Now we get to the heart of the National Football League Playoffs. Next weekend, the Divisional Playoffs begin and for whatever reason this part of the playoffs has always brought the most excitement and the most thrilling games. I do not know why but over the last 20 years or so that’s just how it has played out.
The match-ups were finalized yesterday as Dallas and Indianapolis both won to advance. The Colts will travel to Denver where another Andrew Luck-Peyton Manning duel awaits. Dallas will travel to Green Bay where the “Ice Bowl” may very well be re-lived as temperatures are forecasted to be extremely cold as of this writing.
The half of the brackets were filled out on Saturday in wins by Baltimore and Carolina. The Ravens now travel to New England where they have been a thorn in the side of the the Patriots for several years now. Carolina will take their dinged up quarterback Cam Newton to Seattle where a crazy-loud crowd awaits.
Let’s address today however, the teams that are preparing for the NFL Draft and the offseason now.
In Arizona, fans can only ask “what might have been” had Carson Palmer or even Drew Stanton been healthy enough to play on Saturday. No disrespect to the young man, but Ryan Lindley isn’t an NFL quarterback and I’m not entirely sure rookie Logan Thomas is either. Head Coach Bruce Arians will no doubt look for depth at several positions, most notably at QB.
The Cards must also deal with the potential of Larry Fitzgerald moving on as it’s doubtful the team can afford him.
In Pittsburgh, the offense appears to be intact but the offensive line could use some upgrades. The defense is the biggest question heading into the offseason as the futures of Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and James Harrison are in limbo. Polamalu and Taylor are likely done but the 37-year old Harrison claims he wants to return. Considering he was their most consistent pass rusher, it might not be so bad.
That said, the secondary in Pittsburgh is bad and that will be addressed in the draft and free agency. The biggest issue with the defense however is coordinator Dick LeBeau who at 77 might be ready to finally call it a career.
The Cincinnati Bengals dropped their fourth straight playoff game under Andy Dalton and while Marvin Lewis seems to have been in the Queen City forever, he still hasn’t won a playoff game either. Don’t be surprised if a change is made there. Sometimes you have to make a change to get over the hump.
In Dalton’s defense, he was without his top two weapons in A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham yesterday but the 0-4 playoff record and huge contract won’t care. The Bengals are in need of some change and it’s coming.
Lastly is the Detroit Lions who saw their biggest weakness come back to haunt them in Dallas as their offensive line was exposed at the worst possible time. The Lions’s offseason issues will begin with Ndamukong Suh who will be a free agent. The Lions must decide if the headaches he brings with his dirty play are worth the money.
Obviously the Lions need to shore up the offensive line but Matthew Stafford is starting to find himself in some dubious company as he might be the best QB not to win a playoff game.
All four of these teams are capable of returning to the playoffs next season especially if expansion from 12 to 14 happens as many expect, but all four must make significant changes in order to past the Wild-Card round.