Offseason road maps for all teams
How the top of the draft shakes out with Robert Griffin III will be very interesting
Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston and Dwayne Bowe could help WR-needy teams
Despite winning the Super Bowl, the Giants have a few problem areas to address
The road map to success in today's NFL starts with the quarterback and revolves around the passing game. Look at the league's top teams -- the Super Bowl champion Giants, runner-up Patriots, regular-season-best Packers, etc. -- most boast top QBs and highly productive pass offenses.
So as we hit the offseason and teams ponder how they can rise in the standings, most will look to improve their passing game or find ways defensively to get better against the pass.
Here's a look at all 32 teams and what they'll need to do this offseason to be better in 2012:
Team Needs: QB, OT, DE. The Cardinals need to identify Kevin Kolb or John Skelton as their starting QB, or look to the draft or free agency for outside help (Cards fans are salivating over the thought of Peyton Manning throwing to Larry Fitzgerald). The Cardinals hope Kolb steps up to justify the six-year, $65 million deal (with $21 million guaranteed) they paid after acquiring him in the trade with the Eagles. Kolb will be helped as the Cards seek to improve an offensive line that allowed 54 sacks, second-worst in NFL. LT Levi Brown has a $17 million cap number in 2012, so he'll be released or restructured. An inconsistent running game (24th in NFL) also needs help. Calais Campbell is a premier free agent, but he will be either re-signed or franchised.
Team Needs: OL, DL, CB. Despite their regular season success, the Falcons have been blown out by the Packers and Giants in the past two postseasons, with Matt Ryan not playing well and the secondary leaking. Without a No. 1 pick this year thanks to last year's Julio Jones trade, they will look to fortify both lines in the draft's later rounds and in free agency. With leading sacker John Abraham turning 34, defensive end and pass rush help will be a focal point. The team's best corner Brent Grimes, is a free agent, as is leading tackler LB Curtis Lofton. The Falcons are also breaking in two new coordinators in 2012 in Dirk Koetter on offense and Mike Nolan on defense.
Team Needs: OL, LB, DE, K. The Ravens have two premier players headed for free agency -- RB Ray Rice and G Ben Grubbs. They would be wise to sign one before March 13 and then franchise the other. Rice, with his 2,068 combined yards and 15 TDs, absolutely must stay (owner Steve Bisciotti has already made it clear Rice will be a member of the team next year, no matter what). QB Joe Flacco is looking for a long-term extension heading into the last year of his deal, and has proved he's worthy of one by leading the Ravens within a dropped pass of the Super Bowl. Which brings us to Billy Cundiff's 32-yard miss in the AFC title game. It's time for a change there. Offensive line will be a target for new blood, with center Matt Birk considering retirement, and Ray Lewis can't play forever at LB. The team also needs an impact pass rusher opposite Terrell Suggs.
Team Needs: OLB, DE, WR. The Bills' hot 5-2 start faded after QB Ryan Fitzpatrick injured his ribs and RB Fred Jackson broke his leg. The Bills will hope for a complete season of strong play from Fitzpatrick before they get a case of buyer's remorse for the $10 million per year deal they gave him at midseason. He would be helped if the Bills get more WR talent. WR Stevie Johnson, their top receiver and sometime head case, is a potential free agent and the Bills need him back or will have to sign a free agent in addition to drafting one in the early rounds. After posting only 29 sacks, pass rush help will be the first-round target at the No. 10 spot, where OLB Courtney Upshaw of Alabama or DE-OLB Whitney Mercilus of Illinois are possible.
Team Needs: DE, CB, WR. Cam Newton's fabulous rookie season bodes well for the Panthers' future, but to move up to playoff status in their tough division, it will help to get to the QB more than 31 times, so the Panthers go defense this offseason. They've never been able to replace Julius Peppers, so maybe they take a run at Calais Campbell, Cliff Avril or Robert Mathis. At the eighth pick in the first round, they could look for a pass rusher (Quinton Coples from their backyard at North Carolina) or a corner (possibly Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama), which is also a need after allowing 28 TD passes. The Panthers also will look for wide receiver help opposite the ageless Steve Smith.
Team Needs: WR, OL, DB. The Bears' five-game losing streak late in the season coincided with the loss of QB Jay Cutler (broken thumb) and RB Matt Forte (sprained knee). Forte is a potential free agent who the Bears will sign, or more likely franchise. The team must find a better backup QB after Caleb Hanie threw nine picks and posted a 41.8 QB rating replacing Cutler. Wide receiver will be addressed in the draft and free agency, with Reggie Wayne a name to keep in mind, as leading receiver Johnny Knox had just 37 receptions. An offensive line that gave up 49 sacks needs more quality players, although the return of 2011 top pick T Gabe Carimi from a knee injury will help. The secondary needs more playmakers, and a top corner. Linebacker will be a mid-round draft target as age is creeping in on the current unit.
Team Needs: CB, DE, RB. Led by rookie QB Andy Dalton and a good defense, the Bengals made the playoffs but exited quickly in Houston. They have two first round picks -- at No. 17 (thanks to the Carson Palmer trade with the Raiders) and No. 21. To catch the Ravens and Steelers, they need to improve a secondary that had just 10 interceptions. Getting CB Leon Hall back from his Achilles injury will help, and they will draft a corner early. The Bengals also will seek another pass rushing DE for their rotation. Their top rusher, Cedric Benson, will be a free agent turning 30 after averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, so the Bengals may let him walk and draft a young back in the first couple of rounds.
Team Needs: QB, RB, WR. Do they trade up from No. 4 to No. 2 in the draft and take QB Robert Griffin III, or stick with Colt McCoy as the starter? The Browns don't want that potential move up to the Rams' spot to cost them their other first round pick (No. 22), but if they value RGIII enough, they may have to do it. The Browns also need a starting WR to complement Greg Little, and Justin Blackmon could fill that bill if they stay at No. 4. Or how about Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham, a free agent and Ohio native? Running back also is a concern after the Peyton Hillis debacle last season. The defense is very good, but would improve with a quality replacement for LB Scott Fujita, who ended the last two seasons on the IR. Re-signing D'Qwell Jackson is a priority.
Team Needs: DE, LB, CB. The Giants swept the Cowboys on their way to winning the NFC East and, in those two games, Eli Manning threw for 736 yards and 5 TDs. So the Cowboys must shore up their pass defense to overtake the G-men. Pass rushers are their first priority to help DeMarcus Ware, both at DE and OLB (where they must re-sign Anthony Spencer and his six sacks or replace him if he leaves in free agency). Then the Cowboys will look for some improved cover corners. The offense is solid and will be helped by the return of rookie phenom RB DeMarco Murray from a broken ankle. Third receiver Laurent Robinson should be re-signed after his breakout season. And Tony Romo needs to work on avoiding the costly turnovers that plagued the Cowboys in their 2-3 start.
Team Needs: DT, CB, RB, WR. Tebow Time takes top priority, so offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and executive vice president John Elway, among others, will work hard to improve the QB's skill set. They also will bring in a veteran free agent to back up and, if necessary, compete with Tebow. The Broncos will look to the draft and free agency for wide receiver depth and help at RB, where Willis McGahee is coming off a fine season but is 30 and former No. 1 Knowshon Moreno tore his ACL and had a DUI recently. Defensive draft and free agent priorities are at DT, where starters Brodrick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas had no sacks, and at corner, where starters Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman are both 33 (and the Broncos had only nine interceptions last season). LB Wesley Woodyard should be re-signed, as should clutch kicker Matt Prater.
Team Needs: DE, RB, DB. The Lions made great strides, especially early in the season, behind the emergence of Matthew Stafford as an elite QB. But their 45-28 playoff loss to New Orleans exposed the Lions pass defense one week after Packers backup Matt Flynn threw for 480 yards against them. So the Lions will focus on defense -- first by re-signing or franchising DE Cliff Avril, then re-signing or replacing leading tackler Stephen Tulloch. They'll also look for secondary help to stop those big passing attacks, with CB Cortland Finnegan a possibility. DT Ndamukong Suh's sacks and tackles fell off from his great rookie year, and they'll need him to play at his top level. The Lions' rushing problems (No. 29) will be solved by the healthy return of Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure from IR. The team will need to get cap relief through an extension with super WR Calvin Johnson, who enters the last year of his deal with a cap hit over $20 million.
Team Needs: DE, LT, DB. There's a lot to deal with for a 15-1 team. Defensive issues covered up all season by Aaron Rodgers and the team's prolific offense were exposed in the playoff loss to Giants. The Packers had only one sack in the game, and just 29 all year, and the secondary struggled. The team needs to acquire or develop another premier pass rusher to help Clay Matthews, who faced steady double teams and saw his sack total drop from 13.5 to 6. In the secondary, Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson need to play better, and the Packers will need to add a safety if Nick Collins' neck injury is career-ending. The Packers need to address age issues on the offensive line, particularly at Chad Clifton's LT spot. Backup QB must be addressed with Matt Flynn's impending departure as a free agent, and one of Pack's top offensive threats, Jermichael Finley, is a potential free agent.
Team Needs: QB, WR, DE. The Texans are loaded with talent and may have been a Super Bowl team if QB Matt Schaub and DE Mario Williams had stayed healthy. Schaub must return from his foot injury, or the Texans need to find a better option to replace him. They also need to re-sign free-agent-to-be Williams or franchise him, but the tag may be too high for their cap to absorb. Ask the Giants -- despite Texans strong defensive play without Mario, you can never have enough great pass rushers. Wide receiver will be a target, as Andre Johnson is still elite when healthy, but he's 30 and coming off an injury-plagued season. An upgrade would help at the second and third receiver spots. Also, star RB and restricted free agent Arian Foster is looking for a major raise. It'll be tough to pay big bucks to Foster and Williams, so you can probably expect one more year at the RFA tender amount for Foster and then he'll move on.
Team Needs: QB, DE, CB. It's been all about Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck in Indy. The likelihood is that the Colts let Peyton go and draft Luck as part of new era. New coach Chuck Pagano and new GM Ryan Grigson want to add talent everywhere, but after Luck it will be about defense. Robert Mathis likely leaves in free agency, so a new pass rusher is needed opposite Dwight Freeney. The Colts' secondary had a league-worst eight picks, so corner will be a target, and linebacking help is also needed. The Colts' top two receivers -- Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon -- are headed to free agency along with Anthony Gonzalez (productive before injuries hit in recent years). Expect Wayne to leave and Garcon to stay along with Gonzalez -- if he's healthy -- as targets (with Austin Collie) for Luck. C Jeff Saturday may retire, so a replacement is needed soon.
Team Needs: WR, DE, QB. It's all about getting quick improvement from QB Blaine Gabbert, the 2011 first-round pick who was the lowest-rated starting QB in the league. New coach Mike Mularkey and his staff will focus on Gabbert's mechanics and confidence. They've got the league's top rusher in Maurice Jones-Drew, but they must get Gabbert some weapons at WR (free agency has some great options and they'll surely draft WRs). TE Marcedes Lewis needs to return to his 2010 form after dropping from 10 TDs that year to none in 2011. The defense was fine (No. 6), but with only 31 sacks, a first-round DE would be a solid pick at No. 7 (perhaps Quinton Coples of North Carolina, a highly rated pass rusher). The Jags also need a healthy return from shoulder surgery for leading tackler Paul Posluszny.
Team Needs: OT, WR, DE. The Chiefs had a disastrous first two weeks of the season when they lost two of their best players to torn ACLs: S Eric Berry and RB Jamaal Charles. Then in midseason, QB Matt Cassel went on IR with a hand injury. With all three expected to return, the Chiefs should be in the playoff hunt and will look for help at OT. They could retain top WR Dwayne Bowe by franchising him, or let him leave and expect 2011 top pick Jon Baldwin to step in as a starter while adding a viable third receiver. The Chiefs will make sure they have a better backup QB than Tyler Palko, and may keep Kyle Orton, who beat the then-undefeated Packers in Week 15.