As the New York Giants and New England Patriots get ready for Super Bowl XLII, the league's 30 other franchises are reviewing their rosters to figure out how they can make a run at next year's big game.
Here's a look at some of their needs. Check back on Wednesday for a look at the NFC.
Miami Dolphins (1-15): Quarterback John Beck has the intangibles to thrive under further guidance and the running game is solid if not spectacular with Ronnie Brown. However, new VP of football operations Bill Parcells has a lot of cleaning up to do. The offensive line will likely undergo changes, tight end is sure to get an upgrade, and a veteran crew of defenders could be forced to walk the plank. It certainly will not come as any kind of surprise to see Parcells pull a trade that brings the team back into contention by 2009.
New York Jets (4-12): Tough luck, 53 sacks allowed and a lack of big plays from running back Thomas Jones hurt an offensive unit that also faced a number of lingering injuries. Former star linebacker Jonathan Vilma, just 25 years old, has had two straight down years, while a formidable pass rusher is still a major need.
Buffalo Bills (7-9): That the Bills remained in the AFC playoff hunt through Week 15 despite being outscored by more than 100 points is a testament to the team's will. The tragic loss of tight end Kevin Everett hit this team hard, but many guys seemed to be re-dedicated during an eight-game stretch in which the team won six. The passing game struggled more than any other area; their top three receivers scored just six touchdowns. A physical wide receiver with size would be a logical choice early in the draft or free agency. Quarterback Trent Edwards, a rookie in 2007, is now considered the future at this position, so you can expect the team's new GM to deal or possibly even release former first-round pick J.P. Losman. That would put the Bills in the market for a veteran backup. Their pass rush was also dreadful as only Aaron Schobel recorded more than 2½ sacks.
Baltimore Ravens (5-11): The team has undergone a shakeup in the coaching staff with the firing of coach Brian Billick (replaced by John Harbaugh) and departure of offensive assistant Rick Neuheisel. Still, the question remains: Who will be the team's starting quarterback next season? Steve McNair struggled to produce and stay healthy. Kyle Boller continued to be up and down, though youngster Troy Smith looked good down the stretch. Defensively, the Ravens are starting to get old – particularly linebacker Ray Lewis, cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister and defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, who all ended the season hurt. Furthermore, Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden's return is a major question mark while kicker Matt Stover, center Mike Flynn and wide receiver Derrick Mason are all on the down side of their careers.
Cincinnati Bengals (7-9): Injuries to running back Rudi Johnson, numerous costly turnovers and penalties, and a defensive unit that could never muster much of a pass rush helped turn '07 into a wasted season. The Bengals have a pair of 1,000-yard receivers, a solid return game, consistent kicker and steady if not spectacular offensive line that has given up just 17 sacks. This offseason will be spent looking to find the right type of attitude to bring into a locker room full of questionable characters. Free agency and/or the draft must bring forth a premier pass-rusher type that can make an immediate impact, which in turn would help a young, but improving secondary and the team's leading tackler Landon Johnson. If a veteran middle linebacker with a voice to match his game – a London Fletcher-type field general – were available, he would help steady a locker room on the brink of self-destruction.
Cleveland Browns (10-6): Most of the NFL believes they have a pair of franchise quarterbacks (Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn) on the roster – certainly a pleasant problem to have. One big issue will be getting Jamal Lewis re-signed as he will want a substantial raise from the one-year contract he signed a year ago. Expect the Browns to pursue a running back in the draft, but also be aggressive in their pursuit of another pass rusher and vertical threat receiver to take pressure off Braylon Edwards. They could also draft or sign a punter since they used a trio of players in that role.
Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6): Their offseason plans start in two pivotal areas: offensive line and running back. The loss of the league's leading rusher, Willie Parker, led to the Steelers mustering just 43 yards on the ground and less than two yards per carry in the home playoff loss to Jacksonville. A bigger loss could be All-Pro offensive guard Alan Faneca, who is likely to hit the free agent jackpot with a major deal that will take him away from Steeltown. The team is aging in a few areas, needing to locate youth at cornerback, wide receiver, defensive end and even backup quarterback. The Steelers believe they can find 3-4 defensive ends later in the draft, but also need to find someone to groom behind Hines Ward, who will be in his 11th season.
Houston Texans (8-8): The Texans pulled out a .500 record on the final day of the season. While that would not be thrilling news to most, this organization believes it is headed in the right direction. There are some concerns over durability with quarterback Matt Schaub, but backup Sage Rosenfels proved his worth. Their offensive line was much improved, but locating a big-play running back would be wise as veteran Ahman Green seems to be aging quicker than expected and Ron Dayne is more steady than spectacular. The defensive unit was better, but still surrendered too many points (24 per game) and big plays. The secondary lacks playmakers, and finding even a situational edge rusher that can cause teams to hesitate before double-teaming Mario Williams would greatly enhance the Texans' chances of challenging for a playoff spot in 2008.
Tennessee Titans (10-6): Their playoff loss epitomizes their dilemma: They played well enough to hang with the Chargers in the wild-card playoff game, but lacked enough offensive weapons to leave a winner. The long-term durability of quarterback Vince Young is causing sleepless nights for Titans brass, but it must be happy with the turnaround of running back LenDale White. However, free agents Justin Gage, Eric Moulds and youngster Roydell Williams aren't prime-time players. This could be the area they address in the draft's first round. Not too far behind will be locating young reserves for the interior of their offensive line, as well as someone to challenge veteran backup quarterback Kerry Collins or at least give them a competent third-string guy for the long haul.
Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5): The Jaguars were a team on a mission, showing flashes of dominance in many phases of the game during the season's second half. They have two highly capable running backs (Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew), a former first-round receiver (Reggie Williams) that matured and a new star in the making behind center (David Garrard). There are not many holes on this roster, but it would be hard to expect another season like this one out of veteran safety Sammy Knight. Also, the team has average depth on the interior of its offensive line and at cornerback. Even with the growth of Garrard, it is likely the Jaguars will look to draft and develop another signal caller. The good news: The team is about $30 million dollars under the salary cap for next year.
Indianapolis Colts (13-3): The season-long injury struggles of perennial All-Pro wide receiver Marvin Harrison clearly hurt one of the league's most potent offensive units. They have also been hammered by defections over the past few years, so this offseason will be sent on re-tooling this squad. They are likely to invest one or two draft picks along the defensive line. They have been able to find guys that fit their system that others overlook at this position. The progress made by rookie receiver Anthony Gonzalez will help keep the unit at an elite level, but it would not be shocking to see them use another draft choice on a receiver again this April.
Kansas City Chiefs (4-12): They are forced to assess whether second-year signal caller Brodie Croyle, who struggled and shared time with Damon Huard, has the makeup to be a franchise quarterback. He has good smarts, improved mechanics and good arm strength, but he gets banged up easily. Minus a strong or consistent ground game, which shouldn't be the case if Larry Johnson is healthy, he struggled to make plays.
Oakland Raiders (4-12): Sure, there will be much better days with JaMarcus Russell under center, but the backfield still needs an overhaul as Justin Fargas is just not durable enough for 16 straight quarters let alone 16 weeks. Ultimately, the quarterbacks fumbled too much (23 total, eight lost); the line gave up too many sacks (41); and the 120 penalties grayed coach Lane Kiffin's hair. They need to find a vertical threat to pair with Russell and possession receiver Ronald Curry. The Raiders could look for a young edge rusher to play across from Derrick Burgess and then slide Tommy Kelly back inside to defensive tackle, but nailing down a veteran tackle and locating an every-down back remain the focus of this offseason.
Denver Broncos (7-9): Mike Shanahan's skills as a play-caller and designer were fraught with injuries to wide receivers Javon Walker (who may be traded) and Rod Smith (likely to retire), and several linemen. However, the major downfall was a lack of consistency from their ground game, especially Travis Henry, who struggled with injuries and fought a suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Special teams were not so special and the team's first-and-last lines of defense proved to be their downfall as they got old, slow and lacked the playmaking of past seasons.
San Diego Chargers (11-5): This may be an even more troublesome offseason for the Chargers organization than a year ago as they were within two points of the undefeated Patriots with 15 minutes left to play. However, they had to endure seeing the vision of their Super Bowl dreams slip away with LaDainian Tomlinson on the sideline and quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates hobbled on the field. They have several emerging stars, including receiver Vincent Jackson and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, so it is hard to pinpoint an area they will concentrate on first. They will likely lose running back Michael Turner in free agency, so adding a replacement becomes a primary need. The same can be said at cornerback and defensive tackle, and they need to develop their depth on the defense.