We are a little less than three months away from the start of the 2018 regular season. In that period of time, a lot will change. There’s so much we don’t know about the progress of certain players, the injuries to others, and what kind of an impact new coaches and management will have on each of the 32 teams. And because of that, we also don’t have a good idea of who will have a difficult or easy strength of schedule, we can only guess.
I’m fine with guessing. This is a Saturday article in June. The stakes are low.
Even looking at some predictions from last September, just before the start of the season, we can see that many experts pegged the Jacksonville Jaguars to finish in third or fourth place in the AFC South again, not to become one of the most dominant defenses in the NFL. The LA Chargers were expected by most to make the playoffs, if not make a deep run. Jason LaCanfora picked the Seattle Seahawks to win the Super Bowl. Will Brinson picked the Arizona Cardinals. Some liked the Green Bay Packers. Many liked the New York Giants.
You’d be hard-pressed to find the person who picked the Philadelphia Eagles.
Over at SI, they picked the Buffalo Bills to win four games; instead the Bills made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. They had the LA Rams at 6-10; the Rams too made the playoffs, as did the Jaguars, who were also picked to win four games, like Buffalo. They also thought the Cleveland Browns would win two games; who knew that they aimed too high?
Predicting anything like this is difficult. For everyone. Nobody’s going to get it 100% right, but if we just ask one question, then statistically someone should be right. What’s wrong with giving you that chance to be that someone? The question I’m asking myself today: Who will finish with the worst record in 2018?
Not necessarily the worst team, but the worst record. Who is picking first overall next year, assuming they haven’t traded it away already? (The New Orleans Saints are thus far the only team without their 2019 first rounder.)
(I don’t think the Saints will finish with the worst record, though not many people predicted the Houston Texans would be forfeiting the fourth overall pick to the Browns last year.)
Let’s lay out some candidates.
Cleveland Browns (2017 record: 0-16)
There’s growing playoff hype around the Browns, and probably for good reason. They appear really strong up the middle of the offensive line (J.C. Tretter, Kevin Zeitler, Joel Bitonio) and talented on the outside (Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon, potentially Corey Coleman), with a backfield of Carlos Hyde, Nick Chubb, and Duke Johnson, plus tight ends David Njoku, Darren Fells, and Seth DeValve. The defense has a potential Defensive Player of the Year with Myles Garrett and was surprisingly average last season (16th in DVOA, 4th against the run), adding Denzel Ward and Damarious Randall to the secondary.
The veterans in the #Browns backfield were tough for opposing teams to bring down in 2017. Carlos Hyde was 3rd in missed tackles forced on rushes (45) while Duke Johnson was 2nd in missed tackles forced after receptions (24).— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) June 11, 2018
Now factor in Nick Chubb. pic.twitter.com/b3EKoPTNxx
But it’s still a team that has gone 1-31 over the last two seasons. “Franchise problems” are often just “Ownership problems” and Jimmy Haslem remains the owner. Most importantly though, Cleveland has yet to prove that they’ve found a franchise quarterback or that they even have a decent one. I personally think Baker Mayfield was the best quarterback in the draft, but we’re still a long ways away from seeing that proven on the field. Tyrod Taylor helped the Bills make the playoffs last season but I do think he may have crossed over that line from “underrated” to “overrated” because he was underrated for so long.
Even if you’re a Taylor fan, how could you not be at least a little bit worried about how he’ll be affected by playing in this system? I’m not convinced that DeShone Kizer is as bad as he looked a year ago.
You can be excited to watch Cleveland next season but I am confident that they aren’t out of the woods of 0-16 yet and there’s nothing wrong with being wary of Hue Jackson’s ability to help the Browns win games. He’s been there two seasons and he literally has not won gameS yet. So far he’s only won one.
New York Giants (2017 record: 3-13)
They’re clearly preparing as if they expect a quick turnaround and return trip to the playoffs after last season’s disaster. That’s the only reason I think you’d draft Saquon Barkley over one of the quarterbacks. I still think Eli Manning is a bottom-3 QB in the conference and the defense appears to lack a notable pass rush. I’m expecting anything from worst to somewhere in the middle.
From Bill Barnwell's piece today: Eli Manning's splits with and without Beckham. One wonders if Eli would even still be in the league if NYG hadn't landed Odell https://t.co/J9YcU7HyOY pic.twitter.com/qADXpxuEXk— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) June 14, 2018
Houston Texans (2017 record: 4-12)
Say what you want about DeShaun Watson and the game the Texans played against Seattle last season, this is still a team that lost nine of their last 10; down the stretch, Houston was noticeably worse than the Browns. Maybe Watson and the defense return to life them to 10-6 next season, but I won’t be surprised if enough things go wrong for them to be 2-14.
Here's the Texans' offense with and without Deshaun Watson starting at quarterback. pic.twitter.com/GNm6GO5Yav— Matt Weston (@Mbw987) February 18, 2018
Indianapolis Colts (2017 record: 4-12)
All we know is that their starting quarterback just threw a football and it’s news. Bad team, questionable organizational decisions for years, and a bad defense. Maybe Andrew Luck returns, but what version of Luck are we going to see? The best Luck is pretty great, but I’ve also been arguing for years that we rarely actually see “the best Luck.”
Indianapolis is a really good candidate for worst record without Luck, but they’re kind of a viable candidate regardless because he hasn’t played in so long and we can’t know what to expect. Even still, this team around him and on defense might be even worse than he had when he last played.
Chicago Bears (2017 record: 5-11)
Like Miami, I might be a little bit higher on the Bears than most. I like the pick of Matt Nagy as head coach and I think it’s better to be going into your second year with a franchise QB than your first (Carson Wentz, Jared Goff as an example of this). Mitchell Trubisky could be decent with the coaches and skill players around him next season. The defense wasn’t all that bad last season and they added linebacker Roquan Smith in the first. Still, it’s not inconceivable to see Chicago lose three more games than they did a year ago.
New York Jets (2017 record: 5-11)
The quarterback position is up for grabs between Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater, and Sam Darnold. It’s possible that all three could be bad options for a team next season. Maybe one of them isn’t bad, but you can’t completely shut down the argument against any one of them.
“Veteran with a wonky track record.”
“Hasn’t really played in two years.”
They also don’t have proven, top-tier receivers, instead using a few dependably-fair receivers like Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and disappointments like Terrelle Pryor, Devin Smith; in fact, Chad Hansen could emerge as the top option. There are issues on the offensive line and in the backfield as well. The Jets were 26th in DVOA last season and there are no obvious areas of improvement except for maybe the signing of cornerback Trumaine Johnson.
Denver Broncos (2017 record: 5-11)
I’d be a little surprised, but it’s not as though a fall from five wins to two wins would be all that drastic. Despite winning the Super Bowl only a few years ago, Denver was really bad last season; they were 29th in DVOA, ranked below the Texans, Dolphins, Jets, and Bears.
Case Keenum has now pocketed one good season under his belt and now plays on an offense that couldn’t do any favors for Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch over the last two years. Maybe that’s the fault of those quarterbacks, maybe it’s because they’ve changed so many coaches, but questions have to surround the ability of John Elway to find and develop a quarterback since the only good one he’s ever had was touted by many as the GOAT when he signed.
The Broncos’ defense seems older and with fewer surprises than it recently had, finishing just 15th against the pass by DVOA in 2017. They also could fall victim to a more difficult schedule than those teams in the AFC East, since the Chiefs and Chargers could be battling for the number one seed based on many current projections.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2017 record: 5-11)
I liked the Bucs going into last season and I was wrong. I like them again going into next season. Maybe I’m wrong again, but I’m not banking on them to lose 13 or more games. It’s a tough division but I think they could challenge for a wild card.
Miami Dolphins (2017 record: 6-10)
One thing that could keep all three of the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins from finishing with the worst record next season is that they get to play each other. For yet another year, the division around New England looks awful. I kind of suspect that the Patriots won’t be as good next season as they have been for the last 17 or whatever, but they should easily get into the playoffs again regardless.
I am however edging closer to the possibility that Miami will be better than expected. They have a better offensive line than the Jets and Bills. They have Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Danny Amendola, and Albert Wilson at receiver. Second rounder Mike Gesicki at tight end. Defensively there’s Cameron Wake, first rounder Minkah Fitzpatrick, Reshad Jones, Robert Quinn, Xavien Howard, and Kiko Alonso. I am not sure the Dolphins win a playoff game but as far as “worst” goes, I’m not sure anymore that they fit in.
Dolphins CB Xavien Howard has been ⬇️ recently pic.twitter.com/db1N9FJGvF— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 13, 2017
But with the uncertainty of Ryan Tannehill at QB and Brock Osweiler backing him up, they’re worth a mention.
Oakland Raiders (2017 record: 6-10)
It’s cool that Jon Gruden is back in the NFL. Not so sure about the quarterback or the 30th-ranked pass defense or the fact that Khalil Mack holds leverage in his holdout as the most important player on the team.
Cincinnati Bengals (2017 record: 7-9)
Keeping Marvin Lewis and not seeking an heir apparent to Andy Dalton, they continue to strive for mediocrity. I think adding Cordy Glenn and Billy Price to the offensive line was an important step. John Ross gets another chance to prove himself at receiver. They added six draft picks to the defense, which may or may not help them improve in that area, which is at least a proven strength of Lewis’s.
Not my pick for the worst, but a team to keep an eye on for this title as almost always.
Washington (2017 record: 7-9)
Alex Smith could be an upgrade from Kirk Cousins but to what degree? I’m not seeing them as top-10 on offense or defense, which could leave them back around .500 but it would only take an injury to Smith, Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, or one of their other few remaining key players to potentially send them to the top of the draft next season. Washington hasn’t picked first since 1962 and that guy (Ernie Davis) never played in the league; you’d have to go back to 1948 to find the last and only time Washington picked a player first overall who went on to play for them.
Arizona Cardinals (2017 record: 8-8)
Potentially the worst quarterback in the conference. Not that Sam Bradford is bad, but look at the conference and then look at Bradford’s consistent track record of mediocre numbers and missed games. Not sure they want to lean on Mike Glennon or Josh Rosen if they have to.
The offensive line may have improved but can’t say that I would feel good about the health track record for many of these players. David Johnson will return but it can’t feel great to have your best offensive weapon (better than Larry Fitzgerald at this point) not be practicing with the team after missing a season.
They had a very good defense though and a DPOY candidate with Chandler Jones. Budda Baker, Patrick Peterson, Markus Golden, Deone Buccanon, Haason Reddick ... Arizona could keep games close next season. But the QB situation does seem potentially quite bad. I don’t think I have the Cards as a heavy favorite for worst record anymore but since they play in the more challenging conference than these AFC teams, they might have take a few more punches than the rest.
The Cardinals start over without Carson Palmer or Bruce Arians in 2018. pic.twitter.com/vCLY3OA1qu— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) June 10, 2018
Buffalo Bills (2017 record: 9-7)
I think the Bills made the postseason by virtue of a few things:
- 9-7 is not that good, just ask most Seahawks fans how they feel about it. The AFC is a bad conference (relative to our two total conferences) and Buffalo won three of their last four games. Those wins: Two against the Miami Dolphins (a team that lost 8 of their last 10 games) and won in OT against the Indianapolis Colts. The other game was a 37-16 loss at the hands of the Patriots.
- The Bills had two ‘quality’ wins: at the Falcons, at the Chiefs. Atlanta lost when they failed to convert a 3rd-and-1 or a 4th-and-1 inside the Buffalo red zone in a 23-17 final score. Kansas City similarly failed to finish their last drive in a 16-10 game. Credit to the Bills defense, but Buffalo did not have a single convincing win over a good team last season. Really good teams should have at least one convincing win.
- Case in point: The Saints had a convincing win when they defeated the Bills 47-10. The Patriots did with their 37-16 game, but they also beat Buffalo 23-3. The Chargers beat them 54-24. Even the Jets had a 34-21 win over the Bills.
The Bills were 21st in DVOA and I think it’s fair to argue that they got worse over the offseason. Taylor has been replaced by A.J. McCarron and Josh Allen. LeSean McCoy is older than he was a year ago, as people and things are wont to do. Gone from the offensive line are Eric Wood and Richie Incognito. It’s hard to not be underwhelmed by nearly every position group.
Drafting a quarterback to develop was the right move in my opinion — and I don’t buy into the “Josh Allen will never succeed” stuff because I think most of that is people repeating what they hear on Twitter and Facebook without any expertise on the matter — but it may be best to keep Allen away from this offense until they can add more pieces to it in 2019. The weapons do not appear to be there.
The Bills may only be a year away from competing again because of the potential development of Allen, Tremaine Edmunds, Tre’Davious White, Dion Dawkins, and Zay Jones, but I am not surprised that Buffalo seems to be a common pick for those predicting who could be picking first overall next season.
Carolina Panthers (2017 record: 11-5)
I have to throw in one team that you might not expect and that I also don’t expect to be the worst team ... but again, you can’t really predict these things. You can however notice potentially damaging flaws.
Number one: the Panthers’ starting receivers right now are Devin Funchess, Torrey Smith, Curtis Samuel, and rookie D.J. Moore. It could be alright with contributions from Funchess, Samuel, and Moore, but that requires immediate development that we can’t predict. Funchess had a nice run in the middle of last season but can he be a consistent number one? That’s something that Cam Newton needs as one of the NFL’s least accurate passers.
Number two: Can they run the ball? Christian McCaffrey hasn’t proven that he can.
Number three: Is Matt Kalil any good?
Number four: Who do you really like on defense that you also expect to be healthy and not on the downside of their career, besides Kawann Short and Luke Kuechly? And can you expect Kuechly to be healthy? Shaq Thompson, James Bradberry, Vernon Butler have more to prove.
The last time Carolina made the playoffs prior to last season, they went 15-1. The next year, they went 6-10. If they suddenly dropped nine wins again, they’d be 2-14. Not saying it is what I expect, but I might not be as surprised as most people.
Not considering the Seahawks a candidate in this question is not homerism. Look at the quarterback situations of the teams I’ve talked about:
The best is obviously Cam and I’m qualifying the Panthers as a team that I’m intentionally counting as a sleeper. Not expected to be the worst but I could see that outcome. Every other situation is clouded with poor play, inexperience, injuries, or switching teams. Russell Wilson is going into his seventh season with Seattle, all with Pete Carroll, and he’s a top-five quarterback. I am not listing the Patriots, Saints, Chargers, Steelers, or Packers either because they are all in a similar boat. Most of these teams may have had more recent success but also not really; nobody would question the absence of the Chargers or Packers and neither finished with a better record than the Seahawks did.
Seattle could finish with the worst record. Any team could. But it will be a shock if they do.
Which team will have 2018’s worst record?
This poll is closed