The 2019 regular season was full of fun and weekly surprises. Almost every team had a story new buzzing every month. Few teams were consistent week-by-week, but as the year and the decade closed, there are key takeaways to focus on for the playoffs and next season.
Older/veteran head coaches have bested younger ones.
While Rams and Bears coaches Sean McVay and Matt Nagy enjoyed success last year, 2019 was a big let down for both them and their teams. It didn’t help that both teams’ GM’s may have doomed the future of their tenures by trading away draft capital and using a lot of cap space on questionable players, so these issues showed on numerous occasions, most notably opponents bound for the playoffs. New Bengals coach Zac Taylor struggled more than many expected, and the Bengals wound up being the worst team in the league. At the opposite end, coaches John Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, Andy Reid and Bill Belichick each enjoyed another ten win or better seasons. Harbaugh’s Ravens are the best team (record-wise) in the NFL and have the probable league MVP leading the way.
The running game mattered a lot this season
Yes, the position of running-back is dwindling, and yes, fullbacks have been out of fashion, but this season sparked the resurgence and a need for both. San Francisco for example uses Kyle Juszczyk frequently with the three RBs they have to gash defenses. Baltimore has a blocking tight-end behind Lamar Jackson at times to make sure Gus Edwards gets better blocking or for Jackson to turn it up a notch when he runs. In fact, Baltimore broke a 48 year record the 1978 Patriots held with the most rushing yards ever in a season. San Francisco of course, came in second.
These two teams aside, Carolina depends on Christian McCaffrey to be the focus for their offense. Aaron Jones is the most dependable Aaron for Green Bay going forward, and Minnesota has a three headed monster at running-back, even if one those (Dalvin Cook especially) goes down. New England, Kansas City, Tennessee and Philadelphia are getting into the playoffs thanks to their running games.
If a team looks too good to be true, it’s probably because they are
Exhibit A: The Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns. So many people believed the Browns and Bears would not just win the divisions, but go deep in the playoffs, with both quarterbacks taking the big next steps. None of that happened. In fact, Cleveland regressed so much that general manager John Dorsey and the team have parted ways, this coming after Freddie Kitchens was fired hours after the teams’ Week 17 loss to the Bengals.
We appreciate that Sports Illustrated looked at the Chicago Bears honestly and predicted the right amount of regression. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was a bigger loss than a lot of pundits thought, and Akiem Hicks going down twice with an elbow injury during the season showed how vulnerable their defensive front was. Throw in the issues (all of them, not just Mitchell Trubisky) on offense, and the team was lucky to finish 8-8.
As yours truly predicted at the beginning of the year, the NFC West still is the superior division in the NFL.
The Los Angeles Rams came into the season as division and conference champions. How’d they do this year? Third place in the NFC West and eliminated from playoff contention the second to last week of the regular season. They went 1-3 against the two teams that finished above them, and will have to deal with salary cap issues for years to come, something Les Snead knew and still sold out for a championship, to which was never won. Seattle botched two chances to not just win the division, but the number one seed for the playoffs. While they squeaked out almost all their wins, coach Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson showed they can move the team past qualified opponents, especially San Francisco. Ratings for Seattle in prime-time were some of the most watched games of the season. People like watching these teams consistently compete and win in ways that feel unfathomable.
Speaking of San Francisco, yours truly had them in the playoffs, but only as the sixth seed. They exceeded many expectations, and if the defense can hold up in the playoffs, they can win a championship. The way they dealt with a three team scheduled stretch in which their opponents’ winning percentage was above .800, and came out 2-1 (with the one loss by three points) shows how this team is ready, and both GM John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan deserve the credit and awards. Though, if we get to see Seattle and San Francisco in the playoffs again, you can bet the ratings will be high and the game will be fun.