NFL

What The AFC Non-Playoff Teams Need To Do To Get To The Playoffs In 2016

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As the postseason begins this weekend, 10 teams in the AFC will be watching from their couch, lamenting over what they need to do to erase the gap between themselves and the six teams that qualified for the playoffs.  We will discuss how far each team is away and what they need in the offseason.

New York Jets

The Jets finished 10-6 and were a tiebreaker away from the postseason.  On the surface they seem close and there are plenty of things to like about the team.  They had a pair of 1,000 yard wide receivers, a 1000 yard running back, a solid offensive line and talent on the defensive line.

What do they need to do to erase the gap?

The Jets have to get a little better play at the quarterback position.  Ryan Fitzpatrick had a decent season and he becomes a free agent.  It’s difficult to think that the Jets will be able to upgrade the position as the pickens’ are surely slim in free agency.

Aside from cutting down on turnovers, New York needs to improve at the linebacker positions as well as the back end of their defense at safety.  Jaiquawn Jarrett is a player that the team really should try and re-sign in free agency.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills had their second consecutive non-losing season in 2015, but general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Rex Ryan have been put on notice as they need to make the playoffs in 2016 or both lose their jobs.

Buffalo seems to be close, as there are plenty of pieces in place on offense, and first-time starter Tyrod Taylor had a really nice season and it’s likely that he will be even better next year in Greg Roman’s offense.

The biggest issues on Buffalo seem to be on their defensive and offensive lines.  They had plenty of injuries on the offensive line, and Ryan’s defensive scheme didn’t seem to work well with the personnel that Buffalo employs, as they saw a drop of roughly 20 sacks from 2014 to 2015.

The Bills need to get better in the secondary and they need to get the right personnel for Ryan’s scheme.  If they can get a healthy Kyle Williams back, they should be able to make a run at a Wildcard.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins were a talented mess in 2015, and underachieved significantly.  Miami will have a new head coach and new system, and it’s completely necessary.

We think Ryan Tannehill can play, but after four years as a starting quarterback he hasn’t put much together.  Like the Jets, the Dolphins are in the position where they likely won’t be able to upgrade the position in the offseason so they simply need their quarterback to play better.

If Miami can re-sign Lamar Miller, they will have a very capable running back.  They have weapons on the outside and just need to add more depth on the offensive line.

Defensively, Brent Grimes took a major step backwards in 2015 and they’ll need the secondary to be a lot better, although Reshad Jones was tremendous last season.  The Dolphins need to find a scheme that can better utilize the talents of Ndamukong Suh next year and get Cam Wake back to his level of play of the last few years.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens had an unbelievable amount of injuries last season, which exacerbated most of their roster issues.  They need Joe Flacco to come back at 100 percent, and they must find some more production at the receiver position, as Steve Smith is in the very twilight of his career.

Defensively, the Ravens must get a lot better in the secondary and the talent is there with Jimmy Smith an Ladarius Webb.  They need to add some pieces and get improved safety play.  For a team that finished as poorly as Baltimore did in 2015, their roster is pretty good.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns simply need more playmakers, and/or a head coach that can utilize the ones they do have (Travis Benjamin, Gary Barnidge).  Josh McCown had a really productive season at quarterback when he was healthy, and they need him to play 16 games next year.

The secondary went bad when Joe Haden went down, and they must improve on the back end.  Cleveland appears to have more talent than what they showed up front, and part of the reason they struggled could have been a scheme that didn’t fit the personnel particularly well.

Cleveland is significantly far away from being a playoff team, and there is some belief that selling off some of their assets (Joe Thomas) would be a wise move if they can get a solid return.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton and not a lot else.  Their regression in 2015 was mostly due to Luck’s injury, but the truth of the matter is that they don’t have a particularly good roster.

Indy’s success over the previous three seasons was largely a bi-product of how bad the AFC South is, and the division is getting a little better.  The Colts need to find another pass rusher to play opposite Robert Mathis and more talent al across the offensive line to protect Luck’s kidney’s.

They are built like a fantasy football team, and those teams don’t win championships in reality football.  It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Colts got back to the postseason next year, mostly due to the weak division, but they will need to get more physical players on both lines to go anywhere.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars took some strides forward in 2015, and things are certainly looking up.  With that said, they need major help at offensive tackle and at center, as Luke Joeckel and Stefen Wisniewski were terrible in 2015.  Center Alex Mack could hit the market and he’s a player that the team will likely target.

Defensively, the Jaguars still need a pass rusher and a pair of safeties.  2015 first-round pick Dante Fowler, Jr. should help, but he’s far from a sure thing and will stay have to go through a rookie learning curve.  The team could look at free agent defensive end Mario Williams as they’ll have plenty of cap room.

Filling the needs at safety will be more difficult.  The Jaguars need a pair of them and they first must admit that Jonathan Cyprien isn’t working out.  Eric Weddle is a free agent and the team could get into a bidding war for his services.

The Jaguars will have a full allotment of draft picks and cap room to better their defense, and if the Texans take a step back and Indy continues to struggle, it’s possible that they can win the division.  It would just be a giant leap for a team that’s picked in the Top 5 of the draft four consecutive years.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans have their quarterback and some talent on defense.  Not a lot else.  Tennessee’s new coach and GM will be armed with cap room, Marcus Mariota and the No. 1 pick in the draft.

For the Titans to be a playoff contender, they need to find playmakers on the outside and in the backfield.  It’s important that they upgrade their offensive line (which is where they’ll likely use that No. 1 pick).  They will also need to upgrade a pretty bad secondary and get better at linebacker.

It doesn’t seem likely that Tennessee can pull a worst to first, and being division champ is probably their easiest route to the postseason.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders took a pretty nice step forward this season and they have the makings of a good, young team.  They have a solid young quarterback in Derek Carr, a playmaking receiver in Amari Cooper and a great young defensive end in Khalil Mack.

Oakland needs help in the secondary as Charles Woodson has retired and they don’t have enough talent at cornerback to compete.  Carr must also reduce his turnovers next season and they must find a complement to Latavius Murray in the backfield.

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers decided to retain head coach Mike McCoy, who had his team playing hard all season long despite their myriad of injuries.

San Diego needs to get a lot better on the offensive line and they have to make a greater commitment to getting Melvin Gordon the football.  Defensively, they have some pieces at linebacker and at cornerback with Jason Verrett, but will need to replace safety Eric Weddle in free agency.

With a great quarterback like Philip Rivers, making a leap to the postseason is possible next year, but they must have a good draft and productive free agency period.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.