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Draft King Analysis
December 31, 2012
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com

Reader feedback is always welcomed here on Draft King. Sound off with your thoughts on Twitter (@LouPickney) or via email at LouPickney@gmail.com.


Before I run through the teams, some random thoughts:

-The NFL has done a tremendous job in maximizing its Week 17 schedule. I can't say enough good things about the current system, where games are stacked to build a maximum amount of drama and to minimize the likelihood of teams knowing the results of earlier games and then treating their game like it's Week 4 of the preseason. It has especially worked out well with the "winner take all" game, or the closest thing to it, fitting quite nicely in the NBC Sunday Night slot.

-Week 17 is especially spectacular with the wonderful NFL RedZone Channel. Having it for the entire 2012 season was fantastic. I cannot recommend it strongly enough for any NFL fan. Seven hours of commercial-free, whip-around NFL coverage? Yes, please. Even though I'm saddled with the expense of a digital cable box and other associated costs, it's worth every penny to have access to RedZone. It really is that good.

-As I type this, half-delerious after staying up all night to produce a morning newscast, news is already coming in of coach and GM firings. I don't take pleasure in anyone losing his or her job, but in some cases change has been inevitable for several weeks and/or is long overdue.

-I'm positively fascinated by the Seahawks/Redskins matchup on Sunday. Two red-hot teams with highly paid head coaches will clash in Washington's first home playoff game since the 1999 season. As the legendary Gene Lasker once said: "How 'bout that?" Russell Wilson vs. RG3 -- that works for me.

-Perhaps the most surprising coaching speculation I've seen has been that Andy Reid would immediately take another head coaching job. I don't know the man or have any inside info, but the man lost his son in the preseason and is coming off a 13 year run as head coach in Philadelphia. Any NFL coaching job is stressful, but the Philadelphia market carries with it some unique pressures. This time next year I could see him going for another job, but to jump into another one immediately? That would surprise me considerably.

And, now, onto the teams -- GM stands for general manager and HC stands for head coach:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills: GM Buddy Nix (since 2010), HC Chan Galey (fired)
6-10 in 2012
The curse of Doug Flutie (the forgotten subplot of the Music City Miracle game) lives on, as Bills fans endured another non-playoff season in 2012. In hindsight, giving Ryan Fitzpatrick $24 million guaranteed last year after the team started 5-2 was a colossal mistake. Buffalo fans deserve better than what this franchise has given them over the past dozen years.

Miami Dolphins: GM Jeff Ireland (since 2008), HC Joe Philbin (since January 2012)
7-9 in 2012
Ryan Tannehill can't be expected to thrive without a top wide receiver, something he didn't have with the Dolphins having traded Brandon Marshall to Chicago in March and replacing him with nothing of substance. The Dolphins have five picks in the first three rounds, including three picks in the top two rounds. Surely an elite receiver can be found somewhere in there if efforts in free agency prove to be unsuccessful.

New England Patriots: GM/HC Bill Belichick (since 2000)
12-4 in 2012, #2 seed in AFC playoffs
The Patriots operate with patience, willing to trade you a third round pick this year for a second rounder next year. Patience is one of the few qualities in the copycat NFL that few teams have been able to emulate, in large part because of the pressure most GMs feel to win right away. Belichick is masterful at finding guys who fit his system. Also, the Pats aren't afraid to take chances on troubled veterans: sometimes it works out (e.g. Randy Moss, Aqib Talib), sometimes not so much (e.g. Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco), but since they've fleeced so many other teams so many times in trades, they can afford to give up a mid-round pick on a veteran who may or may not pan out. Patience is a virtue.

New York Jets: GM Mike Tannebaum (fired), HC Rex Ryan (since 2009)
6-10 in 2012
As much as Tim Tebow and Rex Ryan and the Butt Fumble drew in most people's attention, what shouldn't go unnoticed is how the team struggled despite having a mostly strong defense, even after losing All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis for the season. And, while the Jets could really use a true 3-4 OLB elite pass rusher, their offense needs some serious help.


AFC North
Baltimore Ravens: GM Ozzie Newsome (since 2002), HC John Harbaugh (since 2008)
10-6, #4 seed in AFC playoffs
What's next for Joe Flacco? The Ravens can't let him walk, so he'll get the franchise tag unless the two sides can reach a deal before the start of free agency, which I'm guessing is unlikely barring something expectedly good happening for the team in the playoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals: Owner/GM/President Mike Brown (as long as he pleases), HC Marvin Lewis (since 2003)
10-6, #6 seed in AFC playoffs
One of the great stories of 2012 is the success of Vontaze Burfict, a dynamite middle linebacker out of Arizona State who had a fantastic highlight reel but who played with almost no discipline, to the point where he dropped from being a first round prospect to going undrafted. Under the tutelage of Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, Burfict has managed to maximize his potential and not only become a starter but lead the team in tackles. Between success stories like that and the bizarre circumstances that lead to the Raiders making worst NFL trade since Herschel Walker 1989 (Oakland's 2012 first-rounder and 2013 second-rounder for Carson Palmer), the Bengals have managed to put together a strong team and should be able to add even more pieces in this upcoming draft.

Cleveland Browns: GM Tom Heckert (fired), HC Pat Shurmur (fired)
5-11 in 2012
New owner, new GM, new coach: anything could happen here. Team owner Jimmy Haslam says he's willing to hire someone to fill both the head coaching and general manager roles. Whoever that ends up being, trading down from #6 makes sense without a second-round pick might be a prudent move, though so would adding an elite pass-rushing prospect.

Pittsburgh Steelers: GM Kevin Colbert (since 2000), HC Mike Tomlin (since 2007)
8-8 in 2012
The Steelers need to add youth on defense in a major way, particularly to its front seven. The future of WR Mike Wallace is an uncertainty, though I could see him being slapped with the franchise tag and having a second consecutive season with a contentious contract impasse through the end of training camp. Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 344 times in regular-season games through his NFL career, he turns 31 this off-season, and the price of doing business is steep from here on out with base salaries of $11.6 million for 2013, $12.1 million for 2014, and $11.6 million for 2015. He will be back for 2013, but if the Steelers end up using, say, a third-round pick on a quarterback in the upcoming draft, I wouldn't be surprised.


AFC South
Houston Texans: GM Rick Smith (since 2006), HC Gary Kubiak (since 2006)
12-4 in 2012, #3 seed in AFC playoffs
Not only did Houston lose three of its final four games to end the season, in back-to-back weeks in mid-November they needed overtime to beat Jacksonville (at home, no less) and both OT and a schmozz (the infamous Jim Schwartz challenge of a TD run) on Thanksgiving day to win in Detroit. Still, 12-4 is impressive, and with several pending free agents at linebacker and defensive back, it wouldn't surprise me to see them look for help at those positions.

Indianapolis Colts: GM Ryan Grigson (since January 2012), HC Chuck Pagano (since January 2012), OC/fill-in HC Bruce Arians (since 2012)
11-5 in 2012, #5 seed in AFC playoffs
The post-game scene in the Colts locker room of a jubilant Chuck Lagano dancing after his team beat the Houston Texans was so great that I ran it as a "talker" story in the newscast I produced this morning.

While the Chuck Lagano saga is the NFL's most inspirational and emotional story of 2012, to the point that Arian Foster tapped on a banner with #CHUCKSTRONG written on it during yesterday's season finale after scoring a touchdown as a sign of respect, the job done by new GM Ryan Grigson deserves plenty of attention as well. He bucked conventional wisdom by signing veteran WR Reggie Wayne to a new contract, providing Andrew Luck with a savvy veteran to trust in clutch situations, and rolled the dice in giving up Indy's 2013 second-rounder to get CB Vontae Davis from Miami. But it was finding talent beyond Andrew Luck in the draft, like Florida International WR T.Y. Hilton (whose name will haunt Louisville football fans for years) in round three, that helped the Colts make their improbable turnaround from 2011.

Jacksonville Jaguars: GM Gene Smith (fired), HC Mike Mularkey (since January 2012)
2-14 in 2012
Today marks the end of the Gene Smith era as general manager, which I will always remember for two things: foolishly *trading up* to draft Blaine Gabbert in 2011, particularly in hindsight considering that he went one pick before Houston selected J.J. Watt, and getting his team laughed at long and loud this past April by the live crowd at Radio City Music Hall after using the #70 overall pick on a punter (Cal's Bryan Angerer). Five picks later, Seattle drafted Russell Wilson.

Tennessee Titans: GM Ruston Webster (since January 2012), HC Mike Munchak (since 2011)
6-10 in 2012
Finding a suitable replacement for Cortland Finnegan at cornerback is an absolute must for the Titans, who need some serious help in the secondary. I've spent the past two years hoping I was wrong about Jake Locker and, thus far, not being shown otherwise. In fairness to Locker, it's not like the Titans had a great offensive line this past season, but the clock is ticking. Titans fans who used to gripe about Jeff Fisher as head coach now see why the team kept him around for so long.


AFC West
Denver Broncos: De facto GM John Elway (since 2011, though he insists on the title "Executive Vice President of Football Operations"), HC John Fox (since 2011)
13-3 in 2012, #1 seed in AFC playoffs
Just think how different things would have been if Arizona had somehow managed to sign Peyton Manning instead of Denver. It's wide open for them at this point, though it also wouldn't be surprising if the Broncos used an early-to-mid round pick on a quarterback knowing that Manning has a limited shelf life.

Kansas City Chiefs: GM Scott Pioli (since 2009), HC Romeo Crennell (fired)
2-14 in 2012
If the Bears firing Lovie Smith today was the biggest firing surprise, the Chiefs not firing Pioli ranks as the biggest non-firing surprise. With or without Pioli, it makes sense for Kansas City to select West Virginia QB Geno Smith with the #1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Oakland Raiders: GM Reggie McKenzie (since January 2012), HC Dennis Allen (since January 2012)
4-12 in 2012
Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp lost his job today, paying the price for Oakland's struggles on offense this season. Reggie McKenzie has been trying to mold the team with the severe handicap of not having had the team's first-and-third round picks in the past draft (Carson Palmer trade and supplemental draft selection of Terrelle Pryor) and also not having their 2013 second-round pick, which Cincinnati also acquired as part of dealing Palmer to Oakland. It has been a tough spot for McKenzie and it will be interesting to see how much time the Raiders give McKenzie to rebuild the roster.

San Diego Chargers: GM A.J. Smith (fired), HC Norv Turner (fired)
7-9 in 2012
This should have happened after last season. What Smith had in ability to evaluate talent he lacked in tact (see: his low-class sniping at LaDainian Tomlinson in 2009) and karma finally kicked him in the balls. The Chargers have a decent core of talent, but until a new coach and GM are hired, it's hard to project what the team will do. It's wide open.


NFC East
Dallas Cowboys: Owner/GM/President Jerry Jones (as long as his pleases), HC Jason Garrett (since 2010)
8-8 in 2012
What will happen with Anthony Spencer in 2013? If he hits the open market he will command top dollar, and he's slated to become an unrestricted free agent. If the Cowboys franchise him again, Spencer will be guaranteed a one-year salary of in excess of $10 million for 2013 the moment he signs the contract.

New York Giants: GM Jerry Reese (since 2007), HC Tom Coughlin (since 2004)
9-7 in 2012
Victor Cruz is in the Mike Wallace 2011 slot, a pending restricted free agent wide receiver who probably won't sign elsewhere if the Giants slap him with the highest possible RFA tag. He's an outstanding talent, but is there a team willing to risk losing a first rounder or having the Giants match and do their negotiating for them?

Philadelphia Eagles: GM Howie Roseman (since 2010), HC Andy Reid (fired)
4-12 in 2012
It will be interesting to see what the Eagles do at quarterback with Michael Vick all but out the door. Who will Philadelphia bring in to compete with Nick Foles for the starting QB job?

Washington Redskins: GM Bruce Allen (since 2009), HC Mike Shanahan (since 2010)
10-6 in 2012, #4 seed in NFC playoffs
Seven wins in a row after going into the bye week at 3-6 is impressive. Rookie RB Alfred Morris is the latest in the series of late round or undrafted running backs to tear things up in the NFL and has been a key cog in the team's success.


NFC North
Chicago Bears: GM Phil Emery (since January 2012), HC Lovie Smith (fired)
10-6 in 2012
The six losses that the Bears had in 2012 all came against playoff teams. I understand that Emery wants one of "his guys" in as head coach, but if I was to be named the Jaguars' GM tomorrow (wouldn't that be a New Year's Day surprise?) I would immediately execute an all-out effort to bring in Smith as my head coach. I saw it with Titans fans: you start to take success for granted, and rest assured that whoever replaces Smith will face a tall order in replacing him.

Detroit Lions: GM Martin Mayhew (since 2008), HC Jim Schwartz (since 2009)
4-12 in 2012
Defense has to be an area of concentration this off-season, both defensive end and in the secondary, even if 2012 third-round pick Bill Bentley fights his way into the starting lineup next season. This is true with or without Cliff Avril returning next season.

Green Bay Packers: GM Ted Thompson (since 2005), HC Mike McCarthy (since 2006)
11-5 in 2012, #3 seed in NFC playoffs
Thompson has built a winner with a solid formula: smart drafting, not paying big money for free agents, building a core of talent that fits the system, etc. If the Packers ended up using their first-round pick on Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert to replace likely outgoing tight end Jermichael Finley, I wouldn't be surprised.

Minnesota Vikings: GM Rick Spielman (since January 2012), HC Leslie Frazier (since 2011)
10-6 in 2012, #6 seed in NFC playoffs
As much attention as Adrian Peterson has received for coming so close to breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season NFL rushing record, the truly amazing thing about him is how he did this coming off tearing the ACL in his left knee on Christmas Eve 2012. This is the sort of injury that used to end careers. Now? Peterson rehabbed like a madman, returned to his top-flight form, and had one of the all-time great single season performances for anyone, let alone someone coming off a late season torn ACL from the previous year.

Also, people like to clown on QB Christian Ponder, but his 62.3% completion rate in 2012 was a marked improvement over his 54.3% as a rookie last year. It's yet another example of why accuracy is such an important trait for quarterbacks in the modern NFL.

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons: GM Thomas Dimitroff (since 2008), HC Mike Smith (since 2008)
13-3 in 2012, #1 seed in NFC playoffs
They've proven they can handle the regular season, but doubters will snipe at them until they have a long run in the playoffs.

Carolina Panthers: GM *vacant* (Marty Hurney fired mid-season), HC Ron Rivera (since 2011)
7-9 in 2012
Giant question marks still surround Rivera, depending in large part on who is hired as the new general manager. The long-ignored needs at defensive tackle and cornerback really need to be addressed this off-season.

New Orleans Saints: GM Mickey Loomis (since 2002), HC Sean Payton (since 2006; suspended by NFL for 2012 season), interim HC Joe Vitt (2012 fill-in)
7-9 in 2012
You can expect the team to target a defensive tackle this offseason, especially with Sedrick Ellis slated to become an unrestricted free agent. With Drew Brees and that offense back for 2013 and Sean Payton returning from his one-year suspension, the Saints will be back in the hunt.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: GM Mark Dominik (since 2009), HC Greg Schiano (since January 2012)
7-9 in 2012
Cornerback is a tremendous need for the Bucs, particularly after finally giving up on Aqib Talib. You can't expect to succeed in this division without a strong secondary.

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals: GM Rod Graves (fired), HC Ken Whisenhunt (fired)
5-11 in 2012
For as much talent as the team has at certain position, they are severely lacking at others, particularly quarterback and offensive line -- especially offensive tackle. Larry Fitzgerald is being wasted in his prime, which is inexcusable, especially considering how much Arizona is paying him per year.

San Francisco 49ers: GM Trent Baalke (since 2011), HC Jim Harbaugh (since 2011)
11-4-1 in 2012, #2 seed in NFC playoffs
Perhaps a little more depth at the 3-4 OLB spot would be helpful, but the 49ers are strong and have all kinds of latitude going into this offseason. But first things first: a Wild Card weekend bye and as good of a shot as anyone at making the Super Bowl. Jim Harbaugh has done a masterful job there, turning Alex Smith from a bust into a success last season and then this year shifting to second-year QB Colin Kaepernick, who has played extremely well for the 49ers.

St. Louis Rams: GM Les Snead (since February 2012), HC Jeff Fisher (since January 2012)
7-8-1 in 2012
They're one or two elite offensive linemen and a top wide receiver away from being very dangerous. Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins are a great combo at corner, and the NFC West has gone from being a joke in 2010 (with a 7-9 Seattle team winning the division) to being very intriguing going into 2013.

Seattle Seahawks: GM John Schneider (since 2010), HC Pete Carroll (since 2010)
11-5 in 2012, #5 seed in NFC playoffs
Russell Wilson has turned into one of the feel-good stories of the year, going from being drafted after a punter in April to beating out the highly-paid Matt Flynn (in what wasn't a fair fight but one that Wilson won anyway) to becoming one of the most electrifying players in the NFL. The Seahawks may have to replace both Jason Jones and Alan Branch on the defensive line, but luckily for them the upcoming draft is loaded at the defensive lineman spot.


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