By: Ryan Crossingham
The 2014 regular season is all wrapped up and the playoffs are about to begin. For those teams who are on the outside looking in at the postseason, it’s time to look ahead to what the offseason may hold. This week we will have a two-part outlook on where teams stand heading into the first round of the playoffs. Here is a look at the AFC.
Patriots: After locking up the number one seed in the AFC after week 16, the Patriots had little to play for in their week 17 showdown against Buffalo. After resting the majority of their starters during the second half against Buffalo, the Patriots should be well rested for whoever awaits them in the second round. With home field throughout the playoffs, the Patriots are in the driver seat to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Bills: After surviving some lackluster quarterback play and some lake effect snow this season, the Bills turned out an impressive 2014 season. Who will be under center in 2015? While Kyle Orton proved to be a capable stop gap solution, the team must look outside the organization for a capable starter.
Dolphins: Is Tannehill the guy? That’s the question the front office has to figure out. While Tannehill showed flashes of playmaking capability, his inconsistencies surfaced at the most inopportune times. While it’s still up in the air to whether Joe Philbin will return, the job he did to keep this team together after all the off the field incidents in 2014 is worthy of praise.
Jets: Massive overhauls are already underway for Gang Green, but are they as far away as their record indicates? I believe some of the pieces are in place for this team to succeed. Of course with losing franchises, there are question marks about the quarterback position. Where they go with the hires of a new general manager and head coach will go a long way to whether or not this team can move forward in 2015.
Steelers: The Steelers hope they dodged disaster with the hit to LeVeon Bell’s knee. He is indispensible to this team’s playoff hopes and any shot to challenge New England for the AFC crown. If he can’t go, they’re in trouble.
Bengals: The Bengals are once again in the playoffs, but for anyone familiar with the franchises shortcomings the past few years, anything short of a playoff victory will result in a failed season for this talented roster. Thankfully for this year’s team, Jeremy Hill may be able to help them survive Andy Dalton who seems to be allergic playoff football.
Ravens: The Ravens backed into the playoffs thanks to Justin Houston and something called Chase Daniel. The return of Haloti Ngata will surely help stabilize the Ravens front seven, but the inconsistent play by Joe Flacco could make this year’s playoff stint a short one. Ravens fans will have to hope that Flacco can regain that postseason magic he had in 2012.
Browns: They would never do it, but as the joke of the NFL right now, the Browns have to consider if having Johnny Manziel and Josh Gordon in their locker room is worth the trouble. If Gordon’s two suspensions this year is not enough, having both of your first round picks admit they didn’t take their jobs seriously should definitely make you question the direction of your franchise.
Broncos: Peyton Manning is on the decline and even the most hardcore of Bronco fans will admit that. Despite an improved defense and a plethora of offensive weapons, I can’t expect the Broncos to go to Foxboro and beat the Patriots.
Chiefs: Wide receiver, wide receiver, wide receiver. I expect the team to add a few this offseason after not completing a single touchdown pass to a wide receiver this season.
Chargers: Where do the Chargers go in 2015? Phillip Rivers is good enough to get you close, but not quite over the hump. The interior offensive line should get a strong look for upgrade this offseason.
Raiders: They have some pieces in Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and others, but they still have a ways to go. Getting their young quarterback someone to throw to could be a good place to start. Amari Cooper is a name to watch.
Colts: No offensive line, no running game, and a below average defense are keeping this team from reaching places they’ve never been before. Though Andrew Luck masks many deficiencies, even he can’t make up for some of their problems. They will most likely win a home playoff game, but anything more would be a surprise, especially with the rate they are turning the ball over.
Texans: With a seven win improvement from a year ago, Bill O’Brien deserves serious coach of the year consideration. They may be just a quarterback away from being a contender for their division and Ryan Mallett should get the first shot at it in 2015.
Jaguars: They have a veteran front seven on a defense that is improving. Blake Bortles did show signs of improvement as the season progressed, but it isn’t guaranteed that he is the future for the team. Offensive line and running back should be areas to improve in the offseason.
Titans: Quarterback is the primary need. Marcus Mariota should be gone by their pick at second overall, so where do they find their signal caller? Do they explore a Jay Cutler trade? My hunch is no, but when it comes to the quarterback position, teams must explore all options.
Check back later in the week for the outlook for the NFC.