but it propelled them from the two seed to the three seed, forcing the Patriots to play in the Wildcard round, something the Patriots have not done since the 2010 season. Reflecting on the team, they had multiple breakout players. One being Davante Parker, who became one of the AFC’s best wide receivers this year. Another breakout player was Jerome Baker, who leads the team with an impressive 126 tackles. The Dolphins were able to trade their best players in Kenyan Drake, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Laremy Tunsil for quality draft picks, and they still managed to win quality games. HC Brian Flores is a potential Head Coach of the Year candidate, and they go into the offseason with smiles on their faces.
Los Angeles Chargers: BUST
Last season, the Chargers had a 12-4 record, losing in the divisional round to the Patriots in the playoffs to end the year. Philip Rivers made it to the pro-bowl and showed no signs of regression, while rookie safety Derwin James made the All-Pro NFL Team. 2019 was meant to be their year. In reality, it was the opposite. The first roadblock the Chargers had was the Melvin Gordon holdout. Gordon, a top running-back, believed he should have been paid equally to the amount fellow running-back Leveon Bell did this past offseason. While the holdout only lasted four weeks, the Chargers were able to discover the true talents of Austin Ekeler. You must now think, “since the Chargers now have two-star running-backs, they should play well right?” While that is logical, it did not prove true. When discovering what makes success in the NFL, it always routs to the quarterback. Philip Rivers had one of his worst seasons in his prosperous and long career. He threw 20 interceptions, and in Stephen A. Smith’s words, Philip Rivers is a “stationary quarterback”. In a league where essentially all top quarterbacks except for Tom Brady are mobile, Rivers’ lack of speed did not provide the Chargers the proper fuel it needed to win games. However, not all the blame must be assessed to Rivers. On August 15, it was revealed that James had been dealing with a stress fracture in his right foot. The injury required surgery, requiring a maximum of three months to recover. He was placed on injured reserve on September 1st, 2019 and was designated for return from injured reserve on November 25th, 2019, and was activated on November 30, 2019. In the few meaningless games he played, he was unable to register any meaningful defensive plays, showing that the severity in his stress fracture might have altered his play style. Finishing with a 5-11 record, the Chargers have many questions to address, starting at quarterback.
Jack Zeidel covers all sports on Field2Court.