As we get ready for the playoffs, 20 NFL teams are dusting off their golf clubs. For each of those headed for the first tee, a thought:
AFC East – Still Chasing the Patriots
Bills: Injuries struck Buffalo but they showed that they have some talent. With C.J. Spiller coming on strong of late, it should be interesting to see how he and Fred Jackson will be used next season – assuming they both stay with the Bills.
Dolphins: Reggie Bush seems to have panned out so far, but the Dolphins will be looking for a new head coach and probably a new quarterback to spark the offense led by Bush and Brandon Marshall.
Jets: Despite all the drama New York went through, it appears the Jets will give it another go-around next season with mostly the same personnel as this season. Mark Sanchez will get another shot to prove he belongs.
AFC North – Only one non-playoff team
Browns: Cleveland is still unsure of quarterback Colt McCoy, and running back Peyton Hillis was a big disappointment this season. The Browns have plenty of holes to fill.
AFC South – Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback
Colts: If you were starting a franchise right now and had to choose between Eli and Peyton Manning as your quarterback, who would you choose? It might be the first time in Peyton’s life that there’s even a debate. The Colts’ future depends on him, one way or another.
Jaguars: New owner Shahid Khan has a project on his hands, but he also has one of the league’s best running backs and a young quarterback who has shown flashes of promise. There are a lot of holes elsewhere however, including the head coaching position.
Titans: Quarterback Jake Locker didn’t shine in 2011, but will compete with Matt Hasselbeck for the starting job in the offseason. CJ2K barely got over 1K this year, but with receiver Kenny Britt back next year, if Johnson can be consistent again, the Titans offense should improve. That would mean a return to the post-season, as remember, they were in the playoff race until Week 17 this year.
AFC West – Could be strong next year
Chargers: Streaky San Diego will have the gang back in 2012, and hope to have more of an MVP-type season from Philip Rivers – who struggled during a horrific stretch this year. The Chargers could look to bolster their offensive and defensive fronts in the offseason.
Chiefs: Kansas City lost Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, and Tony Moeaki to injury early in the season, and Matt Cassel followed suit a little later. The Chiefs were still the only team to beat the Packers and will hope to get healthy, regroup, and try it again next season with a different head coach than they had last Week 1.
Raiders: Michael Bush and Darren McFadden are now proven running backs in the NFL – if they can stay healthy. The Raiders might have the speediest receiving corps in the league and Carson Palmer, despite struggling at times, also looked good throwing the deep ball. But the defense could use some help.
NFC East – Beating each other up
Cowboys: Tony Romo failed to make that quarterback leap into the category of elites, and the Dallas defense was porous for much of the season. But the Cowboys always seem to have talent and running back DeMarco Murray could be special next season.
Eagles: Philadelphia will also bring back much of the same personnel and is hoping Michael Vick can stay healthy after one of the most disappointing seasons in team history. The defense will strive for consistency.
Redskins: Talk about striving for consistency, the Skins were competitive this season but also struggled mightily at times. Washington is still seeking a franchise quarterback, but youthful running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster showed promise in 2011. The defense isn’t complete but has talent.
NFC North – Get healthy
Bears: The window of opportunity for Chicago’s defense is closing, which means the offense needs to have a complete season and keep the aging defenders off of the field. The Bears’ offensive coordinator Mike Martz is gone but running back Matt Forte must be retained with a new deal.
Vikings: Running back Adrian Peterson will have a long offseason recovering from a severe knee injury but should be ready to go next season. The Vikings are still evaluating rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, and they already know they need reinforcements on defense. Receiver Percy Harvin emerged as the go-to guy.
NFC South – Play defense
Panthers: Cam Newton. Carolina will get linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis back next season and could use a couple more defensive players to back up Superman.
Buccaneers: What a disappointing year for Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams and the rest of the young studs that looked so promising a year ago. Tampa Bay has to figure out how to slow down the other NFC South offenses.
NFC West – Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback
Cardinals: Kevin Kolb couldn’t stay on the field for most of the season and in his absence John Skelton showed promise. They’ll compete in the offseason. Beanie Wells looked good running the football and it seems as though Arizona made the right choice in drafting Patrick Peterson.
Rams: Sam Bradford was also banged up all season but didn’t impress when he was healthy. St. Louis constantly looked frustrated and now Steve Spagnuolo is gone. Steven Jackson has been the work horse for so long and he’s starting to age.
Seahawks: Seattle is certain about Marshawn Lynch, but is Tarvaris Jackson a solid long-term option? Though he has improved and looks confident under Pete Carroll, I think not.
The offseason came a bit too soon for most, but hey, kick back, relax and enjoy your time off!