We are through Wild Card Weekend, and have just four teams remaining in each conference for the postseason. For the other 24 teams, the off-season has already arrived, and that means making moves to improve the franchise as soon as possible.
This year, teams have moved very quickly to hire new coaches. Typically, we see franchises wait to meet with some of the coaches still working in the playoffs, but we’ve already seen three NFC teams hire new head coaches, and one team bring aboard a new offensive coordinator. Here is the outlook for these new NFC pairings.
Matt LaFleur to Packers
It has been a quick rise up the ladder for LaFleur, who was a quarterbacks coach two years ago, and will now be getting his first head coaching job for Green Bay. While LaFleur does not have an extensive NFL background, and is just 39 years old, he has quite the resume. He was the quarterbacks coach for six seasons under Kyle Shanahan with two different teams and served as the offensive coordinator under Sean McVay in 2017 before filling that same role for the Titans this past season.
LaFleur has been a positive for quarterbacks everywhere he’s been. He coached Robert Griffin during his prolific rookie campaign, Matt Ryan for his MVP season, and Jared Goff during his breakout sophomore year. Even Marcus Mariota last season managed to see a 16.1 percent increase in adjusted yards per attempt from 2017, despite playing much of the season with a nerve issue in his elbow along with other injuries.
Aaron Rodgers saw the lowest touchdown percentage of his career in 2018, the first year people have questioned whether or not the star quarterback is declining. With Mike McCarthy running the show, the Packers offense was stuck in the mire of a decade-old scheme that lacked any sort of modern creativity. Under LaFleur, expect Rodgers to bounce back, which bodes well for everyone involved in Green Bay.
Bruce Arians to Buccaneers
After a short retirement, Arians will return to the coaching scene in Tampa Bay, where he replaces Dirk Koetter. Arians has been a lightning rod in prior stops, and not just on offense, where he has always demonstrated ability to be creative and get the ball to his best players. In a career that includes mentoring Ben Roethlisberger and extending Carson Palmer’s career by about four years, Arians’ finest accomplishment is probably when he won Coach of the Year in an interim role during Andrew Luck’s rookie season.
As previously mentioned, Arians specializes in getting his play-makers the football. Pittsburgh boasted eight top 24 receiver seasons in points per game between four different players in PPR leagues during Arians’ five-year stint there. Reggie Wayne posted an insane 195 targets in his only season with Arians. Larry Fitzgerald had three consecutive 100 catch seasons at ages 32, 33, and 34 while Arians was in Arizona.
Now armed with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to go along with deep-ball slinging quarterback Jameis Winston, expect another explosive offense under the 66 year-old wizard. Fantasy owners should anticipate heavy target numbers for Tampa’s talented wideouts, and the Bucs may finally hit the potential people have been claiming they have for years.
Byron Leftwich will join Arians in Tampa Bay as the offensive coordinator after playing for Arians in Pittsburgh, and serving an interim role in that position last year for Arizona.
Kliff Kingsbury to Cardinals
Kingsbury is the only new hire (so far) to come from the college ranks, spending the previous six seasons as the head coach of Texas Tech. Here were the rankings of his offenses based on Football Outsiders’ S&P+.
Kingsbury was fortunate enough to work with fantastic quarterback talent while at Tech, including both Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes, but he also got the most out of those players. Mahomes, in particular, was prolific under Kingsbury, with two straight seasons of over 5,000 yards and 45 touchdowns. After selecting Josh Rosen in the top 10 last year, the Cardinals expect him to experience growth under Kingsbury.
The former Texas Tech head coach was one of college’s most creative offensive minds, and deployed an Air-Raid style attack. Rosen should be running a more simplified offense than 2018, with plenty of easy throws built in to move the chains. 2018 rookie Christian Kirk played in an Air-Raid style offense at Texas A&M, and had 590 receiving yards in 12 games before suffering a season-ending injury. A sophomore breakout is not out of the question.
After seeing a massive drop in not only targets (120 to 76) but average depth of those targets (3.8 to 0.8) from 2016 to 2018, expect David Johnson to resume a role in which he is deployed all over the field to get the ball in his hands in space.
Honorable Mention: OC Dirk Koetter to Falcons
Returning for his second stint as Falcons offensive coordinator is Koetter, who served in that role from 2012 to 2014 before becoming Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator and eventual head coach.
In his first run with the team, Ryan had three top 10 quarterback seasons, Julio Jones had two top 12 wide receiver seasons, and Roddy White had the final top 12 season of his career. The Falcons passed the ball at least 62 percent of the time in each of Koetter’s three seasons. Jones should continue to be heavily featured in the offense, but we should also see a step forward from 2018 first-round pick Calvin Ridley.
Koetter brings with him Mike Mularkey, who previously served as the head coach of the Titans, to be his tight ends coach.
The head-coaching hires made so far indicate a clear focus on the offensive side of the football for NFL teams. This makes sense given the rule changes favoring offense, and the success of offensive-driven teams this year. In particular, the emphasis on schematic creativity in a head coach is a positive sign for the future of the league. In the short term, each of these offenses project as 2019 values if fantasy gamers are going to approach them based on their 2018 production.