Teams in the NFL, perhaps more than any of the other major U.S. pro sports leagues, can have big swings in record from one season to the next. A good free agent signing or a losing a player to free agency or injury could make or break a team. Here are five NFL teams whose stocks could be on the downswing heading into 2019.
The Steelers missed the playoffs last season but still managed to finish above .500 at 9-6-1. They did that without RB Le’Veon Bell, who sat out the entire 2018 season in a contract dispute. Bell is a free agent so he will not be returning to the team. But the Steelers may also be without No. 1 WR Antonio Brown, who is trying to get traded. That would leave WR JuJu Smith-Schuster as the top target for QB Ben Roethlisberger, who recently turned 37 and is in the twilight of his career.
Combine the expected offensive decline of the Steelers with divisional rivals like the Browns and Ravens looking like they’ll be competitive this season, and the Steelers may finish .500 or worse for the first time since 2013.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers were 12-4 last season, but that may be partially attributable to a 5-1 record in one-score games, which could be hard to repeat this season. A record like that in close games indicates the team caught a lot of breaks, which isn’t likely to happen again.
The offense may take a hit with WR Tyrell Williams hitting free agency this offseason. The Chargers could also face tougher competition in their two games against the Broncos, who are expected to trade for QB Joe Flacco when the league year begins on March 13. Flacco should be an improvement over last year’s starter, QB Case Keenum. The roster changes and improved competition mean Los Angeles could be one of the NFL teams regressing in 2019.
The Redskins were 7-9 in 2018, but that came after a 6-3 start. The team’s 1-6 finish to the season coincided with losing QB Alex Smith to a gruesome leg injury that could cause him to miss much — if not all — of the upcoming season.
Unless they add a quarterback this offseason, Washington will be one of the NFL teams taking a step backward in 2019. The quarterbacks on the Redskins’ depth chart, aside from Smith, include Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Johnson. That trio doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence of a successful season on the horizon. If Smith can’t play and the Redskins have to rely on those three quarterbacks, they may struggle to win five games.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams went 13-3 during the regular season en route to appearing in Super Bowl LIII. They’ll have a big question mark entering this season with RB Todd Gurley. Gurley reportedly has an arthritic knee, which means the three-time Pro Bowler may not be able to reach the numbers that the Rams have come to expect out of him.
Like the crosstown Chargers, the Rams may have gotten lucky in 2018 with a 6-1 mark in one-score games. Especially if Gurley’s knee limits his stats, the Rams are almost certain to finish with fewer wins this season, though a 10-win season could still be in the cards for the defending NFC champions.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints went 13-3 last season and were potentially a missed pass interference call away from facing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. They may have a problem at quarterback, though, as Drew Brees, who turned 40 in January, struggled down the stretch in the regular season.
Brees didn’t throw more than one touchdown in any of his last four games of the season. He seemed to get a bit better during the playoffs after having a few weeks off. Is that what the Saints should now expect from Brees as he continues to get older, or was that stretch of subpar performances just a temporary blip for the future Hall of Famer? If it’s the former, the Saints could be in trouble this season. But even if Brees returns to his usual form, the Saints will be hard-pressed to win 13 games again because the Falcons and, possibly, the Panthers look to be better than 7-9 teams this year.