We are currently about a quarter of the way through the NFL season, and once again the popular line “expect the unexpected” applies to the start of the 2019 NFL season. Here are ten storylines to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
1. The meteoric rise of Gardner Minshew is unlike any we have ever seen from a quarterback. Two years ago he was at East Carolina and on his way to become a graduate transfer as a backup at Alabama in 2018 before Mike Leach convinced him to play at Washington State.
After finishing second in major college football in passing yards in 2018, the Jaguars drafted him to be a backup to Nick Foles, but he has started and impressed since Foles went down with a shoulder injury. We will not know if Foles will reclaim the job when he returns, but right now, Minshew has been among the most impressive rookies so far.
2. Two weeks into the season, the Ravens looked like an early contender in the American Football Conference (AFC), and Lamar Jackson looked like a potential MVP candidate. While the Ravens lost their next two games and did not impress in a win against the Steelers, Jackson has shown improvements as a passer from last season. If Jackson continues to play at the level that he played at to start the season, the Ravens offense will become dangerous because of his ability to beat defenses with his arm and his legs.
3. The Browns, the winner of the offseason Super Bowl, have had an uneven start to this season. Specifically, their offense has been disappointing so far. Baker Mayfield has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, largely because the offensive line has done a poor job of protecting him, and Odell Beckham has also been underwhelming.
However, their offense had its strongest output of the season in Week Four, when Nick Chubb ran for 165 yards and three touchdowns in a division win against the Ravens.
4. There may not be a player with more pressure than Dak Prescott. The young Cowboys signal caller is looking to sign a contract extension in excess of 30 million dolllars per year. In their first three games, all against bad defenses, he shined, looking like someone who should be among the highest paid quarterbacks.
In their first real challenge of the season, he struggled, only throwing for 223 yards and no touchdowns in a 12-10 loss to the Saints, and then threw three more interceptions in a loss against the Packers.
5. The New York Giants appear to have a new signal caller in rookie quarterback Daniel Jones out of Duke. While many fans and analysts including myself were critical of the selection, he has looked sharp since replacing Eli Manning as starter. In his first start, he led a comeback from a 28-10 halftime deficit to a 32-31 win, beginning the legend of “Danny Dimes.”
6. The race for the top pick next year is well under way. The Dolphins have been openly tanking all season by trading away Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick for draft picks. So far, they have the fewest points scored and most points allowed and are already being debated among the worst teams in NFL history. However, the Bengals, Redskins and Jets are also winless, and are all mired with injuries and poor play.
7. Todd Gurley’s volume and production decreased during their playoff run last season, and that trend has continued into this season. Through five games this season, he has yet to eclipse 20 touches in a game so far, and is currently averaging 67.6 yards from scrimmage, a sharp decrease from the 130.8 yards he averaged last season.
The Rams’ best hope of success is to give Gurley more touches because Jared Goff has had an uneven start to the season so far.
8. How much time will Cam Newton miss? In a preseason game against the Patriots, he suffered a foot sprain, and did not look 100 percent before the Panthers shut him down after consecutive losses to begin the season.
While he has stated that he would not rush back from injury, the team has not lost since he has been out. While he should start once he is healthy, there are questions of if he will ever return to form from before his injury, and how much of his athleticism will be compromised.
9. The best acquisition of the offseason has been Shaquil Barrett of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In four years in Denver, he never had more than 5.5 sacks in a season, as he was behind Von Miller, Shane Ray and Bradley Chubb on the depth chart. Through four games, he already has nine sacks this season, leading the NFL. On a one-year deal, he will have a chance to cash in this offseason as a free agent.
10. The Washington Redskins are a very dysfunctional organization. Ownership and front office were in favor of selecting Dwayne Haskins, while recently fired head coach Jay Gruden was not high on him. With Case Keenum struggling against the Giants, Washington replaced him with 2019 first round pick Dwayne Haskins, who Gruden had no plan for. For Week Five, they started journeyman backup Colt McCoy instead of Haskins, which could severely stunt the development of their first round pick.
With Gruden now gone, they need to find a head coach who will work with Haskins and grow him to be the franchise quarterback teams expect when drafting in the first round.