Next Four Out

The Divisional Playoffs excused four more teams from the postseason over the weekend. Only three games remain of the NFL season, which means there aren’t many more losses to be handed out, but let’s have a look at the newest batch of losing squads before we send them off to Turks & Caicos for the off season.

Atlanta Falcons

The Season

I would rate this season was a success for the Falcons, although they’d certainly tell you otherwise having fallen short of a championship. The fact of the matter is that teams who lose in the Super Bowl often struggle the following year and Atlanta, for whatever reason one chooses, just wasn’t the same this season. While they got some momentum going in the second half of the campaign, it wasn’t enough to overcome early losses and that led to a road game in the NFC playoffs where they came up short despite being the first team ever to be favored over the conference’s top seeded team in the divisional round. As we’ve covered before, the NFC South was rugged this year and probably will be for the next few seasons so the Falcons will have to work hard to make sure they are playing a home game in their shiny new dome this time next year.

The Future

Atlanta has some fine young players on defense and there is no reason to believe the offensive unit can’t bounce back from an off year. Matt Ryan is still squarely in his prime and Julio Jones was terrific again other than his touchdown catch numbers hitting a blip. This deep roster will have the luxury of adding some more talent in the draft and may even dive into free agency to address a need at corner. Don’t expect any major turnover within the coaching staff as the team rejected a request by the Seahawks to interview OC Steve Sarkisian.

Playoffs Next Year?

Yes, they’ll again contend for a division title

New Orleans Saints

The Season 

Like each of their NFC South compatriots, the Saints were eliminated from the playoffs by a five-point margin (odd coincidence for sure). After three straight 7-9 seasons, the Saints returned to their winning ways by capturing the division crown and then beating Carolina for a third time in the Wild Card round. With huge draft day finds in Kamara, Williams, Lattimore, and Ramczyk, New Orleans improved the roster overnight and has high level players on team friendly contracts for the next few seasons. Even afterthought draft pick, Taysom Hill, turned out to be a contributor on special teams. After a shaky first couple of weeks the defense really gelled, allowing the Saints to win games differently than in years past. Speaking of the defense, Cameron Jordan had a career year and really looked like a DPOY candidate. No doubt the success New Orleans enjoyed in 2017 was a welcome surprise.

The Future 

As we alluded to above, this team has some terrific young talent that really complements the team’s veteran presence. Brees just turned 39 on Monday, but he has entertained ideas of playing for as many as six more seasons. Even though that’s likely unrealistic, nothing from his performance this year indicates that he won’t be able to put up numbers and provide a steady hand in the 2017-2018 season. Again like the Falcons, the Who Dat’s will be looking to upgrade the secondary through the draft or free agency.

Playoffs Next Year?

Oi, mon ami!

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Season 

The way they crashed out of the playoffs was emblematic of a year in which the Steelers always seemed to be struggling to get things right or simply playing down to the competition. With top ten units on both offense and defense, I think you’d have to say that Pittsburgh underachieved in losing a home playoff game to the inexperienced Jags. Rumors of displeasure with head coach Mike Tomlin are unlikely to go anywhere, but for an organization that’s had just three coaches since 1969, the fact that it has even come up is a little surprising. Especially following a 13-win season and swept the NFC North. This means that calling the season a “disappointment” requires a lot of context.

The Future 

It would be shocking to see the Steelers fall too terribly far after a season in which they so rarely experienced defeat despite seemingly always playing from behind, but there are question marks looming in the offseason. Big Ben has started talking about “the end” with some regularity, the Le’Veon Bell contract situation seems to have gone completely sour, and there is no guarantee that Ryan Shazier will ever suit up for another NFL game so it comes as no surprise that most mock drafts have them going LB or QB. It’s kinda weird to think about, but Roethlistberger’s successor could be in camp with the team later this year.

Playoffs Next Year?

Yes, still in “win now” mode

Tennessee Titans

The Season 

As I wrote on Monday, the Titans have made steady progress since Mularkey took over midway through the 2015 season going 9-7 each of the last two years and making the playoffs in 2017. They pulled off an historic comeback on the road against the Chiefs before being overwhelmed and eliminated by the championship-minded Patriots. The overall result does however cloud the on field performance. Mariota looked like he got worse, the team had a negative point differential, and the defense was 20th in yards surrendered. To me it sounds like Mularkey was something of a miracle worker, but ultimately philosophical differences led to the Titans and their coach parting ways.

The Future 

There is a lot of talk about Tennessee brining in Patriots’ OC Josh McDaniels to be the next coach, mostly because they need to get the franchise QB back on track immediately. With his Denver days well behind him, I think McDaniels might end up having a good run as a head coach, but that’s not how it generally works out for Belichick assistants when they leave the nest. Personnel wise, the Titans will be looking to get better at safety and offensive line. I think wide receiver is a need but the word around Nashville is that they like their young corps of WRs.

Playoffs Next Year?

The right head coach hire could change my opinion on this, but generally speaking, I don’t see it

 

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