The NFL trade deadline has come and gone, with only one noteworthy deal, so the rosters now are essentially set. What is the most glaring issue remaining for a contender and will it hold that team back?
Packers' running game still leaves much to be desiredIf one trade would have made more sense than any other, it would have been the Green Bay Packers' acquisition of a running back. Not necessarily Steven Jackson or DeAngelo Williams, two players who probably merit more money and more attention than Green Bay needs to give. Instead, as the team tries to at least provide Aaron Rodgers with a little relief, the Packers could have used someone to alleviate the void left by Cedric Benson's injury.
The team added Benson for a reason, and it proved to be a good one, particularly since James Starks and Alex Green aren't exactly lighting it up. I still believe the Packers can manage once Rodgers gets onto a more consistent roll, but the addition of a solid weapon in the running game wouldn't have been a bad thing at all.
Lack of protection will derail Cardinals' postseason hopesDespite their recent skid, the Arizona Cardinals are still in the thick of the playoff race in the NFC. However, their issues at offensive tackle likely will keep them from earning a seat at the postseason table.
The Cardinals have given up more sacks than any team in the entire league and I don't see how they correct this issue with their current personnel. Their defense is definitely capable of winning a few games on their own, but I don't think they will be able to pile up enough wins to reach the postseason.
The Patriots and Ravens have major hurdles to overcomeTwo AFC contenders immediately jump to mind.
The New England Patriots are ranked 28th in passing yards allowed. They are not very good in the secondary. They utilize a bend-but-don't-break philosophy, hoping to hold teams to field goals in the red zone. This method has worked to a degree, but even with the addition of Aqib Talib, I don't think this will change their secondary's performance much. However, this deficiency in the secondary won't hold them back in the end, mainly because of their offense and strong front seven.
The Baltimore Ravens' biggest weakness is their run defense. They are ranked 30th in rushing yards allowed. This is due to a number of factors, none of which has to do with the injury to Ray Lewis. The play of their defensive line has been the problem. The biggest issue is Ravens D-linemen are not holding their ground or knocking back the offensive line. Injuries to defensive linemen Haloti Ngata and Ma'ake Kemoeatu, as well as cornerback Lardarius Webb, have hurt. If Baltimore can't return to better health in the second half of the season, the problem won't get fixed. I still think the Ravens will get to the playoffs, but they won't go far with this problem.
Pressure might be too much for Matt Ryan, FalconsThe undefeated Atlanta Falcons are looking good for that coveted No. 1 seed in the NFC, even with the Chicago Bears looming just one game back. If the road to New Orleans runs through that soulless dome in Atlanta, that's great news for Matt Ryan ... or is it?
Much has been made of Ryan's elevated play in 2012, but there's been at least as much noise about Ryan's career failures in January. No matter what accolades and awards he gets for this regular season, Ryan knows it's meaningless unless he can get his team to the Super Bowl. If the Falcons are indeed the No. 1 seed, their fans in the stands (and on local sports radio, and in the papers, and in the streets) won't just be hoping for success -- they will expect it. That's a tough standard for a talented QB getting deeper into his career without a signature run through the postseason. Don't believe me? Ask guys named Elway, Marino, Peyton & Romo. Home-field advantage is nice, but it also raises the stakes for the QB who's supposed to win.
Oh, by the way, I'm still not sold on the Falcons' running game.
Lack of consistency on offense will be the Bears' undoingThe Chicago Bears' offense still isn't consistent. Jay Cutler is having a worse season statistically than Cam Newton, but no one has noticed because the Bears' defense is so dominant.
Despite the addition of Brandon Marshall, you don't know what you are going to get on a week-to-week basis from Chicago's passing game. That will catch up to the Bears eventually.