Now that we’ve reached the final four of the NFL postseason, it’s a good time to take a look at all the teams that reached the playoffs.
These are my general takes on those clubs and what the future entails for each one:
NFC Conference Finalists
They’ve done a tremendous coaching job. They’re kind of like a chess game. They have chess pieces, including Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel, and they know how to use them. They integrate their quarterback, Brock Purdy, into the offense. They’re good on defense, and that’s why they’re in contention. The uncertainty about San Francisco is, do they have the answer at quarterback? Now, Purdy certainly looks like he’s capable up to this point. They used a lot of draft capital to acquire Trey Lance, but I haven’t seen anything from him that lets me know he’s the answer going forward.
They’re the most solid team in the NFC. They’re good on both sides of the ball. They have a young quarterback in Jalen Hurts, and they ask him to do quite a few things. Durability is always a question with quarterbacks who do a lot of running. I don’t know if the run-to-pass ratio in the NFC is greater than in the AFC because that’s the intent or because Dallas, San Francisco and Philadelphia had their quarterbacks injured at some point, so they were a little more conservative.
Lost in NFC Divisional Round
I think they’re a good team. They don’t have the top-quality quarterback in Dak Prescott, but I do think he’s good enough to win with. I just think they have to put more pieces around him. They just have to be more reliant on the overall scheme. Their defense is pretty good, but their overall offensive scheme has to be more balanced. I also think they’re going to have to invest in some new running backs. Tony Pollard had a great year (career highs of 1,378 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns). I don’t know if he can hold up for too long physically, and he’s a free agent this offseason. I think Ezekiel Elliott is near the end.
I thought they had a great year. They have some decisions to make with their quarterback, Daniel Jones, and their running back, Saquon Barkley. They’ll try to hold onto those guys and build from there. But the one thing I’ll say about the Giants on the negative side is they haven’t beaten the heavyweights in their division. They lost to Dallas twice, and they lost to Philadelphia three times. So, they’ve got to get a better foothold in their own division if they expect improvement next year.
Lost in NFC Wild Card Round
They won a lot of games, but I don’t think the way they won this year is sustainable. I give them all the credit in the world. I give their team and their coaching staff credit. They had a lot of one-score games, but their defense is not going to allow them to continue to win. I don’t think they’ll win as many games next year as they did this year if they’re stuck with the same ratio offensively to defensively (-3 point differential despite a 13-4 regular-season record). They must absolutely improve their defense if they’re going to be a serious contender.
Another excellent coaching job was done here. They had a reclamation project at quarterback in Geno Smith. I don’t underestimate these guys. Looking at the NFC West, with Arizona uncertain, and the Rams not looking like they have enough players, I think Seattle could be a contender to start working up toward San Francisco with another good draft. I have confidence in the people who work in Seattle, both the coach (Pete Carroll) and the general manager (John Schneider), to recognize that.
I think they’re probably the worst off of all the playoff teams, and they could lose their quarterback, Tom Brady. They’re an older team, too. I think they’re in rebuild mode. They’ve got a lot to do to stay competitive next season.
AFC Conference Finalists
They’re a good team that has been in contention for a long, long time. They’ve probably got one of the best two or three coaches in football in Andy Reid. They’re a little vulnerable on defense, especially if the right team comes along. And they might be facing the right team in the AFC Championship Game because Cincinnati has given them a little bit of a hard time, and they’re balanced enough to win.
The Chiefs obviously didn’t take a backward step without Tyreek Hill, but I think they will be looking for additional receiver help. Travis Kelce isn’t getting any younger. He’s been around for a while, and he’s a high producer, but I do think they’ll be looking for receiver help.
Both the Chiefs and Bengals have outstanding quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow. Without question, Burrow is an up-and-coming, potential giant of a quarterback in the league. He’s smooth, he won in college, and he obviously knows how to win in the NFL. He’s a good passer. And he’s got his guy, Ja’Marr Chase. They’ve been together for a long time, and it shows up. They can talk to each other without speaking.
Burrow is careful with the ball, and he can run if he has to. He doesn’t do it all the time, but if he has to run, he can, which we saw against Buffalo. I love Joe Mixon. I think he could be the wild card in this playoff situation. He’s a terrific runner. He can run, block and catch, and he runs with his fangs out. I like their defense. They’ve probably got the best combination of a top head coach and top defensive coordinator in Zac Taylor and Lou Anarumo.
Lost in AFC Divisional Round
I love their team. I think they need a lot of work on defense. However they, conceptually, need a different style of running game and maybe even different personnel in their running game if they’re going to improve. They need to improve their offensive line as well. I think Tampa Bay and Buffalo were similar teams. Each was a one-man show. Buffalo has a great receiver in Stefon Diggs. Tampa has a great receiver in Mike Evans. But it was too much on Brady, and it was too much on Josh Allen. You just can’t play solitaire in the NFL and expect to win.
The Jaguars are up and coming. They have a good young quarterback in Trevor Lawrence. The thing that concerns me about Jacksonville is what I saw in the game against Kansas City: their inability to do something about Kelce. You just can’t let the top weapon on the other team do what he did in that game and not take some action, whether it be double coverage or zoning into him all the time. You just try to eliminate him from the game as best you can, but they just played their coverages, and Kelce’s too crafty for that.
Lost in AFC Wild Card Round
There’s a little uncertainty with this team. Obviously, they’re going to try to re-sign Lamar Jackson. They have a pretty solid defense, they run the ball reasonably well, and they have a very good tight end in Mark Andrews. My only question is if they re-sign Jackson, is he the same player with the same abilities that he had four or five years ago?
And they’re going to have to commit a lot of dollars to find out the answer. They might already feel like they know it. But with that style of quarterback, the tread gets off the tire pretty quickly when you’re asking him to do as much as they did in Baltimore.
The Chargers’ loss against Jacksonville was the most disappointing loss in the playoffs that I’ve seen in several years. When you have a 27-point lead, the clock is an asset, and you have to use it to help you win. The only way you can lose a game like that is if you help the other team beat you. And not using time as an asset is part of that help. All you have to do is make a couple of first downs each quarter, and their possession number is prohibitive because they need to score five touchdowns in six possessions to beat you.
I do think the Chargers’ future looks good. They have a young, up-and-coming quarterback in Justin Herbert. Their defense needs work, but I think it can improve. I like their running back, Austin Ekeler. He caught 107 passes, which is very unusual for a running back these days. I think they’ve got some assets, but that loss to the Jaguars makes you wonder.
They had a good year. I’m not certain they have stability at the quarterback position. They seem to think they do. Tua Tagovailoa looks good from time to time, but he was hurt in college, and he’s been hurt a couple of times in the pros. I’m not sure they can rely on him.
Bill Parcells is a former NFL head coach and executive whose career in football spanned five decades. He won two Super Bowls as the coach of the New York Giants and a pair of NFL Coach of the Year Awards.
As told to Vic Carucci