Super Wild Card Weekend is in the books, which means we’re already onto the next round of action in the 2024 NFL playoffs. Six teams have moved on. Another six have been left behind. While the latter clubs will no doubt spend some time reflecting on their season, and what could have been this postseason, the page will quickly turn to the offseason — and what comes next.
On that note, here are the biggest questions facing each of the teams eliminated in the wild-card round:
Cleveland Browns: Can they simply bank on a return to health?
Jim Schwartz’s stingy defense flopped on the big stage, but the bigger issues facing Cleveland revolve around the durability of key offensive players — or lack thereof. This team was bailed out by Joe Flacco until it wasn’t, and now it’s back to square one under center, where Deshaun Watson will be returning from shoulder surgery with major questions of his own; it’s now been four years (!) since he played a full season above-average football. Throw in Nick Chubb and Jack Conklin, two All-Pros on the mend with pricey contracts, and this offseason will be all about identifying which banged-up stars are worth building around.
Dallas Cowboys: How far will Jerry Jones go?
Always quick — intentionally or not — to invite speculation on his staffing decisions, Jones just witnessed the “most painful” playoff loss of his tenure, which Dak Prescott, will Jones really vouch for a total reset? The club’s three biggest figureheads — McCarthy, Prescott and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn — all flopped en route to their early playoff exit, and now Prescott is thanks to a bittersweet contract. Who’s gonna pay the ultimate price?. But after three straight 12-5 seasons, and an MVP push from his highly paid quarterback,
After years of short-sighted roster decisions, which paid off with a 2021 Super Bowl title, the Rams reversed course by selling off pricey vets last offseason. But then Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford exceeded expectations, reaching the playoffs anyway — and, perhaps more importantly, unearthing some legit building blocks in Puka Nacua and Kyren Williams along the way. Stafford will soon be 36, and he’s owed close to $50M in each of the next three years. After his resurgence, it’ll be hard for L.A. to fully re-embrace the rebuild. But maybe they can have it both ways, and keep an eye out for his future successor?
Miami Dolphins: Is it too early to commit to Tua?
The answer to this question might already be clear. In fairness, Tua Tagovailoa is far from the greatest of Miami’s concerns. You might begin with his perpetually battered O-line, or coach Mike McDaniel’s lack of in-game adjustments. But the fact is, he’s a big-name QB approaching a contract year, and for all his growth as a downfield attacker, he’s yet to prove capable of off-script playmaking when it matters most. In theory, he’s the perfect fit for McDaniel’s timing-based system. But that doesn’t mean he’s among the select few QBs who can transcend his setup. They have two options: Keep looking for an upgrade, or upgrade his support.
Figuratively and literally. Clearly the guy deserves props for going 34-17 with three playoff appearances in three years on the job, including the magical cruise to an NFC title in 2022. But it’s hard to overstate how pitiful his team looked — both in strategy, execution and even effort — in a 1-6 stretch to close this year, capped by an embarrassing blowout loss to the Buccaneers. Owner Jeffrey Lurie didn’t prioritize past accomplishments when determining the fate of Super Bowl champion Doug Pederson back in 2020; he simply wanted the right man to quickly fix organizational rot. It’s not wild to think a big overhaul is coming.
No one really expected the Steelers to upset the Bills on the road in the wild-card round, but that doesn’t mean the pressure’s off Tomlin to get Pittsburgh back into legit postseason form. It’s now been eight years (!) since he led a playoff victory. And there are major questions at spots like QB and offensive coordinator. It’s not surprising he walked out of his postgame press conference when asked about his contract status with the Steelers, but would anyone truly be stunned if he also walked away from the organization, seeking a break or a fresh start after 16 long seasons atop the staff?