Despite a wonderful 2012 season for many unexpected contending teams, not one franchise in the NFL is left without some sort of hole on it's roster, problems in the front office/management, cap issues, and impactful Free Agency decisions.
From the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens to the Kansas City Chiefs (1st pick 2013 Draft), each team has one burning question that must be answered before 2013 even begins.
At Football Nation, we'll take a team-by-team analysis of the 'key question' they face in the 2013 off-season.
Arizona Cardinals: Who will be the team's primary signal caller in 2013?
Let's face it, the Cardinals have been a mess at Quarterback since the departure of Kurt Warner. The mega-trade for QB Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia simply has not worked out. Injuries, inconsistency and lack of both an offensive line and solid running game has plagued the six year veteran. Backups John Skelton and Ryan Lindley both saw action this year in place of Kolb and put up dreadful numbers. WR Larry Fitzgerald deserves better. As of right now, it seems Kolb will be the starter for new Head Coach Bruce Arians who has come over from the Colts.
Atlanta Falcons: Who will be the Falcons' 2013 lead running back?
In recent news, the Falcons have cut starting tailback Michael Turner. Turner had been with the Falcons for parts of five years, but showed lack of explosiveness last season and thus the 'Dirtybirds' have turned the page. A tough loss in the NFC championship proves the Falcons have what it takes to reach the Super Bowl. Not many holes on the entire roster. The Falcons have clearly become a passing first team, however one could envision with a new franchise type running back, just how good they can be. Steven Jackson anyone?
Baltimore Ravens: What to do with all of their Free Agents? (Paying Joe Flacco)
The 2012 Super Bowl champs had a magnificent run to end the season. Ray Lewis leaves the gridiron for an ESPN analyst job. Replacing him will be huge. However, the Ravens front office is faced with several tough decisions in Free Agency. The contract specifically handed out to SB MVP QB Joe Flacco is an atrocity. Will he live up to the 6 yr-120 $ Million contract? No one really knows?
Buffalo Bills: How much longer of a leash does incumbent QB Ryan Fitzpatrick have left?
After signing a nice contract extension half-way through the 2011 season, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has been an unmitigated disaster. At the time, the Bills were 6-2 and looking on the up-and-up. Since, Fitzy has gone 8-16 as the starting QB. It's time to either put up or shut up for the Harvard grad. The talent is there around him, he just needs to be more consistent.
Carolina Panthers: Will the Panthers bring in more offensive weapons for QB Cam Newton?
WR Steve Smith is getting older by the day but remains elite. TE Greg Olsen is solidly developing into a top 5 tight end in the league, however Cam Newton doesn't have much else around him. His own development in the 3rd year will be crucial (costly turnovers, bonehead plays etc..), but looking at this roster, he simply needs more impact players around him. Time to load up on offense in the draft.
Chicago Bears: Will new Head Coach Mark Trestman be the ultimate answer in Chicago?
The firing of long-time head coach Lovie Smith sent waves around the NFL. Despite a 10-6 record, the Bears missed the playoffs for a 2nd straight season. Lovie Smith deserved better and so do the die-hard Bears' fans. The pieces are all in place, but QB Jay Cutler must play better football. Re-signing LB Brian Urlacher is also a priority. New head coach Mark Trestman must deliver, and right away.
Cincinnati Bengals: Will QB Andy Dalton and the rest of the Bengals take the next step?
Two straight seasons and two straight playoff appearances only to lose to the Houston Texans both times. Not a good trend and very disappointing. This team has the makeup of a SB contender. Solid QB play and running game. Great pass rush and secondary. They have the offensive and defensive talent. Simply put, it's time for the Bengals to put it all together. QB Andy Dalton must be better in must-win situations, bottom line.
Cleveland Browns: Is QB Brandon Weeden the answer for the Browns?
Showing major inconsistency, quarterback Brandon Weeden had a very unimpressive rookie campaign in 2012. The first round pick certainly doesn't lack the intangibles and arm strength to compete in the NFL. The Browns need to get him some better pass catching talent. It was trial by fire for the rookie and he ultimately struggled. There's talk about drafting yet another QB in this year's draft. Not sold on that strategy or Weeden as a whole. Give him time.
Dallas Cowboys: Will QB Tony Romo ever deliver a championship?
Last off-season, Owner and GM Jerry Jones told us the window for the Cowboys to win a Super Bowl was closing fast. I believe him, as do many others. Obviously the Cowboys (America's Team) every year are hyped beyond belief. There's no question that they are a very good football team. However, with cap penalties and an aging roster, it's tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Every year it seems, QB Tony Romo costs them a chance in one or two games that leads to their downfall. He is a turnover machine and I'm not sure if that'll ever change.
Denver Broncos: Can QB Peyton Manning lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl?
Manning had an unbelievable 2012 season. Garnering MVP consideration and winning Comeback Player of the Year, he led the Broncos to a 13-3 record. The crushing loss to the Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs cannot diminish what Manning accomplished. A fluky play here or there and we could be talking about the World Champion Denver Broncos. However, another year older one should question just how long Manning can compete at the highest level. Luckily, the AFC West is the worst division in football and Manning has the players around him to make a serious run as contenders. They're only going to be better in 2013, the question is just how much?
Detroit Lions: Will the Lions find a running game in 2013?
The Lions took a major step backward in 2012. After a playoff run in 2011, QB Matt Stafford and the rest of the Detroit Lions failed to even win 8 games in 2012. 6-10 and the Lions found themselves back in familiar territory of last place in the NFC North. Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson simply cannot win games all by themselves. Yes, there are major defensive concerns and liabilities but the Lions were the worst running football team last season in the NFL. This team needs major help in alot of areas (Secondary, Offensive Line, Wide Receiver, etc..), but most certainly needs to find a running game. Third year back Mikel LeShoure has been a bust. Reggie Bush anyone?
Green Bay Packers: Will the Packers add enough defensive help to return to the top of the NFC?
Already losing starting CB/S Charles Woodson, the Packers major need this off-season should be focusing on finding defensive starters in the Draft. The offense is there behind QB Aaron Rodgers, but what lead to their demise in 2012 was the horrific defensive effort. Showing age at both Linebacker and Defensive Line, the Packers need to find some fresh legs throughout their entire defense. They were beset by injuries last season, but that cannot be an excuse why this squad couldn't get past the divisional round of the playoffs.
Houston Texans: Is QB Matt Schaub the ultimate answer to deliver a Super Bowl to Houston?
The Houston Texans had one of the better seasons in all the NFL in 2012. A 12-4 record, many predicted they would be the AFC representative in the Super Bowl. It just didn't happen. DE J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the NFL and the key core pieces are in place. It's time for QB Matt Schaub to deliver in the playoffs and show that he can be a SB winning quarterback. To this point he has not, and his team has suffered. He is aging and tremendously injury prone. It's time to develop a backup.
Indianapolis Colts: Can rookie sensation, QB Andrew Luck take the next step and limit the turnovers?
Rookie QB Andrew Luck was put in one of, if not the toughest spot of any first year starter in 2012. Robert Griffin aside, Andrew Luck definitely earned ROY consideration. Filling in for a legend in Peyton Manning, Luck passed nearly every test with flying colors. Taking a 2-14 team and transforming them into an 11-5 playoff team should not go unnoticed. Luck was asked to do just about everything for the Colts in '12. This should change some with a better running game. His turnovers were alarming, but like any first year starter expect even better play from him in his 2nd year and the Colts' offense in 2013.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Too many Questions.
The Jaguars were an unmitigated disaster in 2012. Star running back Maurice Jones-Drew threatened a holdout over the summer which lingered into training camp and led to his worst season as a pro. QB Blaine Gabbert hasn't developed as fast as both fans and ownership have wanted, leaving major questions about the organization's future. The defense is a mess, the offense lacking direction and a possible move to Los Angeles looms over this disrespected NFL franchise. Things can only look up from here.
Kansas City Chiefs: Can new Head Coach Andy Reid turn around things at Arrowhead?
Two long seasons removed from a stunning playoff berth, the Chiefs have been one of the more snake-bitten franchises in the NFL. Injuries to several starters on both sides of the ball showed the lack of quality depth. Former HC Romeo Crennel is a nice guy, but he couldn't right the ship. In comes Andy Reid, one of the more successful head coaches in the past decade or so, from the Eagles. Recently, the Chiefs traded for disgruntled QB Alex Smith from the '9ers. The move was criticized, however one must believe Reid has a plan in place. They hold the number 1 pick in the draft and a roster upgrade is in order. Reid will do magical things in '13 with Kansas City, bet on it.
Miami Dolphins: Will the Dolphins surround QB Ryan Tannehill with some bonafide weapons?
The Miami Dolphins had a surprising 8-8 season under first year HC Joe Philbin and rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. The 'Phins were in almost every game last season and could have easily been a wild-card contender in the AFC. A solid defense was the staple for the 'Phins, while the offense struggled to put up consistent points. Tannehill had one or two options to throw to. Either RB Reggie Bush or WR Brian Hartline (1,000 yd season). Both are unrestricted FA's this off-season. The priority for the 'Phins front office must be finding Tannehill not one, or two, but even three bonafide receiving options. Mike Wallace/Greg Jennings anyone?
Minnesota Vikings: Is QB Christian Ponder the franchise QB for the Vikings?
Let's face it. Nearly every team in the NFL yearns for that 'franchise guy' signal caller to lead their respective franchise for the next decade. It's hit or miss on many QB's coming out of the draft. The Vikings surprisingly took Christian Ponder out of Florida State early in the 1st Round (2011 Draft). Many had either a 2nd or 3rd round grade on him. Now, don't get me wrong he has shown flashes of brilliance at times, but too many times do I see the inconsistencies in his game creeping up. He is simply a game manager to this point. His job is easy handing it off to RB Adrian Peterson (2,000 yds), but Ponder must become a better thrower to take the Vikings deep into the playoffs. More weapons are needed here as well.
New England Patriots: Will Head Coach Bill Belicheat ever fix the defense in New England?
It's been years since the Patriots have what was considered a top defense in the NFL. Lacking a championship since the '04 season, the Patriots have struggled mightily defensively. Even this season, despite leading the league in turnovers, the defense led to their demise in the playoffs. Unable to make critical stops against QB Joe Flacco and the Ravens. Belichick was once a renowned defensive guru, but that reputation must go. He must continue to draft high-end defensive talent in order to turn things around, or things will get worse in New England. Brady and co. on offense can only do so much.
New Orleans Saints: Can newly hired Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan fix the Saints' defense?
The 2012 Saints had a disastrous campaign. From the off-season bounty scandal leading to suspensions of HC Sean Payton and several defensive starters (LB Jonathan Vilma), the Saints never quite recovered. With Payton now reinstated for the 2013 season, he made a bold move in bringing in Ex-Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Ryan earns more attention than seemingly anyone who also holds his position. The networks love showing us his ugly grin. He brings the circus to town for New Orleans and he must fix one of the worst defenses in all the NFL.
New York Giants: Will they pay WR Victor Cruz?
The New York football Giants have a very easy task this off-season. Pay WR Victor Cruz the money he deserves. Now look, I've heard the argument, "Cruz would be nothing without Eli!" That is simply not true. Cruz has become the best slot receiver in the game in just two short seasons. Cruz isn't even making close to top WR money at all. (Less than a million). Will owner Jon Mara and GM Jerry Reese step up to the plate and give their best player (arguably) the contract extension he so justly deserves. Things could get ugly. The Giants also have several FA decisions to make.
New York Jets: Tim Tebow anyone?
No, just kidding. Sorry Jets' fans, the thing is here I have no idea what the key question is facing your franchise this off-season. There's too many to mention. Without a playoff appearance will HC Rex Ryan be fired this season? Is QB Mark Sanchez on his last legs in the NFL? Do they trade superstar CB Darrelle Revis? Can they find a pass rush? Do they find any offensive lineman in the draft? The questions can go on and on for the NY Jets. Is newly hired GM John Idzik the answer in the front office? Only time will tell. I feel sorry for you Jets' fans.
Oakland Raiders: Is QB Carson Palmer the ultimate answer for the Raiders?
Another team and yet another QB question. Funny how the QB is a major theme in this particular article. It is the most important position on the football field. For the Oakland Raiders, the position has been a realm of uncertainty since the days of Rich Gannon. Carson Palmer was traded from the Bengals to Oakland for a boatload of draft picks and signed a major contract extension. In two seasons with the Raiders, Palmer has amassed decent statistics, but without the wins to show for it. He must play better. On the wrong side of 30 and already with injury concerns, I'm not sure this will happen. RB Darren McFadden must remain healthy for a full season or be defined as a bust by NFL fans as well.
Philadelphia Eagles: Chip Kelly?
Simple question here: Does new Head Coach Chip Kelly from Oregon work for the Philadelphia Iggles? Kelly brings a strong pedigree from the college ranks, but many believe his system will struggle in the NFL. He brings the fast-paced no huddle 'zone read' option type offense that's the new trend in the NFL. The skill players are still here with a nice core of WRs and a star running back in LeSean McCoy. It could be a lethal combination. However, many see Kelly as yet another possible college coach flame out in the NFL who will not relate to his players well and let the players run the asylum. Time will tell.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Will Safety Troy Polamalu ever return to being an elite defensive star in the NFL?
The Pittsburgh Steelers are two entirely different teams when S Troy Polamalu is on the field and when he is not. He makes that much of a difference, or better put he used to. Battling nagging foot and leg injuries much of the past two seasons, Polamalu has lost some respect from NFL analysts and fans alike. No one escapes the injury label or father time, both betting against Polamalu heading into 2013 and beyond. If he can regain his elite form, the Steelers will be just fine. He is their MVP.
San Diego Chargers: Is QB Philip Rivers done?
In 2012, there were many times were perennial Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers looked like a washed up veteran. Make no mistake about it, he has lost tons of talented weapons around him. From scatback Darren Sproles to his favorite target in WR Vincent Jackson. However, this shouldn't be the only excuse. Rivers has lost some elusiveness in the pocket (he never had much) making him a statue for defenders to come after. The eye test also tells me he has lost some throwing strength and accuracy. He still put up decent numbers, but don't let that fool you. Next year is put up or shut up time for Rivers. Does he inch his way back toward the elite or slide into obscurity. A new head coach might help as the relationship between the former, Norv Turner and Rivers looked to be strained at the end of last season.
San Francisco 49ers: As they stand today, are the 49ers good enough to go back to the Super Bowl?
Top to bottom, perhaps the best and deepest team in the league, the 49ers were 6 yards away from coming home with the Lombardi Trophy in 2012. They found a sensation in QB Colin Kaepernick and the pieces are all still in place for another run in 2013. The question is, can they even be better? Holding 12 draft picks in this year's draft, expect many trade rumors to fly through the bay area, including the recent Darrelle Revis rumors. I believe the Niners are slowing become the NFC Patriots, building the right way. They will have some holes after Free agency, let's see how they're filled come July.
Seattle Seahawks: Will CB Richard Sherman ever shut up?
I'm only kidding here. CB Richard Sherman walks the walk and talks the talk. It has been annoying seeing his twitter war this off-season proclaiming he is the best corner in the NFL. I get it Mr. Sherman, but come on...you've done it for two short seasons. Know your place. I love the confidence, but stay humble just a little bit. Now, the Seahawks as a whole are knocking on the heels of the 49ers making this upcoming rivalry something to behold for years to come. QB Russell Wilson is the real deal, RB Marshawn Lynch is a beast and the defense flies around the football. Watch out Jim Harbaugh, HC Pete Carroll is gunning for you. The storylines are plentiful between the two and I love it.
St. Louis Rams: Do they have any chance in the NFC West?
The 2012 St. Louis Rams made some serious strides under new Head Coach Jeff Fisher. They nearly swept the 49ers, (one tie @SF) and split with the Seahawks. It is the other 12 games on the schedule where the Rams came up short. Fisher has the Rams on the right path. Is it a playoff path just yet? I don't think so. QB Sam Bradford needs more help from his offense. Losing RB Steven Jackson is a major loss. It is an important off-season for the Rams.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Freeman anyone?
The theme here continues. Another major QB question facing a respected NFL franchise. In the case of the Bucs, third-year QB Josh Freeman has yet to take his game to the next level. He shows flashes, especially in the 4th quarter (several comebacks), but lacks the consistency to win every game. The Bucs have a tremendous amount of cap space to fill the needs around him. 2013 will be huge for Freeman who certainly has his detractors. the 4th year for any QB is when it is expected for such to take the leap into consistent success.
Tennessee Titans: Is Running Back Chris Johnson serious?
Recent comments made by RB Chris Johnson made waves around NFL circles. Like past years, he mentioned how he thinks he can break the rushing record next season. Is he for-real? He most certainly hasn't watched his own gametape from the past two seasons. After signing a monstrous contract extension in 2011, Johnson's productivity has dropped significantly. It could be a lack of motivation, or talent around him. In my thoughts, he is simply losing his speed, a half-a step per season. The Titans are a mess both on offense and defense. HC Mike Munchak has tons of work to do to fill the Titans with some depth for the future. Can QB Jake Locker stay healthy? They need to keep him upright.
Washington Redskins: Will Rookie of the Year, QB Robert Griffin III ever recover from his ACL/MCL injury?
This is the burning question in D.C. Many football pundits believe RGIII will never be the same player as he showed in 2012. The blazing speed, accuracy and toughness has taken a major hit heading into the future. One could possibly agree with that. This is the 2nd major knee reconstruction on the same knee in 3 years. No matter who you are, that takes it's toll. The best thing the Redskins can do is not rush Griffin back for Week 1 of 2013. Even if he sits all of 2013, one cannot be short-sighted in this recovery. Griffin when drafted, was meant to be the franchise guy for the next decade. Why risk a career? It simply doesn't make sense. Don't rush back Robert, for all our sakes. Backup QB Kirk Cousins can handle the job.