Before we go full steam ahead toward the final four teams in the NFL playoffs, let’s take a quick step back but also a look forward for the four other teams from the Divisional Round. It’s not easy to get to the Divisional Round and it can be difficult to get back.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the four losing teams from this past weekend and the outlook heading into the offseason.
data provided by TruMedia unless otherwise noted
Jacksonville Jaguars: Heading into the offseason
The Jaguars had an up-and-down season that started hot, went through a rough stretch, and then rebounded to make the playoffs with a Week 18 win over the Tennessee Titans. From Weeks 1-4, the Jaguars were seventh in DVOA. From Weeks 5-10, a stretch when Jacksonville went 1-5, the Jaguars were 24th. That stretch still had Jacksonville 10th on offense but 32nd on defense. Then after the Jaguars’ Week 11 bye, they were ninth in DVOA through the end of the regular season.
A big key throughout the season was the development of Trevor Lawrence in his second season. Lawrence finished the regular season seventh among quarterbacks in EPA per play. Most of the improvement was done in the quick game. Lawrence had both the third-lowest average time to throw (2.44 seconds) and the third-highest rate of pass attempts within 2.5 seconds of the snap (56.6%). Both of those figures were behind Tom Brady and Joe Burrow.
Without much of a deep threat on the roster, the Jaguars lived in that short area, relying on accuracy from the quarterback, spacing in the routes, and after the catch ability from the receivers. The Jaguars were able to strike the mix to get the most out of the offense. 69.9% of Lawrence’s pass attempts were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, which ranked 18th, and 49% of his passing yards came after the catch, which ranked 12th.
Yet, there were still times when the field was condensed for the offense, like the Divisional Round loss to the Chiefs when 43.5% of his pass attempts were at or behind the line of scrimmage through the first three quarters before the Jaguars tried to open more things up while trailing in the fourth.
For a typical team in this spot, a top priority would be to add another weapon to this receiving corps, but the Jaguars proactively made a move at the trade deadline to bring in Calvin Ridley Ridley is eligible to seek reinstatement from his gambling-related suspension on February 15. Ridley stepped away from the Falcons for part of the 2021 season but when we last saw him at full strength, he was a top-10 type of receiver in 2020. Should he be reinstated, Ridley would carry a modest $11.1 million cap hit for the 2023 season, according to Over The Cap.
The biggest offensive question could center around tight end Evan Engram, who had a career year after signing a one-year/$9 million deal in the offseason. Over the full course of the season, Engram was seventh among tight ends in target share and third at the position in yards after the catch per reception.
There are more concerns on the other side of the ball, especially up the middle. The Jaguars were wrecked by Travis Kelce in the Divisional Round, without a player who could defend the tight end. Kelce went off for 14 receptions, tied for the second most in a playoff game, and had plenty of space to work.
Few teams have a Travis Kelce beater but the Jaguars struggled at linebacker and in the slot all season. Jacksonville was 32nd in DVOA against tight ends and 32nd in DVOA on throws to the short middle part of the field.
This is more alarming because of the resources the Jaguars spent on linebackers, not just this past season, but over multiple years. In the 2022 offseason alone, the Jaguars signed Foye Oluokun to a three-year/$45 million contract with $28 million guaranteed in free agency and drafted Devin Llyod in the first round and Chad Muma in the third. That’s on top of a combined $14.7 million dead money hit from past free agent signing in Joe Schobert and Myles Jack who were not on the 2022 roster.
Oluokun led the league in tackles but many of them were down the field, cleaning up longer plays. He did have the most tackles that came on a positive play for the defense, but his rate of tackles on positive plays was just slightly above average. He was also 46th among 70 qualified linebackers in yards allowed per coverage snap per Sports Info Solutions charting.
Lloyd started strong but was getting taken off the field by the end of the season. Muma flashed but also wasn’t ready to handle NFL-caliber players in coverage.
The Jaguars will have to hope there is improvement from this group since it’s hard to imagine more resources will be thrown at the position this offseason.
A slot corner will also be on top of the wish list after Jacksonville struggled to find someone capable at the position. The Jaguars tried Darious Williams earlier in the season, but despite his 5-foot-9 frame, he’s been a better outside corner in his career and the secondary play improved when Williams was moved back outside later in the season. Jacksonville was 28th in EPA per play against targets from the slot.
There is also some work to be done on the Jacksonville salary cap. Over The Cap has the Jaguars currently $13.9 million over the 2023 cap and that is without Ridley’s contract officially on the books
The easiest big move is a release for Shaquill Griffin, especially after the emergence of Tyson Campbell, who some believe played at an All-Pro level in 2022. Releasing Griffin would save $13.1 million on the 2023 cap.
On top of Engram, the Jaguars have Jawaan Taylor, Marvin Jones, Dawuane Smoot, and Arden Key as other pending free agents.
With Lawrence, the Jaguars appear to be headed in a positive direction and having that quality of quarterback should theoretically make building a roster around him easier. Jacksonville got the post-spending spree bump to make the playoffs in 2022 but will have to get a little more creative to put together the long-term core for 2023 and beyond.
New York Giants: Heading into the offseason
The Giants approached the 2022 season as a feeling-out process and that somehow got them all the way through to the Divisional Round. Before the season, there was a possibility the Giants could reset the core of the roster with clean breaks available for both Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley with both of their contracts set to expire. But that has become more complicated after a playoff win and an offense that ranked 11th in EPA per play and 10th in DVOA during the regular season.
Now the task at hand for general manager Joe Schoen is figuring out which parts of the roster are worth building around and which parts should go forward with the reset. After all, the Giants were still only 21st in total DVOA this season.
The Jones and Barkley decisions will obviously be the biggest and will guide the direction for the rest of the offseason. There will be a franchise tag available for one of them. Barkley and the Giants had discussions for an extension during the bye week but Schoen admitted in a press conference on Monday that the money was not close. There is an idea that getting a deal done with Barkley could be the easier option, leaving the tag for Jones, but the projected $10.1 million franchise tag number for a running back would also be more palatable than the $32.5 million hit at quarterback.
How the Giants feel about Jones and his 2022 development will be the tipping point for the offseason. While Jones had a superb performance in the Wild Card round over the Minnesota Vikings, his play against the Eagles in the Divisional Round also highlighted some of the deficiencies in his game when needed to stay in the pocket and play a more traditional dropback game.
Against the Eagles, just 71.4% of Jones’s dropbacks were in the pocket but he produced -0.50 EPA per play on those snaps and folded under pressure with -1.88 EPA per play.
Jones has been lauded for his play despite the surrounding talent in the receiving corps, but it’s also arguable Jones’s efficiency benefitted just as much from the low-aDOT throws and consistently getting him on the move.
Either way, the Giants should be expected to look for an upgrade at receiver. The question will be where that comes from. The Giants have the 26th overall pick which could be a sweet spot for a receiver in this draft class with none currently expected to push the top half of the first round. A trade for a top-tier receiver could be harder to come by with fewer of those players on the market.
DeAndre Hopkins could be the top name there but it’s fair to wonder if the 31-year-old receiver who excels at the catch point would be a good fit with Jones after a season when the quarterback’s development stemmed from an avoidance of tight window throws and contested opportunities.
They’ll also get Wan’Dale Robinson back from a torn ACL and Isaiah Hodgins is almost certainly back as an exclusive rights free agent. Sterling Shepard will be an unrestricted free agent and the Giants will likely free up $14.7 million by releasing Kenny Golladay.
Whatever the Giants decide to do on offense, they should be able to trust Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka (if he’s still around) to scheme it up to be something productive.
The most work needs to be done on the defense. Even while there were some high points, this was a unit that lacked talent and production for most of the season as it ranked 29th in defensive DVOA.
There are certainly places with promise, such as a pass rush duo of Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari when healthy along with an All-Pro caliber breakout for Dexter Lawrence. But the talent deficiency on that side of the ball stood out for most of the year.
Despite Lawrence and Leonard Williams inside, the Giants had the league’s worst run defense (30th in EPA per play and 32nd in DVOA) and the line was routinely bullied by the Eagles’ offensive line in the Divisional Round. On running back carries in that game, the Eagles averaged 0.36 EPA per play, 3.43 yards before contact, and 3.26 yards after contact.
The Giants also lacked any production from linebackers, which is a big reason why they spent the season with more snaps of six or more defensive backs on the field than any other defense in the league.
Those defensive backs also came with their own issues. Without Adoree’ Jackson, the Giants did have the bodies to run man coverage effectively as often as they did throughout the season. Even Jackson struggled throughout the season when healthy. He’s set to have a $19 million cap hit on the final year of his contract before a void year in 2024. The Giants could extend him to lower that 2023 number.
The Giants are in a similar situation with Leonard Williams, who is set for a $32.3 million cap hit in 2023 before a 2024 void year. That cap hit is currently the second-highest for a non-quarterback behind Laremy Tunsi’s $35.2 million.
Williams suggested he could be open to taking a pay cut to stay with the Giants and play next to Lawrence. One way or another, Williams will have that cap hit lowered for next season.
Per Over The Cap, the Giants have $53 million in cap space without Jones or Barkley on the books for next season. There are many pathways the Giants can take during the offseason.
A popular comparison is to the 2017-2018 Buffalo Bills, a team Schoen was a part of under Brandon Beane. The 2017 Bills made a surprise run to the playoffs behind now-Giants backup Tyrod Taylor but moved up in the draft to select Josh Allen. The Bills moved up from pick No. 21 to No. 12 and then 12 to No. 7 to draft Allen. Sitting at pick No. 26, the Giants could make a similar move around the top 10.
This all goes back to how the Giants feel about Jones and his long-term outlook. The decision on his contract — the window to place the franchise tag opens February 21 and closes March 7 — should tip off the full offseason plan.
Buffalo Bills: Heading into the offseason
A 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals highlighted many of the flaws in a team that was the best throughout the regular season. Buffalo was first in DVOA through the regular season though the team was often carried by big plays from the quarterback.
The quarterback wasn’t able to carry the team and it’s been up and down, especially since Allen injured his elbow. Allen finished the season second among quarterbacks in EPA per play but after his Week 9 elbow injury through the postseason, he was 10th. He also got there in a bit of a volatile way:
Allen’s highs have been more than good enough to carry the Bills to victory but there hasn’t been enough elsewhere on the roster to support Allen at the low points. Allen had the tendency to revert to some hero ball in the late stages of the season because there wasn’t much trust in the receiving corps outside of Stefon Diggs. When more coverage was focused on Diggs, the other receivers weren’t winning often enough to consistently move the ball in structure.
This was a receiving corps that was expected to be deep with the potential to develop into more. Gabriel Davis didn’t turn into the second option that was expected. He ranked 45th among receivers and tight ends with at least 150 routes in target share but 71st in yards per route run. The same goes for Isaiah McKenzie, who wasn’t able to build off his previous flashes with a more prominent slot role.
2022 fifth-round pick Khalil finished the season looking like the team’s second-best receiver but potentially bringing someone else in as a No. 2 could help open more things up in the passing game. Theoretically, finding that second receiver should be an easier task for the Bills than what’s ahead of the teams searching for their version of Diggs this offseason.
The Bills had to continue relying on the pass and what Allen could do on the ground because the running game was again inefficient. Buffalo has put together a good enough pass blocking offensive line but it has struggled to run block over the past few seasons. The line ranked 22nd in ESPN’s run block win rate after ranking 23rd last season.
However, the Bills did average the most yards before contact per rush on running back attempts (1.94) but still was around league average in the rate of runs stopped at or behind the line, 27th in EPA per rush, but 13th in success rate. Like other parts of the offense, the consistency was not always there. Devin Singletary wasn’t the problem but didn’t solve any issues and will be a free agent.
Pointing out flaws in a Buffalo offense that was second in DVOA could be picking nits but after two down performances in the playoffs, some of the flaws showed more when the quarterback could not cover all of them up with his play.
Buffalo realized this last offseason and made a big move to bring in Von Miller to sure up the pass rush. Everything went according to plan when Miller was on the field. Through Week 12, the Bills were eighth in pressure rate. When rushing four, they were sixth. Since Miller’s injury, Buffalo ranked 19th in pressure rate and 25th in pressure rate when rushing four.
Miller was a force-multiplier on the line with the ability to win quickly on his own and grab enough attention to open things up for the other pass rushers on the line. With him, the Bills didn’t have a rusher who could win consistently. That was felt against Joe Burrow, who wasn’t pressured often against a four-man rush and was able to get the ball out quickly when the Bills attempted to blitz.
The Bengals were also able to run on this defense. Cincinnati had a 55.6% success rate on the ground against Buffalo while working with three backup offensive linemen.
A lack of individual disruptors on the line is a concern given how much the Bills have invested in the position, even outside of Miller. Buffalo’s defensive line still features a first-round pick and two second-round picks from the 2020 and 2021 draft classes on the edge.
It’s tough to play the “drafted ahead of” game but A.J. Epenesa (nine career sacks) was drafted six picks before Josh Uche (11.5 sacks this season) in the second round of the 2020 draft.
Those young players on rookie deals will have to play a bigger part because this defense could look different heading into 2023. Jordan Poyer and Tremaine Edmunds are scheduled to be free agents while the Bills currently sit a projected $8.5 million over the 2023 cap, per OTC.
Both of those players have played a significant role on the defense. Poyer and Micah Hyde have been the league’s best safety duo since they came together and the lack of depth at the position showed when those two missed time in 2022 after both played over 90% of the defensive snaps in 2021. Poyer will turn 32 years old in April, so more depth behind him should be a priority even if he does return.
Edmunds had his best year in coverage and the Bills ask a ton from their linebackers as they play more snaps in nickel personnel than any other team.
The Bills are moving into the phase of roster construction around a big quarterback contract. Allen’s cap hit goes from $16.4 million in 2022 to $39.8 million in 2023. However, much of that comes from a $27.5 million base salary that could be restructured into a signing bonus to lower the 2023 hit. Most of Buffalo’s deals are structured in that way which leaves the team with a path to open more cap space. Over The Cap has the Bills with over $77 million in potential cap space from simple restructures, which is the seventh-highest rate in the league.
Buffalo might feel further away from contending after the loss to Cincinnati given how it looked, but the Bills still have a fairly strong core around one of the league’s best quarterbacks. Finding ways to lower the variance around him, whether it be with better secondary receivers or an efficient running game, could be a key to getting the Bills right back to the top of the AFC.
Dallas Cowboys: Heading into the offseason
The Cowboys’ season ended in a way to ensure the offseason discourse around the team would reach peak chaos. Dak Prescott led the league in interceptions during the regular season and had two in the Cowboys’ 19-12 loss against the San Francisco 49ers.
There’s going to be much made about Prescott and the level of quarterback he is going forward. A lot more is going on for the Cowboys’ offseason, but we must start with the quarterback.
Despite those interceptions — a number of which were not his fault — Prescott was seventh among quarterbacks in EPA per play in 2022 (0.13), including his two playoff games. That’s one spot above Joe Burrow (0.11). As much energy should be put into his outstanding performance against the Buccaneers (0.65 EPA per play) as his showing against the 49ers (-0.13).
There was a stretch of time when Prescott was playing as the league’s most efficient quarterback. Those stretches are more indicative of his play than what will be stuck in many minds following the playoff loss.
What makes the Prescott situation in Dallas more pressing is his contract. When Prescott and the Cowboys were fighting over his extension, Prescott was adamant about only taking a four-year deal which would allow him to hit free agency sooner. That currently leaves Dallas with fewer options to manage the cap hit which will go from $19.7 million in 2022 to $49.1 million in 2023 and $52.1 million in the last year of the deal for 2024.
There are two void years on the deal in 2025 and 2026 which could aid in a restructure but that would be Dallas risking putting more money into a potentially Dak-less future. As it stands now, Prescott is already set to count for a $21.8 million cap hit in 2025 when he is not scheduled to be on the roster.
Dallas isn’t in terrible cap shape to begin with, which could help some with more maneuvering money around to open up space. The Cowboys are just around the projected cap for 2023 and they will continue to restructure some of the top contracts. But those players are getting older.
The biggest deals on the books after Prescott come from a $26 million cap hit to a 31-year-old Demarcus Lawrence, a $19.9 million hit for 33-year-old Zack Martin, and a $17.6 million hit for a 33-year-old Tyron Smith. Smith was in and out of the lineup and shifted around the line this year. The Cowboys would free up $9.6 million in cap space if they moved on with Tyler Smith set to take over.
It has been popular to point out that the Cowboys could save $10.9 million by designating Ezekiel Elliott as a post-June 1 cut but Dallas has shown little motivation to move on from the back in the past. It’s unclear if that’s a move they would actually make. Tony Pollard’s status will be the bigger question at running back. Pollard is scheduled to be a free agent but will need surgery to repair a broken leg suffered against the 49ers.
Even with some of those above deals locked into veterans, Dallas was surprisingly young in 2022. Per snap-weighted age, the Cowboys had the sixth-youngest offense in the league.
Part of that stems from all the snaps by 23-year-old CeeDee Lamb. Lamb finally broke out as a top wide receiver in his third season, ranked eighth in yards per route run, and he is eligible for an extension this offseason. He’ll have his fifth-year option picked up for 2024 but getting a deal done sooner could benefit the Cowboys as extensions for the likes of Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase will also be upcoming.
What the Cowboys do with the receiving corps might give us the best inclination of how they feel about the future of the offense and the quarterback. Lamb is great but the roster was missing more juice outside of him. That condensed the offense given how often Lamb run routes from the slot (52.6%). Including the playoffs, Lamb had identical 2.39 yards per route run when in the slot and outside. But wherever Lamb was, the Cowboys didn’t have enough going on at the other positions.
There were flashes at times from Noah Brown but Michael Gallup was a disappointment in the first year of a five-year/$57.5 million contract. 62 wide receivers ran at least 400 routes in the regular season and playoffs. Gallup was one of six to average under 1.0 yards per route run.
Meanwhile, Amari Cooper, who was traded to Cleveland for a fifth-round pick to shed his salary, thrived with the Browns. He was 12th in yards per route run. Dallas needs some type of reliable secondary threat to open more up in the passing game.
Dalton Schultz will also be a free agent.
Defensively, it will be difficult to know what the team will look like without knowing the status of coordinator Dan Quinn. Quinn transformed the defense and sustained a high level of play coming off a 2021 season that was fueled by turnovers. In 2022, the defense was just plain good. Dallas was first in pressure rate with a league-average blitz rate. The Cowboys also showed the ability to adapt to different coverages outside of Quinn’s typical Cover-3 looks.
The defensive success has put Quinn atop the wish lists for many teams looking for new head coaches this offseason.
One area where the Cowboys can improve regardless of the coordinator will be at the No. 2 cornerback spot. Dallas was 13th in DVOA against No. 1 receivers as Trevon Diggs was a little less boom-or-bust in coverage, but the Cowboys ranked 32nd in DVOA against No. 2 receivers while the team shuffled through players at that spot.
Volatility on the defensive side of the ball may rise without Quinn in charge, which would then place even more emphasis on the offense and how the Cowboys approach this offseason around Prescott.