February 3, 2012
New England Patriots
The two places that New England can better their team is the back 7, linebackers and defensive backs, and at receiver. Granted, their receiving core catches every pass and their tight ends, Gronkowski and Hernandez are incomparable at their position, but the Pats need a number one receiver. All of their receiving core is undersized and they do not have one guy that can stretch the field or a classic possession wide out. The Patriots are contenders to win a NFL title every year that Bill Belichek and Tom Brady are employed in Boston, but they can improve drastically through the draft.
Offseason move: Draft the biggest, fastest wide receiver on the board. They have enough quick guys that can read defenses and sit in open space. They need one guy that can stretch the field. DeSean Jackson is available in free agency, if no big fast receivers are still on the board. Trade for help in the secondary, and overspend for a free agent linebacker.
The Texans made the playoffs for the first time in the history of their franchise and played valiantly with a third string quarterback for their last 6 games. With a healthy Matt Schaub, the Texans are easily the most complete team in the AFC. Their defense ranked 1st for most of the season and ended the season as the 2nd best defense in the league behind the Ravens without their best player, Mario Williams.
Offseason move: Resign Aryan Foster, the best running back in the league. Sign Mario Williams to a contract or franchise him and trade him for a higher pick in the draft, then draft the best wide receiver available. The Texans should sell the farm for a pick high enough to draft Justin Blackmon. They missed on Dez Bryant two years ago even though he dropped into the perfect spot for them to pick him up ten spots past where he was projected to go, and their passing attack has never fully excelled because of it. Andre Johnson could be the best wide receiver in the league, but he is not a classic number one receiver. And Andre Johnson desperately needs help at wideout.
The Ravens missed a golden opportunity to win a championship behind two unforced errors made in the closing minutes of the AFC championship game. A dropped pass by Lee Evans and a missed 32 yard chip shot by Billy Cundiff may have closed the window on two Hall of Famer’s careers. Baltimore has one of the most talented running backs in the league, a strong armed quarterback, and a top tier defense (ranked number 1 at the end of the season) The Ravens need a receiver.
Offseason move: Draft a possession receiver. The Ravens desperately need a big receiver with good hands. Torrey Smith gives them the speed that they need downfield, however Flacco, their quarterback, misses him often on fly routes and Anquan Boldin does not get open enough underneath coverage to balance his speed. Malcolm Floyd is a big receiver with great hands that could be great for Baltimore. The Ravens also need to get younger on the defensive side of the football.
The Colts have just had their worst season since 1997, the year that Peyton Manning was drafted. He made the Colts a standard of excellence in football, and is possibly the best quarterback ever by the statistics. However, the Colts find themselves on the precipice of rebuilding since Manning missed the entire year due to injury and have procured the first pick in the draft. Ownership appears ready to ship of all the parts of the old regime and look towards the future.
Offseason move: Keep Peyton Manning as their starting quarterback and draft Andrew Luck with the overall number one pick in the draft. Luck is the best quarterback prospect since, you guessed it, Peyton Manning, and there is no other quarterback from which he should learn the professional game. Even if Peyton is less than forthcoming with his knowledge, Luck is sure to pick up useful idiosyncrasies of the game just being near Manning. Aaron Rogers learned under an openly petty Brett Favre and now he is the best quarterback in the league.
The Steelers need to get younger on both sides of the ball. They may have the best linebackers in the game but their secondary and their wide receiving need help even with Mike Wallace, one the best receivers in the NFL. The once stingy defense of the Steelers was once again porous this past season. And, the offense was inconsistent.
Offseason move: The Steelers need to get better in the secondary. They were still good against the run, but with all the rule changes protecting quarterbacks and wide receivers, their corners have been exposed. When Tim Tebow passes for 316 yards, against a defense, they should know that they have a problem. If no corners are on the board, then Pittsburgh should look to their offense. Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to target has probably reached the end of his career. Rashard Mendenhall was more consistent as a starter, but not dominant without a great passing attack. Roethlisberger was hurt all season from taking hits in the backfield, and thus inconsistent too. The Steelers need to draft on their offensive line. It steadies the running game and the passing game.
New York Jets – The Jets have been missing an identity this entire season. They were a “ground and pound” team for the last few seasons and beat very talented teams with their physicality. They have the best tandem of corners in the league, but they were not nearly as
Green Bay Packers – The Green Bay Packers are one bad performance away from repeating as Super Bowl champions. They dropped 8 passes in the game despite having the best wide receiving corps in the nation. They turned the ball over. They were not themselves for 4 quarters and were beaten by a good Giants team. The Packers do have some flaws though. They usually force turnovers, but they also give up yardage and field position. It hurt them in the postseason. Green Bay needs balance.
Offseason move: The Packers have talent in each level of their defense, but they need to get better. B.J. Raji needs help on the defensive line. He is the team’s only pass rusher and the only guy on the line that consistent penetration. With more help in the line backing corps, Clay Matthews would be free to be the disruptive force that he was last season. Or, the Pack could opt for getting better corners through free agency which should make both the line and the linebackers better. If no defensive players of note are left on the draft, then the Packers should pick the best running back that is on the board. More balance on offense could keep the defense off the field.
New York Giants – The Giants are fairly balanced on offense and with the emergence of Victor Cruz, they have one of the most explosive wide receiving crews in the NFL. Eli Manning has placed his name among the elite QB’s by limiting turnovers and capitalizing on mismatches. The running back tandem of Bradshaw and Jacobs is formidable on the ground. And, the Giants still have the best defensive front four in the league. Tom Coughlin, their coach, knows how to win games despite being on the hot seat every year (it sucks to coach in New York, everything is exaggerated).
Offseason move: The Giants may be the most balanced team in the NFL. They are good in all facets of the game, but their great defensive line hides the mediocrity of their linebackers and secondary. Quarterbacks face so much pressure from Jean Pierre-Paul and the front four that the Giants never have to blitz, and coverage seems better than it is.
San Francisco 49’ers – The emergence of Alex Smith under Coach Harbough is nothing short of a miracle. For the first time in his career, Smith is consistently making hard throws and moving the chains. The 49’ers are the most balanced team in the NFL and the most physical. They hit teams on both sides of the football. Frank Gore runs down field and with purpose. San Francisco may have the best athlete in the NFL at tight end in Vernon Davis. At 6’5” and 230+ pounds he runs a 4.3 40 yard dash. Last year under former head coach Mike Singletary, he was underutilized and floundered. Under Harbough, he has become one of the best tight ends in the league.
Offseason move: Draft a number one receiver. The core of Crabtree, Walker, and whoever the third guy is, is underwhelming at best. When your tight end is your best receiver, even if he runs a 4.3, you need to get another guy.
New Orleans Saints – The Saints have a Hall of Fame quarterback and the owner of the most coveted passing record in NFL history, Drew Brees. They have one of the deepest and most talented receiving groups in the National Football League, and a complementary running game. But, the Saints do not have a good defense anymore. If the game is close, there is only one other quarterback in the league that any reasonable person would trust to drive their team down the field and score besides Brees. He manipulates the pocket and the secondary, he is insanely accurate, and he makes his receivers better by placing the football perfectly. However, like their last playoff game against the 49’ers proved, they cannot make stops when they are needed.
Offseason move: Get an impactful defensive player. Good linebackers are easier to find in the draft, so the Saints should focus on getting an interior lineman or a corner in free agency, and draft an explosive linebacker.
Detroit Lions – The Detroit Lions have the best wide receiver in the NFL in Calvin Johnson. In single coverage, he scores a touchdown every time. He is the only receiver in the league that saw a double team on every red zone possession after the fourth game of the season. He is 6’5” with track speed and great hands. In the end zone if “Megatron” (Calvin Johnson) is in single coverage, he is essentially wide open and the play that was called in the huddle is exchanged for a jump ball to him. The Lions were unbeatable when running back Jahvid Best was on the field, despite a defense that gave up a lot of points. The problem is that Best could not stay on the field. Concussions have plagued him since college.
Offseason move: Get a running back. Best has Olympic track speed but cannot stay healthy, and if a player cannot stay on the field, it does not matter how talented he is. Defensive back is the second most pertinent need for Detroit. They have to get better against the pass. The Detroit defense which should have been one of the stoutest in the NFL, gave up 25+ points regularly. They made the playoffs on the backs of their potent offense.
Dallas Cowboys – The Dallas Cowboys, one of the most talented teams in the NFL, missed the playoffs again. Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Miles Austin failed to make postseason waves in yet another season. The Cowboys brought in Rob Ryan to steady their defense, but he proved unable to right the ship. He stopped the defense from allowing big plays, but the Cowboys could not make stops when the needed them and lost some big games because of it.
Offseason move: The Cowboys need faster and better corners and more athletic linebackers. They have a monster pass rusher on the defensive line with Demarcus Ware, and decent interior linemen, but they have average run stopping ability and mediocre pass coverage. The Cowboys have enough talent on offense to compete with anyone in the league when healthy, so they need to focus their attention to their secondary. And, moving up the draft board to get CB Dre Kirkpatrick or SS Mark Barron to bolster their coverage could push them to a deep run in the playoffs.
Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons have a Pro Bowler at every position on offense despite not being especially prolific as a team. Matt Ryan and Mike Turner propel Atlanta as an offense, but Roddy White, Julio Jones, and a tough offensive line keeps. Their defense leaves much to be desired. They need to improve in several facets of the defensive side of the ball.
Offseason move: The first offseason move for the Falcons is to resign their only pass rusher DE Jon Abrams. Next, Atlanta needs to find another pass rusher in free agency or get a good corner like Ronde Barber, Lardarius Webb, or Cortland Finnegan to complement Dunta Robinson on the other side.
Philadelphia Eagles – The Philadelphia Eagles are one of the most explosive and physically talented teams in the NFL. The have the most explosive quarterback, Michael Vick, the most explosive wide out, DeSean Jackson, and the fastest running back in the league, LeSean McCoy. The Eagles seemed like they were set to make a good run in the playoffs, but fell to a 6-10 record after finishing 12-4 last year and landing the most coveted cornerback in free agency in the offseason, Nnamdi Asomugha . The Eagles dealt with a disgruntled Jackson, an injured Vick, and a small, disappointing linebacker core last year. They were the most underachieving, and disappointing team in the National Football League.
Offseason move: Get better against the run. The Eagles need bigger linebackers. The have the quickness that they need in the back seven, they are terrible against rushing teams. They acquired Asomugha, so Philadelphia should be one of the best teams in the league against the pass, however their run defense is so horrible that they are forced to put the secondary in the box. This inevitably leads to big plays against them, and forces them to play against teams with leads. Teams with leads generally rush more. If linebackers are not available, then the Eagles should draft bigger, more athletic linemen on either side of the ball. Vick needs more protection on offense and a bigger defensive front could hide the smaller linebackers.