NFL Fatal Flaws 2019: Tom Brady and Drew Brees' age, Carson Wentz's health and every team's possible pitfall
Breaking down the biggest possible problem for every single NFL team
For the second year in a row, I've been tasked with the lengthy and delightful process of finding a fatal flaw for every single NFL team. This frigging story is like 4,000 words, so I'm not going to spend a ton of time explaining what's going on here. Here's the gist: we're looking at every single team and imagining exactly what might take them down.
This is an Achilles heel in some cases, but it's also a Spidey Sense concern in others. It doesn't have to be something concrete. It can be bad mojo or expectations or anything under the sun. Some teams have several fatal flaws, but I tired to pick the strongest one in these cases.
We'll explain in more detail at some point on the Pick Six Podcast, which you should be listening to anyway. Check out myself and Pete Prisco talking about breakout players for 2019 and why playing in the NFC North might be a fatal flaw for several teams below while you read the story.
On to the flaws!
New York Giants
Fatal Flaw: Quarterback
For all the anger about the Odell Beckham trade, it's still possible the Giants have a decent offense this year. I think they upgraded their offensive line enough for it not to be the fatal flaw it was last year (good call, me!). Saquon Barkley is awesome. Golden Tate/Sterling Shepard/Evan Engram is a nice receiving trio. I have a lot of questions about the defense too, but if there's one situation that could derail this team and get everyone fired, it's the quarterback depth chart. Eli Manning has looked like he's nearing/at/past the end of the line lately and Daniel Jones is a rookie people are eagerly waiting to see fail. If neither one can contribute above-average play this season, it's hard to imagine this team coming remotely close to contention.
Fatal Flaw: Coaching
This is a pretty talented team. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott don't seem riled up about looking for new deals. The offensive line, if healthy, is a top-tier unit. I'm not worried about the pass catchers the way I was last year. And defensively there's more than enough juice here. What concerns me is the coaching staff. We're talking about Jason Garrett, who has consistently been willing to settle for conservative calls late in games, and it feels like it's going to bite him. And Kellen Moore, the former Boise State standout, is a first-time OC replacing Scott Linehan. Not doubting his chops, but it's his first time calling plays, which is a question mark.
Fatal Flaw: Pass catchers
Loved the Redskins last year coming into the season, but can't be quite as excited this season. Quarterback would be an easy choice here, but there are enough options for Jay Gruden to fashion something out of Dwayne Haskins, Case Keenum and Colt McCoy. I'm much more worried about the guys catching balls from that trio: the perennially injured Jordan Reed is the top option, followed by the combo of Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson and then a pair of rookies in Kelvin Harmon and Terry McLaurin. I actually like most of those guys individually, but it's hard to project a big-time breakout from anyone in 2019. This offense needs the line to stay healthy and the run game to work well.
Fatal Flaw: Carson Wentz's body
The Eagles are even more talented than they were heading into their title defense season last year. But this time around, there's no Nick Foles as a parachute option to replace Carson Wentz if something happens to the fourth-year starter. Wentz is in the middle of contract negotiations; except only playing 24 games the last two years leaves a lot of questions about his health, especially with last year's back injury lingering in the wake of an ACL injury that cut his would-be MVP season of 2017 short. If Wentz plays 16 games, this is a Super Bowl contender. If not, we'll find out what Doug Pederson can do with Nate Sudfeld.
Fatal Flaw: Cam Newton's shoulder
The Panthers did a nice job of using free agency and the draft to take care of their needs (edge rush, pass protection). This might be one of the better offensive lines Cam Newton has played behind. The problem is we just don't know how Newton is going to look coming back from a second surgery on his shoulder in the last three years. No one is worrying about this, for whatever reason. But Newton fell apart down the stretch last year and the Panthers offense melted down. There are jobs hinging on Cam's health and there is a question about what to do with his contract and his situation in Carolina for the long haul. This is a pivotal season in Charlotte and it might hinge on Cam's right shoulder.
Fatal Flaw: Defensive depth
One of the surprising things from this draft was the Falcons a) not having a pick on the second day of the draft and b) not using a Day 1 or Day 2 pick on a defensive player. The right side of the offensive line is now much better, albeit very young. But the undoing of the Falcons in 2018 was a host of injuries on defense, specifically with guys like Deion Jones and Keanu Neal. And now that same flaw is glaring: if the Falcons are dealt a bunch of injuries on defense, there is not a lot of depth for them to overcome. There's star power with guys like Grady Jarrett, Takkarist McKinley, Jones, Neal and Desmond Trufant -- just to name a few -- and I can see the defense taking a leap forward ... if everyone stays healthy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Fatal Flaw: Run game
I'm confident Bruce Arians can get the most out of Jameis Winston this season. They're a perfect match for skillset and style. No risk it, no biscuit, etc. If I'm Tampa, though, the balance of the offense is a major concern. Winston has Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard, but what's the answer at running back? Ronald Jones, Peyton Barber and Bruce Anderson are not the trio you're looking for. Running backs are fungible but Arians thrived in Arizona by moving around David Johnson and maximizing his skillset to help open up shots down the field. Feel free to closely examine the defensive line depending on how Jason Pierre-Paul and Gerald McCoy end up with their individual situations. Lose those two guys and the defensive line is a major issue.
New Orleans Saints
Fatal Flaw: Drew Brees' age
The Saints should have been in the Super Bowl last year. They got robbed. But an overtime Drew Brees interception certainly didn't help their cause. And I think it's fair to wonder how Brees -- who's 40 -- will play in 2019 after struggling a bit to stretch the field in 2018. Like any older quarterback, he's not operating in his prime. No one is questioning his credentials here. But Brees makes this offense go. He's a brilliant mind and a great athlete. There aren't tons of weapons in the passing game outside of Michael Thomas, though, and Mark Ingram is no mas in New Orleans. Alvin Kamara is one of the best weapons in the NFL but forcing him to be the entire focal point of the run game might be a concern. Brees aging rapidly would create that problem.
Fatal Flaw: The division
Talked with Pete Prisco about this team on the latest edition of the Pick Six Podcast, and there's actually a lot to like about the Lions in 2019. They have a couple of guys on his breakout players list, including running back Kerryon Johnson, who could thrive in a run game that now features T.J. Hockeson and Jesse James. Matthew Stafford won't be asked to throw 900 times this year, but he can certainly develop into a more efficient quarterback. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are a nice one-two punch. Defensively there's more to like than meets the eye. The front four features D'Shawn Hand, Damon Harrison and Trey Flowers as key pieces. Jarrad Davis should continue developing at linebacker. It's easy to see the Patriots blueprint here. Unfortunately there's the Packers, Vikings and Bears to deal with. Drop this team in the AFC South and we're talking about a sleeper to win the division.
Green Bay Packers
Fatal Flaw: The new offense
Credit Green Bay for doing an excellent job of building up the defense this offseason. That could be a scary unit. Offensively it's hard to get too worked up against any unit featuring Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. But I definitely have questions as to how Rodgers will fit in the new system, which is going to feature lots of bunches and tons of motion, things that he's apparently been less than fond of in years past. I want to be optimistic and say Rodgers will want to spite Mike McCarthy and ball out, plus be so challenged by the new system (a la Big Ben/Rivers in years past) that he is more focused and energized and we get peak level Rodgers. But there's a dark timeline where the offense sputters and there is ugly buzz by Week 4. It merits watching.
Fatal Flaw: The quarterback
This is not me questioning Mitchell Trubisky, a quarterback I believe will be good. But it is me pointing out that if Trubisky can't elevate his game, which is entirely possible, the Bears may very well find themselves in a serious state of regression. 2018 was a remarkable season for Matt Nagy and Co. Unfortunately, there's a very good chance they cannot replicate the defensive success from last year because defensive success is hard to replicate. Additionally, the Bears were very healthy last season and may not be quite so fortunate this year. As such, it will require the offense stepping up and producing in a big way to help the Bears succeed again in 2019. If Trubisky can take a step forward, that won't be a problem. If he can't, there will be lots of questions next offseason.
Fatal Flaw: Offensive line
You could go with "offensive scheme" instead here if you wanted, I suppose, but it's hard not to look at the offensive line once again. It's an improved unit after selecting Garrett Bradbury in the draft -- the NC State product is a perfect fit for Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme. Dalvin Cook is a great fit as well. It moves Pat Elflein to guard, where he's better and more comfortable. But the offensive line still isn't GOOD. If that unit fails the Vikings again this season, it could create major problems at many levels for this club.
Fatal Flaw: Kliff Kingsbury
It's hard to find a truly fatal flaw for this team, because no one expects them to be good. You could go with the offensive line for sure; it was one of the worst units in football last year and while it's improved it's not some outstanding group yet. I would be fine if you said "pressure" generally because of what the selection of Kyler Murray does to this team. Instead I'll take the coach -- Kliff Kingsbury is by all accounts very smart and very good at what he does scheming up offenses. But he's also a first-year NFL head coach going against the best of the best when it comes to defensive coordinators. If for some reason he can't manage to translate his abilities to the NFL level, this could get very ugly very quickly.
Fatal Flaw: Pass catchers
The Seahawks fixed the offensive line last offseason and look like they have a defense that should continue to be excellent, with no real drop off from the Legion of Boom's later years somehow. They paid Russell Wilson. But who is he throwing to? Doug Baldwin was released so he could retire as a free agent and keep some cash from Seattle. Their top receiver is Tyler Lockett, an incredibly efficient deep threat who might be poised for a monster season. But after that it's a little thin: David Moore and Jaron Brown are the veterans at the top, while D.K. Metcalf is the rookie second-round pick who might end up being a steal if he can outwork Pete Carroll in the weight room. Nick Vannett is a tight end sleeper, but there's just no one who is going to completely overpower a defense, unless Metcalf is a total home run out of the box. It's possible Seattle just wants to run and then go bombs away on play-action shots down the field, but if they need to get in a shootout, and they will, it's going to be a little bit tougher to thrive in the pass game.
San Francisco 49ers
Fatal Flaw: Jimmy Garoppolo
Last year at this time the over/under for the 49ers was NINE GAMES. They would finish with the second-overall PICK, so that number didn't work out very well (it closed at 7.5 before the season began). Everyone wants to give the 49ers a pass because they lost Jimmy G early in the season to an ACL tear. Which brings us to our point: is Jimmy G going to be good? We don't know. Can he stay healthy over a full 16-game season? We also don't know. There was, as my esteemed colleague Pete Prisco likes to say, a rush to anoint Garoppolo as the next great thing. He was good but not elite in the early going last year. Let's see if he can live up to the hype and stay healthy this year. If not, things could get dicey.
Los Angeles Rams
Fatal Flaw: Offensive line
Going into the playoffs there was some school of thought that the Rams offensive line was their weakness. This is not that. However, this is me pointing out the Rams offensive line has seen some turnover in the last year and now may be at a crossroads. John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold are gone. Andrew Whitworth was talked into coming back for one more year. It's still a good group, but it's an older set of guys and there will be some speed bumps with Jared Goff and a new core after a couple years of consistency. I fully trust Sean McVay to overcome it, but if the line fell apart, it might spell doom for the defending NFC champs.
Fatal Flaw: Offensive Line
There's a reasonable chance the offensive line ends up being a STRENGTH for the Bills. But right now it's the biggest concern with this team. I'm not going to bury Josh Allen, who did exactly what we thought he would do -- make some eye-popping plays and some horrific throws -- while adding a lot more athleticism than we thought and doing it with a terrible set of skill position guys around him. Buffalo has some sneaky wideout options and added a lot of offensive linemen in both free agency (Mitch Morse, Quinton Span) as well as the draft (Cody Ford). If the group coalescences this team could be dangerous. If it falls apart, it could be dangerous for Allen.
Fatal Flaw: The Fish Tank
This is not one of the best rosters in the league. No one is going to tell you that. Adding Christian Wilkins and Josh Rosen over draft weekend (the latter via trade obviously) are big plusses. I like what Miami is building. I don't think it would be the most surprising thing in the world if they were decent/good (7-9 or 8-8), but it might be the worst thing. This is a Miami team that needs to spend some time outside the perpetual float of mediocrity in order to find itself on the top half of the league when the AFC East begins to reset itself. If the Fish Tank doesn't work out for Miami and they're in the middle again, that would be the worst thing to come out of 2019.
New York Jets
Fatal Flaw: Offensive Line
The Jets upgraded in a lot of spots this offseason, adding tons of weapons (Jamison Crowder, Le'Veon Bell) and picking up some defensive pieces (C.J. Mosley, Quinnen Williams). I think they upgraded the offense by virtue of adding Adam Gase as well. There are many reasons to think they'll be good and challenge for a wild card spot. But it's also OK to wonder how they'll protect Sam Darnold in the quarterback's second season. Gase's scheme should mitigate some of the pressure concerns, but if teams can blindly rush the Jets' young quarterback, it will make it much more difficult to present themselves as the would-be challenger to the Patriots in this division.
New England Patriots
Fatal Flaw: Father Time
Finding a flaw feels stupid because they overcome everything every year. I think Bill Belichick's figured out the modern secret sauce for defense (invest in the defensive backfield, give up tons of yards, just be smart and disciplined in the red zone) which is no shocker. The defense won't look like a top-five unit out of the gate but it'll be one of the best scoring teams in the league and they'll produce occasional lockdown performances. I'd accept pass catcher here too, because Rob Gronkowski retired and now it's Julian Edelman and ... Braxton Berrios? JK -- they added N'Keal Harry, Demaryius Thomas, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Dontrelle Inman, plus have Philip Dorsett left over as well. Jakobi Meyers is a sneaky slot option too. They're just not a dominant group. Instead I'll roll with the guy who's lying in the corner, bloody, being tended to by a trainer while Tom Brady, unscathed, munches on a mid-round avocado: Father Time. He's got to show up at some point, right?
Fatal Flaw: Expectations
What a turnaround Chris Ballard has done with this roster. It's incredible to think how thin they were at so many spots when the GM got there and how much talent they have across the board. I'd buy into this defense being GOOD somehow. Didn't think I would say that a few years ago. The offensive line is loaded, Andrew Luck is great again and they have weapons in the passing game. Frank Reich is an excellent coach. Something stinks about the Colts having a 9.5 win total though. That's a lot, man, and if somehow the offense that we saw in the playoffs in the cold against Kansas City shows up at all this year, it would be a major, major problem. We're just assuming the Colts will be great. That's not usually good for an NFL team.
Fatal Flaw: Offensive line
Exact same flaw as last season and ultimately the thing that undid the Texans last year. More concerning isn't even the line itself, which was improved through the addition of draft picks Tytus Howard and Max Scharping. My concern is with Deshaun Watson, who was forced into riding a bus to Jacksonville at one point last year because his internal organs were too banged up to fly on an airplane thanks to being hit so frequently. If the Texans end up allowing that to happen again, Watson could miss serious time (a la his rookie season when he tore his ACL) and the team would go in the tank (a la that same season). The offensive line is an obvious answer here until it's fixed.
Fatal Flaw: Quarterback
Tennessee actually did pretty well without Marcus Mariota at times, but it was obvious how much someone like Blaine Gabbert limited them. Which is why they got Ryan Tannehill! Unfortunately they now have two quarterbacks with major questions -- is either actually a franchise QB? Mariota and Tannehill are similar athletes and both former top-10 picks. One (Tannehill) got paid and one (Mariota) might get paid with a big year? The Titans have a nice offensive line, a good group of running backs and some high picks at the skill positions (Corey Davis, A.J. Brown -- I'm not willing to bury this group just quite yet). If the quarterback play is above average this could be a sneaky great team.
Fatal Flaw: Linebacker
I would be willing to hear either Nick Foles (he's an upgrade over Blake Bortles though) or Leonard Fournette (if he busts this year, what does the offense look like, especially with Alfred Blue behind him) but I think the loss of Telvin Smith might sneakily be the biggest story of the year in this division. Smith is stepping away from football -- not retiring, mind you, but stepping away -- in his prime after five straight seasons of 100+ tackles. He's been a machine for Jacksonville since being drafted out of Florida State in the fifth round. Myles Jack is a stud and Josh Allen is a nice pass rushing addition, but there are second-level concerns with the Jaguars now. I think the defense is due for a bounce back, but I would be concerned about their ability to stop the run as well without Smith.
Fatal Flaw: Hype, Offensive Line
I named Hue Jackson the flaw last year. Man was I spot on. This year it's the opposite: expectations are too high. People in Cleveland will be ANGRY with an 8-8 or 7-9 season, even though, in theory, that is a decent step forward for a team with eight wins the last three years combined. I am not asking Browns fans to expect less than greatness. They shouldn't with Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham and the talent John Dorsey has put in place there. But the hype has gotten a little too loud for my liking; they're 14-1 to win the Super Bowl? Come on. Freddie Kitchen is awesome but he's a first-year head coach. It's a new job and it's hard. The offensive line features Greg Robinson at left tackle. It's not a sure-fire, top-end unit right now. If the run game struggles and Baker doesn't have protection, the Browns could get out to a 1-2 or worse start and people would start freaking.
Fatal Flaw: Tight end
Oddly enough, it's kind of hard to find a serious FLAW here. They have talent on defense, although I would be concerned about the youth at linebacker. They have some stars (Geno Atkins, Williams Jackson) elsewhere. Offensively the Bengals improved the offensive line substantially over the last two years. Joe Mixon is a stud. A.J. Green is older but still a superstar. Tyler Boyd emerged last year. Andy Dalton isn't a top 10 quarterback, but he's not a bottom 10 quarterback either. I would accept "coaching" just because we don't know what Zac Taylor is yet. But I'll lean tight end because we saw Dalton play his best football when Tyler Eifert was healthy. The problem is Eifert is their top option again this year and he's just never healthy. If he somehow plays a full season, the Bengals could be a surprise team.
Fatal Flaw: Passing game
People in Baltimore are mad at me for going on 105.7 the Fan locally and saying I have concerns about Lamar Jackson in 2019. Sorry, I do. They can't use that run-heavy offense over 16 games this year and expect it to work and Jackson to stay healthy. That won't happen. And in the pass game, they have a largely inaccurate quarterback who used his legs to win last year plus two rookie wideouts (Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin) who are extremely talented but also rookies. If Greg Roman can work his magic on this offense, maybe it surprises me, but right now I don't see how this is a lethal enough passing game to contend as a top-tier offense.
Fatal Flaw: Wide Receiver
I'm not worried about the Steelers at all. I think they're going to be good on both sides of the ball. Devin Bush can fix the biggest defensive flaw and help stop the run by being a sideline-to-sideline guy. The run game will be great, although Mike Munchak leaving has me a little worried about the offensive line. I think Ben Roethlisberger is a great sleeper MVP pick too. But I am a little concerned about how JuJu Smith-Schuster handles being the true No. 1 option. He's great, he's young and he's a legit superstar. But he has to operate with no Antonio Brown on the field. That changes things. Their second-best option is either James Washington or Donte Moncrief. It's just a downgrade. I trust Kevin Colbert in this department, but if the pass game suffered badly, this could be a rough season for Pittsburgh.
Fatal Flaw: Crazytown
Crushed it here with Tom Cable last season. Looking for a different flaw this year, although I think Cable would qualify just fine. Specifically, I'm looking at Antonio Brown and imagining a world where Derek Carr doesn't get protection, struggles to be accurate and the Raiders lose a few games out of the gate. Suddenly it's Week 4 and Brown and Jon Gruden are screaming at each other on the sideline, helmets are being thrown, tweets are being sent, shade is flying all over the place and this team becomes a circus off the field. It's not THAT hard to imagine and it could result in things really imploding for Oakland. There's some seriously combustable pieces here.
Fatal Flaw: Quarterback
I think the Broncos have done a nice job addressing some issues. The Chris Harris situation needs to be figured out and they need him on the roster this year. Defensively there's talent here -- unless being a head coach completely derails Vic Fangio's ability to coach defense, this team should be good on that side of the ball. The offensive line is better and has Munchak coming to coach it up, a big, big plus for Denver. Adding Noah Fant gives them plenty of weapons. It might ultimately fall on Joe Flacco and Drew Lock to produce offense for this team to click. If Flacco plays 16 games, I give this team a decent shot of being a sleeper this year.
Los Angeles Chargers
Fatal Flaw: Linebacker
Fortunately the Chargers are no longer the favorite to win the division. I think they're a lock to go over 10 wins this year. The expectations are cooled a little. But people still think this is a Super Bowl team. I would be fine going with "bad Chargers mojo" as the fatal flaw for this squad again in 2019, but I think linebacker is a bigger concern. It's the one real weakness for Los Angeles -- they were forced into playing a ton of defensive backs and it worked great against the Ravens. It was a disaster against the Patriots. Bringing back Denzel Perryman and adding Thomas Davis gives them talent at the position, but they are a couple injuries away from having to trot out a bunch of DBs again. That killed them last year and it could kill them this year.
Kansas City Chiefs
Fatal Flaw: Tyreek Hill
Defensively this won't suddenly be a team that is great overnight. They can improve and getting Frank Clark and Emmanuel Ogbah helps. You can squint and see a decent 4-3 defense. I'm more worried about what happens if Tyreek Hill is suddenly not on the roster or suspended for a lengthy amount of time. There are lots of weapons with Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce. Patrick Mahomes is a generational talent. But Hill makes this offense HUM and the Chiefs clearly agree, because they drafted Mecole Hardman early in the 2019 NFL Draft. If Hill goes missing, Andy Reid will have a challenge on his hands.
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