One Reason Every Team That Missed the NFL Playoffs Should Have Hope
The great thing about sports is that hope is always present.
Even after a terrible season, fans can look at their roster and see signs of improvement. They can look towards the draft and free agency and hope that one key addition could change their fortune.
Postseason football is about to begin, and that means that 20 other teams now need to start thinking about next season.
No matter how the end of the season shakes out, the Indianapolis Colts will have the opportunity to land a top prospect. The most likely scenario has them adding Stanford's Andrew Luck to be the successor to the great Peyton Manning.
This season has been tough on Colts fans, but I would gladly deal with one terrible season to land Luck. Adding Luck ensures at least 10 more seasons of excellent quarterback play. If he lives up to his potential, the Colts will establish themselves as one of the most successful franchises in a 20-year span.
Most fans want to win now, but I will take long-term success any day.
Minnesota Viking fans will have the opportunity to enjoy Adrian Peterson for a few more seasons. His offseason extension all but ensures he will spend his most productive years in Minnesota. Everyone talks about how the NFL is a quarterback driven league, but running backs can be equally important.
The presence of Adrian Peterson helps the entire offense. It loosens coverage in the back end by forcing extra defenders into the box. This gives the receivers a better opportunity to find open holes in the defense. His effectiveness also allows the offense to use play action to help out the quarterback.
Minnesota's offense will be able to quickly get back on track thanks to Adrian Peterson.
St. Louis Rams
The impending coaching changes in St. Louis are actually a positive development. Steve Spagnuolo is a fine defensive coordinator, but has struggled as a head coach. However, the most important change will be at the offensive coordinator spot. Josh McDaniels and Sam Bradford have not been on the same page all season.
Bradford is the future of this franchise, and they need to bring in an offensive-minded coach who fits his skill set. Someone like Brian Billick or maybe a Jay Gruden would be great options to help develop Bradford.
Moving forward, the Jacksonville Jaguars can count on production out of Maurice Jones-Drew. Each and every year he continues to produce, even though opposing defenses key on shutting him down. Jones-Drew's presence will help the development of Blaine Gabbert.
The Jaguars offense could see significant improvement if they find a way to land a legitimate No. 1 receiver. They might have that opportunity in the upcoming draft, where they are likely to be selecting in the top five. Adding a playmaker on the outside will help Jones-Drew continue to produce at a high level.
The Cleveland Browns' transition to a 4-3 defense appears ahead of schedule. They added two key pieces during last year's draft in Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard. The emergence of Sheard as a pass rushing threat really speeds up the transition.
4-3 defenses need to be able to create pressure from their front four, otherwise they are forced to take men out of coverage. Cleveland can feel good about the fact that they have three of the four defensive line spots solidified. If they can add one more pass rushing defensive end, this defense will take a major step forward.
Depending how they finish the season, Cleveland could be in position to add North Carolina's Quinton Coples. Adding Coples would put the finishing touches on what would be an excellent defensive line.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Josh Freeman's season didn't go as planned, but at age 23, he still possesses upside. A lot of NFL teams lack direction at the quarterback position. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have their quarterback of the future, and he has shown signs that he can be successful.
The key for Tampa will be adding some people to the offensive staff who are capable of developing a young quarterback. This poor season will likely mean some shaking up on the coaching staff, which typically means new coordinators. Look for the Buccaneers to throw some money at a top offensive coordinator candidate.
The key to running a successful 3-4 defensive attack is being able to create pressure off the edge. The Washington Redskins feature two young outside linebackers who are capable of getting after the quarterback. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan both do a great job attacking the edge and generating pressure.
Having these two key positions locked down means Washington can now focus on adding to the offensive side of the ball. The struggles of both Rex Grossman and John Beck might finally force Mike Shanahan to draft a quarterback. This franchise cannot handle another failed veteran quarterback experiment.
Obviously, Cam Newton's early success brings a bright future to this franchise. His ability to adjust to the pro-style passing game has taken everybody by surprise. It is also great to see that he has been able to avoid injury despite rushing for over 600 yards.
The Carolina Panthers can rest easy knowing their gamble has paid off. This team now features one of the youngest and most exciting players in all of football. His development also allows the Panthers to focus on improving the defense. They know that Newton can make do with the current offensive weapons.
Reggie Bush may have been expendable in New Orleans, but he has found a home in Miami. He is still an electric athlete who makes plays in both the running and passing game. The Dolphins have to feel good that he was able to remain healthy despite seeing an increased workload.
Bush may never be an every-down back, but he is definitely a building block for the future. This offense could do special things if the Dolphins can add a quarterback like Baylor's Robert Griffin III in the draft.
Look for Miami to make a big splash with their next coaching hire. They seem dead set on adding a big-name coach who capable of creating some buzz.
The Buffalo Bills defense has a very bright future thanks to the presence of Marcell Dareus. Drafting Dareus was by far the best pick the Bills made in several years. He will anchor the defensive line for the next 10 years.
If the Bills can add someone like Alabama's Courtney Upshaw in the upcoming draft, the defense will take a major step forward. They are one good pass rusher away from becoming a well above average unit.
Dareus provides the most hope for the future, but Chan Gailey should also inspire some hope. He has done a great job getting the most out of a below-average roster. Dating back to last season, the Bills remain in football games because of their effort and desire, and this is a reflection of the coaching staff.
An Andy Reid run offense ranking in the top 10 in rushing attempts is an absolute shock. However, Reid realizes that his best player isn't Michael Vick, but LeSean McCoy. He is an explosive player, who averages close to five yards per carry.
McCoy does an unbelievable job at gaining yards even when there isn't much running room. He possesses the ability to put a team on his back and carry them to a victory.
The combination of McCoy's ability and Reid's willingness to run the ball brings hope to this Philadelphia Eagles franchise.
Kansas City Chiefs
The impending return of Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry promise to improve this football team. Kansas City lost arguably their top two players to injury this season, which is always tough to overcome. The injury to Charles was the most devastating, as he was the majority of their offense.
There is no reason to think that this team can't return to the playoffs with a healthy roster. Also, look for the Chiefs to bring in a new offensive coordinator to help open up the offensive attack. Todd Haley's firing could potentially open the door for better offensive production.
The Arizona Cardinals were finally able to get a complete season out of running back Beanie Wells. His ability to fight through nagging injuries will result in a 1,000-yard rushing season. Arizona has to feel good about the future of their rushing attack.
Next season, they will get Ryan Williams back off of injury, teaming with Wells to create an explosive rushing attack. The Cardinals quarterback situation hasn't played out as expected, which puts more pressure on the running game. Neither Kevin Kolb or John Skelton showed they are capable of carrying a team on their own.
In limited action, Jake Locker showed the ability to move the offense and put points on the board. This Tennessee Titans offense doesn't have a lot of weapons, which makes his success even more promising. Locker still doesn't figure to be the starter next season, but many agree that the more time he sits and learns, the better.
Tennessee's ability to sign Chris Johnson to a long-term extension means Locker will have the luxury of a strong running game. A potent running attack is a young quarterbacks best friend, as it forces defenders up into the box and out of coverage.
Marshawn Lynch's 1,000-yard season deserves a lot of attention because it came behind a makeshift offensive line. The Seattle Seahawks were without Russell Okung, John Moffitt and James Carpenter for much of the season. It is rare to see a successful rushing attack when the offensive line is missing three starters.
Lynch is a free agent after the season, but I don't see a scenario where Seattle lets him walk. Adding Lynch to a healthy Sidney Rice and Mike Williams will give the Seahawks a potent offensive attack. Because of other pieces in place, the Seahawks can focus on adding a young quarterback in the draft.
At the beginning of the season, Cincinnati was facing the unenviable task of breaking in a rookie quarterback and wide receiver. However, it was quickly apparent that both Andy Dalton and AJ Green were stars in the making.
This duo has a very bright future, which could result in many consecutive years of success and playoff berths. Knowing that you have your quarterback of the future is one of the toughest things to accomplish. However, once you have identified your franchise quarterback, things seem to fall into place.
The Bengals might have the brightest future of any team in the NFL.
In the opinion of most, Jay Cutler took a major step forward this season and appears close to becoming an elite quarterback. He continues to find a way to make plays behind a terrible offensive line and without even a No. 2 wide receiver.
If the Chicago Bears can surround Cutler with playmakers, he could potentially lead this team to a Super Bowl victory. He has received his fair share of criticism, but it is time to start giving him some credit. Chicago's late season collapse might provide them the opportunity to finally add a No. 1 receiver.
San Diego Chargers
Despite his struggles this season, Philip Rivers is still an elite quarterback capable of leading a team to a Super Bowl. Most NFL franchises spend a ton of recourses in search of an elite quarterback. The San Diego Chargers can rest easy because of the the presence of Philip Rivers.
These past couple seasons didn't produce much playoff success, but this team is only a few adjustments away from making a Super Bowl run. This disappointing season will likely result in the end of Norv Turner's run as head coach. A change at the top might be what is needed to get this team over the hump.
New York Giants
This year has been a career year for Eli Manning, and it has many feeling he is an elite quarterback. His ability to correct his past mistakes and protect the football is what has propelled him to elite status. Moving forward, the New York Giants know they don't have to focus on finding a quarterback.
New York can use the majority of their recourses finding pieces to plug around Manning. Looking at this Giants' roster, you can pick out more than a few problem areas. However, despite those problems, this team is still contending for the NFC East title.
Adding some talent along the offensive line could put this team right back into Super Bowl contention.
The Oakland Raiders can feel good about the outcome of their recent drafts. They have added players like Rolando McClain, Denarius Moore, Stefen Wisniewski and Darius Heyward-Bey. Yes, Heyward-Bey should no longer be considered a bust, as he has started to earn his high draft status.
Oakland also features a strong coaching staff, with Hue Jackson leading the charge. Jackson does a great job utilizing this roster of speedsters. His ability to get the most out of Heyward-Bey is a strong indication of future success.
I am very curious to see if Terrell Prior has made any progress as a passer. We won't get an opportunity to see him play until next year's preseason, but its still an interesting situation.
Prior to his injury, DeMarco Murray emerged as one of the top young running backs in the league. He showed the ability to grind out the tough yards, as well as hit the home-run. Murray may allow the Cowboys to finally move on from Felix Jones.
Jerry Jones loves Felix Jones, which has resulted in an unwarranted commitment to him as the starting running back. Jones is a terrific athlete, but injury problems have made him an unreliable player. Dallas needs to move forward next season with Murray as their starting running back.
New York Jets
In his past four games, Shonn Greene has averaged nearly five yards per carry. This success shows that he is capable of being the New York Jets running back of the future. Rex Ryan will always want to feature a strong running game, and Greene's emergence allows them to move forward with him at running back.
With Greene in place, New York can focus on adding a pass rusher early in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Jets still might add a back later in the draft, but more value can be gained from drafting a running back in rounds three or four.