We are near the end of one of the more unpredictable seasons in the NFL in recent memory as we find ourselves in the midst of the postseason. In the playoffs, much like every other year, we see the 12 best teams in the league duke it out for a shot at the Lombardi Trophy in February. While those 12 have their eyes set on the championship, there remains 20 teams left on the outskirts of the playoffs, left to reflect and attempt to figure out what went wrong in this season, what could have changed, what they could have done differently, and what they can change moving forward to get a spot in the one of the most prestigious tournaments in all of American sports in the future.
In football, being the ultimate, complex, team sport that it is makes it a little difficult to narrow down what the biggest issue for each team is and what they ought to do about it. That is where I – your mere spectator with an opinion – come in. This piece focuses on the teams that failed to make the postseason this year and gives them (and by association their fans) an idea of what they should go after in the coming offseason to best upgrade their roster, improve the on field performance of the players on board, and bring them all one step closer to tasting ultimate football glory in the nearby future. This is what all the 20 non-playoff NFL teams need to improve on in 2018.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Quarterback / Head Coach
The Arizona Cardinals find themselves in one of the more uncommon situations of having to find both a new head coach and a new starting quarterback for the future. As you know head coach Bruce Arians and Quarterback, Carson Palmer both decided to retire with their heads held high after another losing season for the Cardinals. Now the Cardinals, unlike most non-playoff teams, actually have a really talented roster. The main problem on offense is that their offensive line cannot seem to play well consistently and as a result the defense is relied on too heavily. While fixing up and patching the offensive line should be a priority, finding a head coach and quarterback should be at the top of the list of things to do in Arizona. If the Cards don’t do this right, they could be looking at several more years of outside the postseason looking in.
19. Baltimore Ravens: Wide Receiver
In fairness to Baltimore, they were literally seconds away from entering the postseason, which would have kept them off of our list. However, they did not make the playoffs and do have some holes to fill, primarily on offense. The early stages of the season saw the Ravens struggle heavily on offense that held them back from really competing with the rest of the top teams in the league. It was at the midpoint of the year where they were able to develop a respectable run game. Unfortunately, the holes in the receiving core remained all throughout the year. Because of this, the Ravens should sought after either a top receiver in free agency or a heavily scouted and highly rated receiver in the draft to complete their offense and by association the rest of the team.
18. Chicago Bears: Wide Receiver
Chicago Bears are off to a pretty good start in their off-season. They wasted no time replacing John Fox, as they recently hired former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy to be the new head coach. It’s a move that should certainly help improve an offense that showed glimmers of potential during the season. Chicago had a lot of young talent on the defensive side of the ball and should continue to progress those players moving forward. Offensively, the team should focus on continuing to develop starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s game and bringing on board more weapons for him to throw the ball to. Doing that should surely put the Bears in a good position to compete in the wildly competitive NFC North division for years to come.
17. Cincinnati Bengals: Head Coach
Call me crazy if you will, but I am of the mindset that when you go 14+ seasons with one team and through it all you don’t win a single playoff game while conveying an inability to discipline your players, you should probably be fired, or at least get a job somewhere else. I like Marvin Lewis. He’s good at his job. However, in the world of football your window is open for only so long to succeed and for the Cincinnati Bengals that window seems to have closed as they are now in their third consecutive season where they have missed the playoffs. This is still a very talented team, and they still maintain plenty of potential to compete in the nearby future. Unfortunately, with all their talent comes a large dosage of no self-culpability or self-awareness, which has prohibited them from any form of success in past years. That being said, I think a rebuild is in order, and it should start with the head coach.
16. Cleveland Browns: Offense… The Whole Thing
I was tempted to suggest that the whole team needs improvement all around, but that would be unfair to the talented prospects that were drafted last year. That being the case, the Browns struggle at quarterback and wide receiver, and could be a little better at running back and tight end. I know most of you probably are thinking of the coach which is understandable. However, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Hue Jackson or Mike Pettine or any other coach they’ve had in the past. If the roster is no good, then the team won’t succeed regardless of who’s coaching. On that note, the Browns should absolutely draft a quarterback first overall, and go full out on one side of the ball so they can narrow down their problems one aspect of the game at a time. Trust me, it is impossible to fix that mess in just one offseason.
15. Dallas Cowboys: Stay On The Field
We can talk about how the defense deteriorates when Sean Lee is not on the field, or we can talk about how bad a season Dez Bryant had along with the rest of the receiving core of the Dallas Cowboys, but the truth of it all is that if Ezekiel Elliott had not been suspended at all this past season, Dallas probably would have made the playoffs and thus would not have made this list. That being the case, while there do remain things to address in the Cowboys front office this off-season, they should prioritize showing discipline towards their players and using this season as an example as to what may happen when the team is not focused on the game. If they can do that then the Cowboys should be fine, if not then they will return to this list for a different reason.
14. Denver Broncos: Quarterback
It was a tough year to be a Broncos fan. We can discuss the head coach and his staff, but the truth of the matter is that it was only his first season at the helm and deserves at least one more shot next year. On top of that, the clear issue that the Broncos face that outweighs any other on the team is there lacking quarterback play. The Broncos quarterback core consisted of Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, and Paxton Lynch, three guys whom we can all probably agree based off of what we saw this season, are not fit to take this offense and flourish moving forward. That being said, before addressing any other issue, Denver should have finding a new starting quarterback at the top of the priorities list this coming offseason. If they do that and still stink, then let’s talk about the coach.
13. Detroit Lions: Running Back
You could attribute Detroit’s lack of a running game to their low-ranked offensive line. However, what separates Detroit’s running backs to that of other teams who also have a low ranked offensive line is that most of those teams have a starting running back who we know can give you a thousand yards rushing per season, we don’t know that to be the case of Detroit’s rushers. That being said, it would be wise for the Lions to sought after one of those backs in the offseason in an attempt to shape out the roster, complete the offense, and improve the team’s gameplay. Given the talent on defense, the numerous options on offense and there being really no issue for them at quarterback, I can’t see any other issue keeping them from being a complete team.
12. Green Bay Packers: Defense
It is mind-boggling to me how you could possibly mess this up. You have a quarterback who is so good that he barely needs running backs on the field. As a matter of fact, during a stretch last year he didn’t have a running back so receiver started at that position and the Packers nearly went to the Super Bowl. For years now the biggest problem for the green and yellow has been the defense, and the front office has done little to nothing to fix that problem. So this entry on our list is really just a message in the wide atmosphere known as the internet just hoping that the Packers eyes catch this article and see that they need to address this issue on their roster. Clay Matthews and Mike Daniels are great, but they cannot be the only key starters on defense to carry you through. Sign somebody to bolster the secondary at least.
11. Houston Texans: Health
For the first time in a long time the Houston Texans do not need to look for a quarterback this offseason. Deshaun Watson was taking the league by storm and taking names while doing it, making defenses look weak and GMs look stupid for not drafting him. Unfortunately, the dazzling start to his career came to a screeching halt as he suffered an ACL tear midway through the season. It was the story of the Texans season as defensive stalwarts J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus both suffered season-ending injuries that held the team back from experiencing any form of true success. With the expectation that all three players will be back at 100% and ready to go at the beginning of next season, the sky is truly the limit for this Texans team moving forward.
10. Indianapolis Colts: Offensive Line
For probably the third or fourth consecutive season, the offensive line remains the Colts biggest problem. It’s almost like they’re not even paying attention. You – let me let you in on a little secret in the NFL. The key to team success is not always an elite quarterback. The primary key is a good offensive line. Because it doesn’t matter how good your quarterback is if he doesn’t have time to throw the ball, it doesn’t matter how good your receivers are if they aren’t fast enough to get open before their quarterback gets hit, and it certainly doesn’t matter how skilled your running back is if there’s no one blocking and making a path for him to cut through and gain yardage. Basically to put it in a nutshell, if the offense of line is bad, the offense will likely be bad overall, thus placing the defense on the field much longer than they need to be or can be for that matter. The second you figure that out, the quicker your team improves. Take note Indy.
9. Los Angeles Chargers: Avoid Slow Start
Now yes, the Chargers do have an aging quarterback in Philip Rivers and should therefore begin the process of finding a successor at the quarterback position. However, strictly pertaining to next season where Philip will more than likely remain the starter, all the Chargers need to do is remember when the season starts. I say that because in the first quarter of the season the Chargers looked like one of the worst teams in football. In fact, they were in a four-way tie for dead last in the league in team record at 0-4. It was after starting so poorly that the Chargers capped off an impressive 9-3 run that nearly propelled them into the postseason. That said, assuming that the majority of the team’s current core remains intact going into next year, all the Chargers have to do is get off to a strong start and maintain it.
8. Miami Dolphins: Quarterback
It had been a rough year for the Miami Dolphins. Coming off a rather impressive season going 10-6 and getting back into the postseason, 2017 saw this team hit a bit of a roadblock. The injury to starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill put them in a precarious position. To fill the void for the season, the Dolphins signed Jay Cutler in hopes that he would help the team get back to the playoffs for a consecutive season. This plan did not come to fruition. Instead, the team went an abysmal 6-10, falling to third place in the division, failing to make the playoffs, and leaving the team with plenty of questions surrounding their future. If there’s anything to know about football, it is that a star quarterback, or even solid quarterback play can uplift the team overall and put them back on track. That being said, Miami should make the acquisition of a new quarterback via draft or free agency a top priority looking forward to next season.
7. New York Giants: Offensive Line
You can tell me that the biggest thing they need to address is the quarterback situation based off of everything that happened with Eli Manning this past year, but the Giants biggest issue isn’t with quarterback. They have the number 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft, and whether it’s Josh Rosen or Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold, they will likely draft a quarterback to lead the team into the future. In knowing that, the biggest issue that faces the Giants is the offensive line. Throughout the season the absence of star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. highlighted the team’s lacking offense. Before now-former head coach Ben McAdoo benched him, Manning struggled to move the ball down the field while throwing as he usually did not have enough time to find the best option open, and the running game never really got going due to a lack of depth in the backfield and no holes being made for the backs to run through. Much like the Colts, the Giants should prioritize the offensive line in the coming offseason to best set themselves up in the future.
6. New York Jets: Quarterback
To the surprise of many, the Jets, who were expected to be one of the worst (if not the worst) team in the NFL, had a pretty solid season given how the team performed for majority of the season. They managed to keep themselves in games against some of the league’s best teams, and ultimately put together a handful of wins that allowed the team’s head coach to retain his job. They were able to perform the way that they did while being led on offense buy veteran quarterback Josh McCown. Because McCown (38) is getting up in years for a quarterback, and the team not having any deep problems on the roster in terms of ability, the New York Jets should look to acquire a new starting quarterback to lead them into the future, with hopes of at least winning the division in the nearby future.
5. Oakland Raiders: Defense
Over the course of the last two-plus seasons the Oakland Raiders have had one of the worst defenses in all of the NFL. Their defensive backs can’t stop opposing receivers, and their lineman can barely stop the run game or sack the quarterback. It has reached a point to where in games where the offense struggles to get going you can pretty much check mark those games as a guaranteed loss. This was highlighted further throughout this past season, as the offense wasn’t quite as dominant nor prevalent as it was the season before. As a result the Raider defense, which was weak last year in spite of the great offense, looked even weaker this season. Now the Raiders have already made some interesting moves with their coaching staff, but moving forward, their priorities should focus on building a respectable and dependable defense.
4. San Francisco 49ers: Consistency
This season for the San Francisco 49ers was exactly what it was supposed to be and then some. This was supposed to be the first year of a rather long rebuild. But the gods of this game decided that their rebuild would not last as long as we all originally thought. During the season they were able to acquire upstart quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots. Since being inserted into the lineup, the Niners are yet to lose a game. They have reached such a point in their confidence that their starting running back, Carlos Hyde has already stated that they intend on winning the Super Bowl next year. Now while that statement should not be taken seriously at all, it does speak to how confident this team has become because of this one player. And with the way the team is been ran thus far in the Lynch – Shanahan regime, the Niners are on their way to the promised land, as long as they keep doing what they’ve been doing so far.
3. Seattle Seahawks: Offensive Line
You know what I wish? I wish that Russell Wilson can go a game – just one – where he can comfortably stand in the pocket, see the whole field and throw a dart to one of his receivers. Last time I saw him do something like that was – well – I don’t even remember. Since their last couple of Super Bowl appearances, the vaunted legion of boom has remained intact, so there’s nothing really wrong with the defense. Offensively though, I mean, it’s hard to watch sometimes. Wilson literally runs for his life trying to avoid a sack just so we can throw the football in hopes that maybe one of his receivers will catch it. Some of the plays that he has been able to make are just awe-inspiring. It is why despite his team’s underachievement he remains one of the league’s most valuable players. Without him and his mobility and his ability to run out of the pocket the Seahawks would be a bottom feeder right now and that is not right for team with one of the greatest defenses in recent memory. That being the case, Seattle needs to build up that line on offense before their window closes completely.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Offensive Line
It’s hard to fathom how bad of a season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had. When you consider all the talent they had on both sides of the ball it’s really a head scratcher as to why they were as bad as they were. In free agency you bring in guys like Chris Baker, T.J. Ward, and DeSean Jackson while on your team already you have quarterback Jameis Winston, running back Doug Martin, receiver Mike Evans, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, and others. The offensive line had to be the issue, otherwise this season makes no sense. Of course, that did turn out to be the case, as going into the season their offensive line was one of the worst in the league, and coming out of the season they remained one of the worst in the league. Fortunately for the Bucs, this seems to be their only issue, meaning that putting the pieces together on the offensive line should bolster this team into championship contention down the line.
1. Washington Redskins: Quarterback
With the expectation that resident starting quarterback Kirk Cousins makes his way out of D.C this year, the Washington Redskins should absolutely find a new starting quarterback moving forward. While there remains concerns with other positions on the field considering the various injuries to Jordan Reed, Chris Thompson, key pieces on the offense of line and some players on defense, without an at least capable starting quarterback the Redskins will be doomed to mediocrity for years to come. With a handful of starting caliber quarterbacks entering free agency in the offseason, Washington should jump on the opportunity and sign one of them to take the mantle as the team’s new starter moving forward. If not, the team is looking at a freefall that will set them back years before they can even attempt to rise again.
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