The 2018 season will be remembered as the year the Chiefs, Saints, Bears, and Rams all played up to their potential. And also as the season the Packers, Jaguars, Falcons, and Panthers took a long look at their playoff aspirations, sighed loudly, and then announced to no one in particular that they “didn’t want to talk about it.”
While players like Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, and Khalil Mack all rose to new heights, their climb was only possible by leapfrogging a handful of playoff hopefuls along the way. Jacksonville went from being five minutes from Super Bowl 52 to being the southern Browns again. Green Bay will likely miss the playoffs this winter and can’t blame an Aaron Rodgers injury for its fall. Carolina decided to bravely raise its fans hopes with a 6-2 start, then obliterate them entirely with a five-game losing streak. Atlanta found a way to get almost all its key defensive starters injured.
And while those three teams may be the most notable examples, there are plenty of other teams whose hopes for playoff pay have been downgraded to booking vacation homes in early January. Washington, Cincinnati, and Tennessee have all seen early winning records devolve into spots outside the playoff field. The Vikings have swapped horrible defense for horrible offense and settled into a truly unwatchable form. The 49ers owe two-thirds of their wins to a practice-squad quarterback, just months after giving Jimmy Garoppolo $137.5 million to stay on the West Coast.
This is all to say that the question “which NFL franchise has been the most disappointing” has no simple answer. Awful teams are like rivers, with one major problem branching off into tributaries of failure that extend far and wide. So who is the mighty Mississippi in this year’s pile of gridiron failure?
We’ve got some ideas.
The case for the: Green Bay Packers
Maybe I’m biased because I live in Wisconsin, and Green Bay’s sudden decline in offense means a stark lack of free green, post-touchdown Jell-O shots in beloved local bars across the state. Maybe I’m biased because every Sunday, at least three local news broadcast starts off with some variation of “what’s wrong with Aaron Rodgers?” Or maybe I’m biased because I’m borderline offended by how boring Mike McCarthy made a team with Rodgers as its centerpiece … but damn, the Packers have been a mess this fall.
There hasn’t been one main source of disappointment for a potentially cursed roster in 2018. After nearly losing Rodgers to a knee injury in Week 1 and then watching him battle back from a 20-0 deficit to roast the Bears, Green Bay looked like a team of destiny, ready to put 2017 in the rear view and deliver its two-time MVP quarterback a second Super Bowl trophy.
Instead, a bullshit roughing the passer call turned a Week 2 win over the Vikings into a tie. Three weeks later, Mason Crosby would have the worst game any NFL kicker’s arguably had to allow the Lions to escape with a home victory. Jordy Nelson was gone, and Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison got injured, forcing Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown into starring roles for a sputtering offense. Free agent addition Jimmy Graham went from potent red zone threat to a guy with two touchdowns in 13 games.
And in the middle was Rodgers, playing his worst football as a full-time NFL starter. The veteran quarterback struggled without veteran playmakers on the field, unleashing a career-low touchdown rate and throwing for just 243 yards per game after the team’s Week 7 bye; his team has gone 2-5 in that span.
Firing McCarthy gave way to interim head coach Joe Philbin, who … is basically just McCarthy all over again. Green Bay’s got some slim postseason hopes on the table, but the sooner the Packers get to 2019 and a fresh start, the better. — Christian D’Andrea
The case for the: Atlanta Falcons
Coming into the season, the Falcons looked like they had the talent to go on a postseason run. Matt Ryan had a potentially dominant group of receivers in Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Calvin Ridley. The defense looked poised to take a step forward.
Then the injuries piled up. Early on, starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen went down for the season. Deion Jones missed 10 games with a foot injury. Grady Jarrett and Takk McKinley each missed time with injuries of their own. Devonta Freeman was in and out of the lineup before going on injured reserve with a groin injury. They lost their starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, to season-ending injuries. It ended up being too much for them to overcome early on.
After starting 1-3, they rallied to 4-4, but haven’t won a game since they beat Washington 38-14 on the road. Now the Falcons sit at 4-9 and they’re about to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Falling from Super Bowl aspirations to a likely top-10 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft has to be extremely disappointing for Atlanta.
The injuries hurt, but even with the injuries, this team woefully underachieved this season. — Charles McDonald
The case for the: Minnesota Vikings
I’m not surprised the Eagles have had a Super Bowl hangover, especially with all the injuries they’ve dealt with this year. The Jaguars, like everything coming out of Florida, can never be trusted. But I believed in the Vikings. I knew there were still questions — can Kirk Cousins really be the missing piece? What about the banged-up OL? And their kicker curse? — but I didn’t think I was going on that much of a limb this preseason by picking them to win their first ever Super Bowl.
Even their early-season struggles were easy to shrug off. OK, so they tied the Packers? Big deal; it’s the Packers! And they lost a close one to the Rams? Well, the Rams might be the best team in the NFL. No shame in there.
And there still isn’t any shame in losing to the Rams. The problem for the Vikings is they’ve lost to every good team they’ve played this year. They’re 0-5 against teams with winning records, and their most recent loss — a 21-7 dud on against the Seahawks on Monday Night Football — was their worst yet.
Their one touchdown in that game came in garbage time, making the score look slightly less pitiful than it was. That’s a familiar theme for the Vikings: they did the same thing against the Bears and Saints.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, from Cousins’ panicky gaffes when pass rushers even make eye contact with him, to an OL that has given Cousins reason to panic, to a lifeless running game, to an over-reliance on the defense.
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo became the scapegoat when he was fired this week, but that might not be enough to fix the Vikings’ problems.
And yet … I can’t completely give up on them just yet. They’re still probably the favorite to grab the final wild card spot in the NFC, even if it’s because no other team seems to want it. — Sarah Hardy
Who is the most disappointing team in the NFL this fall?
Green Bay Packers
Someone else — let us know in the comments!
354 votes total