Some NFL teams have overachieved to kick off their 2019 season.
The 49ers are one of two remaining unbeaten teams after dismantling foes with a smothering defense. The Saints have overcome Drew Brees’ absence with a 4-1 record that includes wins over contenders like the Seahawks, Cowboys, and Texans. Even the Patriots are 6-0 for the first time since 2015.
Those hot starts have come at the expense of some regrettable ones. The Chargers are threatening to waste another year of Philip Rivers’ career outside the playoff race after a 2-3 start that includes bungling losses to the Lions and Broncos. The Steelers and Jets have each fallen apart after losing their starting quarterbacks for extended periods. The Falcons’ quest to define Dan Quinn’s tenure as anything other than “28-3” has been successful, only in that it’s exposed his team as an overmatched, undercoached mess.
That’s left heavy competition for the title of 2019’s most disappointing team. Four teams have begun the season without a single win in five weeks, and four more only have a single victory — two of whom (the Steelers and Cardinals) got their lone wins against the former group. So who is truly the king of frustration this fall?
The Los Angeles Chargers. The poor, cursed Chargers
This was supposed to be the year. Keenan Allen was healthy. Philip Rivers was back and coming off one of the most efficient years of his career. A top 10 defense, led by the pocket-destroying duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, returned mostly intact.
And yet, through five weeks, the 2019 Chargers only have one fewer loss than they had in last year’s entire regular season.
They’ve gone 2-3 in an extremely Chargers way. They only defeated the Colts in Week 1 thanks to Adam Vinatieri’s sudden inability to kick a field goal. They lost to Detroit in Week 2 as a result of red zone turnovers and their own special teams problems — with regular kicker Michael Badgley injured, punter Ty Long made just one of three field goal attempts in a 13-10 loss. Their comeback effort against the Texans one week later was derailed by a holding penalty that wiped out what would have been a first-and-goal situation from the Houston 7-yard line with 30 seconds to play. They lost that game 27-20.
This was all a warm-up to Week 5’s catastrophe. The Broncos were winless when they traveled to Los Angeles. After 10 minutes, they led by 14 points. This was also the game in which Melvin Gordon returned from a contract holdout that kept him from the field in Weeks 1-4. The Chargers promptly rushed for the fewest yards they have all season (35).
Patrick Mahomes’ sudden mortality in light of an ankle injury — he has just one passing touchdown his past two games — should have created an opportunity for LA to rise to the top of the AFC West. Instead, the club is in third place in the division, two games behind the Chiefs and staring up at the Raiders. At least there’s still time for this team to turn things around and rally all the way to an underwhelming Divisional Round postseason loss to the Patriots. — Christian D’Andrea
The Cleveland Browns, who are mediocre and boring
Between hatin’-ass quarterback Baker Mayfield, the dynamic wide receiver combo of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., and a defense led by destroyer of worlds Myles Garrett, the Browns should be fun to watch. They were a wildly popular pick to win the Super Bowl, but more than anything, the Browns were supposed to be must-watch TV.
The most disappointing about them so far in 2019 is that they’re borderline unwatchable.
Mayfield’s hair-on-fire style of play has devolved into him repeatedly retreating from pressure and playing mostly awful football. He has four touchdowns and an NFL-high eight interceptions.
That’s meant a whole lot of nothing from Beckham, the human highlight reel who was supposed to send the Browns’ offense into overdrive. In his first five games in Cleveland, he caught an 89-yard touchdown on a slant and made one of his trademark one-handed grabs down the sideline. That’s about it. With the Giants, he averaged 92.8 receiving yards per game, and that was with the slowly rotting Eli Manning at quarterback. Now Beckham’s averaging just 67 yards in Cleveland.
Even the defense has been subpar. It’s below the league average in points (21st), yards (18th), red zone conversions against (29th), and rushing yards per attempt allowed (30th). It got absolutely steamrolled by the 49ers to the tune of 275 rushing yards in Week 5.
It’s not even close to too late for the Browns to turn things around. They’re 2-3 and just one game behind the Ravens, who they already beat in Week 4. But their utter unwatchability is what makes the Browns the NFL’s biggest letdown so far the season. — Adam Stites
The Atlanta Falcons, proving that this city can’t have nice things when it comes to sports
Speaking as a current Atlanta resident, I can tell you that the 404 has had a rough couple of weeks (I’m so sorry, Braves fans). The Falcons started this season as a dark horse Super Bowl contender, and instead they’re 1-4 heading into Week 6. Atlanta’s lone win (somehow) came during Week 2 at home against the Eagles on Sunday night.
There are so many problems with Atlanta right now, but I’ll just start with the defense, which gave up 53 points and 426 passing yards to the Houston Texans last week, including almost 600 (592) total yards of offense. While Falcons have had some injuries on defense — most notably Keanu Neal — Quinn’s unit should be much farther along at this point, especially since he took over defensive playcalling duties this season.
The Falcons have usually been able to rely on their offense, but it hasn’t been all that better. They’re scoring just 20 points per game (and giving up 10 more points on average). Matt Ryan has thrown seven interceptions, and Devonta Freeman scored his first touchdown of the season last week against the Texans on a 9-yard reception. The Falcons’ running game is near the bottom of the league. It has totaled just 338 yards and two touchdowns, one coming from Ryan and the other from Freeman’s backup, Ito Smith.
The lone bright spots are Julio Jones and Austin Hooper; both are averaging around 72 yards per game, and have six TDs between them.
The fact that Atlanta is this bad doesn’t bode well for Quinn’s job security, since the Falcons have games against the Rams, Seahawks, Saints, and Panthers coming up after Arizona in Week 6. If the Falcons go winless for that stretch, Atlanta might have to call it quits on Quinn. —Morgan Moriarty
The Denver Broncos, who sucked before Bradley Chubb got hurt
John Elway might not be very good at being an NFL general manager. So far he’s picked nothing but duds at the quarterback position, and Joe Flacco is a hilarious exclamation point on that track record. Vic Fangio is a coach who is easy to believe in, but he’s saddled with an offense that offers nothing in the realm of consistency.
He’s also had some growing pains on the defensive side of the ball, where Denver was supposed to win games this season. Instead, the defense has blown two late leads, first against the Bears and two weeks later against the Jaguars.
The Broncos didn’t get a sack until Week 4 and didn’t force a turnover until Week 5. The pass rush was mostly nonexistent through the first three weeks of play, and when it did finally start to pick up, the Broncos lost Bradley Chubb to an injury.
The Von Miller-Chubb duo was expected to destroy opposing quarterbacks. It hasn’t and it won’t now that Chubb is out for the year and Fangio is still without a dominant inside linebacker to make his defense work (something he had throughout his time with the 49ers).
Denver would be better off going the rebuild route at this point. — James Brady
The Dallas Cowboys, who flounder against good teams
Unlike the other teams on this list, the Cowboys have a winning record. They’re tied atop their division. They’re still a good bet to make the playoffs. There have been times this season when they’ve looked unbeatable.
And yet, I can’t help but be disappointed by how toothless they’ve been against fellow contenders. I expected them to take that next step this year as a Super Bowl contender. I thought I saw it early in the season, when the offense was creative and looked dominant enough to make up for the defense’s slower start. Then, in back-to-back games against the Saints and Packers, the Dallas offense couldn’t do much of anything.
In both losses, turnovers and a less effective running game hurt the Cowboys. Dak Prescott struggled to move the offense at all against the Saints and by the time he found his footing against the Packers, it was too late.
The defense, despite holding the Saints to 12 points, didn’t do its part either. It forced just one turnover and gave up 100+ yards on the ground in both games — a common theme in the team’s losses — including four rushing touchdowns to Packers running back Aaron Jones. Although the pass rush came alive against the Saints (five sacks), it has been quiet in other games and ranks in the bottom half of the league.
Special teams hasn’t been good either, with kicker Brett Maher making only 4 of his 7 field goal attempts so far.
Fans’ confidence has plummeted during this two-game skid, and it’s hard to blame them despite the small sample size. These Cowboys can easily handle teams like the Giants, Washington, and the Dolphins. But they roll over against opponents with winning records.
There’s still room for optimism, though. The Cowboys have been a stronger team in the second half of the season in each of the past two years, and a healthier offensive and defensive line would do wonders to help fix their biggest problems.
Dallas just needs to prove it can beat teams it could potentially meet in the playoffs. Otherwise, it’ll seem like these are the same old Cowboys we’ve seen for more than two decades: good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to make it to Championship Weekend. — Sarah Hardy
Which team has disappointed you most so far in 2019? Is it a team we included or another one? Let us know in the comments.