Only one team gets to end the season a winner. Round by round, the best teams in the NFL slowly fall to the wayside before one champion eventually emerges.
That isn’t to say these other franchises shouldn’t be proud of what they accomplish. Only 12 of the NFL’s 32 franchises even make the postseason, with eight finding themselves in the divisional round. The difference between moving on to the conference title games and elimination is often quite slim.
But, that’s just one of the many harsh realities of professional football. In an instant, a year’s worth of work can go out the window in a little over three hours.
It’s okay to mourn for a little while, especially for teams that had massive expectations (like the Dallas Cowboys). Eventually, it will be time to move on and start thinking about the 2017 campaign.
As they head into the offseason, let’s look at the biggest question mark for each of the divisional round losers.
Seattle Seahawks: How do they address their offensive line woes?
For the second straight season, the Seahawks were eliminated in the divisional round on the road. They were not the same team defensively, especially once Earl Thomas went down late in the season. But, the one constant weakness for Seattle on the heels of their two Super Bowl runs is poor offensive line play.
If the Hawks didn’t have Russell Wilson, it’s hard to imagine what they’d do with the pocket constantly collapsing. A traditional pocket passer would be in big trouble.
The Seahawks ran wild on the Detroit Lions in the wild card game, but they’re tied for the 2nd-worst stuff-at-the-line percentage in the NFL this year, per Football Outsiders. Any success they’ve had on the ground can mostly be attributed to the skill of their running backs.
It’s more noticeable in pass protection, though. When Seattle fell behind the Panthers 31-0 in last year’s divisional playoff game, Wilson was under siege on basically every play. It’s the reason that the Rams, far from a juggernaut, have beaten the Seahawks in four of their last six meetings. LA has one of the best front fours in the NFL thanks to Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn, who both have field days whenever they face the Seahawks.
It happened again on Saturday in defeat to the Falcons:
— Russell Hartness (@RussellHartness) January 15, 2017
Seattle’s Super Bowl window isn’t closed, but it will be soon if they continue to ignore the positional group that’s held them back of late.
Houston Texans: Is Brock Osweiler the QB of the future?
It’s a pretty cold-take to say that Brock Osweiler did not play up to his $72 million contract with the Texans this season.
Let’s put Osweiler’s financial situation to the side for a moment. Does he have what it takes to develop into Houston’s franchise quarterback for years to come?
The Texans kind of have to hope that Brock is, despite his play this year; their hands are tied here with so much cap space invested in him. They could try to trade for a short-term replacement like Tony Romo (more on him in a moment), but the combination of their contracts would force Houston to make scarifies in other areas of the roster. Next season, Osweiler alone has a $19 million cap hit. In comparison, Aaron Rodgers‘ for 2017 is $20.3 million.
He made some throws we hadn’t seen all season in the wild card round against the Raiders, but other than one gem down the seam (dropped by Will Fuller), Osweiler reverted to his inaccurate ways on Saturday night in New England:
Brock Osweiler is a special kind of inaccurate pic.twitter.com/6Qz7lp5IqD
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) January 15, 2017
Osweiler… It's Intercepted!: The Brock Osweiler Story
— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) January 15, 2017
— Jeopardy! Sports (@JeopardySports) January 15, 2017
It’s clearly a subject Bill O’Brien will give some thought to over the coming months, but for the time being, he’s not ready to make a decision:
Texans coach Bill O'Brien hasn't decided if Brock Osweiler will enter the offseason as the team's starting QB. pic.twitter.com/iDHpttgvtI
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 16, 2017
Dallas Cowboys: What do they do with Tony Romo?
The biggest storyline across the entire NFL this offseason while likely be what the Cowboys decide to do with Tony Romo. The franchise’s starting QB for the past decade has been succeeded by standout rookie Dak Prescott, who proved his mettle in nearly leading Dallas to an 18-point comeback victory over the Packers. As most of you know, the Cowboys did manage to tie the game before Rodgers dramatically drove Green Bay down the field in the final seconds for a game-winning field goal.
When Dallas was trailing 21-3 early on, some fans and members of the media called for Romo to come in. That was an emotional response to adversity that, luckily, head coach Jason Garrett did not consider. But who knows if Jerry Jones did.
Even though the Cowboys lost, Jones certainly saw enough from Prescott to feel comfortable with moving Romo. Still, at this point, he’s not ready to make a decision on the matter.
He would be the most expensive backup quarterback in the NFL, even if the Texans decide to bench Osweiler. Between his base salary and prorated signing bonuses, Romo is set to make $24.7 million next season.
If the Cowboys do try to trade Romo, any potential suitor would likely want to restructure his deal, given his injury history. Pundits don’t believe Dallas will be offered anything more than late-round drafts, with cap savings being the real trade kicker.
Dallas can save the most money by releasing Romo. They’d still owe him $10.7 million in prorated bonuses in 2017, as well as $8.9 million in 2018, which would be considered dead money for future prorated numbers from that year and 2019.
It’s a messy situation, but considering they’re paying Dak Prescott under $1 million in each of the next three seasons, it’s one they’ll be able to get through.
Kansas City Chiefs: Is Alex Smith a Super Bowl-caliber QB?
Once again, the Kansas City Chiefs and head coach Andy Reid had a very successful regular season campaign. But, once again, they failed to get out of the divisional round.
The Chiefs have playmakers and speed in every position group, including at quarterback. Alex Smith has no problem putting his head down and running if his first reads aren’t there, and he’s been able to manage the assets around him to glowingly positive results.
But, on the big stage of the playoffs against some of the game’s all-time great quarterbacks (like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger), he hasn’t been able to break through. These defeats beg the question posed above: is Alex Smith a Super Bowl-caliber QB?
If you’d asked the same question of Joe Flacco before 2012, most analysts and fans would’ve said no. But, in the playoffs, Flacco turned his game up and guided the Ravens to a Super Bowl XLVII victory. Smith watched that game from the bench with the 49ers, sitting behind Colin Kaepernick (life comes at you fast).
Smith will always be remembered as the guy drafted first overall in 2005, 23 picks before Aaron Rodgers. After a slow start to his career, Alex has certainly turned things around, even making a Pro Bowl in 2013. But, he hasn’t ascended to that always debated “elite” category. Cue PFTCommenter’s Flaccometer:
Is Joe flacco back pic.twitter.com/vzINuyrc29
— PFTCommenter (@PFTCommenter) December 18, 2016
In the right situation, Smith could win a Super Bowl one day. But, at age 32, he’s running out of chances.
He’s the type of quarterback that you can win a Super Bowl with. But, he’s not the type of QB to put a team on his back to win a Lombardi Trophy.
The alternatives are far worse for the Chiefs, so they’ll continue trying to break through with Smith. But, when matched up against some of the game’s premier signal callers, this question will continue to arise until he gets it done.