Team Needs: AFCFriday, February 10, 2012
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2011 record: 6-10
Biggest need: Pass rush
After jumping out to a surprisingly strong start, the Bills managed one win in the final nine games due to a crumbling passing game and porous defense. The backfield is the lone offensive strength after C.J. Spiller’s late-season emergence as a complement to Fred Jackson’s Pro Bowl first half. The Bills remain committed to Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the front office will be tasked with re-signing Stevie Johnson and adding an upgrade over Donald Jones on the opposite side. The primary defensive issue hasn’t changed: Buffalo’s 29 sacks tied for third-lowest in the NFL.
2011 record: 6-10
Biggest need: Franchise quarterback
Matt Moore led Miami to six wins in the final nine games, but the front office views him as more of dependable stop-gap as opposed to a long-term solution. Despite owner Stephen Ross’ “infatuation” with Peyton Manning, he’s more likely to end up with Matt Flynn behind a rebuilt offensive line. The Fins boasted one of the league’s elite defenses in the second half of the season. New coordinator Kevin Coyle could use a pass-rushing complement to Cameron Wake and a situational nose tackle to replace free agent Paul Soliai in flex packages.
New England Patriots
2011 record: 13-3
Biggest need: A quality secondary
Falling one misfire and several drops shy of a fourth Lombardi trophy, the Pats enter the offseason with a short to-do list on offense. They must retain Wes Welker via the franchise tag or a long-term contract and add a vertical threat on the outside. Bill Belichick’s 3-4 defense was strong up the middle in the playoffs, but he needs major reinforcements at cornerback and safety while picking up a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Belichick is one again loaded with draft picks, boasting two each in the first and second rounds.
New York Jets
2011 record: 8-8
Biggest need: Antidote to the locker room poison
Rex Ryan enters the 2012 offseason squarely on the hot seat. It certainly doesn’t help that his offense sits in no-man’s land with a regressing quarterback, a locker room cancer at No. 1 receiver, a pedestrian ground game, and a deteriorating offensive line. In addition to playing peacemaker, Ryan must team with GM Mike Tanenbaum to replace Plaxico Burress, add a backfield playmaker, and infuse the offensive line with young talent while adding a sorely-needed pass rusher and safety on defense.
2011 record: 12-4
Biggest need: More boldness, creativity on offense
After falling one Lee Evans foot shy of the Super Bowl, coordinator Cam Cameron enters 2012 in the spotlight. Cameron’s predictable schemes and unimaginative play-calling held Joe Flacco and the offense back while the defense fell just shy of elite. GM Ozzie Newsome will likely place the franchise tag on Ray Rice, explore a long-term deal for Flacco, and ultimately lose LG Ben Grubbs to free agency. Newsome’s shopping list includes Grubbs’ replacement, a successor to C Matt Birk, and another playmaker at receiver on offense. The defense needs an infusion of youth at linebacker and safety.
2011 record: 9-7
Biggest need: Defensive backs
Mike Zimmer’s defense finished an impressive seventh in total defense, but his secondary stumbled down the stretch. The Bengals need an early-round talent at cornerback and at least one safety, with Reggie Nelson reaching free agency. On the other side of the ball, free agents Cedric Benson and Jerome Simpson are longshots to return. Conventional wisdom suggests owner/GM Mike Brown will address running back early in the draft while adding a mid-tier receiver in free agency.
2011 record: 4-12
Biggest need: Offensive playmakers
It’s hard to blame the Browns for backing off the commitment to Colt McCoy, but he never had a chance with drop-plagued rookie Greg Little as his top playmaker. Team president Mike Holmgren figures to be in on Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, perhaps with a veteran free agent as a fallback option. Once quarterback is addressed, Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert will have to add at least one difference-maker at receiver while re-signing Peyton Hillis or finding a replacement. Leading tackler D’Qwell Jackson is a candidate for the franchise tag, so defensive right end may be the top priority for Dick Jauron’s crew.
2011 record: 12-4
Biggest need: Salary cap relief, an offensive line
The Steelers have already begun restructuring veteran contracts in an attempt to clear up much-needed salary cap space for the retention of younger talents. Restricted free agent Mike Wallace will attract plenty of interest now that the maximum tender is at the first-round level, so the team must have the available funds to match offers. Ben Roethlisberger’s late-season ankle sprain is a reminder that long-term solutions at tackle and guard are long overdue. Dick LeBeau’s defense needs fresh legs, starting with successors to NT Casey Hampton and ILB James Farrior.