The NFL is a constantly evolving sphere, or maybe more appropriately, a “bubble.” As I’ve been playing on repeat, sports predictions are not only hard, they are impossible to get right with any significance. “Predicting” that the Kansas City Chiefs would win the Super Bowl last year is nothing more than seeing that Patrick Mahomes had won MVP, the Chiefs had been a good team, and so why couldn’t they be good again or even better?
“No, but I picked the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl and I was right.”
And some other person picked the New England Patriots, and some other person picked the Baltimore Ravens, and some other person picked the New Orleans Saints, and then the NFL spun a roulette wheel. Nobody points to the person who wins $10,000 at a roulette table by “putting it all on 17” and says, “You knew that would happen. You predicted it!” unless the winner was maybe holding a deck of tarot cards and handing out business cards for their 800-number.
Nobody predicts the winner of the Super Bowl. People lay out the possibilities of who could win the Super Bowl — out of 32, because even the 4-12 San Francisco 49ers could be leading in the fourth quarter of the final game of the year — and then the league spins the wheel.
And one of the reasons that it is a wheel rather than a trivia contest where there are right and wrong answers is the sheer number of variables involved. As of today there are 32 teams and on those teams right now are 80 players and when they are cut down to 53 or 55 players, the final rosters will often look dramatically different than they did 12 months earlier.
Sometimes 12 hours earlier.
The coaches will change too. The schemes. The opinions of the coaches and players. The meals they eat. They weights they lift. The people they love. And the state of living for all 7.8 billion people currently alive on the planet.
How much does the NFL change year to year? That also changes every year but we can take a snapshot of 12 months (or so) ago and begin to compare. We can see not only have the players and coaches changed in many cases but so have our perceptions of countless players and coaches among them and our perceptions seem to be as important as anything.
As you’re counting up the NFL’s Top 100 list this year just remember that 12 months ago:
- Todd Gurley was number 5
- Antonio Brown was number 7
- Philip Rivers was number 17
- Andrew Luck was number 20
- Jared Goff was number 32
- Melvin Gordon was number 34
- Eric Ebron was number 66
- T.J. Watt was number 93
- Derrick Henry was number 99
- Lamar Jackson, Nick Chubb, Chris Godwin, Ryan Ramczyk, Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson, Brandon Brooks, Rodney Hudson, Za’Darius Smith, DeForest Buckner, Shaquil Barrett, Eric Kendricks, Demario Davis, Tre’Davious White, Marcus Peters, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Anthony Harris, Tyrann Mathieu, Marlon Humphrey were among those unranked. You could practically do a first team all-pro roster right there alone.
That’s how much a few players have changed — in our views at least — in the last year. Here’s some additional thoughts on how each of the 32 teams have changed.
Arizona Cardinals - Kyler Murray had zero starts and the Cardinals were coming off of having the worst record in the NFL.
Atlanta Falcons - Desmond Trufant, Vic Beasley, Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper, De’Vondre Campbell, and Devonta Freeman were still on the team.
Baltimore Ravens - Lamar Jackson’s career passing stats during his seven career starts: five touchdowns and three interceptions. He had rushed for 556 yards in those games but also fumbled 10 times.
Buffalo Bills - Buffalo was coming off of a 6-10 record with their worst point differential since 2010 with rookie Josh Allen and last year they were 10-6 with their best point differential since 1999 with 87th-best player in the NFL Josh Allen.
Cincinnati Bengals - Andy Dalton was the quarterback.
Denver Broncos - Joe Flacco was the quarterback and Bradley Chubb was healthy.
Detroit Lions - Matt Patricia had a defense built mostly around Darius Slay, A’Shawn Robinson, Quandre Diggs, Damon Harrison, Mike Daniels, and Devon Kennard. All of them are gone. Harrison, voted by Lions fans as the most likely defensive MVP for the team, remains a free agent.
Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck was the starting franchise quarterback.
Las Vegas Raiders - They weren’t the Las Vegas Raiders.
Los Angeles Chargers - Philip Rivers had posted his best passer rating since 2013 and won his most games since 2009.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Nick Foles was the $88 million starter and the backup competition was between Alex McGough, Tanner Lee, and Gardner Minshew and it was anyone’s game.
Miami Dolphins - Josh Rosen, anyone?
Minnesota Vikings - Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, Stefon Diggs, and Trae Waynes were playing, while offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski (hired by Browns) and defensive coordinator George Edwards (not retained) were coaching them.
New England Patriots - Phillip Dorsett was still on the team.
New Orleans Saints - Taysom Hill was buried on the depth chart behind Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater, as opposed to now when he’s buried behind Brees and Jameis Winston.
New York Giants - Among Saquon Barkley predictions were 1,500 rushing yards+100 catches+20 touchdowns here, 1,000 rushing+1,000 receiving here, and “figure Barkley will tickle 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns” here. Though he missed three games, Barkley was not on pace to do anything more in year two than he did in year one. Which is great, nothing against Saquon Barkley, who could be the most exciting player in the NFL next season for all I know, but I’d say nobody was overwhelmed by Barkley last year. He also has one fumble on 621 career touches.
New York Jets - It’s not just Jamal Adams. Players on the Jets a year ago also included Leonard Williams, Robby Anderson, Kelvin Beachum, Kelechi Osemele, Trumaine Johnson, Brandon Shell, Quincy Enunwa, and there was even more optimism after the signing of C.J. Mosley, who played in two games last season.
Philadelphia Eagles - Would you feel confident in your receiving group headed into 2019 if DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery were your starters, Nelson Agholor was your option three, and then you also had second round rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside? No? SB Nation ranked them as the sixth-best WR group headed into last season.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Ben Roethlisberger was the starting quarterback for 2019 and Sean Davis was the starting free safety. Without the former they opted to replace the latter.
San Francisco 49ers - 4-12 and no winning seasons since 2013.
Seattle Seahawks - The top pass rusher was Ezekiel Ansah as opposed to today when the top pass rusher is Benson Mayowa. (In either case, they did not and do not have Jadeveon Clowney under contract.) (Technically I guess Jamal Adams is the top pass rusher now.)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Exact same roster, top to bottom.
Tennessee Titans - Ryan Tannehill was the backup, Derrick Henry was a fringe top-10 running back, A.J. Brown was lower on the depth chart than Tajae Sharpe, and few if any had them in the AFC Championship game. 2 predictions at CBS Sports: Marcus Mariota puts up career numbers and Henry isn’t the breakout player that people expect.
Washington Football Team - Do I really need to say it?