Philadelphia Eagles 7--9
This is an article from the Feb. 15, 2016 issue
TOP PRIORITY: OFFENSIVE SPEED
Over the past two years Chip Kelly got rid of WR DeSean Jackson, WR Jeremy Maclin and RB LeSean McCoy, replacing them with methodical movers Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and DeMarco Murray, respectively. Simply put: This offense has become much too slow. New coach Doug Pederson runs a West Coast system, which is more horizontal than vertical, so speed is less crucial, but that doesn't mean the Eagles still don't need a boost. A receiver who can draw a defense downfield does wonders to help the route runners underneath.
ALSO: DEFENSIVE SPEED. The insufficiency here is just as bad as it is on offense, particularly on the back end. Philly is vulnerable in coverage at linebacker and safety.
DALLAS COWBOYS 4--12
TOP PRIORITY: RUNNING BACK
The Cowboys missed DeMarco Murray more than they expected, and it didn't help that their gifted, zone run-blocking O-line was less effective after position coach Bill Callahan went to Washington. Straight-line strider Darren McFadden ran hard down the stretch, but history says he's best off the bench. Dallas must find a downhill rusher with the subtle agility and not-so-subtle decisiveness to make one cut and hit the hole. That, plus good vision, makes for a 1,500-yard back behind what is, by far, the NFL's most talented front five.
ALSO: QUARTERBACK. It's time to find Tony Romo's heir (though choosing Johnny Manziel would be a Texas-sized mistake).
WASHINGTON REDSKINS 9--7
TOP PRIORITY: LINEBACKER
Perry Riley was banged up down the stretch and hadn't been having a strong season to begin with. His replacement inside, Mason Foster, looked better each week but is now a free agent. Will Compton, who supplanted the athletic but up-and-down ILB Keenan Robinson—also banged up, also a free agent—is a restricted free agent. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry prefers a simple zone scheme. For that, he needs linebackers who can diagnose plays and react with speed and force. As teams like the Panthers and the Seahawks (or the Bucs and Bears of the early 2000s) have shown, great zone D requires great linebacking.
ALSO: DEFENSIVE LINE. Powerhouse nosetackle Terrance Knighton should be re-signed, but the rotational guys around him have logged too many miles.
NEW YORK GIANTS 6--10
TOP PRIORITY: PASS RUSHER
The Giants' D can't apply pressure. Questions about end Jason Pierre-Paul and his maimed right hand remain unanswered—and Pierre-Paul isn't a pure edge burner anyway. The flexible Robert Ayers is a free agent; even if he returns, he'd be anchoring a defense that finished third to last in the league in sacks (23), routinely allowing opponents' drop-backs to look like seven-on-seven drills. Alarmingly, New York's needs at linebacker, corner and safety are just as dire as those up front. The hope for the quickest turnaround, though, is with a more menacing pass rush.
ALSO: TIGHT END. Larry Donnell is intriguing but unreliable. If his price tag is high, he's not worth re-signing.