For a majority of NFL fans, their favorite team’s season was all but over at the end of Week 17. They had mock drafts and free agency scouting reports pulled up before the end of the third in most cases. However, the playoffs still loomed large to fans of 12 NFL teams. Four of these teams advanced last Sunday, while another four had their week 17 prolonged. What should those fan bases of teams that don’t have a early overall draft pick be looking forward to now? Well, let’s break it down by team.
Regular season: 9-7 (AFC South Divisional Champion, 4th seed)
Playoff: Loss to KC 30-0 at home in Wildcard Round
Draft pick: 22nd overall pick
Salary Cap Space: 29 million in unassigned cap space for 2016 season
Overview: The Texans may have provided us one of the worst playoff games on record. Brian Hoyer committed 4 turnovers in the first half alone, with a quarterback rating of 15.9 (those are actual stats by a quarterback of a playoff team). I could safely say that quarterback is the BIG area of need to move the Texans as a franchise. Either trading back in the draft or taking a crapshoot with a player like Robert Griffin III or Johnny Manziel would be the options for the Texans, as the free agent quarterback market is slim this off-season.
As for other positions, the Texans need help in 2 key areas: wide receiver & defensive line. DeAndre Hopkins can’t be the entire passing attack for Houston, so depth at wide receiver and/or a pass catching tight end are focuses as of right now. Options here in free agency would be trying to steal Jermaine Kearse from the Seahawks or squeezing what’s remaining out Anquan’s Boldin career if he doesn’t retire. The same goes for J.J. Watt on the defensive line. An older Wilfork and an injury prone Clowney aren’t providing enough support in the trenches. Alabama’s Johnathan Allen would be an interesting pick in the draft if they choose to go that way.
Regular Season: 12-4 (AFC North Divisional Champion, 3rd seed)
Playoff: Loss to PIT 18-16 at home in Wildcard Round
Draft pick: 24th overall
Salary Cap Space: 37 million in unassigned cap space for 2016 season
Overview: Cincinnati was looking for a deeper run in the playoffs than they had, but blame that on an Andy Dalton thumb injury and one of the ugliest finishes I’ve ever seen in a playoff game. That doesn’t mean there aren’t areas they can’t improve on in the off-season. Another wide-receiver could open up the field and alleviate pressure from A.J. Green, provide a tremendous boost to the passing attack, and possibly elevate Andy Dalton to next tier quarterbacking. Drafting a guy like Michael Thomas or Josh Doctson, or trading up to nab Laquon Treadwell would do the trick here. Adding all-around depth would help the Bengals as well, as Cincinnati hasn’t gotten the best bang for their buck in the later rounds in recent years.
Regular Season: 11-5 (NFC North Divisional Champions, 3rd seed)
Playoff: Loss to SEA 10-9 at home in Wildcard Round
Draft Pick: 23rd overall pick
Salary Cap Space: 22 million in unassigned cap space for 2016 season
Overview: The Vikings came into the playoffs hot, only to have their season frozen by an even hotter Seattle team on the frigid University of Minnesota field. The biggest area of improvement for the Vikings is in the receiving corps. Teddy Bridgewater had an excellent sophomore season, completing almost 65 percent of his passes. Picking up a receiver in the later rounds of the draft or giving a guy like Percy Harvin another shot could change Bridgewater’s title from game-manager to consummate NFL quarterback.
While Minnesota’s defense was solid enough to make them a contender in the NFC North, there is still much work to be done to turn them into the Purple People Eaters of old. They have a solid linebacking core centered around third year inside linebacker Anthony Barr. The Vikings need to improve on their front line to become a top 10 defense in the league. Nabbing a guy like Kenny Clark or Johnathan Allen in the draft could be just the improvement they make.
Regular Season: 9-7 (NFC East Divisional Champions, 4th seed)
Playoff: Loss to GB 35-18 at home in Wildcard Round
Draft Pick: 21st overall
*Salary Cap Space: 26 million in unassigned cap space
Overview: Most Redskins fans had a lot of hope about this playoff game, especially in the first half. And then it appeared that Aaron Rodgers woke up. Washington squeaked out as champions of a dismal NFC East, with multiple holes in their roster that can be filled in this coming offseason. Shoring up the interior offensive line, improving the run-defense, and working at safety in the defensive backfield are all areas of need to improve the Redskins. Luring a guy like Tashaun Gipson away from the Browns or drafting Jeremy Cash would fix a spot on defense that hasn’t been even proficient since the late Sean Taylor. Another option would be to take guard/tackle Vadal Alexander with the 21st overall to build on a good yet young offensive line. With new general manager Scot McCloughan running the show, expect more moves in the draft rather than the free agent headliners of Redskins past.
All salary cap numbers are based on projections from overthecap.com
*This number is after Robert Griffin III has been cut from the roster