When the Baltimore Ravens hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy, 31 other teams were already beginning to plan out their 2013 season. Such is life in the NFL. For all the glory the Ravens are relishing in, every other team is painstakingly back at the drawing board, trying to find the right mix for the championship recipe. So where do the teams stand? Here’s a look.
The new Super Bowl Champions will be going through some changes when September arrives. The most obvious being Ray Lewis retiring, but the Ravens may have to shift their focus on areas to improve. For most of its franchise history, the offense was deemed to be an issue, but a case could be made that the defense has room for improvement. The secondary and linebackers could use more depth, while some tinkering is needed up front. Still, those are quibbles compared to everyone else. They are the champions so they have the right to brag.
San Francisco 49ers:
The 49ers came so close, but just fell short of the ultimate prize. Still, there are many reasons San Francisco can hold their heads high. They found their quarterback of the future and present in the form of Colin Kaepernick. The read-option offense is an offense built for this team. The defense, despite its struggles against the Ravens, is a solid group. What this team needs the most is maturity, and that will come in time. A bright future for the 49ers.
New England Patriots:
There are always high hopes for New England. Especially with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on board. But there are signs that this team is on the decline. The Patriots look lost and confused in their AFC Championship loss to Baltimore. In fact, this team hasn’t been quite right since their loss in Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants costing the Patriots a perfect season. The Patriots have benefitted from playing in a very weak AFC East division, and don’t seem to be tough enough come playoff time. If a team in their division can finally step up and challenge New England, we could see the end of the Patriots dominance for the last decade.
Not quite sure what to make of the Falcons. They’re a good team with talent to spare, but something seems to be missing in Atlanta. Matt Ryan finally won his first playoff game, but still can’t find the pot at the end of the rainbow. The Falcons do need some work on defense, especially up front. When John Abraham went down with a knee injury, the Falcons front four struggled to put pressure on the quarterback. Atlanta desperately needs a pass rusher to disrupt offenses. Some size in the middle of the front four wouldn’t hurt either.
This is a team that should feel that they blew a major opportunity. The Broncos were 41 seconds away from eliminating the Ravens, when Joe Flacco found Jacoby Jones, for a miracle 70 yard touchdown. But it wasn’t just that play. The Broncos secondary were awful against the Ravens, raising concerns in the Mile High City. All-Pro corner Champ Bailey was getting burned by Torrey Smith so much, they had to treat him for overexposure to UV rays. Rahim Moore played the Jones touchdown worse than an amateur poker player, going all in with a deuce, seven pocket. And who knows how many years Peyton Manning has left. Yes, Manning was the comeback player of the year, but after the Baltimore game, questions have surfaced about Manning’s ability to win in the playoffs. While Manning does have a Super Bowl ring with Indianapolis, he is a mediocre record of 9-11 in the playoffs. For someone who many consider the best ever, (I don’t) Manning needs to step up in the playoffs. But how much does he have left?
Green Bay Packers:
The Packers have an explosive offense, but a putrid defense. That defense was torched by the 49ers in the divisional playoffs, and it is the area that must be addressed. The Packers were steamrolled by the 49er ground game, which should mean the Packers will be looking for help in the front four. This has been an ongoing issue for Green Bay dating back to last season. The offense is fine with Aaron Rodgers leading the way. This is still the best team in the NFC North, but I don’t see this team getting over the hump until it fixes the defense.
A team on the rise. The Seahawks came into 2012 with huge question marks at the quarterback position. Russell Wilson answered all of those questions. The Wisconsin product had a fantastic rookie season, and is hoping to build on that in 2013. One thing the Seahawks have to be better at is winning on the road. The Seahawks are dynamite at home, going 8-0, but were a mere 3-5 away from CenturyLink Field. If the Seahawks can find a way to squeak out a couple more away game, while staying dominant at home, this is a team that could be in the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium.
The Texans got off to a roaring start, but faded down the stretch. Houston never seemed to recover from getting hammered by New England on a Monday night, which started their downfall. This is a young team that is still learning to win. It would help if head coach Gary Kubiak wasn’t so conservative in his game-planning. There are still questions if quarterback Matt Schaub can lead a team to the promised land. Schaub is a quality starter, but he isn’t a superstar. He may need to elevate his game if Houston wants to take the next step. It will help that linebacker Brian Cushing should be back, after spending the entire 2012 season on IR. This is an interesting team, with some questions, but with potential as well.
The team that enjoyed the biggest turn-around in 2012, the Colts were the biggest surprise of the season. Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck will be the franchise quarterback for the next 10 years, so the Colts are set in that area. However, they could use improvement in the running game. The Colts ranked 22nd in rushing, which far too often made them one-dimensional. The Colts will miss offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who left to become the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. The inspirational story of Chuck Pagano is a story worth telling, but can it carry over to 2013? I’m expecting a slight dip by the Colts, but not a catastrophe.
The impact of Robert Griffin III cannot be overstated. However, his torn ACL that he suffered in the Redskins playoff loss to Seattle might just destroy the Redskins chances in 2013. There is talk that RG3 may miss the entire 2013 season because of his shredded knee. So where does that leave the Redskins? While Kirk Cousins is a reliable backup, he’s no RG3. Even if RG3 is ready for September, the Redskins have other concerns. The Redskins ranked 28th in yards given up on defense and 22nd in points allowed. Washington must be better on the defensive side of the football. The Redskins were 30th in pass defense, giving up and average of 281.9 yards per game. The secondary is a major cause for concern and it is an area that must be looked at. Washington likes to use a 3-4, but there are some that want the Redskins to go to a 4-3. While RG3 gave the Redskins hope, there are many questions in DC.
The Bengals are in the exact same place as they were last season. For the second straight year, they made the playoffs as a wildcard team. For the second straight year, the Bengals were ousted by Houston on wildcard weekend. The Bengals do have talent across the board, but can they overtake the Ravens in the AFC North? While the window is still open, the Bengals need to take advantage of the opportunity.
Another surprise team, the Vikings made the playoffs in 2012, largely due to the brilliant Adrian Peterson. The MVP of the NFL, Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards, just 8 yards shy of the NFL record held by Eric Dickerson. It felt like Peterson was the entire team, and that isn’t too far off. Quarterback Christian Ponder must improve or else the Vikings will fall back. The Vikings is OK, but has room to improve. How long can Antoine Winfield and Jared Allen can produce at a high level will be a huge question in the Twin Cities in 2013.
New York Giants:
The Super Bowl Champions in 2011, the Giants missed the playoffs in 2012. Inconsistent play from Eli Manning and a surprising downturn from the defense, were the main causes of the Giants demise. Injuries also played a big part, but coach Tom Coughlin refused to use that as an excuse. The Giants could use help at linebacker and cornerback. Corey Webster did record 4 interceptions, but was lit up like a Christmas Tree on far too may occasions. A healthy Giant team can win the NFC East in 2013. But they need to plug some holes, if they want to return to the Super Bowl, which will be at MetLife Stadium. The pressure is on.
Some observers, (myself included) picked the Bears to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in 2012. Instead they missed the playoffs altogether. The winds of change swept through the Windy City. Gone is head coach Lovie Smith. The new man in charge is Marc Trestman, who was head coach of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes. Trestman also has NFL experience, as he was offensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders in 2002, the last time the Silver and Black reached the Super Bowl. Trestman is known as an offensive guru, which should benefit moody quarterback Jay Cutler. But will Cutler listen? If he doesn’t can an aging defense push the Bears into the postseason? Lots of questions in Chicago. They could make a big move. But they could go for a big tumble.
Are the Steelers on the decline? If there is one thing football fans should know is, never count out the Black and Gold. However, there are signs that the Steelers could be headed for a fall. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed 3 games due to injury, and while he did put up impressive numbers, his long-term health is cause for concern. The running game struggled, ranking 26th in the NFL in yards gained on the ground. That in not Steeler football. While the Steelers had the number one defense in yards gained, they only ranked 25th in forcing turnovers. This is an aging defense which could use some new blood. Could be a year in transition for Pittsburgh.
America’s team has fallen on hard times the last few years. Only one playoff win in 15 years, isn’t good enough for the Cowboys. The one constant through all this is Jerry Jones. The owner/GM/CEO/Emperor is not relinquishing any of his responsibilities. When will Jones realize that he is the problem and not the solution? Until Jones either sees the error of his ways, the Cowboys will be mired in mediocrity.
New Orleans Saints:
With Bountygate behind them, beware of the Saints. There was no doubt that New Orleans missed Sean Payton on the sidelines. With his suspension now over, Payton can resume the coaching duties, which will bolster the Saints. However, the defense needs a major upgrade. The Saints were last in the NFL in total defense, giving up an average of 440 yards per game. The Saints were last against the run and second last against the pass. Needless to say, the Saints should draft a defensive player in the first round. Expect the Saints to look in free agency for defensive help as well.
San Diego Chargers:
Once again, the Chargers came into 2012 with high expectations. Once again, the Chargers failed to live up to expectations. Change was in order. Gone is head coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith. Replacing them were Mike McCoy and Tom Telesco respectively. The one area the new regime will be focusing on is the offense. The Chargers did not have a 1,000 yard rusher or a 1,000 yard receiver in 2012. San Diego desperately needs a big play threat, to ease the burden of quarterback Philip Rivers. It would also benefit the Chargers if Rivers improves his attitude. Not sold on this team at all. They will need to prove me wrong.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
The youngest team in the NFL made some strides in 2012, but have some room for improvement. The Bucs ranked 29th defensively, giving up an average of 379 yards per game. Expect Tampa to look for secondary help as Ronde Barber may call it quits in the offseason. The Bucs are also waiting for defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to become a star. The 2010 first round pick has been solid, but not spectacular. Tampa is waiting for McCoy to become a dominant force in the middle. Linebacker is another area the Bucs could use some help. They could use their first round pick on a linebacker but the best linebackers should be gone by the time it is Tampa’s pick. Still, patience is needed. The young Bucs need time to mature. Hopefully, management sees it through.
St. Louis Rams:
The Rams hired Jeff Fisher in 2012, hoping that he would turn the fortunes of the franchise around. While the Rams struggled with inconsistency, they did show improvement, going from 2-14 in 2011, to 7-8-1 in 2012. While the offense did improve, the Rams are still in desperate need of a receiver. Danny Amendola did miss 5 games due to injury, but quarterback Sam Bradford needs more targets to throw to. Don’t be surprised if the Rams draft a receiver in either the first or second round. The defense has potential with James Laurinaitis and Cortland Finnegan leading the way. The Rams are in a very competitive NFC West division, but could be a sleeper team to watch in 2013.
The Dolphins showed flashes of potential, but there is something missing in South Florida. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill struggled at times, but Dolphins management have faith that he is the quarterback of the future. The Dolphins haven’t had a gamebreaking receiver since the Marks Brothers, Duper and Clayton were shredding secondaries in the 1980s and early 1990s. Look for the Dolphins to be receiver hunting come draft time. The defense is pretty solid, thanks in large part to defensive end Cameron Wake. His 15 sacks topped the team, and he is a force at rush end. If Tannehill improves, the Dolphins could be on the rise.
A 1-6 start all but killed the playoff hopes for the Panthers in 2012. However, a four game winning streak to close the season is reason for optimism in Charlotte. Cam Newton almost fell victim to the sophomore jinx, but recovered late in the season to have a quality season. One big question will be how much more does receiver Steve Smith have in the tank. The 12 year Utah grad had his usual 1,000 yard plus season, but there were signs of Smith slowing down. Linebacker Luke Kuechly had a superb rookie season as he was named defensive rookie of the year. Look for the Boston College alum to lead the Panthers defense for the next decade. If Newton and his mates get off to a better start in 2013, the Panthers could contend, in the highly competitive NFC South.
New York Jets:
The soap opera that was the 2012 New York Jets, shows no signs of slowing down in 2013. Quarterback and dramatist Tim Tebow has asked to be traded. Quarterback Mark Sanchez flat-out stunk, despite the confidence shown by his coach Rex Ryan. Then there is Ryan, who was very lucky he wasn’t sacked at the end of the season. Ryan still has a huge problem of putting his foot in his mouth (HA! Just made a funny) and as long as he’s the coach, the Jets will continue to be a bigger joke than Adam Sandler’s “acting career.”
Not sure what to make of the Titans. There were games in which they looked great, (a 37-3 trouncing of Miami comes to mind) but there were games they looked horrible. (A 51-20 loss to Chicago is duly noted.) So where does that lead the Titans? Mike Munchak returns as head coach, but he will be on the hot seat. Jake Locker is the quarterback of the future, but he does need work on his game. Locker only threw 10 touchdowns, but tossed 11 interceptions. If the Titans are to succeed, Locker must cut down on the picks. Chris Johnson rebounded to have a solid season, rushing for 1,243 yards in 2012. Look for the Titans to possibly go for a receiver, as no Titan pass catcher had over 1,000 yards in receiving. However, the Titans biggest needs are on defense. Tennessee ranked 27th in total defense, and looked lost on too many occasions. Don’t be surprised if the Titans draft a linebacker in the spring. Uncertain future in Music City.
Another team with an uncertain future. Owner Ralph Wilson has finally given up control of the franchise, letting his children run the show. However, this just amped up the rumours that the Bills could be headed to Los Angeles. While those are just rumours for the moment, it could cause further distraction for Bills players. The Bills do have rising stars in running back C.J. Spiller and receiver Stevie Johnson. But quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick needs to be more consistent. Despite the acquisition of defensive end Mario Williams, the Bills struggled on defense, especially against the run. Buffalo ranked 25th against the run, giving up an average of 145 yards per game on the ground. Look for the Bills to draft either interior defensive linemen, or linebackers in the spring.
The Browns are the Browns. Mediocre. That being said, there is a small ray of hope. Running back Trent Richardson showed signs of promise in his rookie campaign. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is a beast in the middle. And the Browns did defeat their hated rivals from Pittsburgh in 2012. But there is plenty of work that needs to be done. Holes at receiver, defensive line and offensive line need to be filled in a hurry. The Browns aren’t terrible, but with the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers still strong, I don’t see Cleveland leaving the basement of their division.
The Cardinals came flying out of the gate in 2012, starting the season 4-0. Then the roof caved in. The Cards only won once in their final 12 games, to finish at the bottom of the NFC West. The biggest problem is at quarterback. John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer all took turns being the signal caller for Arizona. None of them impressed. That cost Ken Whisenhunt his job. Bruce Arians takes over as head coach, and he knows he has is work cut out for him. The offensive line is a complete mess, as they couldn’t block a Pop Warner team on many occasions. Don’t be surprised if the Cardinals take an offensive lineman withe their first round draft pick. The defense wasn’t bad, but it was on the field far too often. With the NFC West getting stronger, the Cardinals have a steep hill to climb.
The NFL is a better league when the Raiders are good. Sadly they’re not good. This team desperately need some stability in the front office. This instability has led to numerous coaches being fired, and changing the direction of the team every year. This has to stop. The Raiders need to figure out which direction they want to go, and then stick with it. On the field, the Raiders could use some help at linebacker, (as Rolando McClain is turning out to be another first round bust) cornerback and receiver. It would also be prudent for the Raiders to find a quarterback to replace Carson Palmer. While Palmer isn’t terrible, he won’t lead the Raiders to the promised land either. I see the Raiders struggling in 2013.
My beloved Lions have Calvin Johnson, and not much else. Megatron broke Jerry Rice’s record for receiving yards in a season falling 36 yards short of 2,000 yards. The Madden curse didn’t affect Megatron, but the rest of the team took a hit. Quarterback Matthew Stafford tossed far too many interceptions (17) and he must cut down his picks for the Lions to go forward. The Lions desperately need a running back and offensive line help to make this offense more balanced. Defensively the Lions need help everywhere, but especially at cornerback. The Lions haven’t had a stud corner since Lem Barney in the 1970s. Linebacker is also a concern for Detroit. Could Jarvis Jones be the answer? However the biggest problem is at coach. Somehow Jim Schwartz kept his job, but he will be on the hot seat. His lack of control on the sidelines hurts his team in so many ways. This team feeds of its coach, and Schwartz lacks discipline and smarts. So do the Lions. Not expecting much from my team in 2013, but I’m looking forward to a new coach in 2014.
After 14 seasons, the Andy Reid era is over in Philly. Oregon coach Chip Kelly takes over the helm in the City of Brotherly Love, which did raise some eyebrows around the league. Kelly is known as an offensive guru, while being unconventional and risk-taking. While that may work in Eugene, it may not go over so well in the NFL. The Eagles desperately need help along the offensive line, as their quarterbacks were left to fend for themselves far too often. Kelly will have to make a decision between Michael Vick and Nick Foles at quarterback. Kelly likes mobile quarterbacks, so look for Vick to be the opening day starter. The Eagles are in urgent need of defensive help as well. Kelly will find out very quickly that the NFL life can be very difficult.
The Jags are coming off their worst season in franchise history, and things are gloomy in Northern Florida. Coach Mike Mularkey and GM Gene Smith were let go at seasons’ end, replaced with Gus Bradley and David Caldwell respectively. What they will find is that the cupboard is pretty bare. Neither Chad Henne or Blaine Gabbert inspire confidence at the quarterback position. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew only played 5 games last season, and wants out of Jacksonville. The defense gave up more yards on the ground than anyone else, while recording the fewest sacks. The Jags need help everywhere. And they could move to Los Angeles. Yikes!
Kansas City Chiefs:
The Chiefs were dreadful last year. That’s the obvious. But what about the future? Kansas City is banking on Andy Reid to turn the fortunes of this once proud franchise. Reid does have a solid pedigree, but he will have to make a decision at quarterback. Does he stick with Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn? Or does Reid use the first overall pick in the draft to take West Virginia’s Geno Smith? Running back Jamaal Charles was perhaps the only bright spot for Kansas City, rushing for 1,508 yards in 2012. Run defense is a concern as the Chiefs ranked 27th against the run. The Chiefs desperately need help along the defensive line. It will take some time, but there is nowhere to go but up for Kansas City.
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