So with the playoffs starting this weekend I thought I would say goodbye to the teams that sadly didn’t make it to the post-season this year.
Buffalo Bills (7-9)
So one of the longer playoff droughts continues as once again the Bills fail to make the playoffs despite being competitive over the last three seasons. The Ryan brothers were fired, but Doug Whaley gets to keep his general manager job despite being the force behind EJ Manuel starting in week seventeen and given the dysfunction of the franchise, it could be a while yet before the Bill return to post-season. I am very confused by their dealings with Tyrod Taylor who is better than management clearly think he is, so it seems that Bills we be going into the offseason with questions about their quarterback, which seldom ends well.
New York Jets (5-11)
Tod Bowles gets to keep his job after a tough season where things were bad for long stretches, but the Jets are looking a bit old and will have to shore up their defence and find a long term solution to their problems at quarterback. This is another team where it could take some time to bounce back, particularly as the draft prospects at quarterback are not necessarily that exciting and the Jets have not had the most inspiring of front office approaches in recent years.
Baltimore Ravens (8-8)
The Ravens defence was strong, but the offence sputtered and in the end they couldn’t do enough to get into the playoffs for the second straight year. This was an improvement on their 2015 record of 5-11, but they will need to continue the overhaul of their roster and get more explosive on offence. I would expect a focus on passing targets for Joe Flacco, except this is definitely a team that drafts on best player available but I expect them to be competitive again next year.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-9-1)
A frustrating year for the Bengals that was foreseeable having lost three coordinators in two seasons as well as their number two and three receivers leave in free agency. More reliable kicking would certainly have helped them win more games, but it did look like some of the young receivers were coming on late in the season and first year co-ordinator Ken Zampese will be hoping he gets more games with AJ Green and Tyler Eifert together next year, although Eifert’s back injury is somewhat concerning. A year of stability and a good draft could see things turn round, but whilst no one can deny the transformation Marvin Lewis is responsible for in Cincinatti, it is increasingly hard to have faith that he will be able to get the team over the hump and into championship contention. Another big year awaits, but I feel like I say that every year for the Bengals.
Cleveland Browns (1-15)
This was always going to be a difficult year for the Browns and so it was, although it is hard to think of many teams who were as happy about any win as the Browns were when they beat the Chargers in week sixteen. The Browns need to make hay in the draft to move on, but I can still see the plan working if they stick to it, and the lack of firings so far should be seen as a positive sign, but this offseason needs to go well, particularly with some big free agents re-signing on the horizon.
Tennessee Titans (9-7)
It was a very hard end to the season for the Titans, but Marcus Matioa should come back from his broken leg next season to lead a team who stand as good a chance as anyone to compete in the AFC South. The extra pick they have in the draft thanks to trading down should help that process, and for a team who have been out of the playoffs since 2008, they will be a team to watch next season if they continue to develop as they did this year.
Indianapolis Colts (8-8)
The Colts pretty much alternated wins and losses in a year where Andrew Luck came back from the injuries that ruined the previous season and looked like the quarterback so many want him to be. The problem is that he still takes too many hits and there is not enough around him for the team to win consistently, which considering the division they play in is a worry. After some initial questions whether both Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson would keep their jobs, both head coach and general manager roll into the offseason with another chance to build a team that can break through to the next level, but you would have to think that they are running out of chances to succeed.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13)
Head coach Gus Bradley paid the price for this team not being able to take the step that they kept promising to make, and in fact they had less wins than the previous year. Owner Shahid Khan has been very patient, and there is some talent on the roster so they could come together quickly, but the big question is how good Blake Bortles can be. He has come out after the season and said he was playing through two separated shoulders and wrist tendonitis, but the real issue was his mechanics. Unsurprisingly he has announced he will be working on these during the offseason, but he will need to be functionally good by the time next season starts. Obviously every quarterback would prefer to have perfect mechanics, but Philip Rivers has demonstrated that it is possible to function at a high level with less than perfect form, but Bortles will need consistent accuracy to find his promising young receivers more regularly. The offensive system and coaching he gets will go a long way to determine how the Jaguars go next season.
Denver Broncos (9-7)
Neither of last year’s Super Bowl teams made the playoffs this year, but the Broncos made the better attempt to get in, and if the AFC West hadn’t been so strong they might have made it. Unfortunately, whilst apart from one notable slip up against the Chiefs, the defence played well if not quite up to the standards of last year, but the offence struggled. The big problem for the Broncos was that Trevor Siemian was a good enough quarterback when the run game was working and Gary Kubiak could run his offence as he wanted, but when CJ Anderson went down with an injury the running game never quite recovered and Siemian couldn’t throw them to wins. Given his health problems I totally understand Kubiak’s decision to retire, and with John Elway’s recent run of decisions I expect to see the Broncos back in the playoff hunt again next season despite needing a new head coach.
San Diego Chargers (5-11)
The Charger fans must be some of saddest about their season with it looking like the team are leaving San Diego, the injuries mounted up to prevent them from competing. The Chargers were so hapless that even when they pick a great player like Joey Bosa in last year’s draft, his missed the start of the season through a contract dispute in an era where the contracts almost write themselves, and then he went down injured. The Chargers are looking for a new head coach to replace Mike McCoy and with all the upheaval it is hard to be hopeful about their prospects next season, although most teams are never too far away from turning things around, particularly if you have a quarterback of the ability of Philip Rivers.
Washington had the fifth ranked offence in the NFL this season, with Kirk Cousins throwing for four thousand nine hundred yards, and went into week seventeen with their destiny in their own hands but could not get the win at home against the Giants they needed to make the playoffs. Their defence really struggled and they are looking for a new co-ordinator as they looks to fix that side of the ball in the offseason, but all the headlines will be about Kirk Cousins contact. I don’t like to be too prescriptive so I don’t want to say too much about whether applying the franchise tag for a second year will prevent them getting a long term deal, but Cousins feels like a very similar quarterback to Andy Dalton in that they get good numbers, but questions remain about their ability in the big moments. I think that Dalton has improved in this area as he has gained experience, and whilst you can’t truly comment without being in the building every day, from the outside I would be inclined towards doing a deal to sign up Cousins as there are simply not that many good quarterbacks in the league and with even an average defence Washington could make life very difficult for a lot of teams next season.
Philadelphia Eagles (7-9)
The Eagles couldn’t maintain their strong start to the season, but finished the year strongly and given the problems they had at receiver and corner, could be happy with the progress they made this year. Certainly it looks like they have their franchise quarterback for years to come in Carson Wentz, and the question will be how they choose to build a team around him, but my only concern going forward if I was an Eagles fan would be the strength of the division, which looks to be one of the best in the league given that 7-9 was only good enough for fourth.
Minnesota Vikings (8-8)
The piling up of injuries, at offensive tackle as much as anywhere, is what did for the Vikings who were the final undefeated team, but who could not maintain this success. The offence still needs work, whilst the defence stayed in the top ten by DVOA. You can read the declaration that Sam Bradford will be next year’s starter as taking the pressure of Teddy Bridgewater who has a long way to come back from his horrible pre-season knee injury. There have been no big changes in the front office, but there will be a lot of pressure on them to maintain their competitiveness given the trade to get Bradford, but with a shored up offensive line and a viable running back the Vikings will be a team to be feared next season.
Chicago Bears (3-13)
I appreciate the patience the Bears are showing in keeping John Fox as head coach, but whilst there are some hopeful signs for some players, the Bears are heading into the offseason looking for a quarterback. There is a lot of building to be done in Chicago, but I suspect that Fox will have to get his team to make definitive progress next year if he is to keep his job. However, if nothing else you have to think there will be some regression to the mean in terms of injuries and that alone could help the Bears win more games next season.
Tampa Bay (9-7)
Ten seems to be the magic number if you want to make sure that you get to the playoffs, but after a slightly shaky start the Buccaneers really improved, going on a five game win streak in the middle of the season that saw them beat the Chiefs and Seahawks in back to back weeks. They will obviously be disappointed to miss the playoffs, but this is a big step forward for a team that haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, even if they did get ten wins 2010. I was concerned by rookie head coach Dirk Koetter’s performance early in the year, but coaches as players have form and given the way they improved through the season it looks like the Bucs are set to kick on into next season.
New Orleans (7-9)
Once again New Orleans were close but couldn’t make the playoffs despite Drew Brees having another five thousand yard season. It looks as if Sean Payton is staying with the Saints as there are multiple changes to the coaching staff, but the Saints will need to improve the team around Brees despite the salary cap problems they still have if they are to get back to the playoffs. I have a nasty feeling that the Saints could be heading for more of the same, although it would be truly weird if they went 7-9 for a fourth straight year next season.
Carolina Panthers (6-10)
It is often hard for the losing Super Bowl team the next season, but the Panthers really struggled. They lost more than Josh Norman from their secondary, although he grabbed all the headlines, and the settling in of the rookies in the secondary contributed to this team falling to 1-5 from where they never really recovered. The offence also struggled with Cam Newton playing well below the peak he reached the previous season, the running game was often stalled, and the offensive line continued to have problems. There is plenty of work to do in the offseason, but what worries me most was the reaction of Luke Kuechly to his latest concussion and what his future could be. I would love to see him play and get back to his best, but I’m not sure I would enjoy it as with his concussion history he should very possibly retire. Only his doctors and he will know the whole truth of the matter, but in this modern NFL where we know so much more about head injuries it is hard to ignore such a situation and we really shouldn’t if we want to enjoy football being played.
Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1)
The Cardinals finished with a pretty credible record considering how much they struggled at times, and it will be interesting to see how the team responds to a season where they were very much in win now mode. Unfortunately Carson Palmer could not match the heights of his performance last season and the offensive line struggled to protect him. Indeed for large stretches of the season the offence seemed to revolve around David Johnson who is amongst the best backs in the league and the seemingly ageless Larry Fitzgerald whose move to slot receiver has paid dividends over the last couple of years. Their defence ranked third by DVOA and so they should have a strong chance to bounce back into the playoffs next year, but they will need to fix the offensive line and come up with more from their quarterback, be it Carson Palmer or someone else.
Los Angeles Rams (4-12)
Unfortunately for Jeff Fisher the Rams couldn’t even manage 7-9 bull excrement football this season. The offence was woeful all year, and questions surround the ability of Jared Goff who they traded up to select first overall in the draft. The defence has a lot of talent, but having won two games without scoring a touchdown things fell apart for them down the stretch and it is hard to think of a much worse start for the Rams in LA. All the talk is that they will need to make a splashy hire for their new coach to secure their place in a crowded LA sports scene, but I would argue the more important thing would be winning. An offensive minded coach makes sense given the talent on defence and the investment in a young quarterback, but despite having the talent of Todd Gurley at running back, it will be a big job to turn this team round even for an offensive mastermind.
San Francisco 49ers (2-14)
If the Cowboys entered week seventeen thirteen and Giants, then the 49ers finished the season Rams and fourteen with their only wins coming against their struggling divisional rivals. The 49ers have not only fired their coach, but also sent GM Trent Baalke packing after a series of problematic drafts. No team would have found it easy to recover the talent drain that occurred two seasons ago thanks to some big retirements, both timely and otherwise, but it hard to think of a bigger rebuild in the NFL. At least the Browns appear to have a plan and a bucket load of picks this offseason, not to mention and innovative offensive head coach whose schemes work. I don’t know if Chip Kelly will get another chance in the NFL, but I can’t see it as a head coach and I will be curious if any head coaches thinks they can play a complimentary style to Kelly’s up tempo offence, or if Kelly will be willing to more malleable in his approach. It could be a number of seasons before the 49ers return to competitiveness and a lot is resting on the hires that Jed York makes over the coming weeks.