From year to year, we see a handful of teams make the playoffs after missing out the previous season. Some franchises have a lot of legwork to do before being truly competitive, but others are just one draft away from being in the mix.
Here is one team from each division that could make that push in 2019:
AFC East: Buffalo Bills
The key to Buffalo is getting the Offense going. Josh Allen showed promise at Quarterback in his rookie season, especially running the football. The Bills should heavily invest in this style of play, adding firepower at Running Back. LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory are both on the wrong side of 30, and finding a versatile RB will provide a foundation for the Offense. The biggest need though, is at Wide Receiver. Targeting a dynamic playmaker on the outside like Deebo Samuel is a good first step.
On the other side of the ball, there are playmakers at every level of the Defense. While they need to focus on depth along the Line and youth at Linebacker, most of the draft should be dedicated to adding weapons on Offense. Although they have the Patriots to contend with, the Bills could be fighting for a Wild Card spot if Josh Allen can improve in Year 2.
AFC North: Cleveland Browns
Cleveland are definitely on the rise after an abysmal few years under Head Coach Hue Jackson. Baker Mayfield needs to continue showing promise at QB, but he has a lot of help on Offense already. RB Nick Chubb had a very strong second half of 2018, and there is chemistry developing between Mayfield and his WRs Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway.
The other first round rookie, cornerback Denzel Ward, was highly effective throughout the season. Pairing him with another CB on the other side should be a priority in the draft. In the rest of the draft they should target depth at WR, LB, and the interior of the Defensive Line. The Browns should remain relevant in 2019, and might finally break the league’s longest postseason drought of 16 years.
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars
Although they had an abysmal 2018 in comparison to 2017, the Jaguars still made stride in certain areas. Their young WR group, especially Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and DJ Chark, began to make plays despite the dire QB situation. The Defense has retained a lot of the pieces from the 2017 season. However, they are lacking critical pieces on Offense. In particular, they need to find their QB of the future. While they probably draft one, don’t be surprised if Ryan Tannehill or another QB also gets picked up.
To go along with this, they need to shore up and build depth on the Offensive Line. Leonard Fournette has been rumoured to be on the roster bubble, and they should target another RB to complement Carlos Hyde should Fournette be jettisoned. Adding a Tight End in a strong year at the position, along with help at LB, and this team should be a tough matchup again in 2019. But if it doesn’t solve the QB situation, it is likely doomed to another rough season.
AFC West: Denver Broncos
The Broncos might be the league’s biggest mystery going into 2019. On paper, there is a lot to like about their roster. There are a lot of foundational pieces already in place. But they are undergoing a change at Head Coach, and remain in QB purgatory. To go with a new QB the Offense needs to add to its receiving corps, in addition to rebuilding most of the Line.
Aside from the LBs, the Defense needs substantial improvement. The DL needs a guy that can dominate the interior and become a run stuffer. While the group should improve under new HC Vic Fangio, they should add to the secondary in the draft. Despite having both the Chiefs and Chargers in their division, Denver could shock people in 2019. And yes, that shock could be either playoffs or rock bottom.
NFC East: Washington Redskins
Washington was leading the division for much of the 2018 season. They could have made the playoffs if not for their OL being decimated and their starting QB suffering a horrific injury. In fact, they had the worst season in terms of injuries across the league. Alex Smith may never play again, and the team needs to address the position early in the draft. They should also add WRs to take pressure off their new QB and RB Derrius Guice, who missed his whole rookie season through injury. The Defense has young talent at every level, but in the draft should use a few picks on the DL and Safeties. The East is a wide-open division every year, and getting a more potent Offense could send Washington back to the playoffs.
NFC North: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings weren’t far away from the postseason in 2018. Kirk Cousins had a tumultuous first year in Minnesota, but has one of the best receiver groups in the league, especially if you include RB Dalvin Cook and TE Kyle Rudolph. Where the Offense needs to upgrade is the OL, and a few draft picks should be invested there.
The secondary is loaded at all spots, but depth at Safety wouldn’t hurt. Actually, depth at several positions should be the main focus of the draft, especially DL, RB and LB. The Vikings face a tough division every year. Although the mantle seems to have passed quickly from Green Bay to Chicago, Minnesota have been a constant threat in the North for a few years. Another solid draft and they could wrest the division back under their control.
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons
Were the Falcons really in the Super Bowl just a few years ago? Their Offense is in fine shape across the board, although they could strengthen the OL. The draft needs to address the Defense to force them into contention once more. In particular, they need to replace the losses of the interior of the DL in Grady Jarrett and Terrell McClain. Expect them to spend a few picks on LB too. Rebuilding the Defense can be achieved in the upcoming draft, and will alleviate the pressure on the Offense. Atlanta are more than capable of winning the division, but not without a Defense that can matchup against the NFC heavyweights.
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers
Will the 49ers finally get a full season out of Jimmy Garoppolo? Can Pierre Garcon still lead a dynamic aerial attack? Is Jerick McKinnon the guy the 49ers thought they were getting a year ago, especially a year after an ACL? These and other questions need to guide their draft in a few months’ time. LB remains a need aside from Fred Warner.
Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon are an above-average CB duo, although the latter needs to show more progress entering his third season. The rest of the secondary should be another priority in the draft, including depth at CB. While it may seem as though there a lot of needs for San Francisco, this draft can hide a lot of weaknesses. Combined with a healthier 2019 and Kyle Shanahan’s fully realised Offense, there is a good chance the 49ers sneak into the postseason.