What every NFC team must solve to remain (or return) to fantasy football and real-life relevancy

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NFC South

Carolina Panthers - How to salvage Bryce Young

The Bryce Young experience can really only go up from what we got during his rookie year. Young was 29th in EPA per play and success rate among quarterbacks who took 320 snaps last season, besting only Zach Wilson in both categories. Step one to get him on the right track was overhauling the coaching staff, which former Buccaneers play-caller Dave Canales will now lead as the head coach. Harold Goodwin will serve as the assistant head coach and run game coordinator. There is a clear need to beef up the pass-catching corps, but the offensive line and run game were also disasters in Young’s rookie year. Given that Adam Thielen gave them some competency last year and there are some young players at wideout, I wonder if they try to fix the line and ground game first.

Again, this is a tall task, but they couldn’t go in many wrong directions.

Atlanta Falcons - The quarterback plan

Plenty of things went wrong for the 2023 Falcons, but it’s hard not to think the entire season was doomed from the beginning because they operated on the mere hope of what Desmond Ridder would become. There needs to be a plan in place that comes with some tangible proof of concept or real evidence their next quarterback can be the guy for at least a few seasons. The Falcons have good young players on offense who aren’t being maximized. I like the coaching staff’s lingo whenever they talk about the Bijan Robinson-Drake London-Kyle Pitts group of players on the roster. But it’s time for talk and pedigree to turn into action. That won’t happen unless a legitimate starting quarterback is on the Falcons' roster come Week 1.

New Orleans Saints - How to get more out of the talent on offense

The Saints offense was one of the least enjoyable units to watch back on film this past year. A change at coordinator seemed inevitable from about mid-October on and that’s what we got this month. The Saints hired Klint Kubiak as the new offensive coordinator. He served most recently as the 49ers' passing-game coordinator but has experience in the OC gig via a one-year stint with the 2021 Vikings. We know what we’re getting from a coach of this tree: an offense in tune with the league’s meta who can make life easier for a quarterback. We just don’t fully know if Kubiak has the innate sense some of the great play-callers around the league possess. There’s talent on this offense, and putting guys like Chris Olave in a position to get some layup targets will be paramount to pushing this unit forward.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Can we run back the 2023 offense?

The Buccaneers lost Dave Canales and several other offensive coaches to the division-rival Panthers this offseason. They’ll also have to deal with attempting to retain both Mike Evans and Baker Mayfield amid reports they will use the franchise tag on safety Antonie Winfield Jr. I’m sure both Evans and Mayfield would prefer to stick in Tampa Bay. Still, they both play premium positions so many teams need to fill and could be enticed by big paydays elsewhere. The Bucs hired Liam Coen as their offensive coordinator and he spent time with Mayfield on the 2022 Rams roster. That’s not a coincidence. Coen needs to be able to pull the same levers that Canales did to maximize his players, and they need to bring back two of their most important ones. Otherwise, we are looking at a lot of change in a short amount of time. You can talk me into just about anything when it comes to the 2024 Bucs offense.

NFC North

Chicago Bears - Ensure the setup is right for the No. 1 overall pick

There are a few small battalions still waging war on behalf of Justin Fields as the Bears' future quarterback, but most of the football universe has accepted how this story ends. Chicago will draft a new signal caller, most likely Caleb Williams of USC, at the first overall pick gifted to them by the hapless Panthers. This is a unique opportunity and they’re going to take it. Now, it’s up to Ryan Poles and Bears brass to assure Williams is surrounded by talent and set up for success in ways Fields and many Bears quarterbacks of the past never were. DJ Moore is in place as the No. 1 receiver but that shouldn’t stop them from stocking the cupboard around him. The Bears also hope that offensive coordinator Shane Waldron brings a bit more of a clear offensive vision to the table than his predecessor. I like their odds of winning that bet.

Minnesota Vikings - Figure out the future at quarterback

Justin Jefferson’s camp has started to leak their demands in his negotiations with Minnesota, including contract structure and a clue on the franchise’s future plans at quarterback. That latter one will hang over Minnesota until Kirk Cousins hits free agency. The veteran quarterback isn’t an option to be tagged even if Minnesota wanted to do it. Cousins will hit the market and then it just comes down to whether another team blows him away with an offer the Vikings won’t match. Then things get really interesting for a team picking 11th overall in April’s draft. Minnesota will need to have a plan in place for all possible avenues for the future of the quarterback spot. Folks rooting for immediate production only likely hope Cousins and Minnesota work out a deal. Those invested in the future may want to brush up on those J.J. McCarthy scouting reports.

Green Bay Packers - Getting these young players to take the next step

Green Bay is in a solid position on offense. Jordan Love looked like a top-10 quarterback to end the season and all current optimism flows from there. Really, this offseason will center around trying to get all the young pass-catchers to take another step. Rookies Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks looked like guys who could win at all three receiver positions, and they should be central pieces of the receiver room. The team also needs to invest every resource possible in finding ways to get (and keep) Christian Watson healthy as there is no doubt he brings a big-play element to the table. Growth and development are the focus at receiver and tight end. The only personnel question lies at running back as we’re due for another round of Aaron Jones contract talk despite his annual proof of value on the field. The Packers may want to at least explore backup plans if he is injured again next season.

Detroit Lions - Is there a missing piece on offense?

The Lions have one of the best backfield tandems and one of the premier young wide receivers and tight ends in the game. If they believe Jameson Williams is ready to develop and take the next step in what should be his first typical NFL offseason, then I don’t blame them for thinking they’re all set on offense. But we should acknowledge that that would be a leap of faith based on what Williams has shown so far. And even if he’s set to rise as their vertical receiver, they may feel the need to find a solid possession option outside to complete this room if they lose Josh Reynolds to free agency. Any transactions Detroit does on offense would likely be mere tweaks along the edges but at the same time, they’re so close to Super Bowl contention that I could see them pushing their chips in to take a big swing at the X-receiver spot. It would be a finishing move for a scoring unit that doesn’t truly require it.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals - Simply add talent

The Cardinals are in the enviable position we often find these deep rebuilding teams. They have six picks in the top 100 of the NFL draft and are top 10 in salary cap space. They just need to attack the pursuit of adding talent to this roster and really can’t go wrong addressing almost any unit. Unlike most rebuilding outfits, they have a quarterback they can feel good about as Kyler Murray flashed plenty of upside to go into 2024 as a clear starter. You can bet that Arizona will add offensive playmakers around him, perhaps even as high as fourth overall. Both sides of the ball were sneakily well-coached as the offensive and defensive staff showed they had some excellent ideas. An infusion of talent, especially at premium positions, will go a long way in demonstrating that.

Seattle Seahawks - How to get more out of the talent on the roster

The Seahawks were a weird offense in 2023. The team ranked 10th in EPA per play and success rate but somehow, you came away disappointed with the production of just about every individual player. That’s something that the new coaching staff will have to grapple with because I expect them to stand pat at the skill positions. Offensive tackle troubles haunted this team at times last season but that’s more of a health-based problem. Mike Macdonald and Co. will likely spend more of the Seahawks' quietly scant offseason resources addressing the defense that eroded in the final years of the Pete Carroll era. Even then, there are good players on that side of the ball that you figure should make the sum of the unit greater than what we saw last season. While personnel moves will happen, the real problem this team needs to figure out is where the prior staff fell short and how they can avoid falling into the same traps.

Los Angeles Rams - Pushing it to the next level

The Rams outkicked just about any external expectations last season amid a playoff push. So many young players emerged to such a great degree that they gave what looked like a retooling franchise hope for sustainable contention over the next few years. Armed with a first-round pick for the first time since 2016 and financial flexibility they didn’t have during recent seasons, it’s not out of the question that the Rams are big players this offseason. There is a need for additional backfield options and more depth at wide receiver that could shake up the volume distribution for 2023 fantasy football heroes like Puka Nacua and Kyren Williams. At the same time, the offense was so efficient that you could see this offseason dedicated to adding defensive talent to insulate themselves from losing coordinator Raheem Morris. The Rams have multiple viable paths to push the roster to the next level as they look to make a second title run in the Matthew Stafford era.

San Francisco 49ers - How to survive variance

The assignment is both simple and yet so excruciatingly complicated for the 49ers: bring the whole band back and try to make another run at the Super Bowl in what could be the final year of this core. Eyes have already turned to Brandon Aiyuk’s contract situation as the All-Pro receiver justly wants a lucrative extension even if he’s under contract for one more season under his rookie-deal, fifth-year option. Right now, I expect Aiyuk to be back on this roster in 2024 but there’s no doubt many teams would have no hesitation in handing him a mega deal this year, which may be a bit more complicated for the 49ers as they’re paying other stars. Even with Aiyuk back, the 49ers still need to attempt to survive the painful waves of variance this season, which were so kind to them last year. Essentially, all their most important offensive players stayed healthy and offered near-peak efficiency. There’s no way to ensure that happens again with an offseason transaction, which makes this such a complicated team to discuss.

NFC East

Washington Commanders - Get a support system in place for a rookie quarterback

The Commanders will take a quarterback at the second-overall pick and acquire a promising young talent when they do it. Much like the Bears, their mission will be to make sure the ecosystem around that young player provides the right kind of soil for his roots to grow in. I’m decidedly mixed on the Kliff Kingsbury hire at offensive coordinator and the overall staff put together with Dan Quinn at the top.

There is talent for the future franchise quarterback to work with at the skill positions; players that fantasy gamers desperately want to see maximized. Washington will have access to a tangible passer who can do that. They just need to hold up their end of the bargain from a scheme and roster-building perspective. The Commanders do have the bevy of draft picks and salary cap space needed to turn this roster from barren to solid.

New York Giants - How to get the offensive vision back on track

I came away from the 2022 season with my questions about the Giants' talent level on offense but overall quite bullish on the Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka brain trust. The 2023 season reaffirmed my concerns about the former and shook my faith in the latter. This coaching staff clearly had visions of pushing the offense forward beyond some of the smoke and mirrors used in their debut season in New York. It became apparent from the word “go” that the pass-catching talent and especially the offensive line injuries would thwart those goals. And that’s almost regardless of how you feel about quarterback Daniel Jones. Daboll and Kafka need to get back in the lab this offseason to decide on a north star for this scoring unit before beginning to make yet another overhaul of the receiving talent.

Philadelphia Eagles - Is there some offensive supplementing that needs to take place?

Fantasy managers aren’t going to like this because the Eagles have afforded us one of the most concentrated target trees in the NFL the last two seasons, but it’s time to wonder if there needs to be a few more threats added. The passing offense should continue to flow through A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert but the drop-off after them shouldn’t be as dramatically steep as it was last season. And that’s merely painting the shutters on the house. It’s a chore that needs to get done but the problems in the home run quite a bit deeper. That’s where Philadelphia’s hiring of Kellen Moore as offensive coordinator needs to pay immediate dividends. Schematically and concept-wise, he can pull the right levers that an all-too-static Eagles offense needs and can even create opportunities beyond the big three. It’ll just be down to the quarterback to execute an offense headed for a needed refresh.

Dallas Cowboys - Getting a threatening run game going

Overall the Cowboys had a solid run game from an efficiency perspective last year. Dallas ranked 11th in EPA per rush and ninth in success rate. It never felt like a unit they could turn to take over a competitive game. There were too many moments in big games where the output from the ground fell short. You don’t need to tell fantasy managers that Tony Pollard’s production came in under expectations, even if he wasn’t fully healthy for the first half of the season. The passing game can barely be left alone after career outputs from Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb. We’ll all be fascinated with how they look to address the running back position as Pollard hits a free-agent market crowded with veterans who have better resumes.