“There’s always next year.”
It’s the classic mentality of the losing team’s fan. It’s how they stay sane while they mull over a lost season. Often times, it comes from a place of unrealistic optimism. For these teams though, next year could actually prove to be more fruitful than last.
Two words. Baker Mayfield.
He proved the naysayers wrong, to say the least. Mayfield was decisive and showed off the cannon that won him the Heisman at Oklahoma.
On top of that, the team believes in Mayfield as their leader, as was shown when he took over for Tyrod Taylor and led them to a win in Week 3. The first one in over 630 days. As has been said with many all-time greats, he makes those around him better.
Baker broke Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning’s rookie passing touchdown record. He did it with guys like Rashard Higgins and Antonio Callaway pressed into roles as the second and third option.
Between Mayfield’s leadership, productivity, and Cleveland housing the second-youngest roster in the NFL, The Dawg Pound finally has reason to bark again.
Matt Patricia’s first season as head coach came with its fair share of hiccups. Detroit did, however, end on a high note with a 31-0 shutout against the Packers in Lambeau.
Aside from that, though, the Lions have some other important things going for them. For starters, they’ve still got their franchise quarterback in Matt Stafford. Say what you want, but Stafford is tough and has the guts to pull out late-game wins. He’s got the 11th-most fourth quarter comebacks since 1960 with 26.
Kerryon Johnson spent much of his rookie season injured, but he showed flashes of greatness when he was on the field. Although his volume was limited, Johnson averaged 5.4 yards per carry over 10 games. This is the era of the young (like fresh out of college young) running back, and Johnson looks like he might be the next join the club.
The Lions also have eight guaranteed draft picks in 2019 with one more conditional pick. In other words, have the resources to beef up a troublesome offensive line and bolster Patricia’s already-solid defense.
Green Bay Packers
Since Aaron Rodgers became the starting quarterback in 2008, the Packers had made the playoffs all but three times. One of those times was his first season as starter, and the others were the two most recent seasons.
Their inability to make the postseason led to the firing of Mike McCarthy. There appeared to be at least some level of animosity between Rodgers and McCarthy. Nevertheless, a change in head coach might be just what the Packers need to get back to their winning ways.
Between having a new head coach and the NFL’s 10th youngest roster, there will likely be some growing pains in 2019. But for those same reasons, they could be looking at the beginning of something great down the line.
San Francisco 49ers
Coming into 2018, the 49ers hype was real. In the middle of the 2017 season, they acquired Bill Belichick’s lovechild Jimmy Garoppolo. It seemed like the sky was the limit for Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Everything changed, however, when Garoppolo tore his ACL in a Week 3 loss to the Chiefs. Backups C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens were only able to lead the team to three wins the rest of the season.
Fortunately, ACL injuries don’t derail quarterback careers the way they can skill positions or defensive players. Garoppolo will need some time to get back into shape, but he should be able to get back to where he was before the injury.
Matt Breida (1,075 yards from scrimmage) was a bright spot for San Francisco, playing through a number of injuries and looking damn good while doing so.
And of course, who could forget the emergence of George Kittle as one of the NFL’s elite tight ends?
In his second year in the league, Kittle racked up 88 receptions on the way to breaking the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,377 yards.
The Niners were solid on defense too. They ranked in the top half of the league in yards allowed as third-year defensive tackle DeForest Buckner had a breakout season with 12 sacks. That was most in the league for defensive tackles and four more than the next guy on the list.
The best is yet to come for the Niners.