NFL Nation: 2013 NFL Season Wrap AFC

Denver Broncos season wrap-up

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
2:00
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Final Power Ranking: 2
Preseason Power Ranking: 3

Biggest surprise: It took 19 games, a pile of league records and a few slices of history along the way, but by far the biggest shock for an organization that believed it had the moxie to win a title was its Super Bowl meltdown. Broncos head coach John Fox had said his team was “calloused" by all it had to overcome this season, including linebacker Von Miller's six-game suspension, five defensive starters eventually landing on injured reserve and Fox's open-heart surgery. But on the biggest stage with the biggest prize on the line, the Broncos had a night when they didn't respond to any of the adversity they faced.

Biggest disappointment: Other than losing in the title game -- “I'm not sure you ever get over that," said quarterback Peyton Manning -- it would have to be the way Miller's season dissolved. After his 18.5-sack season in 2012, the Broncos expected even more this time around. Instead, he was out for the first six games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He came back heavier after the suspension and often looked less explosive according to many personnel executives in the league. He then suffered a season-ending torn right ACL in December. He won't be ready for training camp and may not be full speed by the start of the regular season.

Biggest need: In their past three playoff losses, the Broncos have had a combined one sack against Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson. Miller has played in two of those games, albeit with a cast on his surgically repaired thumb to close out the 2011 season against the New England Patriots. They have used their opening pick in each of John Elway's three drafts as the team's top football executive on a pass-rusher -- Miller, Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams. It still needs some attention, as does the team's secondary; the Broncos will need to address cornerback and safety as well.

Team MVP: Manning, with 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards passing for an offense that set an NFL record with 606 points, was the league MVP and was the Broncos' as well. Manning's drive, preparation and no-nonsense approach pushed the team past every bump it faced during the regular season, and he powered the franchise into its seventh Super Bowl. But cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Danny Trevathan deserve special mention for being the defense's most versatile and productive players outside the glare of the team's offensive fireworks in the regular season. Trevathan and Harris were consistently the guys asked to do more in Jack Del Rio's defense.

 

New England Patriots season wrap-up

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
1:50
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Final power ranking: 4
Preseason power ranking: 6

Biggest surprise: How about a murder charge to a tight end who had previously been thought of as a centerpiece of the team? Aaron Hernandez's murder charge threatened to sink the Patriots' season before it even started, but in a credit to Bill Belichick, his staff and the players, it was hardly a distraction as they once again advanced to the AFC Championship Game. There were no on-field surprises that could come close to topping that.

.Biggest disappointment: Rob Gronkowski's knee injury Dec. 8. This falls into the wider-ranging category of “season-ending injuries to top players” and the Patriots had their fair share early in the season -- defensive tackles Vince Wilfork (Sept. 29) and Tommy Kelly (Oct. 6), linebacker Jerod Mayo (Oct. 13), and starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (Oct. 27). But Gronkowski’s felt like a season-changer in some respects, deflating some of the optimism that had been built up at that point because the offense looked markedly different with him back on the field.

Biggest need: Re-signing cornerback Aqib Talib. The four-game stretch of football he played from Sept. 22 to Oct. 13 was as impressive as we’ve seen from a Patriots cornerback in recent memory, the highlight coming when he was matched up against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and held him without a catch before leaving in the third quarter with injury. The 2013 season showed how the Patriots’ defense is different with a healthy No. 1 matchup option like Talib, with the final piece of evidence coming in the AFC Championship Game when he left with a knee injury in the second quarter.

Team MVP: It has to be quarterback Tom Brady, with Talib, receiver Julian Edelman and kicker Stephen Gostkowski the other strong candidates. This was a “do more with less” type season for Brady, similar to 2006, and he willed the offense to productive results despite almost a complete overhaul. He’s the consummate leader, almost like another coach, and the Patriots don’t advance to the conference championship without him.

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Indianapolis Colts season wrap-up

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
2:00
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Final Power Ranking: 8
Preseason Power Ranking: 10

Biggest surprise: The questions were valid. Was linebacker Robert Mathis' production a product of having sack-machine Dwight Freeney playing on the other side? Could Mathis still be an impact player without Freeney? Mathis silenced the naysayers when he led the league in sacks with 19.5, including seven strip sacks. Mathis didn't hide the fact that he wanted to quiet the doubters. What made his season even more special is that he did it without much help elsewhere, as the Colts had only 42 sacks as a team. Mathis is one of the front-runners to be the league's defensive player of the year.

Biggest disappointment: Safety LaRon Landry was supposed to have the same kind of impact Bob Sanders had when he played for the Colts. That's why general manager Ryan Grigson signed him to four-year, $24 million contract. Landry was good when he was able to come up with the big hits or touchdown-saving tackles, but it was too often that he ended up whiffing on a play. The plays on which he missed running back Jamaal Charles on a touchdown run in the regular-season game against Kansas City and New England's LeGarrette Blount on his touchdown run last weekend are two examples that quickly come to mind. It also doesn't help that Landry missed four games because of injury this season.

Biggest need: Help on both lines -- offensive and defensive -- should be at the top of Grigson's list during the offseason. The Colts are set at offensive tackle with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus. Donald Thomas will be back to take one of the guard spots after he missed most of the season with a quad injury, but the other guard spot and center could use upgrades. The Colts need a defensive tackle who can clog the middle of the line.

Team MVP: This is a no-brainer. Quarterback Andrew Luck was mentioned as a league MVP candidate at one point in the season. The second-year quarterback overcame injuries to five key offensive starters -- including future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne -- to cut his interceptions in half, increase his completion percentage and throw the same number of touchdown passes despite 52 fewer attempts. Take Luck out of the lineup and the Colts would have won maybe six games this season.

 
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Final Power Ranking: 12
Preseason Power Ranking: 23

Biggest surprise: The production from rookie receiver Keenan Allen is the headline here, with the turnaround of quarterback Philip Rivers a close second. The rookie season of Allen, picked in the third round of 2013 draft, was supposed to be a redshirt year. But season-ending injuries to Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander forced the Cal product to play sooner rather than later. After a sluggish start, Allen responded. He finished the regular season with 71 receptions for 1,046 yards, and tied for the team lead in touchdowns with eight. Allen finished with eight catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns in the postseason, emerging as an offensive rookie of the year candidate and San Diego's No. 1 receiver.

Biggest disappointment: Cornerback Derek Cox signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Chargers in free agency as the team's top cornerback but failed to live up to that expectation. Cox gave up several big plays and was one of the reasons San Diego's secondary struggled during the first half of the season. Cox ultimately was replaced in the starting lineup by veteran Richard Marshall in Week 13.

Biggest need: More talent in the secondary, with a pass rush help and beefing up the interior of the offensive line a close second. The Chargers gave up 23 passing touchdowns this season, No. 12 in the NFL, but 18 of those came in the first 11 games of the season. And San Diego also finished with just 11 interceptions on the season, No. 26 in the league. Veteran safety Eric Weddle played solid, mistake-free football for the most part in earning his second Pro Bowl berth, but he needs help. Shareece Wright gradually played better in his first season as a starter, but overall San Diego needs to add more young talent in the secondary.

Team MVP: Rivers elevated the play of the entire offense and deserves to be part of the conversation of league MVP. In his 10th season, Rivers benefited from former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt's conversion of San Diego's offense to a short passing game. Rivers finished in the top five in completion percentage (69.5 percent), yards per pass (8.23), passing yards (4,478), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (105.5). At 32 years old, Rivers looks like he still has the ability to play a few more years at an elite level. The Chargers need to add a couple of more pieces on offense to make his job easier.

 

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Final Power Ranking: 10
Preseason Power Ranking: 19

Biggest surprise: The Chiefs plucked rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, off waivers to start the regular season. Cooper played better than the Chiefs had a right to expect for a long stretch of the season as the third cornerback. He had a rough stretch late in the season before bouncing back at the end. At 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds, Cooper has the size to match up with the league's bigger receivers. Cooper projects as nothing less than the Chiefs' third cornerback next season and could eventually become a starter.

Biggest disappointment: Offensive tackle Eric Fisher was the first overall pick in the draft last year but rarely played like it. The Chiefs used Fisher on the right side, and he initially had trouble making the transition. He also had trouble avoiding nagging injuries, which caused him to miss four games, including the playoff loss to Indianapolis. Fisher should eventually develop into the kind of player the Chiefs envisioned. He showed great athletic skills that will help him reach his potential. Fisher was usually unable to anchor against a strong pass rush and that's where many of his problems occurred. A year in Kansas City's strength program will benefit Fisher greatly.

Biggest need: The Chiefs need a fast wide receiver to energize their passing game. They gambled by giving Dwayne Bowe a lucrative long-term contract last offseason, but Bowe didn't play like a No. 1 wide receiver until the playoff loss to the Colts. Bowe will turn 30 next season, so if nothing else, it's time for the Chiefs to plan for someone else to step into that top receiver's role. The Chiefs have a couple of fast wide receivers in Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins. While Avery delivered some big plays, he dropped too many passes and disappeared too many times. Jenkins hasn't been able to establish himself as a consistent threat.

Team MVP: The Chiefs have at least a couple of defensive candidates but the better choice is running back Jamaal Charles. He supplied much of Kansas City's offensive production, particularly early in the season when the offense around him frequently sputtered. Charles led the league in touchdowns and expanded his game to become a much more dangerous pass-catcher. Coach Andy Reid and his offensive staff did a much better job of getting Charles matched up against linebackers in the open field, and he rewarded them with a number of big plays. If the Chiefs had not lost five of their final seven regular-season games, Charles would have been a strong candidate for league MVP.

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Final power ranking: 7
Preseason power ranking: 9

Biggest surprise: Giovani Bernard. When the Bengals drafted Bernard in the second round of April's NFL draft, there was a belief that -- in time -- he would be the answer to the franchise's long-documented playmaking troubles. It had been decades since the Bengals had a dynamic player who had fans buzzing the instant he touched the football. That's who Bernard was this season. While the hope was that the shifty, speedy ball carrier would be an adequate counter to BenJarvus Green-Ellis' bruising style, few anticipated just how much he would take over. He had more than 1,200 total yards to go along with eight touchdowns. He was tied for second in scores among rookie running backs. Also a surprise? Bernard's ball insecurity. After fumbling just once in the regular season, he was stripped near the goal line on a pivotal reception late in the first half of Sunday's AFC playoff loss.

Biggest disappointment: The entire team. Once again, the Bengals couldn't close out a playoff appearance with a playoff win, thereby extending their postseason victory drought to 23 years. They had a real chance to snap that streak this year, too. The talent was there. The coaching, for the most part, was there. The schemes were there. The buzz was there. The internal confidence seemed to be there, as well. But when the lights got bright and the stage got big again, the Bengals, like so many times before, simply couldn't get it done. Even though they went 11-5 and won the AFC North, this was supposed to be a Super Bowl season, not another one-and-done year.

Biggest need: Aggressive postseason play calling. For the third consecutive playoff game, the Bengals ran the ball significantly fewer times than their preseason average. Yes, late in games when a team is trailing by wide margins, it has to pass. But Cincinnati was only down four at the start of the third quarter in Sunday's game against a team it had been successful running against in the previous six quarters (the Bengals and Chargers had met just 35 days before). The Bengals got too conservative too early, and it arguably cost them the game. Other than that, they still have the pieces in place for true success. Even with possible losses in free agency or in the coaching ranks, they have the talent to be great next year. They just need to make sure they stay aggressive and hungry when they get back in the playoffs.

Team MVP: Vontaze Burfict. The linebacker led the league in tackles with 171, and contributed to a series of turnovers throughout the year. A fearless defender who rarely took plays off, Burfict's passion spilled over into the rest of the defense. While others may have been more vocal than the second-year linebacker, he was the unquestioned on-field leader of the NFL's No. 3 defensive unit. Not only did he call plays, but he was part of virtually every one, it seemed.

Buffalo Bills season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
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Final power ranking: 25
Preseason power ranking: 30

Biggest surprise: Looking back on our season preview in August, there wasn't much that unfolded wildly differently from what was expected. We predicted the Bills to finish with a 6-10 record, which they did. We predicted a third-place finish in the AFC East; they finished fourth but had a shot at third going into Week 17. We expected some struggles out of rookie EJ Manuel; he had plenty of bumps in the road. We expected an improved defense under Mike Pettine; they jumped from 22nd in yards allowed per game to 10th. But the Bills may have surprised some by setting a team record with 57 sacks this season. As expected, Mario Williams led the charge with 13 sacks, but if there were preseason question concerning Williams, those were quickly erased. Jerry Hughes had a career-high 10 sacks, while Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus also set career marks.

Biggest disappointment: We knew entering the season that it would be tough sledding for the Bills in the passing game. But even with a rookie quarterback (Manuel) and an inexperienced fill-in (Thad Lewis), the Bills likely had higher expectations for their air attack this season. The Bills wanted a fast-paced, no-huddle offense with big-play ability. They showed flashes of it, but ultimately offensive coordinator Nate Hackett had to scale things back as the Bills went through growing pains with a young offense, especially on the road. At receiver, Buffalo dealt with injuries to three of its top four options -- Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin -- and didn’t get the most out of its talent at the position. Perhaps that’s why receivers coach Ike Hilliard will not return to the team next season.

Biggest need: Initially, the Bills don’t have any glaring holes on their roster. Safety could become a concern if Pro Bowler Jairus Byrd leaves through free agency, but the Bills found a capable option at their other safety spot this season in Aaron Williams. The bigger issue, it would seem, could be tight end. Their leading receiver this season was tight end Scott Chandler, but there is still a feeling that the Bills could get more out of that position, especially in the red zone. If Chandler departs through free agency, the Bills are in dire need of an athletic, dynamic option at that position. They would be down to Lee Smith, Chris Gragg and Tony Moeaki if Chandler does not return.

Team MVP: It may not have been statistically the best season of Fred Jackson’s career, but it’s hard to imagine the Bills being able to win six games without their offensive captain this season. Jackson is a veteran presence in the locker room, a leader whose toughness -- he played through a knee injury and, later, a rib injury -- set the tone even when the team stumbled through parts of this season. The Bills had a basement-dwelling offense, but that wasn’t Jackson’s fault. He combined for 1,283 rushing and receiving yards, as well as 10 total touchdowns. Jackson turns 33 in February, but he looked ageless this season.

 

Miami Dolphins season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
2:00
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Final Power Ranking: 18
Preseason Power Ranking: 20

Biggest surprise: Tight end Charles Clay was not expected to be a starter when training camp began. The Dolphins signed proven tight end Dustin Keller in free agency and had big plans for the former New York Jets veteran. In contrast, Clay started in a backup/hybrid role at tight end and fullback. But Keller's season-ending knee injury in the preseason opened the door for Clay to take over the starting job at tight end. He immediately flourished and became one of Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill's most reliable weapons. Clay set new career highs this season with 69 receptions for 759 yards and seven total touchdowns. Clay will enter next season as the unquestioned full-time starter.

Biggest disappointment: This category is two-fold, because you can't separate one linebacker from the other. Miami spent a combined $61 million on free agents Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. The goal was to get younger and faster at linebacker and, as a result, the Dolphins cut older veterans Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. But Wheeler and Ellerbe didn't provide the immediate upgrade the Dolphins expected. Both struggled in coverage and against the run this season while learning a new defense. Still, both players recorded more than 100 tackles and should be better in their second year together in Miami's system.

Biggest need: Without a doubt, expect a huge makeover on Miami's offensive line in 2014. The Dolphins set a new franchise record with 58 quarterback sacks allowed and were 26th in rushing. Lackluster offensive-line play was the main culprit in both instances. Miami has four pending free agents with starting experience. Tackles Tyson Clabo and Bryant McKinnie, as well as guards John Jerry and the suspended Richie Incognito are all unrestricted free agents in March. Most, if not all, are not expected to return. In the wake of the bullying scandal, Jonathan Martin could become the fifth starter who won't return. This provides a perfect opportunity for the Dolphins to have a major overhaul on the offensive line by using resources in the draft and free agency.

Team MVP: The Dolphins took somewhat of a flier on cornerback Brent Grimes this past offseason. Grimes was coming off a season-ending Achilles injury with the Atlanta Falcons in 2012. Miami signed him to a one-year contract in order to see how he would bounce back and if he could play a full season. Not only did Grimes play all 16 games, he was Miami's best and most consistent defensive player. Grimes tied for the team lead with four interceptions and made his second Pro Bowl. Grimes said he believes he played the best football of his career this season. Grimes, a pending free agent, will be a huge priority in the offseason.


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Final Power Ranking: 29
Preseason Power Ranking: 29

Biggest surprise: When the Jaguars signed defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks to a one-year, $1.5 million contract last April, they thought he’d be a good fit in coach Gus Bradley’s system. Turns out he was a perfect fit. Marks plays the three-technique, which means he lines up on the guard’s outside shoulder, and that position is supposed to provide interior pass rush. Marks finished with four sacks, nine quarterback pressures and eight pass breakups -- all numbers that equaled or surpassed the totals from his first four seasons. He seemed to make at least one impactful play every game and he accounted for two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. His play earned him a four-year contract extension as one of the building blocks of the defense.

Biggest disappointment: The Jaguars’ inability to consistently run the ball, especially early in the season, was vexing. The Jaguars switched from a predominantly man-blocking scheme to a zone-blocking scheme, and the offensive line had trouble with the transition. Four of the five starters at the beginning of the season also started in 2011, when Maurice Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing. The Jaguars mixed in more man-blocking schemes as the season progressed and things got better, but the problem wasn’t “fixed.” In addition, Jones-Drew clearly was not the same player he was two years ago. He missed all but six games last season with a Lisfranc injury and also battled ankle, knee and hamstring issues this season.

Biggest need: The Jaguars have a pretty long list of needs, but two stand out above all others: quarterback and pass-rusher. Quarterback is the top need because former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert isn’t the answer and neither is Chad Henne, who will be a free agent but wants to return to Jacksonville in 2014. The Jaguars haven’t had a bona fide threat at quarterback since coach Jack Del Rio put Mark Brunell on the bench for Byron Leftwich in 2003. New general manager David Caldwell and Bradley need a player around which to build the franchise, and the Jaguars will have the opportunity to possibly find one when they pick third overall in May’s draft.

Team MVP: The first impulse is to go with middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, whose 161 tackles ranked second in the NFL. He was clearly the team’s best defensive player and arguably the best overall player. However, what Henne did to stabilize the offense earns him MVP honors. Gabbert had played terribly in the first part of the season (seven INTs, one TD) and Henne stepped in and played the most consistent football of his career. He didn’t always light it up and he made some poor decisions and mistakes, but he kept the Jaguars in games in the second half of the season and made enough plays to go 4-4 after the bye. He threw nine touchdown passes -- including the game winner against Cleveland with 40 seconds to play -- and five interceptions over the final five games.


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Final Power Ranking: 14
Preseason Power Ranking: 16

Biggest surprise: Kelvin Beachum, the 248th pick of the 2012 NFL draft, solidified the all-important position of left tackle after Mike Adams flopped there. Beachum started 11 of the Steelers' final 12 games at left tackle -- he missed one contest because of a knee injury -- and was a big reason why quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked just seven times in the Steelers' final seven games. The 6-3, 306-pounder is not a prototypical left tackle, but the position is probably his to lose going into the offseason. Beachum's emergence allows the Steelers to use their 2014 first-round pick on defense instead of a left tackle.

Biggest disappointment: LaMarr Woodley played well enough when healthy, but the highest-paid defensive player in franchise history hasn't been able to stay on the field. Woodley has missed 13 games since signing a six-year, $61.5 million contract in 2011, including four games this season. Jason Worilds played so well at left outside linebacker in place of Woodley that the Steelers moved the latter to the right side after he returned, albeit briefly, from a nagging calf injury. If the Steelers have to make a choice between Woodley or Worilds, who will be an unrestricted free agent, it is a no-brainer to keep Worilds.

Biggest need: Outside linebacker and safety top the list, and I will go with the former since edge pass-rushers are so critical in the Steelers' 3-4 defense. Jarvis Jones will be fine, and I expect him to be a different player in 2014 after experiencing the requisite rookie growing pains. But even if he develops as the coaches expect and Worilds returns, the Steelers could use another pass-rusher since I think they will cut ties with Woodley. The one caveat: If a safety with star potential such as Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is available when the Steelers pick in the first round of the draft, they should seriously consider taking him.

Team MVP: Flip a coin between quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Each was that good this season. Brown authored the best season ever by a Steelers wide receiver and made the Pro Bowl as a position player as well as a punt returner. However, my nod goes to Roethlisberger because of how important his position is in a quarterback-driven league. Roethlisberger played every snap and had one of the best statistical seasons of his career. He also deserves credit for not allowing an 0-4 start devolve into 5-11 or 4-12 and for his command of the no-huddle attack that took the offense to another level.


Houston Texans season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
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Final Power Ranking: 32
Preseason Power Ranking: 7

Biggest surprise: This is an easy one for the 2013 Houston Texans: The quarterback situation. We went into the season with a fair discussion about whether Matt Schaub was the guy to lead the Texans to the Super Bowl. But what most everyone assumed along with that was the Texans could at least count on Schaub to not make the kinds of huge, costly errors that can lose you games. Schaub's streak of four consecutive games with a pick-six was unpredictable. The Texans' attempts to regain control of the position -- starting Case Keenum, then going back and forth between the two -- didn't work.

Biggest disappointment: You could use this spot for the quarterbacks again, but the Texans were not wont for disappointments. We'll go with Ed Reed here, the future Hall of Fame safety who came to Houston in hopes (both his and the Texans') that he would help lead the Texans to a Super Bowl. First, Reed had a surgery the Texans didn't expect. The recovery time he needed meant he was never really fully healthy, despite his insistence that he was. Reed struggled to make an impact for the Texans and when his playing time diminished, he didn't handle it especially well. He left Houston throwing knives, saying the Texans' defensive scheme wasn't a good fit for a lot of its players.

Biggest need: Quarterback. Case Keenum did not do enough to show that he can be the Texans starter next season. I'm not going to say he's doomed, but the Texans need another option for their starter next season. At first glance, the quarterback free-agent class doesn't look like it'll be a great one, but you never know how a veteran can react to a new locale. This year's draft class of quarterbacks figures to be led by Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel could also be an option.

Team MVP: J.J. Watt is disappointed he didn't reach the 20 sacks, 20 batted passes and 20 tackles for loss, but he should be proud of the way he played this season. He was terrific against the run and pass. Pro Football Focus gave Watt a grade that was nearly three times better than the next best 3-4 defensive end. Watt became the second player in Texans history to have back-to-back seasons with double-digit sacks after Mario Williams. He'll go to his second consecutive Pro Bowl this season.

 

Cleveland Browns season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
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Final Power Ranking: 28
Preseason Power Ranking: 28

Biggest surprise: The decision to fire Rob Chudzinski after one season and the trade of Trent Richardson after two games rank as two of the bigger surprises in recent memory, not just this season. Both came as shocks, and both put the pressure squarely on the front office, not only to replace a coach but to use the first-round draft pick acquired for Richardson wisely. One move also led to the other, as once Richardson was dealt for a first-round pick, the front office never gave Chudzinski a credible running back, which contributed significantly to the team's season-ending losing streak.

Biggest disappointment: There was a lot of proud talk and big chatter when the Browns went to the bye week at 4-5. In retrospect, that chatter was unfounded, as the Browns had lost Brian Hoyer for the season and entered the bye losers of three of four. But they had a chance, and when they started the game in Cincinnati with a 13-0 lead, it actually looked like the Browns might accomplish something. But in a second-quarter implosion in Cincinnati, the Browns had a punt blocked, another tipped and a turnover returned for a touchdown. The Bengals scored a team-record 31 points in one quarter. That 15-minute stretch of play changed an entire season.

Biggest need: Why make it different from any other offseason: The Browns must decide on a quarterback. Before that happens, though, they need a coach to guide the quarterback. Since 1999, the Browns have started 20 different quarterbacks and stuck with zero. The constant shuffling at the position does nothing for stability or team growth. At this point it would appear Hoyer would have the edge to start, backed up by Jason Campbell and a rookie taken in the draft. Whether that’s a long-term answer or short-term answer remains an unknown. Which means the Browns are still looking for the guy they’ve been looking for since they returned to the field in 1999.

Team MVP: Josh Gordon set new standards for himself and the team with his 87 catches and 1,646 yards. Gordon led the league in receiving yards and yards per game (117.6). He set new team marks in both categories. And he did it in 14 games -- after he missed the first two because of a league suspension. Gordon’s size, hands and ability are rare, and his speed separates him from other excellent players at the position. If he can stay out of trouble, the Browns could have a future superstar.


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Final power ranking: 16
Preseason power ranking: 8

Biggest surprise: Late-season collapse. The defending Super Bowl champions failed to show their championship mettle at the end of the season. With their playoff hopes on the line, the Ravens didn't just lose their final two games -- they were crushed. Baltimore was outscored by a combined score of 75-24. It was an unceremonious way to end what had been the NFL's longest consecutive playoff streak (five years). The Ravens didn't measure up to the best teams in the league this year. Baltimore was 1-4 against playoff teams (losing to the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots and splitting with the Cincinnati Bengals).

Biggest disappointment: Running game. The Ravens ranked in the top half of the NFL in rushing in each of coach John Harbaugh's first five seasons. This year, Baltimore ranked 30th. The Ravens gained 1,328 yards, which was 261 yards fewer than they've ever had in the team's 18 years of existence. Ray Rice lacked his usual burst and dealt with a hip injury for most of the season. Backup Bernard Pierce was nicked up as well and wasn't always patient. And the offensive line consistently failed to get any push. The Ravens didn't find any humor in the fact that they had their worst rushing season in the first year they had a run game coordinator (Juan Castillo).

Biggest need: Offensive line. The Ravens averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry, and quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked the second-most times (48) in the NFL. Both problems can be traced by to the abysmal play of the offensive line. The Ravens couldn't open running lanes, and they never gave Flacco enough time in the pocket. You know the line isn't doing its job when the quarterback is wearing a knee brace and the top running back is listed on the injury report for most of the season. Harbaugh said only right guard Marshal Yanda is guaranteed a job next season on the offensive line. The Ravens will likely re-sign left tackle Eugene Monroe and let Michael Oher go elsewhere in free agency. The big questions are whether left guard Kelechi Osemele can bounce back from back surgery and whether the Ravens are going to replace center Gino Gradkowski in free agency or the draft.

Team MVP: Kicker Justin Tucker. This was a no-brainer. Tucker set team season records with 38 field goals (which tied for first in the league) and 140 points. A first-time Pro Bowl player, Tucker had the league's longest field goal streak, at 33, which was also the fourth-longest in NFL history. He also made three game-winning kicks, including a 61-yarder in Detroit. The only other candidate for most valuable player is inside linebacker Daryl Smith. Besides leading the team in tackles (123), he finished with five sacks, 19 passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.

Oakland Raiders season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
2:00
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Final Power Ranking: 30
Preseason Power Ranking: 29

Biggest surprise: Now, no one is suggesting that Matt McGloin is the Raiders’ quarterback of the future, but the undrafted rookie who initially joined Oakland as a fourth-stringer and training camp arm did acquit himself well in starting six games and appearing in relief in another. So much so that coach Dennis Allen said McGloin has a future in Oakland, even if it’s not as the heretofore mentioned QB of the future. What the Raiders may have lost in athleticism when McGloin replaced Terrelle Pryor was gained in pocket presence. McGloin’s skill set simply fit the type of offense the Raiders wanted to run this season.

Biggest disappointment: It seems harsh to pinpoint a rookie who nearly died the previous time he stepped on a football field, but that’s the bull’s-eye the Raiders placed on cornerback D.J. Hayden when they selected him 12th overall -- and said they would have used the No. 3 pick on him if they were unable to trade down -- despite his heart issues. Hayden was playing catch-up from Day 1 and seemed overmatched by the speed of the game at times. A groin injury ended his season after just eight games and one interception. Only because expectations are so high for an early first-rounder does Hayden surpass oft-injured running back Darren McFadden in this category.

Biggest need: Let’s start with the obvious and continue down the list: a franchise quarterback, or at least, a vet who can bridge the gap to said franchise QB. Neither Pryor nor McGloin is that guy. And while defensive end Lamarr Houston did an admirable job switching from the left side to the right and had a team-high six sacks, the Raiders also need a pure beast of a speed rusher. The Raiders could also use a playmaking wide receiver, because while Rod Streater and Andre Holmes flashed as possession pass catchers, they are not your prototypical playmakers, either. An offensive lineman would do as well. Maybe even a center, that way Stefen Wisniewski could move back to left guard. Of course, the biggest O-line need is to re-sign left tackle Jared Veldheer.

Team MVP: When Rashad Jennings signed as McFadden’s backup, you knew Jennings simply had to bide his time before McFadden went down to injury. He did, and Jennings made the most of his opportunity, leading the Raiders with 733 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns, including an 80-yard TD scamper on a direct snap at Houston, and averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Jennings also caught a career-high 36 passes for 292 yards and blocked a punt. Perhaps most impressive: He never fumbled the ball and his 2.2 yards per carry after first contact ranked second in the NFL. Jennings, who will be an unrestricted free agent, missed one game in tying a career high with 15 games played, starting eight.

 

Tennessee Titans season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
2:00
PM ET

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 22
Preseason Power Ranking: 16

Biggest surprise: A team that revamped its interior offensive line and added a free-agent back in Shonn Greene to supplement Chris Johnson pledged a dedication to the run game. But the identity never developed and the Titans finished 14th in the NFL in rushing and didn't have a running back who averaged even 4 yards per carry. Greene got hurt and missed time and threw things off, but that shouldn't have undone the offense. There were too many times when the team needed a tough yard against a good team and declined to do what it said it would: run for it, even against a defense that knew what was coming.

Biggest disappointment: This team did well to stock the roster at receiver, so the combination of pretty good health and pretty good depth meant the free fall of Kenny Britt didn't hurt as much as it could have. But coming out of camp, he looked poised to have a giant year in the final season of his rookie contract. Instead, per ESPN Stats & Information, he dropped 15.2 percent of the 33 passes thrown toward him. That's the highest drop rate in the league for a wide receiver targeted more than 14 times. He said there was a double standard by the team regarding his drops. Maybe it was more like a quadruple standard, considering his drop rate was nearly four times that of Kendall Wright and Damian Williams.

Biggest need: This team overrated its ability to rush the passer. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey was a force, with 10.5 sacks in 15 games from the inside. But the outside guys were insufficient. They'll talk all day about how close Derrick Morgan gets on a regular basis, but he got only six sacks. The project with strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers moving forward to rush the passer as an end in situations was a failure. He got one sack. The Titans need to sign or draft an edge rusher who can be a difference-maker.

Team MVP: Casey. While there is a good case for Wright, the receiver who was a consistent threat, it's Casey by a nose. He produced 10.5 sacks from a position where double-digit sacks are a rarity. They were especially big considering the lack of help from other rushers. Casey has a swagger and an attitude that the team doesn't have enough of, and he established himself as a lynchpin who needs to be a long-term piece of this defense. His contract runs through 2014, but the Titans should talk extension with him this summer.

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