Putting a bow on a memorable (and record-breaking) NFL regular season
The most exciting part of the NFL season is still ahead of us, with 11 playoff games on the schedule, starting this weekend.
But the 2018 regular season is in the books. Records and stats have been finalized. Coaches have been fired. And 20 of the 32 teams can hit the golf course now and start getting ready for the NFL Draft.
For our final Week in Review of the season, let’s take a look back at Week 17 and wrap up the 2018 regular season with a nice little bow:
■ First things first: At least eight teams are now looking for a head coach. The Packers and Browns got a head start on the process, firing Mike McCarthy and Hue Jackson during the season. Black Monday (or Sunday) claimed six more jobs: Arizona’s Steve Wilks, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, Denver’s Vance Joseph, Miami’s Adam Gase, the New York Jets’ Todd Bowles, and Tampa Bay’s Dirk Koetter.
The biggest surprise is Lewis, not because he had a great record with the Bengals, but because it seemed as if he had a lifelong appointment, surviving 16 years in Cincinnati despite several poor seasons. Lewis made the postseason seven times yet never won a playoff game. But a 6-10 record this year — the Bengals’ third straight season missing the playoffs — apparently was the final straw.
■ The Jaguars announced they are keeping Doug Marrone, Mike Zimmer still has the confidence of Vikings ownership, and the Panthers will be keeping Ron Rivera. The one situation to watch is in Washington, where Jay Gruden could be in trouble with famously fickle owner Dan Snyder.
■ The general managers have fared better than the coaches. The Raiders so far have had the only true vacancy after firing Reggie McKenzie, and reportedly are set to hire Mike Mayock, the NFL Network’s draft guru. The Bengals also may be looking for a GM now that Lewis is gone, but it is unclear whether they will give total control to their next head coach.
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is retiring, but assistant GM (and Taunton native) Eric DeCosta is getting the promotion. The Dolphins reassigned Mike Tannenbaum from his position as head of football operations, but promoted GM Chris Grier (a Holliston native) to run the entire football side, reporting to owner Stephen Ross.
John Elway is safe in Denver, Mike Maccagnan survived the Jets’ purge, Dave Caldwell survived in Jacksonville, Steve Keim is still in charge in Arizona, Bruce Allen is still the boss in Washington, Carolina is keeping interim GM Marty Hurney for now, and Jason Licht is still the GM in Tampa Bay. But don’t be surprised if there is more movement on the GM front after April’s draft.
■ Speaking of which, the top 20 picks have been set for the draft. Here is the order of the top 10:
1. Arizona, 2. San Francisco, 3. NY Jets, 4. Oakland, 5. Tampa Bay, 6. NY Giants, 7. Jacksonville, 8. Detroit, 9. Buffalo, 10. Denver.
The top three teams all have young quarterbacks, meaning there could be a ton of trading before the draft. The Raiders, Buccaneers, Giants, Jaguars, and Broncos all could be in the quarterback market, as should be three teams picking outside the top 10: Cincinnati (11), Miami (13), and Washington (15).
And the Cardinals getting the No. 1 pick makes their coaching vacancy pretty attractive. They have a promising young quarterback in Josh Rosen, a solid enough defense, and now the No. 1 pick, which they can use on an elite player or trade down and collect a bevy of picks.
■ Of the 12 teams to reach the postseason, seven missed the playoffs last year: the Bears, Cowboys, Seahawks, Texans, Chargers, Ravens, and Colts.
The most unlikely playoff teams both came from the AFC South. The Colts became just the third team in NFL history to start 1-5 and make the playoffs (1970 Bengals, 2015 Chiefs). Most impressively, the Colts fixed their offensive line issues. They allowed the most sacks in the NFL last year (56), and allowed the fewest this year (18).
And the Texans not only went from worst to first (as did the Bears), they became just the sixth team to make the postseason after starting 0-3.
■ On the flip side are the Steelers, who became just the third team to start 7-2-1 or better and miss the playoffs (1995 Raiders, 1993 Dolphins). The Steelers are sitting out the postseason for the first time since 2013, but Mike Tomlin’s job doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy.
■ The Steelers’ Week 1 tie against the Browns cost them a playoff spot. But the Colts’ refusal to play for a tie in a Week 4 loss to the Texans cost them a division title. Had the Colts tied that game instead of handing the Texans a win, the Colts would have won the AFC South and had a home playoff game as the No. 3 seed. Instead, they finish No. 6 and have a much tougher playoff road.
■ The Vikings join the Steelers as the NFL’s biggest disappointments this year. They reached last year’s NFC Championship game and spent $84 million guaranteed on quarterback Kirk Cousins, yet finished 8-7-1 and out of the playoffs. With Sunday’s loss to the Bears, Cousins is now 4-25 against teams with a winning record.
■ The Bears, meanwhile, may regret beating the Vikings. Had the Vikings won, the Bears would have faced them again this weekend in a wild-card game at Soldier Field. Instead, the Vikings’ loss put the Eagles in the playoffs against the Bears. Nick Foles is dealing with bruised ribs, but the Eagles have won five of their last six games and won’t be an easy out in the playoffs.
■ The Packers went out with a whimper, losing, 31-0, to the Lions for their third-worst home shutout loss since 1940. The Packers finished 6-9-1 to miss the playoffs for the second straight season, and Aaron Rodgers threw just 25 touchdown passes, his fewest in a season when he played at least 10 games.
■ Teddy Bridgewater got his first start since suffering a severe knee injury in August of 2016, but his performance was a bit underwhelming. Bridgewater completed 14 of 22 passes for 118 yards, a touchdown, and an interception for the Saints in their 33-14 loss to the Panthers.
The Saints weren’t using all of their usual personnel, as they had already clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but Bridgewater had hoped for a better performance. He will be a free agent after this season and is hoping to find a starting job, or at least a place to compete for one.
■ Rams WR Brandin Cooks: Finished the season with 80 catches for 1,204 yards (career high) and five touchdowns after scoring twice Sunday. He had 65 catches for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago for the Patriots. Cooks was decent in New England, but credit the Rams for finding better ways to use him.
■ Dolphins WR Danny Amendola: Was a solid veteran leader for the Dolphins, but couldn’t provide much punch on offense, finishing with 59 catches for 575 yards and one touchdown. His best stat was appearing in 15 games and remaining healthy for most of the season.
Amendola would have been a better fit with the Patriots this year, and they should have found a way to at least come close to the $6 million the Dolphins paid him.
■ Titans CB Malcolm Butler: Opposing quarterbacks compiled a 95.0 passer rating when targeting Butler: 48 completions on 80 attempts for 644 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. The six touchdowns tied for the third-most among all NFL defenders, and Butler was demoted to the No. 3 cornerback role until Logan Ryan broke his leg two weeks ago.
Butler’s 2019 salary is fully guaranteed so he almost certainly will be back in Tennessee, but the Titans may have some buyer’s remorse on this deal.
■ Titans RB Dion Lewis: Finished with 517 rushing yards, 400 receiving yards, and two total touchdowns. Lewis averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, sixth-lowest among all qualifying running backs, and he fell behind Derrick Henry on the depth chart in the final games of the season.
In Sunday night’s pseudo-playoff game, a 33-17 loss that eliminated the Titans from the postseason, Lewis didn’t get a carry and had just three catches for 23 yards.
The Titans paid him $6 million this year, but with a $4.3 nonguaranteed million salary for next year, Lewis might not be back.
■ Giants LT Nate Solder: Signed a four-year, $62 million contract with $35 million fully guaranteed over two years to fix New York’s offensive line, but the Giants still struggled. They allowed 47 sacks, tied for 10th-most in the NFL, while Solder allowed a team-high eight, the second-most of his career. Solder’s performance was better than the stats suggest, but his addition didn’t solve the Giants’ issues.
Stats and nuggets
■ The season was all about offense. The leaguewide passer rating of 92.9 is the highest of all time (previous record: 90.2 in 2015). The 64.9 completion percentage is the highest of all time (63.0 in 2016). The 5.36 touchdowns per game are the most since the 1970 merger. And the 46.7 points per game rank just below 2013 (46.8), which had 98 more extra points converted (the PAT was moved back in 2015).
■ Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes threw two more touchdown passes in a 35-3 win over the Raiders, and wrapped up a historic first season as a starting quarterback, finishing with 50 touchdown passes and 5,097 yards. Mahomes joins Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as the only players to throw 50 in a season, and joined Manning as the only players to achieve 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards.
■ Other records that were set this season: Drew Brees’s 74.4 completion percentage surpassed his own record (72.0 last year). The Giants’ Saquon Barkley (2,028 total yards) joined Edgerrin James and Eric Dickerson as the only rookies in NFL history with 2,000 total yards. Browns QB Baker Mayfield’s 27 touchdown passes broke Manning’s rookie record by one. And not one, but two players broke Rob Gronkowski’s record of 1,327 receiving yards by a tight end: San Francisco’s George Kittle (1,377) and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce (1,336).
■ After Week 16, the Patriots ranked No. 8 in the NFL in scoring offense, on pace to finish outside the top five for the first time since 2009. But after scoring 38 points against the Jets, they finished No. 4 in scoring (27.3 points per game).
■ Patriots CB Jason McCourty surpassed the 80 percent snap threshold by a hair (80.04 percent) to earn all $1 million in incentives. But a few teammates may need to do some convincing: Julian Edelman finished one touchdown shy of a $500,000 incentive, Lawrence Guy (49.7 percent of snaps) had a $400,000 incentive for reaching 50 percent, and James White fell 24 yards short of a $250,000 bonus.