Next season can’t get here fast enough for the 24 NFL teams no longer in the Super Bowl chase.
Some of those franchises — most notably the 0-16 Detroit Lions — were looking forward to 2009 long ago. Others like New England, Chicago, Dallas and Tampa Bay were in the playoff picture until the season’s final weekend. And there are four other squads — Miami, Atlanta, Minnesota and Indianapolis — who reached the postseason but were eliminated in last weekend’s first-round playoff games.
Here is a look at why these teams fell short of Super Bowl XLIII and what positions they may be targeting in April’s NFL draft (clubs are ranked in draft order; the draft order of playoff teams will be finalized when the postseason ends):
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: Simply put, this was the worst team ever. The only 0-16 squad in NFL history, Detroit ranked last in total defense, 30th in total offense and was outscored by an average of 16 points a game.
Two biggest draft needs: Left tackle — Starting every game for the past eight seasons has taken a physical toll on 31-year-old starter Jeff Backus; Defensive end — The Lions haven’t fielded a fearsome pass-rusher since Robert Porcher was in his prime in 2001.
Comment: There’s nowhere to go but up. The first order of business for whoever is hired as Detroit’s new head coach: Find a long-term solution at quarterback.
Team: St. Louis
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: An 0-4 start led to coach Scott Linehan’s firing. Things never got much better under interim replacement Jim Haslett mostly because of injuries and sub-par personnel.
Two biggest draft needs: Left tackle — Because of injuries, 34-year-old starter Orlando Pace will never play at a Pro Bowl level again; Pass-rushing outside linebacker — The Rams need another impact player in their front seven with 34-year-old sack specialist Leonard Little nearing the end.
Comment: A quick turnaround starts with quarterback Marc Bulger, who must regain the form that landed him a six-year, $65 million contract in July 2007.
Team: Kansas City
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: Kansas City’s 31st-ranked defense was abysmal. An offense that juggled three different starting quarterbacks wasn’t much better.
Two biggest draft needs: Defensive end — Kansas City finished with an NFL-low 10 sacks. DE Jared Allen, who was traded to Minnesota in the off-season, had 14.5 by himself with the Vikings; Quarterback — Tyler Thigpen had his moments, but he also was 1-9 as a starter.
Comment: The fate of Chiefs coach Herm Edwards should be known shortly after a new general manager is hired to replace the retiring Carl Peterson.
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: Mike Holmgren’s final season as head coach was ruined by offensive injuries — QB Matt Hasselbeck was especially missed — and an underachieving defense.
Two biggest draft needs: Wide receiver — For the first time in a non-strike season, Seattle didn’t have a single wideout crack the 500-yard mark; Cornerback — A smallish secondary desperately needs some size.
Comment: With 34-year-old Walter Jones looking mortal in 2008, the Seahawks must give strong consideration to finding his heir apparent at left tackle.
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: Arguably the NFL’s most disappointing team, Cleveland lost six more games than in 2007 because of a dysfunctional offense and defense lacking a strong pass rush. The decline cost coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage their jobs.
Two biggest draft needs: Outside linebacker — Willie McGinest is set to retire and Kamerion Wimbley’s sack production has declined for two straight years after a standout rookie campaign in 2006; Running back — The wheels are quickly falling off on 29-year-old Jamal Lewis, whose 3.6-yard average and long gain of 29 yards point to a loss of burst.
Comment: At least the Browns have hope at quarterback with 2006 first-round pick Brady Quinn entering his first season as the unquestioned starter.
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: Cincinnati was doomed once QB Carson Palmer (elbow) was lost for the season after four games.
Two biggest draft needs: Defensive end — Only one Bengals player has registered double-digit sacks since 1991; Tackle — Levi Jones is no longer an upper-tier left tackle, while right tackle Stacy Andrews suffered a major knee injury in late December.
Comment: The Bengals actually have momentum heading into the off-season, ending 2008 with three consecutive wins. Two signs of encouragement: An improved defense and running back Cedric Benson.
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: The Lane Kiffin saga finally ended when he was fired by Raiders owner Al Davis four weeks into the season. By then, the Raiders were well on their way to a fifth consecutive 11-loss campaign.
Two biggest draft needs: Wide receiver — Javon Walker, a big-money free-agent acquisition during the 2008 off-season, didn’t pan out on a team that had no wideout with more than 22 receptions; Defensive end — Derrick Burgess’ sack production has slumped in two injury-plagued seasons. No one has picked up the slack.
Comment: With improved play in December, coach Tom Cable should have the “interim” removed from his title even though Raiders owner Al Davis is interviewing other candidates.
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: Injuries wrecked the interior offensive line, which was disastrous for Jacksonville’s run-heavy attack. The defense, especially the secondary, slumped so badly that coordinator Gregg Williams was canned after just one season.
Two biggest draft needs: Cornerback — Jacksonville surrendered 25 passing touchdowns, the highest total since the franchise’s inaugural season in 1995; Left tackle — In a division with three elite pass-rushers (Houston’s Mario Williams, Indianapolis’ Dwight Freeney and Tennessee’s Kyle Vanden Bosch), the Jaguars must provide QB David Garrard with a better blindside protector than Khalif Barnes.
Comment: Expect the housecleaning to continue as Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio tries to rebuild locker room chemistry from one of the NFL’s most underachieving rosters.
Team: Green Bay
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: Don’t scapegoat QB Aaron Rodgers. While Rodgers’ inexperience occasionally surfaced, Brett Favre’s replacement had a better season than some of his teammates, especially on defense.
Two biggest draft needs: Defensive end — Pass-rush specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila declined so quickly that he was released at midseason; Defensive tackle — 2007 first-round pick Justin Harrell is too injury prone to figure prominently in next season’s plans.
Comment: The Packers must find a way to win close games in 2009. Seven of Green Bay’s 10 losses came by four points or less.
Team: San Francisco
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: Head coach Mike Nolan’s squad was so lifeless that he was fired after a 2-5 start. The 49ers showed enough improvement under interim replacement Mike Singletary that he was signed to a four-year contract.
Two biggest draft needs: Outside linebacker/defensive end — “We definitely need a pass rusher,” Singletary said at his season-ending news conference; Free safety — The 49ers need more big plays out of this spot. Mark Roman didn’t have an interception the past two seasons as a starter.
Comment: It appears Shaun Hill is the right kind of quarterback to operate the more conservative-style offense that Singletary wants after firing coordinator Mike Martz.
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: The Bills squandered a 4-0 start largely because of offensive ineptitude and injuries to quarterback Trent Edwards.
Two biggest draft needs: Tight end — The last Bills player at this position to make an impact in the passing game was Jay Riemersma in 2001; Center — The Bills need more push up the middle than what Melvin Fowler provided in 2008.
Comment: Bills coach Dick Jauron kept his job despite a 3-9 record to end the season. Jauron won’t be as fortunate if he doesn’t make the playoffs in 2009.
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: The Broncos became the first team since 1967 to blow a three-game division lead with three games remaining. Too many running backs landed on injured reserve and the defense allowed a franchise-record 448 points.
Two biggest draft needs: Defensive tackle — Dewayne Robertson joins a long list of veteran acquisitions that have disappointed at this position in Denver; Defensive end — Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder, Denver’s first two picks in 2007, are on the verge of becoming bona fide draft busts.
Comment: The Broncos will be a very different franchise in 2009. Mike Shanahan was fired last week after 14 years of coaching and handling Denver’s personnel decisions.
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: The Redskins faded after a 6-2 start, putting coach Jim Zorn on the hot seat in 2009.
Two biggest draft needs: Defensive end – The preseason trade with Miami for Jason Taylor (3.5 sacks) failed to pay dividends; Tackle/guard — The Redskins have too many high-priced linemen over the age of 30.
Comment: Washington’s long history of trading draft picks will continue in 2009. The Redskins already have dealt their second-, fourth- and seventh-round selections.
Team: New Orleans
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: The Saints were a 2-6 road team with a leaky defense.
Two biggest draft needs: Running back — The Saints need a power rusher to replace Deuce McAllister; Secondary — The Saints don’t have a shutdown cornerback or safeties that generate turnovers.
Comment: Reaching the playoffs is the only thing quarterback Drew Brees can do for an encore after passing for 5,069 yards in 2008.
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: The impact of Houston being hit by Hurricane Ike contributed to an 0-4 start that the Texans couldn’t overcome.
Two biggest draft needs: Defensive end — The Texans don’t have a quality pass-rusher besides DE Mario Williams (12 sacks in 2008); Safety — Houston has never fielded an impact player at this position in the franchise’s seven-year history.
Comment: The Texans are in the market for a new defensive coordinator after firing Richard Smith and two of his assistants.
Team: New York Jets
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: After an 8-3 start, the Jets fell out of playoff contention with a 1-4 finish. Jets coach Eric Mangini was fired one day after the collapse was complete with a season-ending home loss to Miami.
Two biggest draft needs: Wide receiver — New York’s lack of speed was exposed when defenses clamped down on the short passing game; Cornerback — With teams trying to avoid throwing near CB Darrell Revis, the Jets need to upgrade their other starting position.
Comment: Now it’s New York’s turn to deal with the annual “will-he-or-won’t-he” retirement speculation surrounding QB Brett Favre.
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: QB Kyle Orton was never the same after spraining his ankle in Week 9. The Bears ranked 30th in pass defense, which led to the firing of secondary coach Steven Wilks.
Two biggest draft needs: Wide receiver — The Bears have produced just one Pro Bowl wideout (Marty Booker) in the past 37 seasons; Guard/tackle — A team so reliant upon its running game must get younger up front.
Comment: The Bears need better production from high-priced players like MLB Brian Urlacher, DT Tommie Harris and CB Nathan Vasher to once again field a championship-caliber defense.
Team: Tampa Bay
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: Tampa Bay’s vaunted defense buckled in December, which was the main reason for a four-game losing streak to end the season.
Two biggest draft needs: Defensive tackle — The Bucs long for the days when Warren Sapp and Booger McFarland clogged the middle; Wide receiver — Even if Antonio Bryant is re-signed, Tampa Bay needs another vertical threat to stretch opposing defenses.
Comment: As usual, expect Bucs coach Jon Gruden to kick the tires on veteran quarterbacks this off-season. Otherwise, Luke McCown and Brian Griese are the frontrunners to start in 2009 unless second-year quarterback Josh Johnson has an impressive preseason.
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: A 1-3 record in December capped by season-ending losses to Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Two biggest needs: Safety — The Cowboys desperately need a ball hawk, especially if SS Roy Williams is traded or released in the off-season; Quarterback — Dallas hasn’t drafted a player at this position since Quincy Carter in 2001.
Comment: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Wade Phillips have an entire off-season to ponder why such a talented team failed to reach the playoffs.
Team: New England
Why they didn’t reach the playoffs: The Patriots finished with the same record as two other playoff teams (Miami and Baltimore) but were on the losing end of postseason tiebreakers with both squads.
Two biggest draft needs: Cornerback — The Patriots never found a shutdown corner to replace Asante Samuel, who signed with Philadelphia as a free agent in 2008; Offensive line — Protecting Tom Brady is more important than ever with the quarterback coming off a serious knee injury.
Comment: The Patriots are the first 11-win team since 1985 that didn’t reach the playoffs.
Why they fell short: QB Tarvaris Jackson was awful during Sunday’s 26-14 loss to Philadelphia.
Two biggest draft needs: Defensive end — It wouldn’t hurt to add another pass-rusher that could reduce double-team blocking against Jared Allen; Defensive tackle — While he was still a Pro Bowl-caliber player in 2008, starter Pat Williams turns 37 in October.
Comment: After his poor performance against the Eagles, expect Minnesota to pursue a new starting quarterback via trade or free agency.
Why they fell short: Atlanta’s defensive deficiencies were exposed during last Saturday’s 30-24 loss to Arizona.
Two biggest draft needs: Safety — Lawyer Milloy turns 36 in November; Defensive line — The Falcons must determine whether 2007 first-round pick Jamaal Anderson is better suited for end or tackle.
Comment: With some defensive tweaking, the Falcons should be a playoff contender for years to come.
Why they fell short: An uncharacteristically sloppy offensive performance doomed Miami during Sunday’s 27-9 loss to Baltimore.
Two biggest draft needs: Wide receiver — It’s the thinnest position on the team, plus 2007 first-round pick Ted Ginn Jr. hasn’t established himself as a dangerous deep threat; Outside linebacker — The Dolphins were overly dependent on the blitz to help OLB Joey Porter (17.5 sacks) apply pressure.
Comment: Even though he won NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors, QB Chad Pennington may have to compete with 2008 second-round pick Chad Henne for his starting spot in training camp.
Why they fell short: The Colts couldn’t effectively rush the football or stop the run in Saturday night’s 23-17 overtime loss at San Diego.
Two biggest draft needs: Defensive tackle — The Colts need to upgrade the middle of their defensive line; Wide receiver — With WR Marvin Harrison nearing the end, the Colts need another big-play threat for QB Peyton Manning.