10. January 2021
The 2020 NFL playoff wildcard round ended Sunday, meaning six teams have already left the NFL this season.
The Indianapolis Colts were the first to leave the stage in Saturday’s first round of play, followed later by the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington football team. And on Sunday, the Tennessee Titans, Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers joined the list of teams whose offseason has officially begun.
Next week, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers will join the playoff party for a first-round bye.
So, where are the teams that got knocked out of the playoffs this week? The NFL nation is sinking.
Pittsburgh | Chicago | Tennessee
Washington | Seahawks | Colts
How the season ended: The Steelers held their best NFL record in 11 games with a perfect start, but the wheels fell off during a three-game period that exposed weaknesses in running and short passing, not to mention defensive injuries. The Steelers bounced back from their divisional win over the Indianapolis Colts, but their first-round playoff exit after an 11-0 start was a disappointment, especially in the first quarter that led to a 28-0 deficit in Sunday’s loss to Cleveland. This team had aspirations for the LV Super Bowl, and nothing short of a trip to Tampa, Florida in the twilight of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s career was a failure.
The biggest problem of the off-season: Roethlisberger plans to play at least until the end of his contract in 2021, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said, but it remains to be seen how long the current Steelers team will be able to keep him around. With nearly 20 free agents on the market and a $41.2 million contract with Roethlisberger, the Steelers will need to hire a big wizard to bring back a key player – like versatile defenders Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton or receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. — Brooke Pryor.
Chicago Bear (8-9, 2nd north of NFC)
How the season ended: Despite a 5-1 start, the Bearcats have been hibernating in most of the first 11 games of the 2020 season. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky replaced Nick Foles in Week 3, which was even worse. Trubisky took over in late November and played inspired football, but the damage has already been done. The Bears ignored defenseman David Montgomery – in part because the offensive line played so poorly – most of the season until he showed up at the end of the regular season. But a bad run in the first three months of the season hurt Chicago. The Bears are back in the playoffs thanks to the Los Angeles Rams’ win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17, but Chicago has lost just once in the postseason. After Sunday’s 21-9 loss at New Orleans, the Bears are 1-7 against teams in the 2020 playoffs. The whole season has felt like a missed opportunity.
The biggest problem of the off-season: The Bears need to determine what organizational changes are necessary, even though they are two or three years away from the playoffs. A strong argument can be made to retain Coach Matt Nagy, but management can make a different call. Director Ryan Pace, whose fate is tied to Trubisky’s, has one year left on his contract. Calls from the public for the team’s chairman and CEO, Ted Phillips, to step down are becoming more urgent. The Bears also have a big decision to make at the quarterback level. Trubisky’s five-year option was denied and Foles seemed ineffective. Are the Bears preparing a new quarterback? Are they re-signing (swallowing) Trubisky? Did they find another veteran? The story in Chicago remains the same. — Jeff Dickerson
How the season ended: The Titans’ biggest problem was defense. When a team doesn’t have a strong defense on the front and back end, the results are generally not good. They signed free agents Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley to bolster the passing rush and take the defense to the next level. But instead, they went backwards. The Titans finished the game with 19 sacks, placing them third in the league. Adoree Jackson’s string of 13 absences due to a knee injury hit hard. With the exception of Malcolm Butler, the Titans had the hardest time qualifying for third down, where they allowed a 51.8 percent conversion rate to the NFL West.
The biggest problem of the off-season: How can the Titans find a way to cause a rush on the passes? The same problem as in the last off-season applies to 2021. The Titans have limited leeway to add a first division forward, so they’ll have to rely on a player who hasn’t had a great season. Tennessee could also look at the NFL 2021 project. The offense is too good to lose another season to defensive problems. The Titans should also hire a defensive coordinator. — Turron Davenport
How the season ended: Different things. But keep in mind that Washington should have been no more than a team of six or seven players. He won four more games in a tumultuous year than he did last season under new coach Ron Rivera. Washington has won five of its last seven games to win the division. But crime should be more productive. The quarterback was a problem because Dwayne Haskins was ineffective, he was benched early and eventually fired. Substitute Kyle Allen had four games before a broken ankle ended his season and Alex Smith’s calf strain cost him several games. His story of leadership and comeback is important, but the offense is spitting too often and needs a more consistent game from receivers and playmakers who go beyond Terry McLaurin. The defense played well, but we need to start the games better. It has also allowed too many big plays and has been inconsistent against the race; it should strengthen the linebacker and safety positions.
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The biggest problem of the off-season: Who will be the quarterback in 2021? Washington has cut Haskins, and it would be awfully hard to count on Smith as a starter next season at 37. Smith is a fantastic story, but can he last 16 games and be effective? The team should review its options and could save $13.6 million by sending him back. With a defense that is now ready to win with its young and talented front, Washington can’t afford to wait long to develop a young quarterback. Washington could compete in the Eastern NFC East for a while by adding a veteran and possibly hiring a quarterback in the middle rounds to develop him. Rivera said Allen could do what Smith did in leading the team to the division title. But if they feel Smith deserves a comeback, he needs to recruit a quarterback who can provide immediate help if he wants to make the jump. And Taylor Heinicke showed he had to fight for a spot on the list with a 306-yard passing performance against the Bucs in the wild-card round. Washington’s inability to develop and retain a quarterback has greatly affected its poor record under owner Dan Snyder. He can’t be the guy leading the team like he was when the team took over Haskins, Robert Griffin III and Donovan McNabb. — John Keim.
How the season ended: The Seahawks’ offense hit a wall about halfway through the season and could never be topped. Russell Wilson threw touchdown passes at a historic rate from the start and carried a defense that set records for futility in the first two months. But Wilson and Company began to calm down as their defense began. All of this was enough to score the most points in franchise history, win the most games since 2014 and win the division one title since 2016. But that wasn’t enough for the NFC No1, which the Seahawks apparently would have won had they not lost at home to the Giants in Week 13. The Seahawks were able to take advantage of this week to rest Jamal Adams and avoid the Rams, who held Seattle to 20 points in the wild-card round and scored a key pick-six.
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The biggest problem of the off-season: It’s all about Adams: Will the Seahawks be able to close the deal? If so, how big will it be? And if not, what then? This season, Mr. Adams validated the Seahawks’ bold decision to forfeit two first-round picks from last year’s blockbuster. He was arguably their most productive defender and set a record for DB layoffs. He brought an attitude that was lacking in their defense. Adams has one year left on his current contract, and when you give up as much as the Seahawks did for Adams, there’s no doubt they want to keep him long-term. But negotiations can be tricky, as he will likely want to be paid for more than just security. Lowering the salary cap in the NFL could complicate matters. The Seahawks thought they could get a good return for Adams in the offseason if they couldn’t come to an agreement and had to trade down. They don’t get the first and third picks after giving them to Adams, which makes them want to know if he’s there for the long haul. — Brady Henderson
How the season ended: It’s hard to say anything went wrong when this is only the second time since 2014 that we’ve had double-digit wins. But the Colts didn’t give quarterback Philip Rivers a one-year, $25 million contract to get into the first weekend of the playoffs. Owner Jim Irsay wants the Lombards to win, but they haven’t won since the 2006 season. They had the talent to reach the postseason, but the 2020 season has shown that there isn’t much room for error. And Indianapolis almost made a mistake. The Colts didn’t make the playoffs until the final week of the regular season, when they beat Jacksonville and then got the help of Buffalo, who beat Miami.
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The biggest problem of the off-season: Who will be the quarterback and left-back in 2021? After spending the first 16 seasons of his career with the Chargers, Rivers proved the critics wrong and showed he could still compete at the highest level. But he’s 39 years old, and when he retires, he’ll have a job in Alabama as a high school head coach. The risk of keeping Rivers – if all parties want it – is that its production will collapse and the franchise will be forced to look for a new starter in 2022. Fourth-round pick Jacob Eason spent this season as the team’s third-round quarterback behind Rivers and Jacoby Brissett. We don’t know if Eason will be ready to start next season. The Colts could hire Brissett, who would then be a free agent, or seek a starter through free agency or company (Carson Wentz or Matthew Stafford). Anthony Castonzo will turn 33 in August and, like Rivers, will not last beyond this season. Last winter, Castonzo flirted with retirement. The only player currently on the roster who could potentially step in is All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson. — Mike Wells
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