The 2016 NFL regular season is over, and we're now off to the playoffs.
There were certainly some surprises in 2016. Nobody thought the Dallas Cowboys would be the NFC's best team with Tony Romo not starting a single game. Who would have thought the Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos would all miss the playoffs, too? Especially after all three of them played on Championship weekend last year.
We also saw some stars and promising players fail to live up to expectations. Some teams expected to compete for the Super Bowl missed the playoffs altogether and ended up with fairly-high draft picks.
Well, there's a solution to most problems in the world, if you put your mind to it. There were 15 notable disappointments in 2016, but luckily the answer to fixing them is right there. Here is a look at how some of the NFL's biggest disappointments can be repaired and energized for 2017.
15 Arizona Cardinals: Nothing
To go from a 13-3 record an NFC Championship appearance to a 7-8-1 season was something nobody expected the Cardinals to do. They were far and away the favorites in the NFC coming into this season. But Carson Palmer failed to stay consistent, Michael Floyd got into trouble and was released, and the Cardinals just lacked that championship pedigree.
This was a team that nearly beat the New England Patriots and almost swept the Seattle Seahawks in the season series. They own one of the league's best defences, fielded by Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Chandler Jones (expected to stay in Arizona before becoming a free agent). You have to trust that Palmer will rebound after a disappointing season. Larry Fitzgerald will likely return for one more shot at the Super Bowl, while David Johnson remains arguably the NFL's top running back.
Arizona just has to keep the core together and expect better luck in 2017.
14 Brock Osweiler: Change the system (or) get rid of him
The Houston Texans made the playoffs, but $72 million man Brock Osweiler had nothing to do with it. It was the league's top-ranked defence and star running back Lamar Miller that carried Houston to its second-straight AFC South title.
Tom Savage replaced Osweiler in Week 15, but one would think that Houston tries to fix their mess of an investment. So what are the possible solutions with Osweiler? They have two choices. Firstly, they could try to go more run-heavy and have Osweiler complete short passes. His great arm was on display during his six games as Denver's starter last year. Houston tried to have him throw too many times. Traditionally, the Texans like to run the ball a lot and throw five-yard passes.
In short, they should try to turn Osweiler into more of a game manager.
Or, they could simply release him and just give him the $37 million guaranteed. But sticking with the same system won't do anything. DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller are great receivers, so it's not like the talent around Osweiler is short.
13 Chicago Bears: Cut off Jay Cutler
The Chicago Bears went 3-13 this season, their worst campaign since going 3-11 in 1973. It's time to accept the fact that $126.7 million man Jay Cutler is not the solution to this answer. Release him, pay the guaranteed money and move on. There is no way of fixing the soon-to-be 34-year-old at this point.
Chicago has a lot of talent on defence. If they keep Alshon Jeffery, he, 2015 first-rounder Kevin White and rookie sensation Jordan Howard will give this team an explosive offence for years to come. But the Bears are lightyears away from competing with their NFC North foes for the division title, and so it's time to commit to a rebuild.
That's impossible to do without Cutler. They could draft a quarterback in the first round or maybe even make an offer for Jimmy Garoppolo, Trevor Siemian or possibly Landry Jones. Either way, it's time to acquire a young quarterback and move on from Cutler.
12 Minnesota Vikings: Trade Adrian Peterson, Add More Weapons
The Vikings rode an elite defence and started out 5-0. Sam Bradford looked like he was worth the first-round pick surrendered by Minnesota. The Vikings needed to get a veteran quarterback after losing Teddy Bridgewater to a torn ACL before the regular season started.
Unfortunately, the offensive line was a huge mess, Bradford regressed and the ground game never materialized after Adrian Peterson's torn meniscus sidelined him for the bulk of 2016. That being said, the Vikings need a huge shake up on offence, and it should start by moving on from a 32-year-old running back.
Minny could gain a second or third-rounder for Peterson, and they should look to draft a running back in 2017. Also, the offensive line needs a ton of work. But another pass catcher to complement Kyle Rudolph and Stefon Diggs would also help.
11 Todd Gurley: Less of a Workload
Todd Gurley was a rookie sensation in 2015, finishing with 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns despite missing three games. 2016 was a major regression, as he had just 885 yards and six touchdowns in 16 games played. His struggles hampered an already-mediocre Los Angeles Rams offence, and it made them one of the league's worst teams.
But the main problem for the Rams is their passing game is less scary than Jaws 3. All defences had to do was stack up the box on Gurley, and the Rams offence became non-existent. That's not on him, it's on the way the team ran their offence.
The Rams are going to have to be less reliant on Gurley by giving him less carries. And the best way to do that? Well...
10 Jared Goff: Give Him Some Receivers
The 2016 first-round pick started seven games for the Rams and lost all of them. He finished with just five touchdowns, seven interceptions and a mere 54.6 completion percentage. But it's hard for any quarterback to succeed when the incredibly inconsistent Tavon Austin is your only threat.
No quarterback in the NFL will succeed without terrible receivers. The Rams fired Jeff Fisher and will surely look to bring on a more offensive-minded head coach. They could look to draft receivers in April, but also signing them via free agency would help.
Alshon Jeffery could hit the open market, while Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon LaFell are among options that could help out Jared Goff. But he simply needs at least two solid receivers to fix himself, the offense, Gurley and the Rams.
9 Buffalo Bills Defence: The Right Head Coach
After fielding the NFL's fourth-ranked defence in 2014, the sky was the limit for the Buffalo Bills when they hired defensive guru Rex Ryan to be their new head coach. Many, including myself, thought we'd see a defence better than the Seattle Seahawks.
Well, after a disappointing showing in 2015, the defence was mediocre in 2016. The Bills finished 19th in yards (allowing 357 a game) while surrendering 23.6 points per game. The Bills went from 9-7 in 2014 to 8-8 last season to 7-9 in 2016. Clearly, Ryan's schemes in Buffalo never worked. We know the talent is there for them to be a juggernaut like they were in 2014. So the Bills really just have to find the right coach that can run Doug Marrone's sysem from two years ago.
Wade Phillips could leave the Broncos and be a nice option as head coach or defensive coordinator. Jon Gruden's rumored to come out of retirement. Either way, the Bills have more than enough talent on defence. They just need the right man to run it.
8 Cincinnati Bengals: House Clean the front office/coaching staff
The Bengals probably aren't going to fire head coach Marvin Lewis. It's something I just don't get. This team hasn't won a playoff game since 1991, despite making the playoffs each year from 2011-2015. This team was expected to be a playoff squad again in 2016, only to finish 6-9-1 and miss the playoffs altogether.
Andy Dalton is a franchise quarterback while A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, and Tyler Eifert round out one of the NFL's best offences. The defence is also scary with Vontaze Burfict, Geno Atkins, Adam Jones, and others. There are no more excuses to keep underachieving. Lewis really needs to be let go. Mike Brown needs to relinquish the GM role, and offensive coordinator Ken Zampese ran this offence into the ground. There's no need for him to stay on.
After such a letdown year, it's time for the Bengals to bring in a new regime of front office and coaching leadership. This old one hasn't worked. And when something doesn't work, you change it, no?
7 Carson Wentz: Better Receivers
Caron Wentz, the second pick from the 2016 NFL Draft, wasn't necessarily terrible, but he did regress after a hot 3-0 start to the season in which he threw five touchdowns and zero interceptions. It was all downhill from there.
He finished 2016 with just 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, completing 62.4 percent of his passes. The Eagles finished last in the NFC East, and it's clear Wentz has a lot of work to do if he's to be the starter this team wants. But to be fair to Wentz, this team's leading receiver was tight end Zach Ertz (78 catches for 816 yards).
There are rumors about the Eagles reuniting with DeSean Jackson in the offseason. This year's wide receiver class in free agency is fairly deep, and the Eagles just need to supply Wentz with a legitimate number one receiver and veteran number two option. Then he'll progress much more nicely.
6 Baltimore Ravens: Youth Movement
For the third time in four years (since winning Super Bowl XLVII) the Ravens failed to post a winning record and will not make the playoffs. They had the AFC North title in their hands, sitting at 7-5, only to lose three out of their final four games.
This is one of the NFL's oldest rosters. Joe Flacco (32) isn't that old for a quarterback. But by the start of the 2017 season, Mike Wallace will be 31, Terrell Suggs 34, Eric Weddle 32, Jimmy Smith 29, Dennis Pitta 32, Elvis Dumervil 33, and Marshal Yanda 33.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are much younger and faster than the Ravens, who really need to start getting younger. It would make sense for Ozzie Newsome to start wheeling-and-dealing veterans like he did in the 2013 offseason. Baltimore needs a new identity on offence and a faster secondary.
Call it a minor rebuild at that. Whatever it is, they need to move out some vets for draft picks and slowly start a new era.
5 Blake Bortles: Offensive-Minded Head Coach
The Jacksonville Jaguars had a great coach in Gus Bradley - who built the Seattle Seahawks' Legion of Boom defence. However, Bradley failed to help develop Blake Bortles and the offence properly, and it ultimately led to his firing this season.
Bortles had 4,428 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions in 2015. He followed it up with 3,905 yards and just 23 touchdowns against 16 picks. There's no shortage of talent on the Jaguars. Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Julius Thomas and T.J. Yeldon give Bortles one of the NFL's most talented supporting casts.
But Bortles needs a guy like Kyle Shanahan or Josh McDaniels to be his mentor and head coach. Both men have been great and respected offensive coordinators for some time, and the 24-year-old quarterback needs the right guy to guide him. The next Jaguars head coach should be a guy who knows how to run an offence. It's that simple.
4 New Orleans Saints: Defence, Defence, Defence
For the fourth time in five years, the Saints finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs. That simply cannot happen when Drew Brees leads the NFL in passing yards and consistently reaches 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in a season. As you know, it's only their defence that's holding this team back.
The Saints ranked 27th in yards allowed, surrendering 375.4 per game. They also allowed 28.4 points per game. This defence includes Cameron Jordan, Delvin Breaux, Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd. They simply should not be this bad.
With rumors about Sean Payton leaving, Rex Ryan would be a good head coach or defensive coordinator (if Dennis Allen gets canned). The Saints should also spent their cap space on defence. And every draft pick should be on defence. They should focus on defence, only defence and nothing but defence.
You really think this offence needs more help? We didn't think so.
3 New York Jets: Tear it All Down
The 2015 Jets were oh-so-close to reaching the playoffs in 2015. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a career year, wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker formed a lethal receiving combo, and their defence was the NFL's fourth-best.
Then, Murphy Law's came into play. Anything that could go wrong did go wrong.
Fitzpatrick, who didn't sign a contract with the team until July, regressed back to his old self. Decker missed most of the season, free agent signing Matt Forte showed his age (31) and future Hall of Famer Darrelle Revis went from a shutdown corner to a guy that quarterbacks feasted on (whenever they threw in his direction). It makes sense to move on from the 31-year-old Revis and 33-year-old Marshall. Fitzpatrick won't be back, and the team may look to move on from troubling star Sheldon Richardson.
This is a Jets team that had more than enough talent to reach the playoffs. 5-11 was unacceptable. This team has gone six-straight years without the playoffs. That means it's time for a fresh new change: Tear it all down. Get younger.
2 Indianapolis Colts: New Coach, New GM, New Defence
Pretty sad that a team with an elite quarterback in Andrew Luck is also among the most flawed teams. Luck single-handedly carried the Colts to 8-8, and deserves MVP consideration for saving this team from being 5-11 or worse.
After making the playoffs each year from 2012-2014 (and reaching the AFC Championship two seasons ago) the Colts have now posted consecutive 8-8 seasons with no playoffs to show for it. Their offensive line is probably the league's worst, and their defence finished in the bottom-10 for the second-straight year.
Head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson have had a rocky relationship. Both men have failed to build around Luck. He, T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Kelly, Frank Gore and Vontae Davis are all this team really has.
With such a circus backstage, it's time for the Colts to find a new head coach and new general manager to build a new offensive line and new defence. They're wasting the prime years of a once-in-a-generation quarterback.
1 Denver Broncos Offence: Tony Romo
Fielding the NFL's fourth-best defence and a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas wasn't enough for the Broncos to reach the playoffs and try to defend their Super Bowl 50 championship.
With all due respect to Trevor Siemian, he was not a very good quarterback. The offensive line was also one of the league's worst, and the rushing game was less scary than...Jaws 4.
This Broncos team really just needs a slightly above-average quarterback to be the AFC's top team again. Tony Romo is inevitably leaving Dallas with the emergence of Dak Prescott. NFL.com's Ian Rapoport noted that Romo loves the idea of playing for the Broncos. Romo wants a ring and can mentor 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch. Romo's incredible footwork in the pocket would mask the problems of Denver's o-line. Romo is the solution to Denver's problem, and they should do anything it takes to get him.
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