32. Tennessee Titans – The Titans may not be picking first overall this offseason, but they certainly were bad enough to deserve a pick that high. With two wins on the season, a Week 1 blowout of Kansas City and a 16-14 victory over the Jags, this is pretty clearly the worst team in the NFL. Before the season I wrote that Jake Locker and Shonn Greene might be the worst starters in the league at their positions, but there was enough talent elsewhere to get them to four or five wins. Well, I was right about part of that.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – They hold the key to their franchise’s future: Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston. This draft is likely quarterback or bust for the Bucs, who have a talented young core with Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, and Mike Evans. The only question is whether they go with the quarterback or the bust.
(Also, if you watched the Rose Bowl, that question has basically been answered. Yes, there is a chance a defensive lineman or some other stud jumps to the top of the NFL Draft. No, Winston is not going to jump Mariota to be the top quarterback taken.)
30. Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jaguars have made some strides toward becoming a decent NFL team. They have put a number of weapons on the field on offense, most of them really young and with upside. They also have a pretty ferocious pass rush that Gus Bradley is getting the most out of. Still, what could haunt them is that they took a quarterback at #3 overall, and he isn’t one of the two best rookie quarterbacks.
29. Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons got blown out by a pretty terrible Panthers team. Matt Ryan was tremendously bad in a big game. This team is supposedly wrecked by the Julio Jones trade, but for the last two years, Jones has been the only above average NFL starter they have put on the field. Stan was generous to put them as high as he did, with six wins and a 5-1 divisional record, only beating a Carson Palmer-less Cardinals team out of their division.
28. Cleveland Browns – A great start to the season for Brian Hoyer and the Browns, and a horrific end of the year. Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert are looking like a pair of players who don’t belong in the NFL mentally or physically, and the lone bright spot from their 2013 campaign has disappeared into thin air.
27. Chicago Bears – Jay Cutler was bad, but the defense was just a disaster. This team has a lot of problems, and they don’t have a quarterback that can mask those problems. Still, the grass is always greener, and Cutler has put together a few good seasons for winning teams.
26. New Orleans Saints – Easily the most disappointing of any team in the league. We both ranked them third preseason. Everyone though the defense would improve. I thought even if the defense got worse, the offense was going to be unstoppable. I was incorrect in my assessment.
25. Washington Redskins – Racist nickname and a black quarterback were a bad mix. Jay Gruden wasted a season trying to convince us that Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy were better options than Robert Griffin III. He is lucky he still has a job. I hope RGIII stays healthy, because the world doesn’t deserve to have to watch Cousins throw the ball.
24. Oakland Raiders – This was a tough as nails 3-13 team, with three very quality wins over teams that barely missed the playoffs. David Carr showed some strides during his rookie season, and the defense has a few standout players. Can the general manager find a new coach and actually build on one of the more positive three win seasons in NFL history?
23. New York Jets – Rex Ryan did a good job coaching the Jets the past six seasons. He had his problems. He could never fix that offense, and he was loyal to his players to a fault. These are correctable mistakes, and if I ran the Falcons or Raiders, I would have hired him already.
22. St. Louis Rams – This is a team that needed a quarterback this year. They didn’t have one. In one of the best coaching jobs of Jeff Fisher’s career, he managed six wins out of this team. I feel like they underachieved.
21. New York Giants – This was a bad season for the Giants, even if it was better than Giants’ fans like Stan should have expected. They can hold their heads high thinking Odell Beckham Jr. was the lone bright spot, but they got a secretly great year out of Eli Manning. Manning played like one of the 12 best quarterbacks for the first time in a long time, possibly for the first time in his career. If they get that back next year, they will be in good shape.
(Side note, everyone seems to now think Beckham is going to win Offensive Rookie of the Year unanimously. Yes, he very well might. He pretty clearly passed Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans. Teddy Bridgewater was great, but not really on that level.
Still, I am not convinced that Zack Martin shouldn’t win it. The guy made the damn All-Pro team, and deserves every accolade that comes his way. Nothing against Beckham, who did in 12 games what no other rookie receiver besides Randy Moss could do in 16. Still, this should be a split vote if everyone paid attention to offensive line play like it was actually an important position.)
20. Miami Dolphins – This team underachieved tremendously. Joe Philbin may be a bad coach. I don’t know, but I bet that he is. Still, they have a pretty good quarterback. Ryan Tannehill is already playing at a level where you can see him on a winning team in the playoffs, a couple more improvements and he might be a lead you to a few playoff wins himself.
19. Philadelphia Eagles – The sad thing about this season is that everyone is going to pile on Mark Sanchez, and the Eagles will go into next season thinking Nick Foles is the guy. Foles would have folded down the stretch the same way Sanchez did. The Eagles have a quarterback problem.
They also scored a lot of points when their offense was not on the field. That makes their total numbers look good in terms of scoring, where in reality they probably overachieved in terms of scoring. This team had quite a few games, with both Foles and Sanchez, when their offense never seemed to even have a chance to score.
18. San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers played almost the whole season without their three best defensive players, who also happen to be three of the six best linebackers in the NFL. The shadow of Jim Harbaugh haunted them all year, but the real story is that Colin Kaepernick had another dismal regular season, and didn’t get a chance to make up for it in the playoffs like he did the last two years.
17. Buffalo Bills – Doug Marrone opting out is a little crazy, but it doesn’t change the fact that this defense was outrageously good in 2014. The filthy defense needs a quarterback who can move the ball to match it, but really they need EJ Manuel to take a giant leap forward he may not be capable of making.
16. San Diego Chargers – This Chargers team blew some games, but not really if you think about it. Everyone knows the defense stinks, but the offensive line is among the league’s worst. The running backs are as bad as any outside the AFC South, and the receivers, even with Keenan Allen healthy, are mediocre at best. Philip Rivers worked miracles again this year, but they need a lot more in a few spots.
15. Minnesota Vikings – Teddy Bridgewater will be the difference between this team competing or staying in the basement. I always look at the line for a good quarterback as right between Andy Dalton and Alex Smith. Teddy needs to land comfortably on the Smith side of that chart.
14. Kansas City Chiefs – Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery are terrible football players. The Chiefs defense held up, Jamaal Charles is amazing, and Alex Smith is a good quarterback. Offensive line and receivers are needed desperately.
13. Houston Texans – I don’t know if J.J. Watt is the MVP, but I know that he deserves to be right there at the top of the candidates list. Of course, if we are finally able to admit a defensive lineman can be the MVP, we need to start paying respect to offensive linemen as well.
Still, I think if the Texans snuck into the playoffs at 9-7, Watt might have been a lock to take home the hardware.
12. Arizona Cardinals – Ryan Lindley is going to murder this team’s chances at a playoff victory.
It is sad, really. Carson Palmer has been the butt of many jokes in recent years, but he lost a decent shot at winning some playoff games, if not contending for a Super Bowl. It was probably his last shot to win a playoff game.
I make fun of him all the time, but please don’t forget how good Palmer was when he was in his early 20s. Don’t forget he was a legitimate MVP candidate and the Bengals were a top notch Super Bowl contender when he blew out his knee early in that playoff game against the Steelers. Palmer deserves to be remembered for that iteration of him.
11. Cincinnati Bengals – So far Stan and I have the same two teams penciled in as the worst playoff teams. No coincidence that they have the worst quarterbacks among the twelve contenders.
Sadly, for the Bengals, Andy Dalton can only find company with Ryan Lindley in terms of his playoff companions.
I know, I know. Dalton takes a beating. Yes he does. But is he a top 20 quarterback.
Okay, I know you said yes, easily. Now count. Is he?
10. Carolina Panthers – At 7-8-1, can’t really justify putting them higher than this.
Stan, I understand leaving them at 19. I know the Dolphins and Chargers and Bills and 49ers and Vikings and Texans and Chiefs would be better and more interesting playoff teams.
I know that they have basically zero shot of making it out of the NFC, let alone winning the Super Bowl, and that is assuming they basically have a first round bye.
It is a weird situation.
Still, they have been playing well as of late, and they are about to win a playoff game. Also, at least they didn’t back into the playoffs like the Saints and Falcons tried to. They had to win and win and win down the stretch to get in. That winning will continue one more week.
9. Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens are the worst of the nine playoff teams I could actually envision getting hot and making some playoff noise. Flacco has done this before.
I wish the secondary was a little better, and I wish the offense didn’t crumble in the last few weeks.
At midseason, however, I thought this was the bad team that could get hot and make a run. My enthusiasm is tempered now, but not completely gone.
8. Detroit Lions – The defense is nice, but the offense is rough. It is unfortunate that the Cowboys and Lions have to play in round one, while either the Panthers or Cardinals will be traveling for the divisional round.
Good thing the game will be played inside in Dallas, wouldn’t want Ndamukong Suh’s feet getting numb against an awesome Cowboys’ offensive line.
7. Indianapolis Colts – This team goes as far as Andrew Luck takes them. Probably not too far, but I have to think they beat the Bengals.
Seeing them beat the Patriots, however, is hard to envision given their recent history of getting mutilated by them.
6. Denver Broncos – The Broncos seem less and less like the Super Bowl contender from midseason with each passing week.
I don’t want to count out Peyton Manning, especially with that dynamic offense to work with, but I am kind of giving up on this team’s chances, especially if they have to go into New England.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers – Losing LeVeon Bell is just a killer blow to a team that had some real sneaky Super Bowl potential and a Hall of Fame quarterback.
Hopefully they can beat the Ravens anyway and get Bell back quickly for the divisional round.
4. Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys will have a murderous row to a championship, likely having to beat the Lions, Packers, and Seahawks in a row, before taking on the AFC Champion in the Super Bowl. The defense is as terrible as everyone thought it would be, even if four MVP candidates on the offense were able to mask that.
3. Green Bay Packers – The Packers didn’t exactly end the season on a hot streak, but I wouldn’t want to cover Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in a playoff game. If they make it to the NFC Championship and have to travel to Seattle, I assure you they will force Richard Sherman to make plays on their receivers.
2. New England Patriots – The Patriots seem to have an easy route to the Super Bowl, but don’t be surprised if the Steelers can give them a run for their money. Technically, anyone in the AFC can get hot. Once again, two really bad Giants teams and a bad Ravens team won it all since 2007. Still, the Patriots have to be heavy favorites right now.
1. Seattle Seahawks – You come at the king, you best not miss.