The road map to success in today's NFL starts with the quarterback and revolves around the passing game. Look at the league's top teams -- the Super Bowl champion Giants, runner-up Patriots, regular-season-best Packers, etc. -- most boast top QBs and highly productive pass offenses.
So as we hit the offseason and teams ponder how they can rise in the standings, most will look to improve their passing game or find ways defensively to get better against the pass.
Here's a look at all 32 teams and what they'll need to do this offseason to be better in 2012:
Team Needs: QB, OT, DE. The Cardinals need to identify Kevin Kolb or John Skelton as their starting QB, or look to the draft or free agency for outside help (Cards fans are salivating over the thought of Peyton Manning throwing to Larry Fitzgerald). The Cardinals hope Kolb steps up to justify the six-year, $65 million deal (with $21 million guaranteed) they paid after acquiring him in the trade with the Eagles. Kolb will be helped as the Cards seek to improve an offensive line that allowed 54 sacks, second-worst in NFL. LT Levi Brown has a $17 million cap number in 2012, so he'll be released or restructured. An inconsistent running game (24th in NFL) also needs help. Calais Campbell is a premier free agent, but he will be either re-signed or franchised.
Team Needs: OL, DL, CB. Despite their regular season success, the Falcons have been blown out by the Packers and Giants in the past two postseasons, with Matt Ryan not playing well and the secondary leaking. Without a No. 1 pick this year thanks to last year's Julio Jones trade, they will look to fortify both lines in the draft's later rounds and in free agency. With leading sacker John Abraham turning 34, defensive end and pass rush help will be a focal point. The team's best corner Brent Grimes, is a free agent, as is leading tackler LB Curtis Lofton. The Falcons are also breaking in two new coordinators in 2012 in Dirk Koetter on offense and Mike Nolan on defense.
Team Needs: OL, LB, DE, K. TheRavens have two premier players headed for free agency -- RB Ray Rice and G Ben Grubbs. They would be wise to sign one before March 13 and then franchise the other. Rice, with his 2,068 combined yards and 15 TDs, absolutely must stay (owner Steve Bisciotti has already made it clear Rice will be a member of the team next year, no matter what). QB Joe Flacco is looking for a long-term extension heading into the last year of his deal, and has proved he's worthy of one by leading the Ravens within a dropped pass of the Super Bowl. Which brings us to Billy Cundiff's 32-yard miss in the AFC title game. It's time for a change there. Offensive line will be a target for new blood, with center Matt Birk considering retirement, and Ray Lewis can't play forever at LB. The team also needs an impact pass rusher opposite Terrell Suggs.
Team Needs: OLB, DE, WR. The Bills' hot 5-2 start faded after QB Ryan Fitzpatrick injured his ribs and RB Fred Jackson broke his leg. The Bills will hope for a complete season of strong play from Fitzpatrick before they get a case of buyer's remorse for the $10 million per year deal they gave him at midseason. He would be helped if the Bills get more WR talent. WR Stevie Johnson, their top receiver and sometime head case, is a potential free agent and the Bills need him back or will have to sign a free agent in addition to drafting one in the early rounds. After posting only 29 sacks, pass rush help will be the first-round target at the No. 10 spot, where OLB Courtney Upshaw of Alabama or DE-OLB Whitney Mercilus of Illinois are possible.
Team Needs: DE, CB, WR. Cam Newton's fabulous rookie season bodes well for the Panthers' future, but to move up to playoff status in their tough division, it will help to get to the QB more than 31 times, so the Panthers go defense this offseason. They've never been able to replace Julius Peppers, so maybe they take a run at Calais Campbell, Cliff Avril or Robert Mathis. At the eighth pick in the first round, they could look for a pass rusher (Quinton Coples from their backyard at North Carolina) or a corner (possibly Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama), which is also a need after allowing 28 TD passes. The Panthers also will look for wide receiver help opposite the ageless Steve Smith.
Team Needs: WR, OL, DB. TheBears' five-game losing streak late in the season coincided with the loss of QB Jay Cutler (broken thumb) and RB Matt Forte (sprained knee). Forte is a potential free agent who the Bears will sign, or more likely franchise. The team must find a better backup QB after Caleb Hanie threw nine picks and posted a 41.8 QB rating replacing Cutler. Wide receiver will be addressed in the draft and free agency, with Reggie Wayne a name to keep in mind, as leading receiver Johnny Knox had just 37 receptions. An offensive line that gave up 49 sacks needs more quality players, although the return of 2011 top pick T Gabe Carimi from a knee injury will help. The secondary needs more playmakers, and a top corner. Linebacker will be a mid-round draft target as age is creeping in on the current unit.
Team Needs: CB, DE, RB. Led by rookie QB Andy Dalton and a good defense, the Bengals made the playoffs but exited quickly in Houston. They have two first round picks -- at No. 17 (thanks to the Carson Palmer trade with the Raiders) and No. 21. To catch the Ravens and Steelers, they need to improve a secondary that had just 10 interceptions. Getting CB Leon Hall back from his Achilles injury will help, and they will draft a corner early. The Bengals also will seek another pass rushing DE for their rotation. Their top rusher, Cedric Benson, will be a free agent turning 30 after averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, so the Bengals may let him walk and draft a young back in the first couple of rounds.
Team Needs: QB, RB, WR. Do they trade up from No. 4 to No. 2 in the draft and take QB Robert Griffin III, or stick with Colt McCoy as the starter? The Browns don't want that potential move up to the Rams' spot to cost them their other first round pick (No. 22), but if they value RGIII enough, they may have to do it. The Browns also need a starting WR to complement Greg Little, and Justin Blackmon could fill that bill if they stay at No. 4. Or how about Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham, a free agent and Ohio native? Running back also is a concern after the Peyton Hillis debacle last season. The defense is very good, but would improve with a quality replacement for LB Scott Fujita, who ended the last two seasons on the IR. Re-signing D'Qwell Jackson is a priority.
Team Needs: DE, LB, CB. The Giants swept the Cowboys on their way to winning the NFC East and, in those two games, Eli Manning threw for 736 yards and 5 TDs. So the Cowboys must shore up their pass defense to overtake the G-men. Pass rushers are their first priority to help DeMarcus Ware, both at DE and OLB (where they must re-sign Anthony Spencer and his six sacks or replace him if he leaves in free agency). Then the Cowboys will look for some improved cover corners. The offense is solid and will be helped by the return of rookie phenom RB DeMarco Murray from a broken ankle. Third receiver Laurent Robinson should be re-signed after his breakout season. And Tony Romo needs to work on avoiding the costly turnovers that plagued the Cowboys in their 2-3 start.
Team Needs: DT, CB, RB, WR. Tebow Time takes top priority, so offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and executive vice president John Elway, among others, will work hard to improve the QB's skill set. They also will bring in a veteran free agent to back up and, if necessary, compete with Tebow. The Broncos will look to the draft and free agency for wide receiver depth and help at RB, where Willis McGahee is coming off a fine season but is 30 and former No. 1 Knowshon Moreno tore his ACL and had a DUI recently. Defensive draft and free agent priorities are at DT, where starters Brodrick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas had no sacks, and at corner, where starters Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman are both 33 (and the Broncos had only nine interceptions last season). LB Wesley Woodyard should be re-signed, as should clutch kicker Matt Prater.
Team Needs: DE, RB, DB. The Lions made great strides, especially early in the season, behind the emergence of Matthew Stafford as an elite QB. But their 45-28 playoff loss to New Orleans exposed the Lions pass defense one week after Packers backup Matt Flynn threw for 480 yards against them. So the Lions will focus on defense -- first by re-signing or franchising DE Cliff Avril, then re-signing or replacing leading tackler Stephen Tulloch. They'll also look for secondary help to stop those big passing attacks, with CB Cortland Finnegan a possibility. DT Ndamukong Suh's sacks and tackles fell off from his great rookie year, and they'll need him to play at his top level. The Lions' rushing problems (No. 29) will be solved by the healthy return of Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure from IR. The team will need to get cap relief through an extension with super WR Calvin Johnson, who enters the last year of his deal with a cap hit over $20 million.
Team Needs: DE, LT, DB. There's a lot to deal with for a 15-1 team. Defensive issues covered up all season by Aaron Rodgers and the team's prolific offense were exposed in the playoff loss to Giants. The Packers had only one sack in the game, and just 29 all year, and the secondary struggled. The team needs to acquire or develop another premier pass rusher to help Clay Matthews, who faced steady double teams and saw his sack total drop from 13.5 to 6. In the secondary, Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson need to play better, and the Packers will need to add a safety if Nick Collins' neck injury is career-ending. The Packers need to address age issues on the offensive line, particularly at Chad Clifton's LT spot. Backup QB must be addressed with Matt Flynn's impending departure as a free agent, and one of Pack's top offensive threats, Jermichael Finley, is a potential free agent.
Team Needs: QB, WR, DE. The Texans are loaded with talent and may have been a Super Bowl team if QB Matt Schaub and DE Mario Williams had stayed healthy. Schaub must return from his foot injury, or the Texans need to find a better option to replace him. They also need to re-sign free-agent-to-be Williams or franchise him, but the tag may be too high for their cap to absorb. Ask the Giants -- despite Texans strong defensive play without Mario, you can never have enough great pass rushers. Wide receiver will be a target, as Andre Johnson is still elite when healthy, but he's 30 and coming off an injury-plagued season. An upgrade would help at the second and third receiver spots. Also, star RB and restricted free agent Arian Foster is looking for a major raise. It'll be tough to pay big bucks to Foster and Williams, so you can probably expect one more year at the RFA tender amount for Foster and then he'll move on.
Team Needs: QB, DE, CB. It's been all about Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck in Indy. The likelihood is that the Colts let Peyton go and draft Luck as part of new era. New coach Chuck Pagano and new GM Ryan Grigson want to add talent everywhere, but after Luck it will be about defense. Robert Mathis likely leaves in free agency, so a new pass rusher is needed opposite Dwight Freeney. The Colts' secondary had a league-worst eight picks, so corner will be a target, and linebacking help is also needed. The Colts' top two receivers -- Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon -- are headed to free agency along with Anthony Gonzalez (productive before injuries hit in recent years). Expect Wayne to leave and Garcon to stay along with Gonzalez -- if he's healthy -- as targets (with Austin Collie) for Luck. C Jeff Saturday may retire, so a replacement is needed soon.
Team Needs: WR, DE, QB. It's all about getting quick improvement from QB Blaine Gabbert, the 2011 first-round pick who was the lowest-rated starting QB in the league. New coach Mike Mularkey and his staff will focus on Gabbert's mechanics and confidence. They've got the league's top rusher in Maurice Jones-Drew, but they must get Gabbert some weapons at WR (free agency has some great options and they'll surely draft WRs). TE Marcedes Lewis needs to return to his 2010 form after dropping from 10 TDs that year to none in 2011. The defense was fine (No. 6), but with only 31 sacks, a first-round DE would be a solid pick at No. 7 (perhaps Quinton Coples of North Carolina, a highly rated pass rusher). The Jags also need a healthy return from shoulder surgery for leading tackler Paul Posluszny.
Team Needs: OT, WR, DE. The Chiefs had a disastrous first two weeks of the season when they lost two of their best players to torn ACLs: S Eric Berry and RB Jamaal Charles. Then in midseason, QB Matt Cassel went on IR with a hand injury. With all three expected to return, the Chiefs should be in the playoff hunt and will look for help at OT. They could retain top WR Dwayne Bowe by franchising him, or let him leave and expect 2011 top pick Jon Baldwin to step in as a starter while adding a viable third receiver. The Chiefs will make sure they have a better backup QB than Tyler Palko, and may keep Kyle Orton, who beat the then-undefeated Packers in Week 15.
Team Needs: QB, RT, DE. The buzz in Miami is that owner Stephen Ross wants Peyton Manning if he is set free and healthy. New coach Joe Philbin would be happy to sign expected free agent Matt Flynn, his backup QB in Green Bay. Either would be a major upgrade at the Dolphins' greatest need and, if neither works out, the team could try to trade up to draft RGIII or pick Ryan Tannehill from Texas A&M. An upgrade on the right side of the O-line is required, particularly at RT where Iowa's Riley Reiff would be a great first round pick to replace Marc Colombo. The defensive end positions also will be targeted for upgrades via draft and free agency, as will the free safety spot.
Team Needs: WR, OT, DB. Last year's No. 1 pick Christian Ponder must make a big leap in Year 2. He needs a big-time wide receiver, better pass protection from his O-line and a healthy Adrian Peterson, coming off left knee reconstructive surgery. With the No. 3 pick in first round, the Vikings likely will choose between USC tackle Matt Kalil and Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon, and look to free agency and later draft rounds to shore up the other spot (they could draft Kalil and then raid K.C. -- as they did when they acquired Jared Allen in 2008 -- for free agent WR Dwayne Bowe). Despite 50 sacks, the Vikings pass defense was awful, allowing 34 TD passes with only eight interceptions.
Team Needs: CB, DE, WR. Their Super Bowl run proved once again that the Patriots are superbly coached by Bill Belichick and have a great QB in Tom Brady, which allowed them to overcome some personnel deficiencies. The team's biggest problem area is the secondary, where the Patriots had to use wide receiver Julian Edelman late in the season. Their No. 31-ranked pass defense is somewhat misleading, as teams had to throw on the Pats once they fell behind. But the Patriots could not match up for 60 minutes with Eli Manning and his trio of wide receivers, so look for them to draft -- or sign in free agency --corners and another pass rusher. The Pats need to re-sign or, more likely will franchise, free-agent-to-be WR Wes Welker and then add another impact wide receiver or two, while bidding farewell to Chad Ochocinco and perhaps Deion Branch. And the rich get richer -- the Patriots have two first-round picks (No. 27, which they acquired from the Saints last year, and No. 31) with which to add talent.
Team Needs: DE, LB, OT. The first priority is to sign QB Drew Brees to a long-term deal in the Tom Brady/Peyton Manning neighborhood or, if necessary, put the franchise tag on him. They will also look to find a way to bring back All-Pro guard Carl Nicks and Marques Colston, one of Brees' favorite targets. That covers the league's top-ranked offense. The problems are on defense, where the Saints lack a dominant edge rusher. New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo relies on pressure from the front four, so if Houston doesn't franchise Mario Williams, the Saints could take a run at him (the Cards' Calais Campbell and Colts' Robert Mathis may also be on their radar). Or they'll have to look to later rounds in the draft for DE help, since their first round pick was traded last year in the move up to get Mark Ingram.
Team Needs: LB, RB, OL. It's hard to nitpick the champs, but there are reasons why the Giants were 7-7 before they started their epic run. Eli and the passing game are outstanding, but the running game ranked last during the regular season (Brandon Jacobs, with his $4.9 million due next year, will likely be released). The Giants also could add some young muscle to the O-line. They'll need to replace Super Bowl hero WR Mario Manningham if he leaves in free agency. The defense ranked 27th in regular season but came on late. Help will be sought at linebacker and in the secondary, but the corner position will improve as 2011 top pick Prince Amukamara takes on a bigger role (a foot injury limited him earlier in the year) and Terrell Thomas returns from his preseason ACL injury.
Team Needs:WR, RB, S. TheJets unraveled with three straight losses to end the season, and Rex Ryan needs to clean up the locker room disharmony. Mark Sanchez was a focal point of that discord, and new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano is charged with getting Sanchez back on track after a season with 18 interceptions. Unless Peyton joins the Jets (doubt that would be his team of choice if free), it's Sanchez's team, and the Jets will try to find a young, speed receiver via the draft or free agency to help him. LaDainian Tomlinson is probably done in New York, so the Jets will add a young RB to compete with Shonn Greene and aid the 22nd-ranked rushing attack. The defense ranked fifth and is solid, but the Jets may draft a bigger safety.
Team Needs: MLB, OLB, CB. No first-rounder for the Raiders due to the Carson Palmer trade, so Palmer better step up his game in 2012 to justify the steep price. Palmer went 4-5 as a starter for the 8-8 Raiders, and he threw 16 interceptions. He will be helped by the return of Darren McFadden, who missed the last half of the season with a foot injury after rushing for 614 yards and a 5.4 yard average. The offense was ninth overall, so new coach Dennis Allen will focus on improving the 29th-ranked defense, starting with the run (league-worst 5.1 yards per carry allowed). Middle linebacker and outside linebacker will be a focus in free agency (Curtis Lofton or Stephen Tulloch possible) and in mid to late draft rounds. The Raiders also will seek help for the secondary (31 TD passes allowed). A free agent WR signing is likely, too (Cal's DeSean Jackson back to the Bay Area?). Allen also will work on reducing penalties -- the Raiders had 163 for 1,358 yards, both NFL records.
Team Needs: MLB, WR, SLB. Four straight wins to end the season was more like the team everyone expected after their flurry of free agent signings. The first concern is to vastly improve the -14 turnover ratio. That starts with QB Mike Vick, who needs to stay healthy and protect the ball better. The Eagles' biggest needs are at middle linebacker and strong side linebacker, and Curtis Lofton of Atlanta would be a good free agent addition. At WR, it's time to say goodbye to me-first DeSean Jackson and sign Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston or Vincent Jackson in free agency. Andy Reid needs to get back to the playoffs or it's probably time for a change. He'll need the Eagles refocused from day one to avoid the poor start that doomed them in 2011.
Team Needs: OL, DT, CB. The offensive line needs to better protect QB Ben Roethlisberger. Other major concerns are age and injuries that are taking a toll on a defense that was top-ranked in the regular season but watched Tim Tebow and the Broncos gash them in the wild card round. The Steelers need to acquire nose tackles with Chris Hoke retiring and Casey Hampton coming off ACL surgery at 34. Defensive end depth is also needed. The starting secondary has age issues, so this will be a draft priority. Limiting the team are cap issues that could impact older, high salary players like Hines Ward.
Team Needs: OT, WR, CB. Coach Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer must get QB Sam Bradford back on track toward stardom after an injury-plagued and sub-par 2011 season. If they're going to keep Bradford healthy, the Rams need a much improved offensive line starting with the tackle spots. If the Rams trade down from the No. 2 to No. 4 spot in the first round, they may take WR Justin Blackmon (they'd probably prefer T Matt Kalil, but the Vikings will grab him). The Rams also have the cap room to go after a big-time WR in free agency and Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston or Vincent Jackson would be a nice fit. The secondary and especially the corner spots will be a target and the No. 31 run defense must be improved. A better No. 2 QB than A.J. Feeley or Kellen Clemens also is needed.
Team Needs: OL, DL, WR. Coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith barely survived an 8-8 season and to make it past 2012, they will need QB Philip Rivers to be more consistent and cut down on his 20 interceptions, which cost the Chargers during their six-game midseason losing streak. The team will try to upgrade both the offensive and defensive lines. Turner is counting on new defensive coordinator John Pagano to get more production out of the unit. The D-line needs to add players who can rush the passer and get better play from 2011 top pick DE Corey Liuget. It seems like Vincent Jackson has contract issues every year, and now he is headed for free agency. If he leaves, the Chargers need to draft or sign his replacement.
Team Needs: WR, KR, DB. The 49ers were oh-so-close to being Super Bowl team in 2011. QB Alex Smith showed enough to be deserving of a new deal. The 49ers also need to upgrade their wide receiver corps. Michael Crabtree has talent, but his disappearing act in the playoffs is a concern. The return of former starter Josh Morgan from a broken ankle will help, and a high draft pick at WR seems likely. Punt returner is an obvious need with Ted Ginn a free agent and Kyle Williams coming off his two-fumble disaster against the Giants. Defense is stout in the front seven but the secondary could be upgraded after giving up 778 yards to Brees and Manning in the playoffs. However, it would be smart to re-sign CB Carlos Rogers and S Dashon Goldson after their fine seasons.
Team Needs:QB, T, DE. The Seahawks want to find a potential elite QB to replace Tarvaris Jackson, but they're in a tough spot. Picking at 11 or 12 in the first round, it's too far to trade up for one of the top two. Perhaps they can get a shot at Ryan Tannehill, the third-ranked QB. In free agency, they would have interest in Matt Flynn, but Miami (with Joe Philbin) has a leg up unless the Dolphins can sign Peyton. The Seahawks also must improve their pass protection after giving up 50 sacks, so they will draft offensive linemen in the early rounds. A better possibility in the first round is a pass-rushing DE to play opposite Chris Clemons (such as Melvin Ingram of South Carolina or perhaps a trade up for Quinton Coples). The Seahawks also should seek a vet WR from the strong free agent class. And they may have to franchise Marshawn Lynch after his strong season (1,204 rushing yards, 12 TDs).
Team Needs: WR, RB, CB, LB. Bucs were a mess in 2011, falling from 10-6 to 4-12. New coach Greg Schiano needs to instill discipline and get QB Josh Freeman back on track. Freeman needs better WRs, and perhaps Schiano can get DeSean Jackson under control if he is let go by the Eagles. The Bucs' 30th-ranked rushing attack could use an upgrade at RB. CB Ronde Barber, at 36, could be replaced by Morris Claiborne of LSU, one of the top corners in the draft, when the Bucs select fifth overall. Then Aqib Talib needs to return to form and Tampa would have a formidable pair of corners. Last in the NFL against the rush, the Bucs will look for linebacker help and need a healthy return from a biceps injury by DT Gerald McCoy.
Team Needs: DE, OG, DB. Can Matt Hasselbeck hold off 2011 No. 1 pick Jake Locker as the starting QB? We know it takes an elite QB to win big, and while Hasselbeck had a solid season, Locker has the better chance to eventually take the Titans to the top. The interior O-line needs to be bolstered to help Chris Johnson. Offensively, the Titans will continue to get emerging TE Jared Cook more involved. The Titans have major potential free agents in the secondary with CB Cortland Finnegan and S Michael Griffin. Don't expect them to meet Finnegan's lofty demands, but they likely will franchise Griffin, then look for more secondary help. The pass rush must improve, so DE Derrick Morgan needs to step up. A high draft pick is a possibility here.
Team Needs: QB, WR, DB. The Redskins beat the Giants twice, but still finished 5-11 mostly due to their erratic QB play. Rex Grossman and John Beck threw 24 interceptions for an offense that averaged just 18 points per game. The team may get in the Peyton derby if he's released, or chase Matt Flynn, who would probably prefer Miami. They probably won't be able to jump up from the draft's No. 6 spot to No. 2 to select RGIII, so they could settle for Ryan Tannehill. One way or another, they've got to have a new QB and then address WR, where they need youth and speed (DeSean Jackson fits that bill). The secondary can use some help, especially with S LaRon Landry coming off two injury-hampered seasons and headed for free agency. The Redskins will likely re-sign LB London Fletcher, a marvel at 36.
Jeff Diamond is the former VP/GM of the Minnesota Vikings, former president of the Tennessee Titans and was selected NFL Executive of the Year in 1998. He currently does sports and business consulting along with media work.