And just like that the NFL season is over, a season that had a number of exciting games but which will always be remembered for one history-making game - the final game. And now with rest and off-season preparations by teams we wonder - now what for a lot of these teams?
The 2016 Atlanta Falcons - every touchdown from 2016
We start a little out of order here - we begin with the team whose epic collapse in the Superbowl led right away to several key coaching staff firings (the firing of coach Bryan Cox - fifteen years after his one Superbowl as a player, coming with the Patriots - had the most irony) as well as the long-expected hiring of coordinator Kyle Shanahan to the 49ers. Matt Ryan's meltdown brought back memories of his playoff failures of 2008-12 and it is very rare that a quarterback whose "first impression" is so poor ever gets better - i.e. only John Elway as far as I can remember ever took a dismal playoff record and then turned it around to win Superbowls. Given the manifest talent on this team a strong future seems assured; but it depends on how Matt Ryan handles it going forward and also how Dan Quinn addresses what went wrong.
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE -
The New England Patriots - every touchdown from 2016.
The only problem here is whether they can sign all the free agents that are pending and also if they can reinforce a banged-up tight end/pass catching corps.
The Miami Dolphins - every touchdown from 2016
A clearly ascending team is the Miami Dolphins, who surprised the league after a 1-4 start to win ten games and clearly suffered when Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season late in the going. Adam Gase now has a template to work with here and it would seem the Dolphins will now challenge for the AFC East.
The Buffalo Bills - every touchdown from 2016
Sean McDermott comes from the Panthers to a Bills team that has legitimate talent but which inexplicably decided to play E.J. Manuel in the season finale - and to dismal effect. GM Doug Whaley has been there since 2013 and the Bills have gone 30-34 in that span - they need to figure out who the quarterback is, and it would seem Tyrod Taylor is a better option right now than Manuel.
The New York Jets - every touchdown from 2016
The big question for the Jets for 2017 - who is going to be their quarterback? Ryan Fitzpatrick's relevance seems over, Bryce Petty showed nothing to give confidence down the road, and the Jets may go after someone like Matt Cassel to plug the hole - which has been in keeping with the Jets' inability to build a respectable program.
The Houston Texans - every touchdown from 2016
Like so many struggling teams the defending AFC South champs have a quarterback issue - this one self-inflicted and which owner Bob McNair acknowledged after the season. There is also the question of whether Bill O'Brien, who was hired because they thought he can develop a quarterback, can in fact do so, having failed to do so in three seasons. Given Brock Osweiler's cap status the Texans appear stuck with him for 2017 and it became clear Osweiler is not up to handling the complex offense O'Brien favors as opposed to the two-read offense he played in Denver. Houston appears to be a team stuck where it is.
The Tennessee Titans - every touchdown from 2016
The Titans in contrast made huge strides in 2016 - not only winning nine games after winning just eleven the previous three seasons, but six of those 2016 wins were against playoff teams and the defending Superbowl champs - and the issue is keeping Marcus Mariota healthy as well as reinforcing a roster that has proven to be very solid. Mike Mularky is proving himself a better head coach than people thought he was previously and the Titans appear ready to take another step forward into playoff contender.
The Indianapolis Colts - every touchdown from 2016
Clearly Andrew Luck can play at a high level, but just how high is still a mystery, so the question centers on new GM Scott Ballard, formerly of the Chiefs whose track record in Kansas City speaks very well of him. A Colts roster seemingly short on depth - in large part to the absurd decision to overpay Luck and a few other players, a malady common to NFL teams - awaits a GM who can build depth.
The Jacksonville Jaguars - every touchdown from 2016
Easily the most promising changes are the hiring of former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin as de facto GM and Doug Marrone as head coach. There clearly is talent here but the impression now is Blake Bortles, heralded as a rising star after 2015, is a mirage of sloppy mechanics and lack of clutch playmaking. Marrone will have his work cut out for the second-worst team of the decade.
The Pittsburgh Steelers - every touchdown from 2016
They do what they do, but scuttlebutt that Ben Roethlisberger may retire throws a wrench into the situation, this for a team exposed as stuck below Superbowl level and frankly fortunate they reached the AFC Championship Game in 2016.
The Baltimore Ravens - every touchdown from 2016
In worse shape are the Ravens, who improved in 2016 after a dismal 2015 but the improvement was not that impressive and one wonders whether John Harbaugh is starting to burn out the way his brother seems to do as well as whether Joe Flacco can improve his play.
The Cincinnati Bengals - every touchdown from 2016
Marvin Lewis is returning, and Andy Dalton remains starter. The talent is clearly there, though a question that has gone unasked shouldn't be - what about AJ McCarron?
The Cleveland Browns - every touchdown from 2016
Complete mess - that is all one can say about the Browns. Robert Griffin III was a huge mistake and the worst team in the league was set back still more by it. They're early candidates to trade for Jimmy Garoppolo with one bizarre rumor - one I don't particularly buy - having Rob Gronkowski added as a package deal.
The Kansas City Chiefs - every touchdown from 2016
Clearly a playoff contender, the question centers on Alex Smith - he showed improvement under playoff pressure but one wonders if he has any improvement left to get to that next level.
The Oakland Raiders - every touchdown from 2016
The Raiders clearly are on the cusp of playoff winning with Derek Carr and a solid cast under Jack Del Rio, though the fiasco of the attempted move to Las Vegas hangs over this team and one wonders about Carr after his injury, though I suspect he'll be fine.
The Denver Broncos - every touchdown from 2016
The Broncos fell to 9-7 and their quarterback situation is now a question, as Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch were only good enough to win that many games, nowhere close to enough to become a playoff contender. Defensively they remain stout, but coaching changes also throw a wrench into things.
The San Diego Chargers - every touchdown from 2016
This has become an ugly affair - trying to move to LA, encountering striking resistance to the move, Philip Rivers finished as a playoff contender amid word he's done with the team - what should be a better team instead has become a bad joke.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE -
Having addressed the Falcons above we turn to the NFC South's other teams -
The Carolina Panthers - every touchdown from 2016
Suddenly there is trouble in Carolina. The scuttlebutt for awhile is Cam Newton's work ethic is slipshod and his regression in 2016, especially reverting to the petulant child that threatened to derail his career during 2012, would seem to bear this out. One also wonders just how dependent the Panthers were on Josh Norman as they fell apart defensively once he left for the Redskins.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers - every touchdown from 2016
The Bucs showed legitimate improvement in 2016 and Jameis Winston looks to be an ascender. The Bucs need to go to another level; winning six of their last eight games in 2016 suggests they will in 2017.
The New Orleans Saints - every touchdown from 2016
The Saints' run as a playoff team appears over and Drew Brees' run of 5,000-yard seasons looks emptier and emptier. Defensively he hasn't gotten that much help and it's been a problem for several years; one wonders whether Sean Payton has run out of answers.
The Dallas Cowboys - every touchdown from 2016
Be afraid of the Cowboys - Dakota Prescott and company are the real deal and they look like they can get even better; beating the NY Giants is the first order of business; winning playoff games is next after one of the bitterest playoff losses in years.
The New York Giants - every touchdown from 2016
The Giants improved markedly in the first year of coach Ben McAdoo; the season sweep of the Cowboys - three in a row in that series now - was the highlight of the season; getting wasted by Aaron Rodgers' Packers was the lowlight and comes with an aging Eli Manning.
The Washington Redskins - every touchdown from 2016
The Redskins remain stuck in neutral - decent enough to post a winning record but not a true playoff contender. The difference now is there seems to be a competent program being built.
The Philadelphia Eagles - every touchdown from 2016
The Eagles have underachieved for some four years now since the firing of Andy Reid. Carson Wentz's rookie season was decent; improvement is a must for 2017 there and elsewhere.
The Green Bay Packers - every touchdown from 2016
Overrated and they seem to like it that way - for five straight years the Packers have made the playoffs and for five straight years have fallen well short of a Superbowl. Aaron Rodgers has been strikingly immune from criticism despite his perennial failures when needing to lead a comeback; 2017 does not look to get any better.
The Minnesota Vikings - every touchdown from 2016
The Viking are clearly hoping Teddy Bridgewater can return, but word he may not for 2017 just makes things more uneasy for a team that should be a lot better than 8-8.
The Detroit Lions - every touchdown from 2016
This is another team stuck where it is - 9-7, no playoff wins since 1991, and virtually no wins against any kind of quality opponent. Matthew Stafford has become Detroit's Drew Bledsoe - a talented quarterback who lifted a terrible outfit to respectability and then some yet can't go any further. He clearly functions better with Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter than he did previously, yet it hasn't proven enough to get to the next level.
The Chicago Bears - every touchdown from 2016
Clearly Jay Cutler is done. His incompetence as a quarterback hid that the Bears have other issues; one though still feels John Fox can get something going with a different quarterback.
The Seattle Seahawks - every touchdown from 2016
They're not the same Legion Of Boom, and one has to wonder if Pete Carroll is beginning to flame out as he did with the Patriots.
The Arizona Cardinals - every touchdown from 2016
Carson Palmer regressed in 2016 and the fact he is returning for 2017 is troubling for a team that in 2015 exploded to thirteen wins. A newer, younger quarterback is becoming a necessity.
The Rams - every touchdown from 2016
The Rams are building a new stadium in LA so they are committed to staying there, this even though their return to LA was a dud, especially after a surprising 3-1 start. Jeff Fisher was fired and the Rams look to now regret drafting Jared Goff, totally ineffective as a quarterback. This is another fine mess the NFL has.
The San Francisco 49ers - every touchdown from 2016
From Superbowl contender to cellar dweller - league-wide hatred of Jed York is becoming ever-more prominent, especially after huffy presser where he lectured, "You can't fire owners" (he might want to ask the NBA and Donald Sterling about that). The Niners went outside the box - but in a dubious way - by hiring former player John Lynch as GM; they also hired former Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan as head coach and Shanahan will have final say on the 53-man roster while Lynch handles the draft, free agency, etc. The hiring of a former player and TV analyst has been unfavorably compared to the disastrous Matt Millen era in Detroit, and the Niners are already back where they were in 2004 - a 2-14 team whose only success last year came against one division foe (the Rams). The Colin Kaepernick issue had better be handled right away as Kaepernick is a failure as a quarterback and a cancer to the team.
So for the next six months the NFL will rest in one respect, reload in another.