Those who backed Atlanta, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Tennessee in their NFL picks -- as well as their fans -- are in mourning after their team’s exit from the postseason. Let’s engage in a postmortem of these teams and discuss what the future holds.
Personally, I’m surprised the Dirty Birds went as far as they did. I felt Atlanta would suffer a Super Bowl hangover and, to a certain extent, they did. There was no MVP discussion of Matty Ice this year and the Falcons wound up third in the NFC South, a division they won a year ago. Although their defense improved over last season, their offense regressed and that ultimately proved to be their downfall, mustering little in their 15-10 Divisional Round loss to Philadelphia.
Atlanta needs a more explosive rushing attack and a complement to WR Julio Jones. However, there is hope for Atlanta as QB Matt Ryan has a few premium years left in the tank and Jones is still only 28 years old. If the defense continues to improve, the Falcons could be a dark horse for a division crown in your NFL picks next season. However, I’m not sure they’re poised for a return to the Super Bowl without a quality draft and a few key free-agent signings to shore up their weaknesses.New Orleans Saints
Oh, boy. That was a wicked way to lose a game. This season, however, the Saints came a long way on defense and had an outstanding draft that contributed mightily. Rookie running back Alvin Kamara and rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore’s emergence sparked the Saints’ march into the playoffs. Drew Brees is now 39 but is still one of the league’s best under center. How long until the wheels fall off his wagon, who knows, but the high-octane backfield of Kamara and Mark Ingram has taken this offense from a one-dimensional aerial assault to a dual threat.
Going forward, the Saints could use an edge rusher and/or a stud defensive tackle to plug the middle and generate pressure from the inside. A tight end would help on those many missed third-down opportunities. Overall, the future looks bright for the Saints as long as Brees keeps on keepin’ on.Pittsburgh Steelers
Hours after the Steelers’ stunning defeat to the underdog Jaguars, running back Le’Veon Bell tweeted this gem: “having an argument with my brother...who do youu (sic) think is most popular video game character?” Really? That loss must have really stung. It says all you need to know about the perennial bridesmaids with the best pass-catch-run combination in the league. There needs to be a serious attitude change from a team that chirps better than it plays. A head coaching change, perhaps, or does Mike Tomlin have the goods on the higher-ups? I have no idea, but things have to change because the expiration date on Big Ben is looming.
Pittsburgh has a receiving corps that has more weapons than a Swiss army knife, with Antonio Brown being the big blade. Bell is as good as any back in the league, and the team's defense looked stout until melting like butter in a blast furnace against the Jags. This team needs a serious infusion of heart, grit and determination because raw talent doesn’t always win the day.Tennessee Titans
Head Coach Mike Mularkey is out the door after the Titans got battered by the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The moment Tennessee’s superstar tackle Jack Conklin went out against the Patriots, the tide turned and Tennessee’s offense fell silent until a touchdown in garbage time. The big question is, which Marcus Mariota will show up next year? When Mariota is healthy and has his legs under him, he is a legitimate threat because his ability to run keeps defenses on their heels.
Tennessee needs a fresh injection of young blood at linebacker and would be wise to get a burner at wide receiver who can stretch the field. The buzz on the street is that the Titans are gunning for New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to fill their head coaching vacancy. A bit of Patriots’ swagger could go a long way toward creating a legitimate AFC power in Nashville, and the NFL odds will reflect an upgrade in the big seat if they land their prized fish.