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The 5 worst remaining games of the 2019 NFL season (and 1 reason to watch each of them)

Rookie quarterbacks and all-out tank jobs abound.

NFL: SEP 29 Redskins at Giants Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Week 8’s Monday Night Football showcase gave the world the winless Dolphins and a 2-4 Steelers team without the services of Ben Roethlisberger. It was exactly as painful to watch as you’d expect.

Miami remained fully committed to its race to the bottom in a four-turnover night when Ryan Fitzpatrick was his team’s most efficient runner. Pittsburgh and the refs conspired to make the game even less entertaining by engaging in a coach’s challenge that took up 13 minutes. James Conner had his best game of a trying 2019 season, only for the football gods to smite him for his effort with an injury that forced him out of multiple games in the aftermath.

The Dolphins-Steelers game was bad. But it might not be the worst game involving Miami this year. The latter half of the 2019 NFL schedule features its share of playoff-altering matchups that will set the stage for Super Bowl 54. It also contains several games featuring hopeless franchises from New York, Washington, and Cincinnati.

Picking a bottom five is like choosing your ugliest child. You may not want to say it out loud, but deep down you’ve always known. These are the games that have plenty of character, even if they’re ... pretty rough on the surface.

5. Giants at Bears, Week 12

The NFL delivers the quarterback battle the world has been waiting for: Mitchell Trubisky vs. Daniel Jones.

These two Durham-area college stars have zero All-ACC honors between them and an average draft position of fourth overall. They’ll square off in what’s, at most, the fifth-best UNC-Duke battle of 2019 across all sports. It took Trubisky eight starts to throw eight touchdown passes this fall. Jones, meanwhile, has two different four-touchdown games on his resume this season. Those big performances came in a four-week stretch where Jones fumbled 10 times (and lost all four games), which is all to say this probably won’t be a masterpiece of aerial wizardry.

That’s going to put plenty of pressure on each team’s running game. Reigning offensive rookie of the year Saquon Barkley is playing hurt. Though he’ll have a Week 11 bye to recover, he’s coming off a 13-carry, 1-yard afternoon against the Jets in Week 10 and will face a Chicago defense that ranks fourth in the league in opponents’ yards per carry. The Bears also rank 27th in the league when it comes to their own rushing efficiency (3.5 yards per rush), so it’s not like they’ll be able to flip that narrative against New York.

One reason to watch: Khalil Mack, who has forced 10 fumbles in 23 games as a Bear, will be facing a quarterback currently on pace to set the rookie record for putting the ball on the turf. What synergy.

On the plus side, neither quarterback will have to win a shootout in Week 12. If you love punts, this could be the game for you.

4. Falcons at Buccaneers, Week 17

This season-ender pits a team that recently hired a new head coach vs. a team that will have to do so in the near future. Dan Quinn’s Falcons tenure will likely be forever defined by 28-3 which, at the very least, will overshadow the 2019 season when most of his players forgot how to play football. Atlanta has the talent of a playoff team and the execution of a high school one, especially when it comes to a defense that’s allowed a shade under 29 points per game through its first 10 weeks.

That group has been especially deficient against opposing quarterbacks, who have a 113.2 passer rating against the Falcons through Week 10 — worst in the league. They’re also worst in the league when it comes to creating turnovers.

This is great news for Jameis Winston, who may be playing his last game in pewter come December. The mercurial former No. 1 overall pick is on pace for a 25-interception season thanks to new head coach Bruce Arians’ advice to “play fearless.” He’s his standard boom-or-bust self in 2019, which means he could light up Atlanta for 385 yards and four touchdowns (like he did earlier this year against the Rams) or turn the ball over six times (like he did against the Panthers).

Each team will have a cheat sheet to use against the other since these two teams meet in Week 12. Given the way this season has unfolded for each side, it seems unlikely they’ll learn too much from that first showdown.

One reason to watch: Quinn’s and Winston’s final stands. Quinn’s awful 2019 will mark his second straight season out of the playoffs and almost certainly the third straight year his team has finished with a worse record than the one before. Winston will be a free agent in 2020, has never gotten Tampa Bay to the postseason, and is extremely unlikely to this year. Neither will have anything to play for in Week 17 besides pride — and one can cap his five-year tenure on a high note.

3. Jets at Bengals, Week 13

Poor Sam Darnold. New York’s first-round quarterback has known little but heartache — and the occasional spleen-ache — in his year-plus with the Jets. Even when things start trending in the right direction for him (like, say, his upset win over the Cowboys in Week 6), the football gods conspire to send him spiraling in the opposite direction as quickly as possible (like when the Patriots made him see ghosts in a four-interception performance in Week 7).

While Darnold’s capable of dusting opponents and showcasing the potential that made him a top-five pick in 2018, the Jets’ sallow history of recent draftees suggest there’s nothing but misery waiting for him. Only three of New York’s first-round draft picks of the past decade remain on the roster, and none of them have ever seen a winning record in green and white.

His plight has nothing on the Bengals, however. Cincinnati fired Marvin Lewis in the offseason, but the roster he left behind — and some nonsensical re-signings like Bobby Hart and C.J. Uzomah — left the organization with a long ways to go to create an effective rebuild. The team’s effort to drill down toward bedrock meant benching Andy Dalton on his birthday, and Cincinnati will probably enter one of its more winnable games of 2019 with fourth-round rookie Ryan Finley behind center.

One reason to watch: Le’Veon Bell vs. the Bengals, round eight. Bell used to see Cincinnati twice a year. He probably circled those dates on his calendar. He averaged more than 143 yards from scrimmage per game against the Bengals — more than he did against any other AFC North opponent. If he’s still capable of being the Pro Bowler he was in Pittsburgh, he’ll have to show it against one of the Steelers’ biggest rivals.

2. Giants at Washington, Week 16

Let’s run back a 24-3 showdown between Daniel Jones and Washington’s Cerberus of injured and/or bad quarterbacks. These NFC East rivals met back in Week 4, when Jones outplayed fellow rookie Dwayne Haskins to improve to 2-0 as a starter. He hasn’t won a game since, and all the winner of this December matchup will get is a slightly worse draft spot.

Haskins has since been named Washington’s starter, so it looks like the two rookies will enter the ring once more. Whatever he does over the back end of the season will dictate how his team spends its premium draft position next spring. Washington has holes all over its roster, and the areas that are so weak even the Giants can exploit them will go to the top of the team’s wish list.

One reason to watch: Has Dwayne Haskins grown? Haskins was thrown into his first NFL action back in September in relief of Case Keenum and struggled, ripping off one solid scramble that set up his team’s only three points of the game but failing to make a positive impact otherwise.

He’ll get a chance to prove he’s the better prospect than the man drafted nine spots ahead of him in the rematch, though Washington’s lack of talent will certainly handicap that race. It’ll be tough to glean much when Haskins is stuck playing behind an offensive line that’s allowed its quarterbacks to be sacked on more than nine percent of their dropbacks this fall.

1. Bengals at Dolphins, Week 16

For roughly half the season, it looked like the league would stage its first-ever game between 0-14 teams on Dec. 22. The Dolphins had to ruin all that by winning.

Up until Week 9, Miami had only played one opponent to within single digits at the final whistle, and that was Washington. That streak snapped with back-to-back victories — over the Jets and a Jacoby Brissett-less Colts team, but they still counted — and gave us an undisputed king of the NFL’s diaper pile.

Through 10 weeks, no team in the league has given up more yards than Cincinnati. The Bengals will face a Miami defense that sold off many of its top players for future picks (most notably Minkah Fitzpatrick) and ranks second-to-last in points allowed. It’s a battle of an imminently stoppable force versus completely moveable object; a feather blown toward a house of cards.

A loss by Cincinnati will almost certainly guarantee next year’s No. 1 overall pick. Miami can get back into contention for the top spot should the Bengals find a way to win. That means neither team will have a reason to win this game; both need premium placements atop a draft that will feature blue-chip quarterback prospects like Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and Joe Burrow. As a result, there’s a better-than-average chance we see two rookie head coaches pit Josh Rosen vs. Finley at quarterback — or, better yet, a battle of the Jakes between third stringers Jake Dolegala and Jake Rudock.

Bad quarterbacks. Bad defenses. An abject lack of star power. This game should be replaced by a replay of two MAC teams going at it from a random Tuesday night just to see if anyone notices.

One reason to watch: Unintentional hilarity.

There are actually two reasons to watch this game:

a) you’re a really big draft buff and want to get a head start on your 2020 mock draft think pieces, or
b) you love the glorious schadenfreude of absolutely terrible football.

This is NFL’s equivalent of two amateur poker players trying to out-bluff one another when neither has a hand better than jack-high. There’s a reasonable chance the best quarterbacks on either roster will spend the entire afternoon holding a clipboard. More players who will be victims of 2020’s preseason roster cut-down date will play in this game than any other.

But hey, maybe A.J. Green will finally be back by then.