Trying to pick up the pieces after losing a playoff game is never easy. There is anger, frustration, instant blame, and hopefully after the sting of losing subsides, there is a sense of realism. Making decisions right after a bitter loss is never smart.
The New England Patriots had a tremendous regular season, but success in the NFL is measured by playoff wins and clearly the Patriots fell short. The same can be said for the Ravens. Once again, the Ravens were road warriors in the playoffs, but once again they feel failed to finish the job. Bad endings always dampen regular-season success.
So how do both teams pick up the pieces? The first thing they must do is let their emotions subside and not make any decisions based on one game, one call or one play. Losing is never about a play or a call, but rather it is a collection of many bad calls and many bad plays. Teams must be realistic, emotionless and objective in their evaluations.
Both teams will watch their season-ending losses numerous times, but that game tape offers many clues. Each player must be evaluated on whether they are talented and versatile enough to win a championship. Accordingly, each system (offense, defense, special teams) must also be evaluated to ensure it is at a championship level.
Finally, the coaching staff must be comprehensively evaluated. Losing creates a three-dimensional problem, and each one needs to have a complete evaluation.
Once that happens, then the plan must be put into place and implemented. The precision in which these evaluations are done will then allow either the Patriots or Ravens to hopefully finish the job next season.
I fully expect the Patriots to be extremely aggressive this offseason. The pain of that loss will serve as a reminder on what they need to do to ensure it never happens again. The plan for the Patriots is fairly simple as they need to add at least two blue chip players in their front seven and find someone, anyone, who can put pressure on the quarterback. The Patriots have coverage men, but they lack the ability to rush the passer and create negative plays.
With two picks in every round for the first four rounds, the Patriots will not have enough roster spots available to ensure those players will make the team. As a result, I can see them being aggressive in the draft to ensure they come away with the specific players they need. They have depth, they have youth, but they need an impact defensive player who can be impactful right away -- not down the road.
The Patriots know their window of winning with Tom Brady under center is getting smaller, and they must maximize all these draft picks. Typically, the Pats love to trade down, but trading down and collecting more picks when they already have so many, might not be the prudent play. The Pats need an impact player on each side of the ball.
The Ravens are in the same situation once again -- they have to repair their offense. And they must repair their offense in every dimension. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron must examine his offense, his play-calls and his game-planning. In fairness to Cameron, he was limited by not having any explosive skill players and lacking a physical offensive line. The problems in Baltimore run deeper than just the players, however. Cameron must become divergent in his thought process and redesign his offense. He must take a hard look at everything he has done and be willing to change.
Maximizing the talents of quarterback Joe Flacco is critical. Flacco is never going to be a vocal leader, or the inspiration of the offense, but he is not going anywhere, and he does bring unique skills to the offense. Finding the right type of players to surround Flacco with is critical.
We had a slogan when I worked with Bill Belichick in Cleveland that reminded everyone that "we are not collecting talented players, but we are building a talented team". The Ravens must do that with Flacco.
When I worked in the league and another team, especially a division rival, found a star player in the later rounds, it would drive me absolutely nuts. I am sure the Ravens having to watch Steelers receivers Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders make plays must make them sick. Now the Ravens are back to square one, having to find players like Wallace, Brown and Sanders to make their offense faster.
The Ravens' problems are not just finding skill players, however. They must get Michael Oher over to right tackle and settle their differences with former left tackle Jared Gaither. Oher is a talented player, but he lacks the ability to play on the left side, looking uncomfortable and never in balance, resulting in him being vulnerable to power rushers. Oher at right tackle would strengthen the right side of the line, while allowing the Ravens to be a good right-handed run team.
New England cannot play the Jets without a bona fide outside receiver next year, and the Ravens cannot head to Pittsburgh without fixing their overall offense. If each team fixes its problems this offseason, next year's championship game could feature a Patriots-Ravens showdown.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.