Just like that, 20 NFL teams are done for the season. Meanwhile, a dozen organizations advance to a postseason tournament that’ll culminate with Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
These 12 remaining teams aren’t perfect. In fact, I recently wrote about my concerns with the Buffalo Bills, who, as the AFC’s No. 5 seed, will visit the fourth-seeded Houston Texans to open Wild Card Weekend. Long story short, the offense has built a foundation and QB Josh Allen has improved this season, but I think the production could see a huge jump with a better scheme uses Allen more in the run game. There were other factors, but that’s the gist.
When looking at the other 11 playoff teams, five offensive units concern me heading into this single-elimination tourney:
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings‘ offense is predicated on the outside-zone run game. So much so that it’s easy to tell how the unit will perform very early on in any given ballgame. Fortunately, Dalvin Cook says he’s “ready to go” for the playoffs. If the Vikings can get their Pro Bowl back going in the run game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, things will open up for Kirk Cousins and the downfield passing attack. If the outside-zone runs aren’t there on the first couple drives, I’m afraid the writing will be on the wall for Minnesota. Just two weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers used a lot of stunts and schematically caused the Vikes problems in zone runs. This forced Cousins to primarily rely on dropback passes, which isn’t the QB’s strength, and Minnesota lost the game while compiling just seven first downs. Seven. It’s not just the zone-run game that worries me, either. There are a ton of instances when teams limit that aspect of the Vikings‘ game plan, but the biggest issue is that they don’t have a counter that has been consistent. This makes the attack very average.
New England Patriots: The Patriots‘ struggles have been widely discussed for weeks, but the offense doesn’t look as bleak to me. That said, a few things must happen for this unit to find some rhythm and consistency, and one of them is lining up in I-formation with linebacker/fullback Elandon Roberts, who found the end zone Sunday against the Dolphins. Roberts has only played a small number of snaps as a fullback, but I think it’s a look we’ll see a lot more of in January to help get the run game going. As far as the aerial attack is concerned, the receiving corps is at the center of the offense’s issues. If Julian Edelman is doubled like he was all game Sunday, N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu and Jakobi Meyers have to step up. Specifically, the Pats need Harry (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) to become more like Randy Moss overnight. OK, that’s an insanely tall order. But he at least needs to be a guy who demands more than one-on-one coverage. He’s shown signs that he can be that type of player, but not consistently. All of this has affected Tom Brady, who is no spring chicken but also has a lot left at 42.
Houston Texans: This unit concerns me the least out of this group, but there’s still room to worry because the Texans aren’t super efficient. They live and die by chunk plays. That’s why they have regular-season wins over the Chiefs and Patriots, and why they were blown out at home by the Broncos. Houston has the talent to put up 40 points in any game, but the Texans‘ potency can disappear at times because they rely heavily on downfield throws and DeAndre Hopkins‘ unbelievable plays. If Bill O’Brien can find a balance by getting Deshaun Watson involved in the run game, the Texans will hold their own.
Philadelphia Eagles/Seattle Seahawks: These two teams are grouped together because their offenses depend solely on the play of their respective quarterbacks. The Eagles have lost so many skill-position players this season that scout-team guys are suiting up as starters. Carson Wentz has been the difference-maker, creating/extending enough plays to give Philly a chance to win. Similar story with the Seahawks. They were playing lights out in the first half of the season, but the ‘Hawks are quite depleted heading into Wild Card Weekend. This unit is dependent on Russell Wilson‘s incredible ability to make a play on every single drive. It doesn’t matter what down-and-distance he faces — Wilson is a magician and will always give his team a chance.
Each week in the 2019 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season’s efforts. Now, let’s get to it — the end-of-season pecking order is below.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.
Safe to say Jackson’s first full season as the starter in Baltimore did
not disappoint. Routinely throwing and running all over defenses — finishing sixth in the league in rushing yards(!) — the second-year quarterback made the
Ravens one of the most exciting offenses to watch this season. To be honest, Jackson’s phenomenal campaign seems to have everyone already forgetting about
Patrick Mahomes‘ magical 2018 season. That’s how great it was.
Say hello to your Offensive Player of the Year. McCaffrey had a season for the ages by becoming the third player in NFL history to record 1,000 rush yards
and 1,000 receiving yards in a single season, joining Marshall Faulk (1999) and Roger Craig (1985). He finished 2019 with the third-most scrimmage yards (2,392) in a single season, as well. There will be a lot of change in Carolina this offseason, but one thing’s for sure: This offense will build around the star running back.
Andy Reid said what
Chiefs fans were thinking in Sunday’s postgame press conference:
“All in all, a great game and hail to the Dolphins.” Mahomes took care of business Sunday and was rewarded with a trip to the Divisional Round, as the
Chiefs clinched a first-round bye thanks to
their win over the Chargers AND
the Dolphins’ stunning upset of the Pats. Kansas City has faced its share of adversity this season, but any offense led by Mahomes is one I wouldn’t want to face on any Sunday, let alone in the playoffs. Mahomes has thrown 24 fewer TD passes this season than he did in his MVP campaign, but this offense still feels just as dangerous.
Thomas finished his record-breaking 2019 campaign with a season-low four receptions in Sunday’s win over Tennessee, but that doesn’t take anything away from what he accomplished. He logged 149 catches this season. That’s 33 more than the next player (Christian McCaffrey)
and 45 more than the next-closest receiver (Keenan Allen). The
Saints knew they were making the right choice by extending their No. 1 receiver with
a five-year, $100 million extension back in July.
Sunday’s loss to the 49ers, the
Seahawks were shut out in the first half for the first time since Week 15 of 2017. Thankfully, the second half was a different story for Seattle.
Russell Wilson led a massive comeback by scoring 21 points and he was
to six more that would have won Seattle not only the game but the division. I have the belief that Wilson and the
Seahawks can come out of Philadelphia with a win
on Sunday evening, but the quarterback’s going to have to play better than he has during much of the second half of the season. He’s logged only one game with a 100-plus passer rating in his last seven outings (after doing so in eight of his first nine games of the season). For the
Seahawks to make a major postseason push, he must return to MVP form.
It’s been an eventful year for Brees, to say the least. From
undergoing thumb surgery back in September to breaking Peyton Manning’s
all-time touchdown pass record a few weeks ago, Brees’ 14th campaign with the
Saints has been anything but ordinary. The veteran quarterback has now led the league in completion percentage in each of the last three seasons, completing 74.3 of his passes this season (0.1% shy of tying his NFL record from last season). Brees has the
Saints‘ offense playing at its best heading into Wild Card Weekend, with New Orleans averaging 40 points over the past four games.
A year after
George Kittle edged Kelce for the NFL record for most receiving yards in a season, Kelce finished the season as the top tight end in the league. He didn’t break Kittle’s record, but the
Chiefs TE did finish in the top five in receiving yards (fourth with 1,229 yards), the only tight end to do so in the decade. Rob Gronkowski was the previous high (sixth) in 2011.
If Kelce is 1A when it comes to tight ends, then Kittle is 1B. He finished 2019 with his second-straight 1,000-yard receiving season, but more impressive is the fact that he forced 19 missed tackles on receptions (most among tight ends this season), according to Pro Football Focus. He’s an absolute beast as a blocker and certainly does his part in the passing game. I can’t wait to see the Kittle postseason show.
Henry needed 166 rush yards against the
Texans to pass
Nick Chubb for the league rushing title. He did that and more, racking up 211 rush yards and lifting Tennessee into the postseason. With the way Henry has played in 2019, I won’t be the least bit surprised if the
Titans go into Foxborough and beat the
New England Patriots
on Saturday night.
Jones is one of the main reasons the
Green Bay Packers have 13 wins and a first-round bye. The third-year running back totaled a whopping 19 touchdowns (16 rushing) for the
Packers‘ offense this season and kept a ton of drives going when
Aaron Rodgers and his receivers struggled with timing. Jones has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 season when it comes to the running back position, and he’ll have to maintain that level of play if Green Bay wants to bring another Lombardi back to Titletown.
Cowboys had one of the more disappointing seasons of any team in the league. With so much talent on both sides of the ball, it was pretty shocking that it never quite came together. Zeke was again the most impressive part of the offense. In
Sunday’s win over Washington, Zeke had his seventh game this season with at least 100 rush yards (tied for most in the NFL) and he finished fourth in the league with 1,357 yards on the ground. Since he came into the league in 2016, Elliott leads the NFL in scrimmage yards (7,024), rush yards (5,405) and scrimmage yards per game (125.4). It’s puzzling that a team with a player of this caliber — and oodles of talent around him — failed to make the playoffs again.
Cook hasn’t played a single snap since Week 15, but that’s exactly the reason he lands at No. 12 in my final rankings. Prior to his shoulder injury that sidelined him late in the season, Cook dominated defenses as a do-it-all back for the
Vikings. Without Cook (who had 14 total TDs this season) on the field in Week 16 with the division on the line, the
Vikings couldn’t sustain a drive if their lives depended on it. Cook’s worth has gone up all season long, but hit its peak in that Week 16 game.
Godwin rewarded all of his
fantasy football backers with a monster 2019 season. In 14 games, the third-year wideout racked up 1,333 receiving yards and nine TDs on 86 receptions to finish third in receiving yards behind
Michael Thomas and
Julio Jones. The NFC South sure knows how to draft receivers.
A 1,400-yard season has become standard for Julio, which is wild, considering a lot of receivers are just trying to sniff 1,000. But Jones finished 6 yards shy of his sixth-straight 1,400-yard receiving season and one catch shy of 100 for the year. If that doesn’t sum up the
Falcons‘ 2019 campaign, I don’t know what does. Expect Jones and the
Falcons to come out firing next fall after a disappointing 2019 for Atlanta.
Like I noted last week, Golladay leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 11. For a guy who’s played with three quarterbacks this season, Golladay deserves some love for his improvement and what he’s done in Year 3.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15
Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns: Chubb couldn’t hang on to the league rushing title after Derrick Henry rushed for 211 yards in the season-finale, but Chubb solidified himself as the Browns‘ starting running back for years to come with his 2019 campaign. He may not have won the rushing title, but 1,454 rush yards in a season isn’t anything to hang your head about.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers: Rodgers was far from his best, but props to the Detroit Lions for stalling the Packers‘ offense for most of Sunday’s season-finale. He completed less than half of his 55 pass attempts and threw a pick in the game, but he also orchestrated two scoring drives in the fourth quarter to help secure a first-round bye. This has been such an up-and-down season for Rodgers, but he always seems to come up clutch when the Packers need him most.
Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8.