Denver Broncos 2013 Needs

Peyton Manning’s first season with the Broncos and first season back from 4 neck surgeries was amazing. He completed 68.9% of his passes for an average of 8.0 YPA, 37 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, all above his career averages. His 105.8 QB rating was his best since his record setting 2004 season and the 2nd best of his career. He led the Broncos on an 11 game winning streak and got them the #1 seed in the AFC. He could easily be the MVP this season.

His season was so amazing that everyone forgot he struggles in the playoffs, but that’s exactly what happened again as the Broncos were bounced in their first game by the Baltimore Ravens. Peyton Manning has now made the playoffs in 12 of his 14 healthy seasons, but he’s lost in his first game a ridiculous 8 times and has a 9-11 post-season record.

The loss wasn’t totally his fault. A lot of the borderline calls went against the Broncos, Head Coach John Fox got overly conservative in the final few minutes of the game, and then of course there was Rahim Moore’s ridiculous coverage on Jacoby Jones. However, the Broncos also scored 2 special teams touchdowns and that more than makes up for everything that went against him. He led this offense to just 21 points in 4 quarters and two overtimes and threw the game clinching interception. Any time you’re spotted 14 points at home as 9 point favorites, you have to come through. Manning didn’t.

Manning turns 37 in March, so you have to wonder how much longer the Broncos’ championship window will be open for. Of course, that’s much better than there the Broncos were 6 months ago, when they were wondering if Manning could even play. In one of the worst divisions in the NFL and with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, the Broncos will be in contention once again in 2013.

Defensive Tackle

The Broncos drafted Derek Wolfe in the 2nd round last year, but he plays defensive end in base packages and moves inside to defensive tackle in sub packages. They need a true defensive tackle. The trio of Kevin Vickerson, Mitch Unrein, and Justin Bannan isn’t getting it done. Vickerson and Bannan are free agents this off-season anyway. They really need someone to get some sort of pressure from the interior of their defensive line, to compliment Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil outside.

Center

The Broncos brought in Dan Koppen and the veteran took over at center for JD Walton, who was one of the worst centers in the league in 2011. Koppen played well, but he’s a free agent heading into his age 34 season this off-season. If he’s not brought back, they should bring in some competition for Walton. Peyton Manning may be able to make Walton look better than Tim Tebow did, but he’s still not very good.

Middle Linebacker

Keith Brooking took over for Joe Mays at middle linebacker this season. Brooking didn’t play well and he’s a free agent heading into his age 38 season this year, while Mays could be cut, owed 4 million next season. DJ Williams could also be cut, owed 6 million. If all 3 of those guys are gone, they’ll need a new every down linebacker to go with Wesley Woodyard and Von Miller, who plays linebacker in base packages. 2012 6th round pick Danny Trevathan could be a candidate to play there, as could Nate Irving, a 2011 3rd round pick who hasn’t played much yet, but they should at least bring in some more competition.

Running Back

Willis McGahee turns 32 in October and, owed 2.5 million next season, he might not be brought back, coming off a major injury. Even if he’s back, he won’t be around much longer. Ronnie Hillman flashed some as a 3rd round rookie, while Knowshon Moreno randomly had a great season after McGahee got hurt, but can you depend on that combination long term?

Wide Receiver

Brandon Stokley is a free agent who turns 37 in June, so the Broncos could use a new slot receiver.

Offensive Tackle

Ryan Clady will probably be franchised, but if, for whatever reason, he’s not brought back, they’ll need to replace him.

Guard

Chris Kuper suffered 3 separate injuries in a 12 month time period. Owed 4.5 million next season, the Broncos might not bring him back. If he’s not back, they’ll need competition for replacement level talent Manuel Ramirez, who was alright this season in Kuper’s absence, but that might have been more on Peyton Manning than anything.

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Houston Texans 2013 Needs

A lot of people will point to the Texans as a classic case of peaking too early. After an 11-1 start, they finished 1-3 and dropped all the way down the 3rd seed. After a less than impressive win over the Bengals in the post-season, they lost convincingly in New England to the Patriots. However, their problems started well before the final 4 weeks of the regular season and the post-season. Their schedule just got harder.

From week 5 on, they beat the Jets by 6, got blown out at home by the Packers, blew out the Ravens (their only really impressive game), beat the Bills by 12, beat the Bears by 7, which looked more impressive at the time than it was, especially since Jay Cutler didn’t even make it to halftime. Then they won in overtime against both the Jaguars and Lions and beat the Titans by 14 before their final 4 games, where they played 4 playoff teams, New England, Minnesota, and the Colts twice, losing 3 times by double digits.

What happened week 5? Well, against the Jets, stud middle linebacker Brian Cushing got hurt. Without him, they ranked 18th in opponents’ scoring and 13th in opponents’ yardage, after starting the season as the top yardage and scoring defense in the NFL, blowing out three bad teams (Miami, Jacksonville, Tennessee) and beating the Broncos in Denver convincingly.

In 2011, when their defense was fully healthy, they were the NFL’s 4th best scoring defense and that was before JJ Watt truly broke out. They’ve had a lot of injury issues over the past two years, with Matt Schaub going down late in 2011 and Cushing going down this year, but if they can keep their key players healthy, I see no reason why they can’t win a Super Bowl.

Middle Linebacker

Cushing’s injury really showed their lack of depth at middle linebacker after they traded DeMeco Ryans this off-season. The Ryans trade was smart because he never really fit their 3-4 scheme and he wasn’t worth what they were paying him, but they never replaced him and that came back to bite them. There was way too much of Bradie James, Tim Dobbins, Daryl Sharpton, and Barrett Ruud at middle linebacker for the Texans. They need to add a new starter at middle linebacker next to Cushing, who should be back as a starter next season.

Wide Receiver

The Texans have been trotting Kevin Walter out opposite Andre Johnson for too long. His last two seasons have been his worst since 2006 and at age 32 in 2013, he’s not getting any better. Andre Johnson, meanwhile, is coming off a huge season, but he’s their only good wide receiver and he’s also 32 in 2013. It would obviously be a bad thing if he declined, and that could happen sometime in the next few years, so the Texans need to start preparing a successor.

They used a 3rd round pick on DeVier Posey and a 4th round pick on Keyshawn Martin last year, but they need a blue chip prospect in the mix. Posey might miss the whole 2013 season after tearing his Achilles and Martin’s only contributions to this team were as a return man. Owner Bob McNair recently mentioned that the Texans need to add another playmaker at wide receiver and he’s right. Expect them to target receivers early in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Offensive Tackle

The Texans lost two starting offensive linemen last offseason, at right guard and right tackle. They tried to fill the holes by rotating guys, but the duo of Ryan Harris and Derek Newton really struggled at right tackle. They should add a traditional starter. Harris was the better of the two and might be an option in 2013, but they could also use an early pick on a right tackle to attempt to solve the problem long term. Harris is a free agent this off-season anyway.

Nose Tackle

Earl Mitchell and Shaun Cody split snaps at nose tackle this year, but neither really played well. Cody is a free agent anyway. Wade Phillips had a lot of success with an interior pass rusher like Jay Ratliff when he was the Head Coach in Dallas. He might want to try to find his Ratliff in Houston. They definitely could use an upgrade at the position.

Guard

They tried the same thing at right guard that they tried at right tackle. It wasn’t as bad as it was at right tackle, as they used Antoine Caldwell, Ben Jones, and Brandon Brooks. They struggled, but Brooks and Jones were 3rd and 4th round picks last year so either of them could step up as starters at the position long term. It wouldn’t hurt to bring someone else in, however. Caldwell is a free agent this off-season.

Safety

Glover Quin played well this season, but he’s a free agent. If he’s not retained, he should be replaced.

Rush Linebacker

The Texans got good pass rush this year, but most of that was JJ Watt and the rest of the defensive line. Rush linebackers Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin, and Whitney Mercilus were all among the worst pass rushing linebackers in the NFL. Purely as pass rushers, Reed, Mercilus, and Barwin were 26th, 29th, and 33rd out of 34 eligible 3-4 outside linebackers this season. Barwin and Reed played well in 2011 and Mercilus was a 1st round pick rookie, so they could all improve in 2013, but Barwin is a free agent and if he’s not retained, they’ll need another pass rusher to rotate with and push the other two.

Fullback

Fullback James Casey is a free agent and will need to be replaced if not brought back.

Punter

Donnie Jones was among the best punters in the NFL this season, but he’s also a free agent.

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Green Bay Packers 2013 Needs

After winning the Super Bowl in 2010 and winning 15 regular season games in 2011, the Packers entered 2012 as probably the favorite to win it all. After a 2-3 start, that kind of faded away and even though they finished the season 9-2 from that point on, they still never really felt like the type of contender they were supposed to be. They only beat 2 playoff teams in that stretch and only won 3 games by more than 10 points. They finished the season just 4-4 on the road.

In the post-season, they took care of business at home against the Vikings, but things fell apart in San Francisco the following week and their season ended the same way it started, with a loss to the 49ers. Their problems on the road reared their heads again, as did their issues defensively. They looked completely confused and unprepared, allowing 45 points and a record day from dual threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Once regarded as one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, Dom Capers was badly outcoached by Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman twice in the same year and once again his defense was the issue. And once again, defense has to be the priority of their off-season this year.

3-4 Defensive End

No defensive line got pressure less frequently than the Packers’ did in 2011, getting a 3.4% pass rush rate (sacks + hits + hurries / pass rush snaps x 100). They used a 2nd round pick on Jerel Worthy in 2012, but while he was decent against the run, he didn’t get any pressure either and he’ll be in a race to be ready for week 1 after tearing his ACL late in 2012. This team really struggled for pass rush this year, ranking 31st in pass rush efficiency and they were even worse when Clay Matthews was hurt. They desperately need another pass rusher to step up, particularly someone from the defensive line. Adding another defensive lineman to get to the quarterback should be atop their off-season needs list.

Running Back

The Packers were kind of just throwing shit at the wall and seeing what stuck at running back this year, using Alex Green, James Starks, Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant, and DuJuan Harris at running back. They were generally ineffective, ranking 22nd in the NFL, averaging 3.9 YPC. Harris played well down the stretch, but can they really count on him in 2013? I know they don’t value the running back position much, but they need to bring someone else into the mix this off-season.

Center

One of the funnier stories this year was Jeff Saturday getting elected to the Pro-Bowl after getting benched. I guess that’s what happens when most fans don’t have access to any sort of stats that mean anything with offensive lineman. Saturday is a big name and probably the most recognizable center in the NFL, but he really struggled this year, especially as a run blocker, as he ranked 28th out of 36 eligible overall on ProFootballFocus. 38 in June, it’s probably time for him to hang them up and I think that’s what will happen. Evan Dietrich-Smith was better once he took over for him, but they could use some competition for him, if he returns at all. He’s a free agent this off-season.

Tight End

Jermichael Finley never seems to be able to live up to his athleticism, even in one of the best passing offenses in the NFL. Owed non-guaranteed 7.95 million in 2013, including a 3.5 million dollar roster bonus due in March, I’d say there’s less than a 50% chance he returns to Green Bay. If he doesn’t, the Packers don’t have much in the way of internal replacements and while they like promoting from within, they may also turn to the draft for help.

Rush Linebacker

Clay Matthews is obviously a great player and Nick Perry, despite missing most of this year with an injury, was a 2012 1st round pick and is still the future opposite him. However, their depth is atrocious. This was really exposed as Matthews and Perry missed time with injury. Despite not getting a ton of playing time, Dezman Moses and Erik Walden ranked 28th and 35th respectively out of 35 eligible 3-4 outside linebackers this season on ProFootballFocus. Walden has ranked dead last at his position for 2 straight years and by a pretty wide margin, struggling both against the run and as a pass rusher. There’s a reason they brought in Perry in the first place, but they clearly need better depth.

Kicker

The Packers didn’t make it far enough in the post-season for anything to come down to a big kick, but if they had, they could have been in some trouble. Mason Crosby was probably the most inaccurate kicker in the NFL this season, making just 23 of 35, missing two from inside 40, and going a pathetic 2 of 9 from 50+. The Packers should at least try out other kickers this off-season.

Kick Returner

Randall Cobb is a dangerous return man, but as he becomes a bigger part of the offense, the Packers may take him off special teams to make sure he doesn’t get hurt.

Punt Returner

Copy and paste what’s above.

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Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers: Super Bowl Preview

Colin Kaepernick vs. Joe Flacco. That’s our Super Bowl quarterback matchup. In the era of the quarterback, that seems inconceivable. A guy with 9 career starts and…well Joe Flacco. In the last 20 years, there’s been one quarterback to win a Super Bowl without first making a Pro-Bowl and that was Eli Manning (version one), who made it the very next year. Even “game managers” like Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson first made a Pro-Bowl. Neither ever really posted eye popping numbers, but no one really did back then. Pro-Bowl voting is obviously flawed, but the general public usually does a good job of picking the correct quarterbacks to go to Hawaii, considering how prominent the position and its stats are.

However, this year, we will have a 2nd quarterback win the Super Bowl without making a Pro-Bowl as neither Joe Flacco nor Colin Kaepernick has ever been elected to the Pro-Bowl and I don’t think either have ever deserved it. Kaepernick is playing great now, but he’s not even in his first full year as a starter, and while Flacco has generally been solid, but he’s easily overshadowed by many other quarterbacks in his 5 years in the league. Let’s take a look at why that happened and what each team winning the Super Bowl would, for lack of a better word, “mean” for historical purposes.

San Francisco 49ers

Of the two teams making the Super Bowl, this is obviously the least surprising. The 49ers earned a 1st round bye for the 2nd year in a row and were favored in each of their two playoff games up to this point, including by 4.5 on the road in Atlanta. I had the 49ers as a possible exception to the Pro-Bowl/Super Bowl “rule” heading into the playoffs and I’m not surprised at all they made it this far.

There are two reasons for that. One, while Kaepernick has never made a Pro-Bowl and never deserved to make a Pro-Bowl, the reasons for that aren’t lack of production and elite quarterback play. It’s merely how long he’s been around. Kaepernick took over for the 49ers at quarterback more than halfway into the season, starting his first game week 11, and while he’s played at a Pro-Bowl level ever since, it has only been 9 games, including just 7 regular season games. That doesn’t earn players a trip to the Pro-Bowl, no matter how you play in those 7 games.

The 2nd reason is just how good this supporting cast is. They led the NFL in All-Pros and Pro-Bowlers and there is not a single weakness on this roster. They run the football among the best in the league, with Frank Gore leading the way, Colin Kaepernick scrambling or rolling out when applicable, and LaMichael James mixed in here and there.

They have by far the best run blocking offensive line in football and they hold their own in pass protection as well. While it’s true that they’ve allowed 41 sacks this year, 9th in the NFL, that’s more on Jim Harbaugh’s instance that quarterbacks wrap up and take the sack when they know they’ve lost, instead of trying to force it out.

In terms of pass block efficiency, which also takes into account hits and hurries, the 49ers rank a middle of the pack 17th. It’s just that Alex Smith was “worst” in the NFL, taking a sack on 33.3% of pressured drop backs. Kaepernick is much better in that regard because of his mobility, however, and since he took over, he’s taken just 18 sacks in 9 games.

Along with their offensive line and running game, they have two talented receivers in Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Davis was invisible on the stat sheet up until last week, but that was just because Kaepernick was throwing so often to Crabtree, who was playing the best football of his career. They don’t pass the ball enough for both receivers to put up huge numbers. Even though he wasn’t appearing much on the stat sheet, Davis is still among the best blocking tight ends in the NFL.

Defensively, you know the story. They’ve had the league’s #2 scoring defense in each of the last 2 seasons, though they did allow 3 more points per game in doing so this year than last year. Their front 7 is probably the best in football. All 4 of their linebackers are amongst the best in football at their respective positions, including Ahmad Brooks, who doesn’t post eye popping sack numbers, but is among the most consistent in the NFL at getting pressure and is also arguably one of the best run stuffing linebackers in the NFL. And then, of course, there’s Justin Smith.

If there’s one flaw on this defense, it’s that you can throw on them. Their secondary played well this season, ranking 2nd in the league in YPA allowed, but we’ve seen several elite quarterbacks throw on them before and we’ve also seen some of the not quite elite guys throw on them as well lately. They haven’t been getting quite the kind of pressure they normally get on the quarterback with Justin Smith not playing 100%.

Aldon Smith has kind of faded away with Justin not commanding as many double teams in front of him and if you get time, you can throw on this secondary. It just hasn’t been an issue yet because of how well Kaepernick is playing, but they have allowed 24.8 points per game over their past 5, coinciding with Smith’s injury, not including a Kaepernick pick 6 and a special teams touchdown allowed to Seattle. They’ve played a tough batch of quarterbacks in those 5 games, including Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan, but Joe Flacco is certainly in that group somewhere. Still, this is the best supporting cast in football and that’s one of the biggest reasons why they are here, despite a lack of a “traditional” Pro-Bowl quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens

While the 49ers being here isn’t surprising in the least, this is about the exact opposite. This was not a good regular season team. That’s just a fact. They went 10-6, which was tied for the worst record among playoff teams, and they easily could have been 8-8 if Ben Roethlisberger (or even Byron Leftwich) hadn’t gotten hurt and Ray Rice hadn’t converted 4th and 29.

They won a ridiculous 5 games by a field goal or less, now up to 6 after an overtime victory over the Broncos, and they outgained opponents by 20 yards in the regular season. They lost to Charlie Batch at home and fired their offensive coordinator in the same 2 week span. I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m willing to bet that no team has ever made the Super Bowl after doing that, at least until now.

The NFL is no stranger to seeing less than stellar regular season teams go all the way, as the 2007 Giants, 2010 Packers, and 2011 Giants have all recently won Super Bowls with similar or worse records to the 2012 Ravens. However, when those teams have done it, we’ve always been able to look back at how they ended their regular season and say “that’s why they won, they had momentum.”

Unlike those 3 teams, who all had to fight to get into the playoffs and peaked at the right time because of it, the Ravens started this season 9-2, and a fraudulent 9-2 at that, doing it with smoke and mirrors and pulling out several crazy close victories. They appeared to peak early and proof right everyone who called that 9-2 record a fraud, losing 4 of their next 5 games, including two by exactly 3 points after starting 5-0 in games decided by 3 or less.

They weren’t hot heading into the post-season. They were the exact opposite. They tripped backwards into the playoffs. I guess you can point to a 33-14 week 16 victory over the Giants as a “sign of things to come,” but it was reasonable to believe that any momentum they had coming out of that game was lost when they rested starters the following week, in an eventual loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

All of this is fact. They weren’t a good regular season team. So what happened? Well, I think the takeaway from this whole thing is that sometimes less than stellar regular season teams get into the playoffs and it’s a completely new season. They started out with a home win over the overrated Colts, but after back-to-back road wins in Denver and New England as underdog of more than a touchdown, they’re clearly a much improved team.

Ray Lewis’ return obviously has a lot to do with that. Lewis himself isn’t even playing that well. Sure, he leads the post-season with 44 tackles in 3 games, which sounds like he’s playing well, but when you consider that just 9 of those tackles have gone for a “stop,” it’s not so impressive (a stop is defined as a tackle within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage on 1st down, 6 yards on 2nd down, and the full distance on 3rd or 4th). He’s also had significant issues in coverage, allowing 15 catches on 19 attempts for 178 yards.

However, it’s Lewis’ intangible effect. He’s the signal caller and the emotional leader. That’s why this defense is playing so well. 12th in the NFL in opponents’ scoring in the regular season, the Ravens have allowed 43 points (excluding 2 special teams touchdowns) in 3 games, despite facing Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning and playing a double overtime game. Their forcing turnovers and tightening up in the red zone and they just made Tom Brady look as confused on a football field as I’ve seen him in years. Their defense is playing better than the 49ers’ right now.

But it hasn’t just been a defensive effort. They wouldn’t have gotten this far if it was. They’ve had good defenses before, but they still lost twice in the AFC Championship from 2008-2011. The limiting factor in those years was Joe Flacco. Despite going 5-4 in the post-season in his first 4 seasons in the league, breaking several NFL records, Joe Flacco never really had played well. It was always the defense. Coming into this post-season, Flacco had completed 134 of 247 (54.2%) for 1532 yards (6.2 YPA), 8 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions in his post-season career and had just 2 games of 200+ yards passing. He has 3 already this year and has completed 51 of 93 (54.8%) for 853 yards (9.2 YPA), 8 touchdowns, and not a single interception.

Already I mentioned the thing about Pro-Bowls and Super Bowls. Joe Flacco has never made a Pro-Bowl and he has never deserved to make a Pro-Bowl, but none of that matters because right now he is playing like a Pro-Bowl quarterback. Lots of credit should be given to Joe Flacco, but lots of credit also has to be given to new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who is calling plays at the NFL level for the first time in his life, and credit has to be given to the Ravens for making the switch at offensive coordinator and canning Cam Cameron. That might have been the turning point of their season.

While the 49ers made a ballsy move to bench Alex Smith, the Ravens did a similar thing at offensive coordinator and like the Smith/Kaepernick switch, it’s a big part of the reason why they’re here. We have a Super Bowl matchup between a team that has benched their starting quarterback and a team that has fired their offensive coordinator this season. Normally those are white flags. These two teams are here because of those moves.

If they were playing like they were 4 weeks ago, the Ravens wouldn’t have a chance against the 49ers on a neutral field. However, the Ravens have become a very complete team and dangerous team in the post-season and, for that reason, they will be able to compete with the 49ers, who are the NFL’s most complete team in general. I’ll have an actual pick closer to the game.

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Seattle Seahawks 2013 Needs

When the Seahawks’ took Russell Wilson in the 3rd round, it wasn’t really criticized. That seemed to be a fitting range for him. However, then it was reported that GM John Schneider compared him to Drew Brees and “had to have him” because he felt he was one of the top-3 players he scouted in 2011, which sounded like hyperbole and maybe a little bit crazy. The Seahawks then made him their week 1 starter in pre-season, as he beat out expensive free agent signee Matt Flynn, and 8 games into the season, it was starting to look like possibly a mistake.

The Seahawks were only 4-4 despite a strong defense and Wilson had just 10 touchdowns to 8 interceptions (and one of those touchdowns was really an interception). However, Wilson’s play over the next 10 games proved Schneider right and then some. It didn’t look like hyperbole any longer that this kid was Brees-esque and one of the top-3 players in the draft. He threw 19 touchdowns to 3 interceptions the rest of the way, winning 8 of 10, and even though the Seahawks came up short in Atlanta, they have plenty of reason to be hopeful for the future.

Wilson is clearly their franchise quarterback and while he wasn’t the franchise savior that Robert Griffin was, Wilson is probably the most likely of the 2012 draft quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl in the next few years because he’s supported by a fantastic running game and what was the league’s #1 defense in 2012. This team won 7 games in 2011 despite 14 games of Tarvaris Jackson and 2 games of Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback. They just needed a quarterback and now they found one. Given their amazing home field advantage, if they can ever get a top seed, they could be very dangerous in the post-season.

Offensive Tackle

Russell Wilson’s mobility made this offensive line look better than it was, but they have some obvious holes. Breno Giacomini struggled on the right side at tackle. James Carpenter was supposed to play there, but the injury prone former 1st round pick was moved to guard. They could use an upgrade over Giacomini.

Guard

Carpenter may have moved to guard, but that doesn’t mean he played well. None of their guards really did. John Moffitt, a 3rd round pick from that same draft, 2011, Paul McQuistan, a veteran journeyman, and JR Sweezy all struggled there. Sweezy was the worst and, considering he was a 7th round pick rookie converting from the defensive line, that makes sense. Schneider and Pete Carroll have made a lot of smart decisions, but I have to make fun of them for that one. Sweezy said he hadn’t played offensive line since middle school. How did they decide to convert him to offensive line? Did they watch his middle school tape?

Defensive Tackle

Jason Jones and Alan Branch are both free agents. The Seahawks mentioned adding some extra pass rush this off-season. Defensive tackle is where they really need it. Jones is a solid pass rusher, but he’s only a situational player and that’s it and of course he’s a free agent anyway. Branch is a good run player, but doesn’t get much pass rush.

Wide Receiver

The Seahawks could use some receiving help. Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate are talented young receivers and Sidney Rice is good when healthy, but that’s not always the case.

Defensive End

Speaking of not healthy, Chris Clemons tore his ACL and will be in a race to play week 1. Meanwhile, Red Bryant struggled mightily through injuries this season. Bruce Irvin was their first round pick last year, but I still have concerns about his run play and his ability to be a starter. He was terrible in his only start against Atlanta after Clemons got hurt. They said they want to add more pass rush. Here could be a place to do it.

Outside Linebacker

If they don’t re-sign LeRoy Hill, they will need a new 3rd linebacker, though I suppose they could give Malcolm Smith the job. The 2011 7th round pick impressed in limited action this year.

Kicker

Steven Hauschka is a free agent who will need to either be re-signed or replaced.

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Indianapolis Colts 2013 Needs

The Colts did an amazing job going from 2 wins in 2011 to 11 in 2012, the 2nd biggest turnaround in NFL history. Even more impressive, they did it in the face of, as Chuck Pagano would call it, “circumstances,” as Head Coach Pagano had to leave 3 games into the season after being diagnosed with leukemia. “ChuckStrong” became a rallying cry for this team, which went 9-3 in their next 12 games under interim Head Coach Bruce Arians, giving Pagano back a 10-5 team when he returned late in December after being declared cancer free. They closed out the season with an emotional home win over division rival Houston.

However, the Colts didn’t really play as well as their 11-5 record would have suggested. They were the worst rated DVOA team (25th) to ever win 11 games. They won just 3 games against .500 or better teams and only two games by more than a touchdown. They had 4 losses by double digits and finished in the bottom half of the NFL in points per game and points allowed per game, ranking 18th and 21st respectively. Once they got to the playoffs, it was clear they couldn’t hang with the big boys in a 24-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

If the Colts were to play as well next year as they played this year, they’d probably win around 7 games. Their schedule will get tougher and while their 9-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less is impressive, that tends to even out to .500 in the long run. Besides, when you realize that most of those close wins came against the likes of Tennessee, Kansas City, Detroit, and Buffalo, it’s not so impressive.

The good news for the Colts is that they are young and clearly well managed so there’s no reason to believe they can’t play better next season than they did this year. That may not reflect itself in the win/loss record and I don’t know if I’ll pick them to make the playoffs again next year, but they have a bright future. This off-season will be all about adding more talent to this roster and building around Andrew Luck.

Guard

The Colts’ biggest weakness was exposed in their post-season loss to the Ravens. The Colts’ offensive line was terrible all year and the Ravens were able to pressure Luck on seemingly every drop back, making it impossible for him to get anything done downfield. They ranked dead last overall in pass block efficiency. Luck was actually one of the best in the league at avoiding sacks, only taking a sack on 14.9% of pressured drop backs, but they need to get him some help at upfront.

The biggest problem was at guard. They struggled for consistency there all year as four different guys, Mike McGlynn, Jeff Linkenbach, Joe Reitz, and Seth Olsen, saw significant action there. Every single one of those four was awful, which isn’t a surprise considering none of them are proven starters. They really need help at this spot.

Cornerback

The Colts’ trade for Vontae Davis didn’t work out, one of the only missteps for this new regime last off-season. He couldn’t stay healthy and they ranked 23rd against the pass this year. He’ll be a free agent next off-season. Cassius Vaughn, Jerraud Powers, and Darius Butler played significant snaps, as well, this season, but only Butler played well and he’s a free agent this off-season. Powers is also a free agent and Vaughn, their worst cornerback, will be a free agent next off-season. Like guard, this is somewhere where they are currently using replacement level talents and need to bring in some blue chip talent.

Nose Tackle

Antonio Johnson really looked out of position playing the 3-4 nose this season. He struggled in all facets of the game and graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 80th ranked defensive tackle out of 85 eligible. There’s a reason the Colts ranked 31st against the run. A free agent this off-season, the Colts should take this opportunity to bring in a true nose tackle, something they were unable to do last off-season, when converting to this new 3-4 scheme.

Safety

They also used replacement level talent here. Antoine Bethea is a former Pro-Bowler and not a replacement level talent, but he struggled this year, as did journeyman Tom Zbikowsi. Joe Legefed looked alright in limited action, so maybe they’ll give him a shot. Bethea will probably get another shot, because they don’t have another choice, but he’ll be a free agent next off-season. They should add another young player in the mix.

Offensive Tackle

Left tackle Anthony Costanzo was their best offensive lineman and right tackle Winston Justice wasn’t as bad as their interior linemen, but after a strong start to the season, the journeyman replacement level talent started to show his true colors. They might be okay with him there another season, but they might not be. They should look to at least bring in competition.

Rush Linebacker

I don’t know if it was injuries, or age (33 in February), or that he was a poor fit in the new 3-4 scheme, but Dwight Freeney really didn’t play well by his standards this year. He’s a free agent this off-season and they can’t really count on him long term and he’d probably be best off somewhere where he could play in the 4-3 scheme he’s been dominant in throughout his career. If he leaves, Jerry Hughes, a former 1st round pick, is an obvious candidate to replace him, but he’s been inconsistent at best in his career. Meanwhile, on the other side of the formation, Robert Mathis is heading into his age 32 season.

3-4 Defensive End

Yeah, I’m going to use that term again, replacement level talent. It’s remarkable that the Colts were able to have this kind of success this season considering the previous regime hadn’t drafted a Pro-Bowler since 2006. They used a bunch of different replacement level talent guys at this position this year and only Drake Nevis, a 2011 3rd round pick, was even decent. Again, they ranked 31st against the run. Cory Redding was a free agent acquisition from Baltimore, where Pagano was once defensive coordinator, but he didn’t play as well as he normally does. His age, 33 this November, probably has something to do with that.

Wide Receiver

TY Hilton and LaVon Brazill were quite the finds in the 3rd and 6th round respectively last year. However, veteran Donnie Avery is a free agent, as is the injury prone Austin Collie, while #1 receiver Reggie Wayne is heading into his age 35 season. He’s coming off a fantastic year, but even the average top-20 receiver (all-time) has his final 1000 yard season at somewhere around age 34.5, which is right where Wayne is right now. His abilities could fall off a cliff at any moment. Another young receiver could be needed.

Center

I don’t know what the cap hit would be like to cut him since they just signed him to a 3-year deal last off-season, but center Samson Satele is not worth the 2.7 million he’s due next season. He was a big part of their poor offensive line play and ranked among the worst centers in the league, 33rd out of 36 eligible on ProFootballFocus. If he’s not back, AQ Shipley, who played well when Satele missed time with injury this year, deserves the first crack at the job, but they’ll need competition. Either way, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them use a late round selection on a center.

Punter

Pat McAfee and his boom stick are free agents this off-season. He’ll need to either be re-signed or replaced.

Punt Returner

TY Hilton returned punts at a high level this season, but they might not keep him in that role long term as he becomes a bigger part of the offense.

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Minnesota Vikings 2013 Needs

The Vikings got an amazing season from Adrian Peterson, who came within 9 yards of the single season rushing record despite being less than a year removed from tearing his ACL and MCL. Without that, they would have been screwed. Peterson dragged them into the post-season, but the Vikings were never a legitimate threat to do anything in the post-season because of their quarterback play. Joe Webb played terribly, but I don’t know how much better Christian Ponder would have been, considering he was 80 of 142 for 693 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions in 4 outside games this year, all losses.

How big of an impact did Adrian Peterson have? Well, Christian Ponder needed a career best game against the Packers week 17 to get his yards per attempt up over 6 for the season. The Vikings finished averaging 6.1 YPA, 31st in the NFL. How much did they exceed the record of the average team who gains 6 or fewer yards per pass attempt? Try 6 wins (I know the Vikings technically averaged 6.1 YPA, but I don’t really think that extra 1/10 of the yard was what got them the extra 6 wins).

Including this year’s Chiefs, 22 other teams since 2006 have averaged 6 or fewer yards per attempt. 20 of them won 5 or fewer games and none won more than 7. They averaged 3.8 wins per season and 14.6 points per game. The Vikings won 10 (in arguably the toughest division in football) and averaged 23.7 points per game. As talented as Adrian Peterson is, he almost definitely won’t have that kind of season again next year. He’s only come within 700 yards of his 2012 yardage total one other time in his career. Christian Ponder will need to step up if the Vikings are going to have any chance of returning to the playoffs in 2013.

It’s easy to blame Christian Ponder for his lack of production and he does have physical limitations, but he’s got nothing to work with in the passing game. Percy Harvin is oft injured and Kyle Rudolph is incredibly inconsistent. They used the 12th overall pick on him two years ago. They owe themselves a chance to evaluate Ponder in situation he can actually succeed in. Drafting Matt Kalil with the 4th overall pick last year was a start, but they need to continue to add talent around Ponder offensively.

Wide Receiver

Building around Ponder starts in the receiving corps. Things are already pretty desperate there, but if they have to trade Percy Harvin this off-season, they could get even worse. He’s their only reliable receiver. At the very least, they need to add a compliment opposite him, but they may need to replace him outright if they can’t get him signed long term and opt to trade him instead.

Middle Linebacker

Jasper Brinkley is a free agent. He was terrible in his first year as a starter, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 50th ranked middle linebacker out of 53 eligible, particularly struggling in coverage. The Vikings should use this opportunity to find a new starter at the position.

Outside Linebacker

Brinkley isn’t the Vikings’ only free agent starting linebacker. Erin Henderson is also a free agent. He was looking for a long term deal last off-season, after grading out among the best run stuffing linebackers in the NFL in 2011, but had to settle for just a 1 year, 2 million dollar deal from the Vikings because he was only a two-down player.

The Vikings gave him a chance to be a three down linebacker this year, but he got those duties taken away from him early in the season and given to Brinkley. He once again was solid against the run, but he struggled in coverage again, as well. It’s unlikely he’ll get much more than he got last off-season and it might not be from the Vikings at all, as reports have said he may not want to return. I don’t think the Vikings will care too much, but they do need to add two new starting linebackers, including one to serve as an every down linebacker along with the talented Chad Greenway.

Guard

Both Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco are under contract next season, but both really struggled this season at guard. On an otherwise great offensive line, Johnson and Fusco ranked 62nd and 73rd respectively on ProFootballFocus, among 81 eligible. They at least need some competition for them.

Defensive Tackle

There’s conflicting reports about Kevin Williams’ option, but it sounds like he is, in fact, under contract for 2 more years. Either way, he’s 33 in August and they could use an upgrade next to him. The rotating trio of LeTroy Guion, Christian Ballard, and Fred Evans is underwhelming.

Safety

Jamarca Sanford played alright at safety this year, after taking over for the terrible Mistral Raymond. However, he’s a free agent. Raymond isn’t, but I doubt the Vikings want to have him as their week 1 starter next year. If Sanford isn’t retained, he’ll have to be replaced.

Cornerback

Antoine Winfield is heading into his age 36 season, so it’s time to look at potential successors. It would make sense for them to take one this year, as cornerbacks take a while to develop. I know they have Chris Cook and Josh Robinson, but you need three cornerbacks in today’s NFL. Besides, Cook will be a free agent next off-season and Robinson was up and down as a 3rd round rookie and considering 3rd round picks only turn into starters about 30% of the time, he’s no sure thing. AJ Jefferson is also in the mix, but he played pretty poorly this year and he’ll be a free agent next off-season as well.

Offensive Tackle

Phil Loadholt was one of three starters who played very well for the Vikings this season on their offensive line. However, he’s a free agent and if he’s not retained, he’ll need to be replaced.

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