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A look at non-playoff qualifiers’ 2015 prospects

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Ten teams are in and six still hang onto a mathematical lifeline for the two remaining spots in the playoffs as the NFL season heads into its final weekend. The other 16, half of the league, are history.

It’s worth pointing out that, of the 16 teams in the playoffs or still in contention for them, only Houston does not already have an established quarterback as next year’s starter.

That’s hardly a coincidence — and perhaps a wakeup call to those among the bottom half of the league that, no matter what else you have, you better have a quarterback.

On average, about half the playoff teams are different every year, so the bottom 16 teams at least have reason for hope in 2015. To turn that hope into reality, here’s a primer on the status of those teams, in order of the teams with the best chance of a playoff run in 2015:

1. Miami: A team that has been searching for a quarterback ever since Dan Marino retired might have found one in Ryan Tannehill. And an owner who has shown little patience and a fascination with star quality might be learning a lesson about the value of continuity by giving coach Joe Philbin another season. Particularly with the Bills and Jets floundering in the same division, it’s reasonable to expect a playoff contender here next year.

2. New York Giants: The Giants are finishing strong, which bodes well for the future of the team and for the future of coach Tom Coughlin. Granted, their three-game winning streak came against losing teams, but the Giants are showing signs of life, particularly on offense. They still need help on the offensive line and on defense.

3. Philadelphia: The Eagles need major help at cornerback, but they also need a reliable quarterback; their 35 turnovers lead the NFL. Chip Kelly’s hurry-up offense may be working against him, forcing the Eagles’ defense to spend far too much time on the field. Only Cleveland’s defense has been on the field for more plays than than Philadelphia, which has had to defend 170 more plays than Seattle, the league’s leading defense.

4. Minnesota: Among the first-time, first-year head coaches, Mike Zimmer has done the best job. The defense is first-rate and rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater shows real promise. You can’t blame Zimmer for the Adrian Peterson fiasco, and the Vikings need to get that situation resolved early in the off-season — either get Peterson back on the team or get something for him.

5. San Francisco: Injuries had a hand in the 49ers’ downfall and everyone knows about the disconnect between coach Jim Harbaugh and the front office, which is leading to a coaching change. But what got less attention is the aging of key players; the 49ers have counted on a lot of guys who now have passed their 30th birthday. Throw in the very real question of whether quarterback Colin Kaepernick can develop into a reliable passer, and this year’s record could be an indication of a slide, not an aberration.

6. St. Louis: With a bunch of first-round draft picks and a defense that at times seemed impenetrable, the issue here is what the Rams will do to shore up a quarterback position that can’t just assume Sam Bradford will make it through a year without injury. Both Austin Davis and Shaun Hill showed flashes as the fill-in QBs, but the key is how the Rams handle Bradford, who in the last four seasons has missed nearly as many games (31) as he has played (33).

7. Oakland: Late-season victories over three teams that had winning records says the Raiders have continued to play hard under interim coach Tony Sparano, and rookie quarterback Derek Carr looks like a keeper. Now the Raiders need to settle on Latavius Murray as the No. 1 running back, and they need another strong draft like last year — particularly to find a companion to stud rookie linerback Khalil Mack.

8. Jacksonville: The Jaguars are doing it the right way, playing a lot of youngsters. If quarterback Blake Bortles develops the way the team hopes he will, this could be a much improved bunch in the next year or two. They should concentrate on improving the protection around Bortles to give him a chance. His tentativeness and inconsistency are a byproduct of a lack of protection.

9. New Orleans: The Saints started to show some age, and they never found a second cornerback, which may be one reason the pass rush was significantly worse than a year ago — quarterbacks were able to get rid of the ball faster. Whatever the reason, Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette went from 24 1/2 sacks between them last year to 15 this year. The Saints are No. 1 in the NFL on offense, No. 31 on defense, and that could spell trouble for coordinator Rob Ryan’s job security.

10. Tennessee: The Titans must decide if rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger is a keeper, and if so, they can auction one of the top picks in the draft for multiple draft choices to speed the rebuilding process. They need to fix the offensive line, find a running back and improve that wretched run defense.

11. Washington: Can anyone succeed working for Dan Snyder? That’s the real root of the problem here, more than any dysfunction between coach Jay Gruden and RG III. Griffin shows signs he can be developed. There are a few really talented players but not enough, and the building process needs to begin with putting a decent line in front of Griffin to give him a chance to make that development.

12. Cleveland: The Browns’ late-season slide is indicative of a young team that hit a wall. With two first-round draft picks, Cleveland has to decide whether its investment in Johnny Manziel was a wise one. The Browns have made some nice strides this year (if you don’t count an inability to stop the run), but until they get the quarterback spot figured out, they’re running in place.

13. Chicago: Another team that needs to rip it up and start over. Jay Cutler’s personality, body language — and interceptions — earn him a lot of enmity, but it would be interesting to see what Cutler could do at this stage of his career if his team’s wretched defense didn’t put him in the mindset of needing to try to score a touchdown every time he touched the ball.

14. Tampa Bay: The Bucs have scored more than 17 points three times this season, just once in the last 10 games. Lovie Smith had a blind spot to offense in Chicago; he still does, but he will get the defense straightened out. He needs a strong offensive coordinator with a proven record. The offensive line is a mess and, after two years, we still don’t know if Mike Glennon is worthy of the quarterback job going forward.

15. Buffalo: It’s now 15 straight seasons with no playoff appearances, and it remains to be seen whether new ownership will sweep out the current football leadership or dump coach Doug Marrone after two seasons. Whatever is decided on that front, it’s clear the Bills do not have a long-term solution at quarterback, and their offensive line is a mess.

16. New York Jets: No team likes to be told it essentially needs to start over from square one, but that’s where the Jets are. Owner Woody Johnson appears ready to pull the plug on GM John Idzik after two years and coach Rex Ryan after six up-and-down seasons. The Jets need a management team with a coherent philosophy that sticks to it and doesn’t make the knee-jerk personnel moves like this bunch made with players such as Michael Vick and Percy Harvin.

Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than three decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.


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