The 2012 NFL season is officially over, and it's already time to look ahead.
The NFL is a nonstop cycle. Once the Super Bowl ends, we're already taking a peek at the 2013 season. Which teams have already made the moves to improve their standing by hiring new head coaches, making moves to keep key players and reshuffling front offices for the offseason? Who's winning and who's losing?
You have to give the Jacksonville Jaguars credit for firing general manager Gene Smith and head coach Mike Mularkey. I even really like the moves to hire David Caldwell and Gus Bradley—both exceptional guys with impressive resumes.
That doesn't mean I'm ready to buy on their talent. The front office moves look good on paper, but how will they fix the quarterback position in the draft? It's highly doubtful that the new regime will be ready to bail on Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne for a first-rounder—and even so, there's not a first-rounder worth drafting at the No. 2 overall pick.
The Jaguars have the right guys in place, but this won't be a quick turnaround.
Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves have been fired, and in their place come Bruce Arians and Steve Keim.
There are new faces leading the charge in Arizona, and at least on paper you'd have to think this is an upgrade. Time will tell whether or not Keim will address the needs along the offensive line that plagued the previous regime.
There's also the matter of the quarterback position. Kevin Kolb can't stay healthy. John Skelton and Ryan Lindley are clearly not the answer. The many needs at the line and at quarterback leave me hesitant to put any faith in a 2013 turnaround for the Cardinals.
Well...nothing much has changed since the end of the season, unless you put much stock into Greg Knapp being fired as offensive coordinator. The true test for the Raiders offseason will come in free agency and the NFL draft.
The team must address problems at quarterback—Carson Palmer definitely isn't the future—and on a defense that fielded the least talented cornerbacks in the league all year. The front office has a big offseason ahead. Whether or not the Raiders can make the right decisions in free agency and the draft will determine their preseason ranking.
Tim Tebow is still on the roster, Rex Ryan doesn't yet have the talent on either side of the ball to win and instead of hiring a football guy at general manager, the Jets hired a salary-cap specialist. Not good.
The offseason is starting on a sour note in New York. Fans wanted a legit football guy running the show this offseason, and while John Idzik comes from a Seattle franchise that did well in the offseason, he's an unproven scout and decision-maker.
Needs along the offensive line, at safety, at wide receiver and most importantly at quarterback will shape the Jets offseason. Barring a Madden-like offseason of surprising moves, not much will change in 2013.
The Detroit Lions move down a spot on the basis that they've done nothing to shake up a franchise that woefully disappointed in 2012. They're lucky it was only one spot.
The Lions were undisciplined and erratic all last season, which generally means changes to the coaching staff—if not at the top, then coordinators and/or position coaches. Yet here we are with just three position coaches on offense let go.
Jim Schwartz is banking on his ability to coach this group. His job security will live or die on that ability.
Head coach Mike Munchak keeps his job despite an underperforming season. Munchak returns, but most of his staff is gone.
The pressure will be on Munchak to get the right coaches in place to help turn around the fortunes of the team in 2013. There is talent here, especially on defense, but the Titans must find consistency on both sides of the football.
It's tough to buy anything that the Titans are putting out right now, but a great free-agency period and draft could turn things around.
The hiring of Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone to run the ballclub was met with some surprise, both good and bad. Now we'll see what the former college coach can do in the NFL.
Marrone is a noted quarterback coach, and that's great news for a team that's still looking for a franchise quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick was Chan Gailey's guy, but he never took off in that offense. Fitzpatrick is a good game manager, but it is very unlikely he'll be more than an 8-8 quarterback.
The Bills don't lack talent on defense, but the change of scheme and uncertainty on offense have them dropping in our rankings.
Ron Rivera managed to keep his job but fired his offensive coordinator in the process. He also has a new boss in Dave Gettleman.
The good news is that the Panthers have Cam Newton at quarterback and enough talent on defense to compete. Whether Mike Shula can be a competent offensive coordinator remains to be seen, but the continuity he brings on offense with Newton is key.
The Panthers are a tough team to judge. Last offseason many expected this team to make a run at the playoffs, but they disappointed. This year I'm buying low and expecting a solid eight-win season.
The 2013 season will begin with a ton of uncertainty for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That might be a good thing.
Quarterback Josh Freeman didn't have a great season, and head coach Greg Schiano has to challenge him in the preseason. That challenge could bring out the best in Freeman or cause him to fold under pressure. There's a chance it goes either way.
With the defense healthy heading into 2013 and Carl Nicks back on the offensive line, the overall team should be in better shape, but getting better at cornerback has to be a key priority for the front office before the Bucs can challenge the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.
The right pieces are in place for the Miami Dolphins; now it's about adding more talent and continuing to build and develop the pieces that are already in place.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was a smart pick, one that has set the franchise up to start building around a quarterback rather than trying to identify one. Now it can find the wide receivers and offensive linemen needed to turn this offense into something special.
Why are the Dolphins trending down? Because they are heading into the offseason with no No. 1 wide receiver or cornerback. They have to nail down these positions first and then worry about moving up in the rankings.
The Cleveland Browns did a great job filling their coaching vacancies this offseason. That alone was worth a move up the rankings.
Bringing in head coach Rob Chudzinski, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive coordinator Ray Horton will give the Browns immediate credibility among the league and in their own locker room. With that trio in town, the Browns are respectable again.
Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon will love the Norv Turner offense, but the key to the offseason is still finding a quarterback. Brandon Weeden will be given a chance to win the job, but he needs to be pushed too.
With new head coach Chip Kelly in town, the Eagles will move from the West Coast offense to a sped-up, wide-open system. Kelly will attack defenses with a hurry-up offense that is built to win with speed and space. That's ideal for the skill players the Eagles already have in place.
Fixing the defense is still needed, and without a defensive coordinator named as of writing time, that side of the ball is left uncertain. If you're a Kelly believer though—and I am—then it's an exciting time to watch the Philadelphia Eagles.
Scott Pioli had his chance to turn around the Kansas City Chiefs, and really, no matter how you look at it, he failed. Now it's John Dorsey's turn with Andy Reid as his head coach.
Reid and Dorsey have a symbiotic belief in how to build a football team and what to look for in players. That alone will be an upgrade over the Pioli system that resulted in a one-man show. The harmony in the scouting department will lead to better draft picks and better development of the players.
There is reason to be optimistic in Kansas City, but the entire season hinges on the ability of the front office to find a quarterback. If they can't do that, none of the preseason excitement will matter.
Jeff Fisher and Les Snead did a great job turning things around in 2012, but the expectations for 2013 may be too high to live up to.
The good news is that the Rams have two first-round picks to use in the 2013 draft after trading with the Washington Redskins last year. With those two picks they'll have the opportunity to address gaping holes on the offensive line and at safety.
The Rams have reached a level of success that few expected so soon, but taking that next step will be harder than most realize.
The firing of general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner alone brings a positive note to the San Diego Chargers offseason, but is Mike McCoy the guy to turn things around?
It helps that McCoy's first season as a head coach will come with an experienced coach, Ken Whisenhunt, serving as his offensive coordinator. Whisenhunt and McCoy are both experienced at coaching and developing quarterbacks, and Philip Rivers needs all the help he can get after regressing the last two seasons.
There's talent here, but the offensive line needs to be completely reworked in the offseason. If the front office can accomplish that, the Chargers will be back in action.
Of the 2012 playoff teams, the Minnesota Vikings are most likely to see a major drop-off in 2013. And it's painfully obvious.
No one can expect another 2,000-yard rushing season from Adrian Peterson, and without that production from the backfield, Christian Ponder's poor play at quarterback will be exposed. There's a chance that Ponder develops and becomes a better quarterback in year three, but looking at the team right now, that seems unlikely.
There's a lot of talent here on an underrated defense, but the team's chances will hinge on whether or not Ponder can improve.
Jason Garrett was able to keep his job, but he's one of the few Dallas coaches who did this offseason. The heat is on Garrett to get this team to the playoffs.
The skill players on offense are good enough for the Cowboys to get to the postseason, but the offensive line needs help at both guard spots, and the defense needs to be retooled after the hiring of Monte Kiffin to run the defense.
Moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme means adding new players at defensive tackle, linebacker and safety. If Jerry Jones has a great draft and maybe a surprise or two in free agency, the Cowboys can make their way back to the playoffs in 2013.
Before the 2012 season, I picked the Pittsburgh Steelers to miss the playoffs. As of right now, I'd be comfortable saying they'll make a run back to the postseason...dependent upon getting faster on both sides of the ball and healthy up front over the course of the offseason.
The foundation is here for the Steelers to be great. Ben Roethlisberger can be an elite quarterback. The wide receivers have serious potential. The defense is coached by one of the best in the game. The key is getting more consistent and building a team that can stay healthy for a stretch run through a long season.
I don't yet have complete faith in the Steelers, but they're trending up for a reason.
No one in Chicago knows what to make of new head coach Marc Trestman. The good news is that at this point any change from the old style has to be a good thing. Right?
Trestman's West Coast offense will be a great fit for Jay Cutler and the skill players on offense, but that won't matter if the offensive line can't protect better than it did in 2012. The system Trestman runs will be kind to Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte, but only if they can find a viable left tackle in free agency or the draft.
General manager Phil Emery's success will be gauged on his ability to find a franchise left tackle. That's the most important move he can make this season.
No one saw the Indianapolis Colts' turnaround coming in 2012. To go from two wins to 11 and a playoff berth over the course of one season is amazing. And it will lead to expectations that are way too high.
It's very important to note that the Colts lost offensive coordinator and interim head coach Bruce Arians to the Arizona Cardinals. It was Arians who took over when head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with cancer. It was Arians as much as anyone who led this team through the stretch run. How will the Colts live without him?
The coaching staff in Indianapolis is sound, and they do have this guy called Andrew Luck already in place, but expecting another 11-win season may be too much to hope for.
The return of Sean Payton will help the New Orleans Saints in many ways. Who he hires as defensive coordinator will be huge too.
With a foundation of Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham and a stable of four running backs who can make big plays, the New Orleans offense is in great shape as long as it can protect Brees better in 2013. That should be doable through upgrades at tackle and better play-calling. But what about the defense?
The Saints had one of the worst defenses in recent memory in 2012, and without a second-round pick, they'll be limited in how they add talent. The salary cap isn't helping them out either, so look for general manager Mickey Loomis to be creative in finding ways to improve the talent.
One season after winning the Super Bowl, the New York Giants were at home watching the playoffs. How can they get back on top?
Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese do a great job of adding talent through the offseason while coaching up the talent on the roster. As long as Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are back next year, they'll be in good shape. But to get over the top, they need major help on defense.
Jason Pierre-Paul is amazing, but he can't be a one-man show. The team needs upgrades at defensive end, defensive tackle, middle linebacker and possibly even cornerback. Reese will need to hit a home run in the NFL draft if the Giants are to return as kings of the NFC East.
How well the Washington Redskins do in 2013 depends on one thing—Robert Griffin III's knee.
The Offensive Rookie of the Year was electric all season, but a late knee injury could potentially sideline him to start the season. Kirk Cousins did very well filling in for Griffin, and there's little doubt that he could do well if prepared the entire summer for the starting job, but the uncertainty could also hurt the Redskins.
The playoffs are very possible again for Washington. The defense will get better thanks to Brian Orakpo's return from injury. The run game should again be powerful. That said, this team will only go as far as its second-year quarterbacks can take it.
Two straight years in the playoffs have given the Cincinnati Bengals confidence heading into the offseason. It helps that they have two of the best young players in the game in A.J. Green and Geno Atkins.
Marvin Lewis and co. have built a young football team that plays hungry, fast and aggressive on defense but hasn't quite reached that status on offense. Quarterback Andy Dalton will be tasked with taking that step in 2013.
The Bengals are good enough to win a playoff game, but are they good enough to win a Super Bowl? Not yet.
The Denver Broncos ran off the AFC's best regular-season record only to see their season end in their first playoff game. What needs to change?
First and foremost, the defense has to get faster. Guys like Champ Bailey and Rahim Moore were exposed in pass coverage by the Baltimore Ravens. Adding at least one cornerback is a must, and John Elway may even want to look at safety in the middle rounds of the draft.
On offense the team is set as long as it can re-sign left tackle Ryan Clady before he hits the free-agent market. If the Broncos can take care of protecting Peyton Manning's blind side and add talent on defense, the sky is the limit in 2013.
The Houston Texans looked like a Super Bowl contender through the first 12 weeks of each of the last two seasons. What's it going to take for them to take the next step?
I'm of the opinion that Matt Schaub can take the Texans far in the playoffs—maybe even to the Super Bowl—but only if Gary Kubiak opens up his scheme more. For so long the Texans have been built on their scheme, which they run very well, without any flexibility. Now is the time for Kubiak to look at things again and see where he can open up the offense and allow Schaub and co. to make big plays.
The talent is here for Houston to win a Super Bowl. It's all on the coaches to deliver the game plan to get it done.
The Atlanta Falcons have learned that regular-season wins mean nothing. The goal for this team is the Super Bowl.
Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones are a formidable trio on offense. A defense featuring Sean Weatherspoon and a dynamite secondary can get the job done too. But it's the pieces in between, especially the line play, that have me concerned.
The Falcons have to figure out their left tackle situation, as Sam Baker is a free agent. They have to figure out how to replace tight end Tony Gonzalez if he retires. They have to get younger and faster on the defensive line.
There's enough talent here to pull together another impressive regular season, but as of right now the Falcons lack the killer instinct needed to win a Super Bowl.
The Green Bay Packers can win the Super Bowl next year. Easily.
With Aaron Rodgers on offense and a defense that will be much improved once healthy in 2013, there is no doubting that Mike McCarthy's boys could be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy again. The key will be keeping the offense healthy—something they've struggled with—while being more aggressive and attacking on defense.
The pieces to the puzzle are here. As much as for any team in the NFL, the Packers will be as good as their coaching allows them to be. McCarthy on offense and Dom Capers on defense need to be more aggressive from beginning to end if they want a trip to New Jersey next February.
Are the Seattle Seahawks ready to be considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender? I say yes.
The balance on offense and defense is there for Seattle. The home-field advantage is damn near insurmountable for opponents. And the coaching is good enough to get the job done as long as they can make subtle improvements to the offensive line, defensive line and wide receivers.
Big adjustments aren't needed here, as the front office has done a great job of building up a talented team, but more playmakers are needed. That'll help second-year quarterback Russell Wilson get the job done moving forward.
While Brady hasn't been himself in postseason games as of late, he's still been better than the majority of quarterbacks in the NFL. Brady is good enough to win another Super Bowl, but the pressure is on Belichick to put enough talent around Brady to win. The days of Tom leading a fourth-quarter win without upper-level talent around him are gone. This is more about the team now.
Decisions in the 2013 offseason will be tough. The Patriots must decide if they want to keep Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. They must figure out the poor play of the secondary. These things seem major, but they can be easily handled through re-signings if Belichick is comfortable paying guys fair value.
The Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens will not end the season atop my power rankings. Heading into 2013 they have a lot of potential, but also a lot of holes.
Replacing Ray Lewis as a leader will be tough. Replacing Ed Reed in coverage if he can't be retained will be tougher. Lewis and Reed didn't make huge impacts this season, but they are cornerstones in the Baltimore locker room. How well the Ravens can replace them will determine where they are next year. It's the only reason why they aren't my No. 1 team heading into 2013.
Ravens fans can be upset here, but the cold, hard truth is that this team will lose at least one of its most important leaders. The coaching is excellent, the offense in great hands, but the impact of Lewis' retirement will be felt.
They couldn't take home the Super Bowl trophy after the 2012 season, but the San Francisco 49ers will be favored to win it all next season in New Jersey.
The Ravens were the better team in New Orleans, but the 49ers have a better nucleus for the future. Their defense will remain intact if the front office wants to keep Dashon Goldson. Unlike the Ravens, who will lose Ray Lewis and maybe Ed Reed, the 49ers return all their key leaders.
The Baltimore Ravens were the better team Sunday night, undoubtedly, but since we're already looking ahead to 2013, the San Francisco 49ers will enter the offseason as my No. 1-ranked team.