Harv currently writes for Abstract Sports, the Sports History Network, and the magazine Gridiron Greats. Harv wrote the published book "Pro Football's Most Passionate Fans" and as a professional writer has had articles published in an array of sports publications.
Six Pack of Failures
20 NFL teams failed to reach the playoffs in 2019 but for some teams, pre-season expectations were either not met or fell far short of what they had hoped for. From the 20 teams not qualifying for the postseason six of those stand out as major disappointments and some surprise as to their results. Those six are summarized ahead.
For Cleveland head coach Freddie Kitchens, in 2019 he became a “one and done.” One season as the head coach and after his team finished 6-10, he was fired. Incredibly, the Browns now have to find a replacement which will be their 13th hiring of a head coach in 19 years. That’s insane when you consider the Pittsburgh Steelers have had just THREE head coaches in 50 years. But the search is on after a season of utter disappointment in Cleveland.
In the preseason this year, the hype train in the NFL ran through Cleveland, Ohio with many drinking the kool-aid believing the Browns would be the surprise team this season and some even had them winning the AFC North Division title. Instead, it was a third-place finish, two games behind the Steelers.
Much was expected from sophomore quarterback Baker Mayfield especially since he now had Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, and Kareem Hunt to work with. But Mayfield was inconsistent and with 22 touchdown passes, he also threw 21 interceptions. Cleveland did manage to beat the Steelers but it became the same old Browns despite improving their record halfway through the season from 2-6 to 5-6 after reeling off three straight wins on the heels of four straight losses.
By losing their final three games the Browns limp into the offseason still looking for answers. This team is a mess. From the sidelines to the front office, they can’t seem to catch a clue as to how they can become a winner again. Cleveland has not experienced a winning season since 2007 when they finished 10-6 but still missed the postseason. There hasn’t been a playoff game for the Browns since 2002. In 2019 the finish was 6-10, one victory short of the seven they earned in 2018.
In 2017 it was an embarrassing 0-16 finish that came after at 2015 final record of 1-15. 3-13 was the year before that and dating back to that 2007 season were years of winning just seven, four, five, four, five, four, five, five, and four victories. The city of Cleveland is desperate for a winner and credit to the fan base for continually coming out to watch their perennial losers.
Two seasons removed from the AFC championship are the Jaguars who could not replicate their success from 2017 a season later. In 2019 they brought Super Bowl champion quarterback Nick Foles to Florida in the hopes his success rate would repeat in Jacksonville. Not so. A very early injury to Foles put Gardner Minshew into the starting role behind center and after some quick success, the “Minshew mania” died down as did the rookie quarterback’s performances. Noles came back from injury only to play so poorly that he got benched and Minshew was back in.
The kid with the popular mustache did not fair too bad considering it was his first year in the league but with just six wins in 2019, the Jaguars season was considered a failure. Many thought Doug Marrone would lose his job but he and the General Manager Dave Caldwell retained their jobs and will try to make necessary improvements to the team to get them back into winning next season.
Like the Cleveland Browns, Detroit is the only other team to lose every game of a 16 game schedule. The Lions suffered their embarrassment in 2008 and slowly climbed back into contention despite just two victories the following season. But beginning in 2010, it appeared the Lions were solidly rebuilding making the playoffs in 2011 with a 10-6 record but then winning just four games a year later. Since 2012 Detroit has made the postseason twice more, but both games were first-round wild card losses.
Unlike the Browns, the Detroit Lions have tasted playoff action three times since that dismal 2008 campaign whereas Cleveland has not been in a playoff game since 2002. The Lions had two consecutive 9-7 seasons in 2016 and 2017 losing a wild card game in ’16. But last season they dropped to 6-10 and this past season went three worse finishing 3-12-1. Could Matthew Stafford’s days in Detroit be numbered as the Lions try to rebuild? He’s been the quarterback since 2009 with Detroit and this season despite solid numbers, he and his teammates were considered to have a disappointing season.
The Cincinnati Bengals would have made this list even before the season began. They were expected to suffer a losing season but after dropping their first 11 games on the schedule, conversations began about how they might join Detroit and Cleveland as the only teams to lose all 16 games. Then came the New York Jets at home and the Bengals suffered the ultimate embarrassment of losing every game by topping the Jets 22-6.
After Andy Dalton was benched for Ryan Finley, Dalton got his job back for the Jets game and he led them to victory. The taste of a win did not last long however and the Bengals would lose the next three games until they won just their second contest on the final day of the season beating Cleveland 33-23. Now Cincinnati owns the number one overall pick in this year’s draft. This won’t be the first time the “Bungals” as many have called them owning the league’s first pick in the draft. In 2003 they had the first selection and took Carson Palmer. 1995 brought Ki-Jana Carter and the year before Dan Wilkinson. Now in 2019, they get their fourth shot at picked a player they hope will become a star and help the team get out of this funk. Cincinnati has not had a winning season since 2015 when they finished 12-4 capping of five straight seasons of playoff appearances although all five were first-round exits.
From Super Bowl LIII to finished third place in the NFC West, the L.A. Rams were expected to defend their division title after winning it in two straight seasons in 2017-18. But all the Rams could manage this past season was to have a winning record of 9-7 good for third place in the NFC West. The surprising 49ers took the title away from L.A. and the Seattle Seahawks also did two better than the Rams making the postseason finishing 11-5.
At quarterback, Jared Goff may have been the biggest disappointment for the Rams as his quarterback rating, in the end, was just 86.5 and he tossed 16 interceptions for the season. But star running back Todd Gurley did not live up to expectations either rushing for only 857 yards in 15 games and posting a per-carry average of 3.8. With the success of the 49ers and their stout defense as well as the rejuvenated Seahawks, the road ahead for the Rams will be a difficult one.
The last team to mention that failed to achieve potential in 2019 was my Pittsburgh Steelers. After a disappointing 2018 campaign that saw them fall one game short of making the playoffs, the defense made strides to improve in the offseason and before the season began, Steelers Nation witnessed the shedding of locker room cancers, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. The “Killer B’s” were no more and all that remained from that trio was Ben Roethlisberger.
For Big Ben, he lost two primary weapons but the hope was the JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner would fill the void left behind by Bell and Brown. But in just game two of the season, Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury and Mason Rudolph became the man on the spot. Rudolph would hit a slump and get benched for rookie Devlin “Duck” Hodges who initially played extremely well and inspired fans to wear duck outfits and jump on his bandwagon.
Hodges’ success was short-lived however and when it came to playing the New York Jets, Hodges got benched in the first half and Rudolph was back in. The story of Pittsburgh’s season came next when Rudolph injured his shoulder and was done for the year. Back came Hodges just as bad as he was in the first half.
Just as it was in 2018, the Steelers had one game remaining and it was against the #1 seed in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens on their turf. Baltimore had announced several key starters would not play but for the Steelers, they needed a win and a Tennessee Titans loss to the Texans in Houston to make the playoffs. Last season it was the Ravens who needed to lose to the Browns for Pittsburgh to qualify now it was that same Baltimore team Pittsburgh needed to beat but with help from the Texans.
Not only did Houston pull starters and lose, but the Steelers went out and were embarrassed by Ravens backups losing 28-10 and finishing an even 8-8. The story of 2019 for the Pittsburgh Steelers was injuries. Roethlisberger was out nearly the entire season. So was Stephen Tuitt. James Conner battled injuries all year and hardly played. JuJu Smith-Schuster missed significant time with a concussion and bum knee. Vance McDonald could not stay healthy. All this and the Pittsburgh defense was outstanding.
Signed in the offseason was Donte Moncrief and he was awful eventually getting cut. Minkah Fitzpatrick came to the Steelers from the Miami Dolphins in way of a trade that saw the Steelers sacrifice their 2019 first-round draft pick and he began his Black and Gold career sizzling intercepting passes and picking up loose fumbles. While his momentum slowed towards the end of the season the trade for Fitzpatrick set the tone for the Steelers secondary for next year.
Mike Tomlin did an excellent job coaching perhaps his best in 2019 as no one figured Pittsburgh would win eight games with all the injuries. But the season expectations still fell way short and the Steelers were easily the best of this group listed and would probably be considered by most to have achieved the most disappointing results from the 2019 season.