In-season trades might not be very common in the NFL, but that doesn't mean there aren't contenders who could seriously help themselves with a well-timed deal.
Consider the New England Patriots, who have a history -- from Aqib Talib in 2012 to Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas in 2014 and Jon Bostic in 2015 -- of making the most out of late-fall moves. They were at it again this week, nabbing linebacker Kyle Van Noy from the Lions before shipping tight end A.J. Derby to Denver for a fifth-round draft pick.
Of course, among likely playoff contenders, the Patriots don't even have too many holes to fill at this point in the season. As the annual trade deadline approaches (next Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET), I thought I'd take stock of five contenders with the most glaring needs and consider what sort of wheeling and dealing can be done to address them.
1) Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons have ridden the NFL's best offense (with an NFL-high 32.7 points per game) to the top of the NFC South. But they're also barely outscoring their opponents (allowing 28.4 points per game) while ranking 26th in overall defense. Second-year pro Vic Beasley is playing well, with more sacks through seven games (6.5) than he had all last season, and rookie Keanu Neal and former first-round pick Desmond Trufant have helped a lot. But Atlanta simply gives up too many points. Consider that the last five Super Bowl champions have boasted an average point differential of 89.6, much higher than the Falcons' current mark of 30. It's tough to put together a serious postseason run when you're always in a track meet. Finding someone to shore up the pass rush and get a few stops would really position them well to put a stranglehold on the division and compete in the playoffs.
2) Philadelphia Eagles
This team could really do something this season, with a defense that ranks fifth overall and third in points allowed after finishing 30th and 28th in those categories in 2015, the Eagles have a great shot to make some noise in the NFC East. They just need to figure out a way to juice their 29th-ranked passing attack. Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has been solid (eight touchdowns against three picks with a passer rating of 92.7), but the team could stand to give him someone else to throw to. Philly has recorded just 17 pass plays of 20-plus yards (tied for 24th in the NFL), with the bulk of those (seven) going to receiver Jordan Matthews. The Eagles would also benefit from an extra running back and the addition of a right tackle to pick up the slack on an offensive line that lost Lane Johnson (suspended) for 10 games.
3) Seattle Seahawks
Tackle is this team's most glaring need. Russell Wilson's projected sack total (30) is consistent with his career average (36.5), but unlike in previous years, the quarterback is getting banged up, having already suffered two significant injuries this season. In turn, we've seen a drastic reduction in Wilson's rushing totals (he's on track to finish the season with 88 rushing yards, a whopping 519.5 yards below his career average). These post-Marshawn Lynch Seahawks could also really use a power back, considering their rushing attack currently ranks 27th after four seasons of top-four finishes.
4) Dallas Cowboys
The 5-1 Cowboys are currently in the driver's seat in the NFC East, but if they want to hold off the likes of the Eagles and Giants, they'd do well to increase their sack differential (currently plus-two) and ratchet up the takeaways (five, tied for 27th in the NFL). Dallas' schedule will be tough going forward, and it would help a great deal to have someone capable of collecting 10 sacks on the field. The wild success of rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott makes veteran holdover Darren McFadden -- who has been on the shelf since having offseason elbow surgery -- somewhat expendable and potentially available in a trade, though I'm not sure what kind of interest he'd attract.
5) Minnesota Vikings
Yes, the 5-1 Vikings have the best defense in the NFL and stayed undefeated longer than anyone else despite being hit with a flurry of devastating injuries. But with tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith among the players claimed by that wave of misfortune, they're in a tough spot. Sunday's loss to the Eagles, in which Sam Bradford was sacked seven times and turned the ball over thrice, illustrated their urgent need for offensive line help, specifically at left tackle (recent signee Jake Long did not contribute much). However, with limited draft capital to dangle (next year's first-round pick went to the Eagles in the Bradford trade) and a dearth of salary cap space, it's going to be hard to make a move. That said, I wouldn't put it past general manager Rick Spielman to figure something out. (Another running back would also help.)