Now that the Baltimore Ravens have been crowned as this year's NFL champions, the 2012 season is officially over.
Since the most popular sport in America won't return for another seven months or so, it's time for America's second-most popular sport to begin: the NFL offseason.
With the craziness of free agency and the annual months-long circus that is the NFL draft, it's time to step back and take a look at all 32 NFL franchises. Did they finish strong, or did they collapse down the stretch? Do they have all the pieces in place, or are key players packing their bags? Do they have money to burn, or did money burn a hole in their pocket?
Let's take stock of all 32 NFL teams and decide: stock up or stock down?
The Arizona Cardinals seemed to hit rock bottom in 2012, falling from an uneven 8-8 record in 2001 to a poor 5-11 showing this season.
Cardinals fans are excited heading into the offseason after hiring 2012 NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians last month, but Arians' track record as a coordinator is uneven, and his caretaker stint with the Colts this season is his only head-man experience at any level.
To borrow a phrase, neither Andrew Luck nor Ben Roethlisberger is walking through that door.
The Cardinals are desperate for an answer at quarterback, and they're picking at No. 7 overall in a draft that is very thin on top-end passing talent. Much of their offensive line will hit unrestricted free agency as well, along with leading rusher LaRod Stephens-Howling.
Fortunately, Stephens-Howling only mustered 356 yards, and the offensive line finished dead last in Pro Football Focus' offensive line run-block and pass protection rankings. Technically they can only improve at those spots.
Did I mention the Cardinals are over the cap?
The Atlanta Falcons got some great news this season: Matt Ryan is capable of leading them to the NFC Championship Game. So they have a top-tier quarterback and an excellent coach—and those two pieces will garner you success in the NFL.
Cornerback Brent Grimes and left tackle Sam Baker will be unrestricted free agents, and the Falcons are lobbying tight end Tony Gonzalez to return instead of retire. Per ESPN.com, the Falcons don't have much room under the cap, and bringing back both Grimes and Baker will make almost any other moves impossible.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, workhorse back Michael Turner and stalwart pass-rusher John Abraham could therefore both be cap casualties.
How can the Falcons catch the 49ers when they'll be scrambling to replace their lost pieces?
Baltimore Ravens fans should probably savor this moment. Joe Flacco will likely get the exclusive franchise tag, which, per Pro Football Talk, will grant him a monster $20 million payout.
Ray Lewis, of course, has maintained that this was his last season. According to The Baltimore Sun, Ed Reed won't be hanging 'em up just yet, but he has already openly discussed retirement as well. If he does decide to come back, the Ravens still need to re-sign him since he is scheduled to become a free agent.
The Ravens are aging on defense, Lewis and Reed notwithstanding. Three crucial young defenders will also be free agents (Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams).
Unfortunately, once you reach the top, the only way to go is...
Buffalo Bills fans should get used to getting good news.
With the breakout season of tailback C.J. Spiller and the (overdue) end of the Chan Gailey experiment, the Bills' future is trending in the right direction.
The Bills will have to pay two excellent starters this offseason—guard Andy Levitre and safety Jairus Byrd—but have about $15 million in cap space to do it with, per the team's official site.
The hiring of former Sean Payton protege Doug Marrone away from Syracuse raised some eyebrows at first, but the move is getting rave reviews from NFL insiders, per Pro Football Weekly. The Bills have a long way to go, but they're going the right way.
The Carolina Panthers are somehow the victims of both failure and success.
Their 7-9 record in the 2012 campaign somehow felt worse than their promising 6-10 run last season. Their failure to build on the previous season almost got head coach Ron Rivera fired, but that same performance got offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski the head coaching job in Cleveland.
Cam Newton regressed quite a bit from his record-setting rookie season, but he rallied late, inspiring hope for 2013. Unfortunately, the Panthers' 7-9 record earned them a middle-of-the-pack draft slot (No. 14 overall), and a crazy round of contract extensions a couple years ago has left them at an estimated $11.8 million over the salary cap.
On the heels of yet another season where they fell far short of their Super Bowl aspirations, the Chicago Bears fired head coach Lovie Smith. Star returner Devin Hester, via ESPN.com, told The Waddle & Silvy Show that he was so distraught over the firing that he may retire.
Yet the Bears made one of the offseason's most talked-about hires, plucking Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman from the CFL. With a few contract restructurings, the team could have quite a bit of cash to throw around as well.
The offensive line needs a lot of work, and the defense could use an infusion of youth, but the Bears will be one of the most intriguing teams of 2013.
Somehow, a franchise famous for finding ways to lose over the years has become a perennial contender—quietly.
The Cincinnati Bengals were not dominant in 2011 or 2012, but two consecutive years in the playoffs is quite an achievement when you consider the history of the club.
With a decent quarterback and one of the NFL's best receivers entering the primes of their respective careers, an underrated defense (eighth-best in scoring defense last season) and a stunning $55.1 million in projected cap room, the Bengals aren't reverting to the "Bungles" any time soon.
The Cleveland Browns had one of the most talked-about offseasons of 2012, adding stud tailback Trent Richardson and questionably-worthy quarterback Brandon Weeden in the first round of last year's draft.
They went on to have one of the least talked-about regular seasons of 2012, as now-ex-head coach Pat Shurmur, billed as a quarterback guru, failed to extract winning performances from the 29-year-old rookie Weeden.
The Browns have already had one of the most talked-about offseasons of 2013 as well.
They plucked new head coach Rob Chudzinski off a struggling Carolina Panthers staff and then followed it up with incredibly strong coordinator hires. Just-fired San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner will run the Browns offense, and his-boss-just-got-fired Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton will take over Cleveland's defense.
With the No. 6 overall draft selection and $48.9 million in cap room, the new Browns staff will have a whole lot to work with.
Every year, the Dallas Cowboys seem to fan Super Bowl hype flames. In two full seasons and one partial season under head coach Jason Garrett, though, the Cowboys haven't made the playoffs or even had a winning season.
Their salary cap reflects this inflated sense of self-worth, as the Cowboys have handed out rich extensions in recent years to players whose performance hasn't earned it. They're a projected $18.2 million over the cap, and will have to restructure or release several veterans to get under it.
On the team's official website, owner Jerry Jones claimed the extensive restructuring of the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rescinding of Garrett's play-calling duties, is all by Garrett's choice and not a vote of no-confidence by Jones. Reading the tea leaves, though, Garrett is clearly coaching for his job in 2013—and possibly several players' jobs, like that of quarterback Tony Romo.
The Denver Broncos are on one heck of a ride. Two seasons ago, they rode Tim Tebow's arm and an incredible wave of luck to one of the most unlikely division titles in recent NFL history and then followed it up with a massive upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This season, by doing little more than swapping Tebow for a questionably healthy Peyton Manning, they rolled to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs, but head coach John Fox and his staff are doing an incredible job.
They'll have to make up for the loss of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, as he takes over as the head coach of the division-rival San Diego Chargers, but the Broncos will have $18.5 million in cap space to do it with. As long as Manning stays healthy, the Broncos will be title contenders again.
The Detroit Lions rode a wave of youth and talent from an 0-16 record in 2008 to a 10-6 record in just three short seasons. But they were dashed against the rocks in 2012, falling all the way back to 4-12.
Despite a record-setting performance from All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson and another prolific year from young quarterback Matthew Stafford, the Lions simply couldn't get it done in the fourth quarter, losing six games by a touchdown or less (including two in overtime).
After spending a wealth of top draft picks and free-agent cash on running backs and wide receivers in the past four seasons, the Lions are still in need of both. The defense has 10 starters and significant rotational players slated for unrestricted free agency.
There will need to be special teams moves made as well. They have no solution at punter, kicker Jason Hanson is mulling retirement and Pro Bowl long snapper Don Muhlbach is hitting free agency.
The Lions are currently $1.1 million over the cap.
The Green Bay Packers have a ton of talented players that are in the early stages of their prime. Yet in 2012, it seemed like they were getting long in the tooth.
The Packers paired their fifth-ranked scoring offense with an 11th-ranked scoring defense and staved off challenges from two 10-6 teams (the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings) to win the NFC North.
Yet it looked like they brought a knife to a gunfight in their 45-31 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' defense looked like it hadn't prepared for dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick at all.
The Packers are doing almost everything right, and a lot of NFL teams are desperate to have the kind of season that the Packers just completed. Green Bay will likely earmark most of its $7.1 million in cap room for extending its current nucleus.
For a team with Super Bowl expectations, though, standing pat simply may not be good enough.
For the second straight season, the Houston Texans looked like one of the most complete teams in the NFL all regular season long, and for the second straight season, they shattered in the postseason.
Quarterback Matt Schaub looked tentative and shaky under the postseason lights. The Texans' strong running game and intimidating defense only barely beat the just-happy-to-be-there Cincinnati Bengals and looked helpless against the New England Patriots.
Like the Green Bay Packers, the Texans have nearly every piece in place and enough cap room to keep all of them around. But like the Packers, it felt like a technically successful 2012 season actually proved that the Texans, as currently built, just aren't good enough.
The 2012 campaign was a one-man season for the Indianapolis Colts. Their entire offseason revolved around drafting Andrew Luck, and their entire regular season (on the field, anyway) revolved around having Andrew Luck.
The impact of head coach Chuck Pagano's fight with leukemia, and the performance of the team under offensive coordinator/acting head coach Bruce Arians, can't be understated. It's true that Arians, the NFL Coach of the Year, has left to coach the Arizona Cardinals, but the Colts' success on offense was much more about Luck than Arians.
Add in a rejuvenated Reggie Wayne, the stunning debut of receiver T.Y. Hilton and pleasant surprises like tight end Dwayne Allen and tailback Vick Ballard, and the Colts appear to have something very special happening.
A warning: The Colts allowed 30 more points than they scored, and according to Pro Football Reference's Pythagorean Wins calculation, that means they "should" have won 7.2 games, instead of the 11 that they did. They may well be due for a big regression back to the mean if their defense does not improve next season.
Even so, the Colts are a team you want to buy stock in.
This season couldn't have been worse for the Jacksonville Jaguars. They went 2-14, saw first-year head coach Mike Mularkey fired and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that 2011 first-round quarterback Blaine Gabbert is nowhere near ready to be an NFL difference-maker.
On the positive side, they have a new owner who seems fiercely committed to turning things around, about $22 million in cap room and the No. 2 overall pick in April's draft.
New head coach Gus Bradley, previously the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks, has a lot to do, but he will have a lot to work with.
The Kansas City Chiefs are the NFL's most puzzling franchise.
How did GM Scott Pioli keep his job long enough to interview candidates after his second coaching hire, Romeo Crennel, skippered them to a disastrous 2-14 campaign? For that matter, how did Pioli survive the bizarre allegations of paranoia, surveillance and control-freak-ism reported by the Kansas City Star after the 2011 season?
Odder yet, why would the Chiefs—still reeling from the horrific murder-suicide perpetrated by linebacker Jovan Belcher—hire deposed Philadelphia Eagles head man Andy Reid and give him significant sway over new GM John Dorsey? Reid also suffered through a disastrous on-field 2012 and the personally tragic loss of his son, Garrett.
It seemed like the Chiefs, more than any team, needed a clean slate and a fresh start. Instead, Reid—whose career is built on his work with quarterbacks—has no quarterback to work with and the No. 1 overall pick in a year where no quarterback prospect worth that pick will be available.
The Miami Dolphins were quietly one of the more interesting stories of 2012. They made some great decisions, like hiring head coach Joe Philbin away from the Packers, and some head-scratchers, like agreeing to be the subject of HBO's Hard Knocks reality series and signing Chad Ochocinco.
Another one of those head-scratchers was the drafting of quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 overall pick of the 2012 draft. GM Jeff Ireland admitted to Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post the Dolphins broke their own guideline by drafting a quarterback so unproven at the college level, but it looks like their roll of the dice paid off.
The Dolphins need a lot more help around Tannehill, especially with tailback Reggie Bush on the move to free agency. Yet the Dolphins have a massive amount of free cash, as much as $46.8 million, to work with.
The Dolphins' record may or may not improve in 2013, but Philbin and company appear to be on the right track.
The Minnesota Vikings had been making a lot of good moves in recent years, like naming respected coordinator Leslie Frazier their permanent head coach, drafting well and slowly reloading a defensive line that had dominated for years.
However, in 2012, it seemed like they'd be doomed to a fourth-place finish in the NFC North, stuck behind perennial title contenders Green Bay and Chicago and passed by the high-flying youth of Detroit.
Instead, the Vikings rolled to a 10-6 finish, knocking the Bears out of the last wild-card spot with a huge Week 17 victory over the Packers. Running back Adrian Peterson ran away with the NFL MVP award, and top pick left tackle Matt Kalil anchored a surprisingly excellent offensive line.
The Vikings may have caught a few breaks along the way, and there are still questions about quarterback Christian Ponder as he enters his third season. Frazier and the Vikings, though, have proven they're not doomed to anything.
Contract-wise, the Vikings are in good shape. They have $16.1 million in cap space, and their only pressing need is a sulking star receiver (Percy Harvin) who either needs to be mollified or replaced.
It's been fashionable to declare the Patriots' dynasty "over" for about the last eight years running. After the Patriots again rang up double-digit regular-season wins, and again failed to add to their Lombardi Trophy collection, it's tempting to join in the "over" chorus.
Tom Brady and the Patriots, though, finished the regular season with the No. 1 overall scoring offense and the No. 9 scoring defense. With an estimated $18.6 million in cap space and aging receiver Wes Welker the only likely loss to free agency, the Patriots are likely to be no worse in 2013 than they were in 2012, which is "great."
Their success is certainly not over.
Expectations for the New Orleans Saints in 2012 were all over the map. With the full-season suspension of head coach Sean Payton and six-game suspension of interim head coach Joe Vitt, the possibilities ranged from "unmitigated disaster" to "don't miss a beat."
Drew Brees and the Saints got off to a slow start, dropping four straight one-score games. Though they warmed up and finished at 7-9, and Brees threw for his usual piles of yards and touchdowns, the running game lost a step, and Brees threw 19 interceptions.
Payton has been reinstated, but the Saints are somewhere around $15 million over the cap and have a lot of big-name veterans set to walk. Payton, Brees and GM Mickey Loomis have their work cut out for them.
After a mediocre 9-7 record in the 2011 season turned into a surprise Super Bowl championship, the New York Giants were markedly better on both sides of the ball in 2012. Unfortunately, they only managed to repeat their 9-7 record and missed the playoffs entirely.
The Giants are technically over the cap but have quite a few contracts ripe for restructuring. That's a good thing, as All-Pro receiver Victor Cruz is a restricted free agent, and they'll need money to match any offer sheets that he signs.
Few teams have ever had as wide a gulf between their national air time and their on-field performance as the New York Jets did this season. With the fifth-worst scoring offense in the NFL, and their vaunted defense not much better, the Jets were arguably lucky to finish 6-10.
After the months-long worldwide media carnival that surrounded Tim Tebow's arrival, preseason and ultimate irrelevance, it's no surprise that GM Mike Tannenbaum and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano got the axe.
However, head coach Rex Ryan's neck was spared, and he'll face the difficult challenge of saying goodbye to several productive veterans in order to make up a $19 million cap overage. Ryan and new GM John Idzik have a big, big mountain to climb.
The Oakland Raiders are in disarray. In fact, they might define the word "disarray."
Since the death of legendary coach/owner/dictator-for-life Al Davis—and, truth be told, for a while before—the Raiders have suffered from a crippling lack of leadership, identity and direction, both on the field and off.
Head coach Dennis Allen had a brutal debut season. His offense finished 26th in scoring, and his defense finished 28th. Somehow, the Raiders are more than $4 million over the salary cap. Having the No. 3 overall draft selection will help a bit, but GM Reggie McKenzie has his work cut out for him.
It's a monumental changing of the guard in Philadelphia. Andy Reid, who won more consistently than anyone over his 14 years with the Eagles, is out. Chip Kelly, whose brilliant spread-to-run offense has shredded BCS-level college football for years, is in.
With that changing of the guard comes an awful lot of questions, many of which revolve around whether Kelly will keep quarterback Michael Vick. The questions folks should be asking, though, are the ones about the defense—the one whose "dream team" of high-priced defenders and rotating defensive coordinators finished 29th in the NFL in scoring defense last season.
Fortunately, Reid and former executive Joe Banner always kept costs down, so the Eagles have an estimated $5.2 million in cap room, even if they keep Vick.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' 2012 season was head coach Mike Tomlin's first non-winning season in his six-year career. Their 8-8 finish kept them out of the playoffs for just the second time that he's been skipper.
That's a great track record, but it bodes ill for the future. The Steeler defense is very expensive and very old, and a lot of key pieces (like nose tackle Casey Hampton and linebacker James Harrison) will either need to be restructured or replaced.
Also, franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may be hitting a physical wall, with nagging injuries robbing him of some mobility and accuracy. If the Steelers don't reload this offseason, the writing might be on the wall for this iteration of the Steel Curtain.
In his time as Denver Broncos offensive coordinator, new San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy won with Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning. With all three quarterbacks, McCoy ran something completely different. McCoy's been brilliantly adaptable.
Surely he can win with Philip Rivers then—right?
With the firing of Norv Turner, the page seemed to be turned on one of the NFL's most talented offenses. Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates, though, still have gas left in the tank, and the middle-of-the-pack scoring defense at least takes a little pressure off McCoy, Rivers and the offense.
The Chargers have a little money to play with (about $8.7 million) and the No. 11 overall draft selection. It'll be interesting to see how much hay new GM Tom Telesco can make with it.
The 49ers were the NFL's best and most complete team in 2012 and missed winning it all by three points.
Everyone who matters will be back, they're just fine with the salary cap (projected to be $8.7 million under) and Colin Kaepernick is just beginning to show us what he can do.
The word "surprise" hardly covers the Seattle Seahawks' 2012 season. An 11-5 season, on the back of clutch rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and the No. 1 overall scoring defense? Nobody saw this coming.
There are plenty of questions surrounding this team, most of which involve defensive coordinator Gus Bradley leaving to take over the Jacksonville Jaguars and what happened with their star cornerback's positive performance-enhancing drug test.
The Seahawks have plenty (about $18 million) of cap space to throw around, more salaries they can shed if they need to and the quarterback position locked down.
The St. Louis Rams have been the most schizophrenic team in the NFL over the past four seasons, alternating horrible seasons with very promising ones. The beneficiary of great head coach Jeff Fisher's long tenure in Tennessee coming to an end, the Rams proved they do have talent on defense.
The offense may be another matter. Specifically, quarterback Sam Bradford is making a truckload of money for far less than a truck's load of great performances. They're only $1.8 million under the cap and will likely need to restructure him in order to add any turnkey weapons.
He's had his development stopped and restarted several times as the Rams shuffled coaches and coordinators around, but they need him to step up in 2012—or they need to look for a new quarterback.
Good luck figuring out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After a thrilling overtime win against the Carolina Panthers, it looked like Greg Schiano and the Bucs were on their way to an against-all-odds winning season.
Then, they dropped five straight, and Pro Football Talk reported that one anonymous Buc wanted to send his coaches "back to college." This is the crucial offseason for Schiano and the Buccaneers because they spent a ton of money last offseason and had incredibly mixed results.
GM Mark Dominik still has a projected $31 million to play with, but whether they can spend that cash wisely and get quarterback Josh Freeman to the next level will decide if this is a dynasty in bloom or a disaster waiting to happen.
Life without Jeff Fisher was always going to be rough, but the Titans are really starting to feel it. After a promising 9-7 record in 2011, head coach Mike Munchak and company suffered through a 6-10 record in the 2012 campaign.
Young quarterback Jake Locker showed promising signs, though, and wayward superstar Chris Johnson began to shine again.
It's the other side of the field that bogged them down—the Titans finished dead last in scoring defense. They have plenty of cap room ($19.4 million) and a great slot for drafting defense in the first round (No. 10 overall). They took a step back in 2012, but the pieces are in place to take a step forward in 2013.
The Redskins invested their future in rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, drafting him with the No. 2 overall pick. As wise as that investment apparently was, given Griffin's jaw-dropping debut, they were equally wise to hedge their bets by drafting Kirk Cousins.
The Redskins' glorious return to the postseason was dampened by the way head coach Mike Shanahan rode a clearly injured Griffin into the ground. Now, their 2013 season rides on whether or not Griffin can again rehab from a severe knee ligament injury...or whether Cousins can step up in his absence.
With rookie tailback Alfred Morris rounding out the fourth-best scoring offense in the NFL and enough veterans' contracts able to be restructured to make their $1.4 million cap overage no problem, the Redskins are in great shape going forward.