Who will win the battle for the top overall pick in 2019? The answer to that will likely be determined by a combination of (bad) luck, injuries, some flaws in roster construction, and maybe some players expected to perform who fall apart or don’t live up to expectations.
Looking back over the last twenty years of history to see who ended up with the worst record, some patterns emerge. Not all of them should surprise. Teams that are the best from the year before don’t typically fall all the way to the bottom of the league. A fair number of them were bad the season before, though because of draft positioning, free agency, and regression, they true dregs aren’t really that much more likely than the merely meh from the previous season.
The average “worst team” had a record of 6-10 the season before. They tended to be worse offensively than defensively, with an average of 302 points scored the season before (so less than 20 a game) while allowing 368 points. They tended to have quarterback turnover, either by having a new rookie starter or by having a new veteran–usually over 30 years old–take over. Tampa Bay adding Josh McCown, Miami going out and getting an aging Trent Green, and the Raiders turning things over to Aaron Brooks are recent examples of that. For teams that didn’t replace the starting QB, they fell into two groups, mediocre veterans in decline as they enter their early 30’s, and teams with busts at QB entering years 2-3.
Let’s get to this year’s candidates:
#1 Buffalo Bills. The Buffalo Bills finally broke their playoff drought and reached the postseason for the first time this century. But this year feels like a rebuild and makeover on offense, and there are bound to be growing pains. Over the last 20 years, the team that finished with the worst overall record averaged 302 points scored and 368 points allowed the year before. Well, Buffalo is right on those marks last season, so it’s not unreasonable that they would fall to the bottom of the league.
#2 Arizona Cardinals. Many of the same ingredients as Buffalo are present in Arizona, and they also have what looks like a tougher schedule playing in the NFC in general and NFC West directly. The team will try to replace Carson Palmer with some combination of veteran Sam Bradford and rookie Josh Rosen, and the Cardinals weren’t a great offense a year ago.
#3 Cleveland Browns
Look, the Browns should be better, and the offensive skill positions and quarterback spot have been upgraded. But this is a team that has gone 1-31 over the last few years, and Hue Jackson is still the coach. They are gonna lose close games when Gregg Williams calls an all-out blitz to give up a late TD, and when Jackson blows leads with coaching decisions. If things go south, this could be another dysfunctional year. I’m buying stock in Cleveland 2019 but my faith in this year is lessened.