What's Next for Every Team Eliminated from the NFL Playoff Picture?
The 2012 NFL regular season is over. Twelve teams are still playing, while 20 teams will be watching the playoffs from home.
But for those 20 NFL teams, the offseason starts immediately. Some teams will part ways with their head coach, while others will keep the same staff around and hope for an improved on-field product next season.
Beyond the upcoming coaching searches, many veteran players will be looking for work as well.
Let's take a look at what's next for every team not in this year's playoffs.
This season started out nicely for the Cardinals. They were 4-0 and looked like one of the most pleasant surprises in the NFL. Then the rest of the season happened.
Arizona has a strong team on the defensive side of the ball. Patrick Peterson made the Pro Bowl at cornerback, and the duo of Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett is stout up front.
But looking ahead to next season, it's obvious what the Cardinals need most. What's that, you ask? A competent quarterback.
Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best receivers in football, but he doesn't have a quarterback. He suffered through this season with John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and Ryan Lindley under center. That's just sad. I'm sorry, Larry.
Coming into the 2012 season, many expected the Buffalo Bills to be contenders in the AFC East. Boasting one of the best defensive lines in football, this team was expected to get after the passer and be stout against the run.
That, however, was not the case. The Bills gave up over 140 rushing yards per game, which ranked dead last in the NFL. On offense, the Bills were one of the best teams in football, averaging over 140 yards per game.
Head coach Chan Gailey might be fired this offseason, so the Bills may employ a new offensive scheme next year.
Look for Buffalo to try and add another wide receiver to play opposite Stevie Johnson. And while Scott Chandler is a solid red-zone target, the Bills could use a new tight end capable of stretching the field.
The Panthers were a trendy pick to win the NFC South before the season started. But unfortunately for Carolina, the season did eventually start.
Carolina had a better second half to the season and finished 7-9, but the Panthers fell well short of their preseason expectations. Cam Newton had one of the best seasons ever for a rookie quarterback last year, but he hit a bit of a sophomore slump in 2012.
Looking ahead to next season, head coach Ron Rivera could be let go. Chip Kelly is a real possibility to replace Rivera, and that’d certainly be an interesting show to watch with the ultra-athletic Newton under center.
Beyond the potential change at head coach, the Panthers will need to decide which running back to keep.
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have both shown flashes, but they’re making too much money to keep in the fold. Although if they land Kelly, who likes to use multiple backs, who knows what could happen?
The 2012 season started beautifully for the Chicago Bears. After a blowout win over the Colts on opening weekend, the Bears looked good. But after a convincing loss to the Packers in Week 2, it wasn't clear where the team stood.
After winning their next six games, the Bears were 7-1 and looked like one of the best teams in football. However, losing five of their final eight games left Chicago on the outside of the playoffs.
If the Bears want to scare teams offensively like Green Bay and Atlanta, they need to add another big-play receiver to take some pressure off of Marshall. That being said, this team’s biggest weakness continues to be the offensive line.
Lovie Smith’s job should be safe for at least one more season. But with several aging players on his defense, some changes could be forthcoming on that side of the ball as well.
It was yet another long season for the Browns. But the little brother in the AFC North family has some reason for optimism.
Trent Richardson was a smashing success as the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. He carried the Browns offense and proved to be one of the most well-rounded backs in the NFL.
Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon combined to give Cleveland a viable passing game, but the Browns clearly need more playmakers. With head coach Pat Shurmur expected to be fired on Monday, there are certainly changes on the horizon.
The Browns have quietly assembled a solid defense, so for them to become a contender in this division, they need to add a couple explosive playmakers.
The Cowboys were extremely close to winning a lot of games this season. But they didn't.
And after losing to the Washington Redskins on Sunday night, the Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs and will be watching the postseason at home once again. Despite being knocked out of the playoffs, head coach Jason Garrett's job should be safe.
Tony Romo receives a lot of criticism for his erratic style of play, but in reality, he was a top-notch quarterback for the majority of the 2012 season.
Losing Sean Lee was a huge blow to the Dallas defense. Getting him back on the field will be a big boost for the Cowboys next year.
This offseason, the Cowboys will need to address their offensive line. They tried adding to the interior of the line last summer, and they had limited success in 2012.
With DeMarco Murray out of the lineup, Dallas had one of the league's worst rushing attacks. But with an improved line up front, the Cowboys would be a more balanced offense.
The Lions were one of the NFL's biggest surprises last year, making the playoffs for the first time since Barry Sanders was in uniform. Detroit was a surprise once again this season, but for very different reasons.
Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch criticized Packers receiver Greg Jennings for questioning Detroit's composure this offseason. In hindsight, it looks like Jennings' criticism was valid.
The Lions are widely viewed as one of the most undisciplined teams in football. Such behavior typically leads to a head coach being fired, but Jim Schwartz's job seems to be safe.
Detroit's passing game is set, but Mikel Leshoure was inconsistent at best. Look for the Lions to try and boost their ground game this offseason.
The Jaguars didn't have a very successful 2012 season. Maurice Jones-Drew started the year holding out for a new contract before ultimately reporting to training camp.
Unfortunately for the Jags, their best player suffered a Lisfranc injury and missed most of the season.
In his absence, wide receiver Cecil Shorts emerged as a playmaker for the Jacksonville offense. There are already rumors of Tim Tebow playing in Jacksonville next season, which would almost certainly hurt the development of Shorts and Justin Blackmon.
Jacksonville needs to re-sign Jones-Drew this offseason. Whether it gets Tebow or not, Jones-Drew needs to be the No. 1 priority.
Kansas City Chiefs
This season was a train wreck for the Chiefs. Between horrible quarterback play and the Jovan Belcher tragedy, 2012 was a forgettable season for Kansas City.
On the bright side for Kansas City, the Chiefs had more Pro Bowlers than Green Bay and the Atlanta Falcons.
The Chiefs defense is loaded with talent; they just don't have any depth. Derrick Johnson is a force in the middle of the Chiefs' 3-4 scheme, and Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers are both terrific players in the secondary.
Jamaal Charles is a top-tier running back in this league, but the Chiefs will continue to struggle offensively until they find a quarterback. Geno Smith figures to be the first quarterback off the board, and Kansas City seems like a logical landing spot.
In Joe Philbin’s first year as head coach, the Miami Dolphins showed promise in the always-tough AFC East. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill was brought along slowly by Philbin and led the Dolphins to a seven-win season.
But if the Dolphins are going to contend in the division, they’ll need to drastically improve their offense. With the New England Patriots lighting up the scoreboard on a weekly basis, the Dolphins need to add more playmakers.
Wide receiver Brian Hartline was certainly effective, notching over 1,000 receiving yards this year. But Hartline and Davone Bess are hardly reliable as every-down starters. Look for the Dolphins to add a big-play receiver on the outside so Bess can bounce inside to the slot.
Keep an eye on Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings, who will be a free agent this offseason. Jennings and Philbin enjoyed success together in Green Bay, and the Dolphins would likely be willing to pay him more money than the Packers, who are loaded at the position.
New York Giants
The defending Super Bowl champions were the definition of inconsistency this season. At times, they looked like the Super Bowl champions. But at other times, they looked like a hopeless team playing uninspired football.
The Giants finished 9-7 once again, but they fell short of the postseason after winning Super Bowl XLVI last year. With a respected head coach in Tom Coughlin and a top-tier quarterback in Eli Manning, the Giants will continue to be a threat to win the division in the near future.
The defensive line is still one of the best in the NFL, which is the recipe the Giants have relied on to win their last two Super Bowls.
Looking ahead to next year, it will be interesting to see what transpires. Will it be Ahmad Bradshaw or David Wilson at running back? Who knows? There will almost certainly be changes made on the offensive line, with David Diehl likely being shown the door.
New York Jets
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said thousands of times? The 2012 season was an absolute disaster for the New York Jets.
Starting with their acquisition of Tim Tebow and the ensuing press conference for their new backup quarterback, the Jets started the season off on the wrong foot, and things didn’t get much better throughout the course of the season.
After Darrelle Revis was lost for the season, the Jets were not their typical in-your-face defense. But still, the pieces are in place to return to being an elite defense under Rex Ryan.
The Jets will likely keep Ryan in the fold, but they’ll need to decide what to do at the quarterback position.
Mark Sanchez will likely return due to his salary, but Tebow will be jettisoned, and a veteran could be brought in to mentor Sanchez. Stay tuned, because the 2013 Jets could look a lot different.
The 2012 season was more of the same for the Oakland Raiders. Injuries, bad personnel moves and a porous defense plagued the Raiders once again this year.
General manager Reggie McKenzie inherited a tough team to work with. The Raiders certainly struggled in his first season, but at least McKenzie gives this team hope for the future.
With how much the Raiders have invested in Carson Palmer, he will almost certainly return as the starting quarterback. But is he really the answer?
No quarterback in the NFL mastered the art of "garbage time" as well as Palmer this season. It will be interesting to see if they give Terrelle Pryor a shot or if they bring in some competition.
New Orleans Saints
Fresh off perhaps the most turbulent offseason in NFL history, the New Orleans Saints started the season off poorly. The Saints lost their first four games before winning five of their next six.
Ultimately, New Orleans finished the season 7-9 and fell short of the playoffs. They will have Sean Payton back next year, as he’s signed an extension to remain with the team for another five years.
This offense is loaded. With Drew Brees under center and Payton on the sidelines, this is one of the best offensive teams in the league.
The Saints do, however, face questions on the defensive side of the ball. Losing Tracy Porter was a huge loss for the secondary, and the defensive line lacks consistent pass-rushers. There will be plenty of additions to the defense this offseason.
Was there a bigger disappointment this season than the Philadelphia Eagles? Remember the 2011 "Dream Team" Eagles? That was fun, wasn't it?
Seriously, though. Philadelphia will undergo dramatic changes this offseason starting at the top.
Andy Reid has already been fired, and Michael Vick seems to have worn out his welcome. Chip Kelly has been rumored as a potential replacement for Reid, but it's still too early to predict where he'll land.
The Eagles roster is flooded with talent. Putting all those pieces together, however, is a different story. Nick Foles showed flashes this year, but with a new head coach on the sidelines, a new quarterback may be on the way too.
The Steelers are one of those teams that enter every season with the highest of expectations. In Pittsburgh, division titles are expected, and trips to the Super Bowl have become the norm.
But the 2012 season was a long one for the Steelers. They battled multiple injuries at the quarterback position as well as some key losses on the defensive side of the ball.
Looking ahead to the offseason, Pittsburgh will likely address its offensive line in the draft or free agency. In last year’s draft, the Steelers stole David DeCastro and Mike Adams to protect Ben Roethlisberger, but this line still has room for improvement.
They fell short of the postseason this year, but they’ll be back. This is a team built for long-term success under Mike Tomlin.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams had a brilliant draft last year, accumulating a boatload of draft picks in the Robert Griffin III trade. Janoris Jenkins stepped up and became a reliable cornerback opposite Cortland Finnegan, and the defensive front provided pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Looking ahead to 2013, the Rams face some tough decisions.
Steven Jackson's future is uncertain, so the team will likely turn to rookies Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead to shoulder the load on the ground.
With a talented defensive line and a solid group of linebackers, the only true weak spot on the Rams defense is their subpar safeties. On offense, the Rams would be wise to find an every-down tight end to groom along with Sam Bradford.
San Diego Chargers
It's almost hard to believe Norv Turner has lasted this long, isn't it? Whenever there's talk of coaches being on the "hot seat," Turner is one of the first names that comes up.
Turner will finally be jettisoned out of San Diego, opening up an attractive job for his successor. Andy Reid's name has been thrown out as a possibility for the job for some time, and that seems like a logical fit.
This team has talent, but its a few pieces away from being a true contender. Since losing Vincent Jackson last offseason, the Chargers have lacked a true No. 1 receiver.
Philip Rivers clearly loves Danario Alexander, but he's not a reliable top target. A healthy Vincent Brown will help in 2013, but look for the Chargers to address the receiver position this offseason.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There are several NFL teams that received a lot of production from their 2012 draft class, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have had the best. After grabbing Mark Barron with their first pick, the Bucs stole stud running back Doug Martin at the end of Round 1.
Martin was a smashing success as a rookie, quickly emerging as one of the most dynamic runners in the league. Between the additions of Martin, Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks last offseason, Tampa Bay’s offense was much improved this year.
However, the defensive side of the ball was quite different. Tampa had one of the better run defenses in the league, but a lot of that had to do with its porous pass defense.
Losing cornerback Eric Wright killed Tampa's defensive backfield, so the Bucs will almost certainly be in the market to add another cornerback this offseason. But the arrow is clearly pointing up in Tampa Bay.
The 2012 season was up and down for the Tennessee Titans. At times, quarterback Jake Locker looked like the real deal, and at other points this season, he looked like a mediocre-at-best player.
The offense is built around dynamic running back Chris Johnson, but he had a very average year. The offensive line was decimated by injuries, and Johnson was unable to find regular success on the ground.
Rookie receiver Kendall Wright was a pleasant surprise for Tennessee. If Kenny Britt can maximize his potential, then he and Wright would give the Titans a pair of dynamic receivers on opposite ends of the field.
Changes will certainly be made in Tennessee this offseason, possibly starting with head coach Mike Munchak.
Look for the Titans to bolster their defense this offseason. While the offensive line could use some improving and tight end Jared Cook’s future is cloudy as well, the Titans’ biggest deficiency is on the defensive side of the ball.