Even big Giants fans can't feel that blue after the team's first playoff appearance in five seasons. General manager Jerry Reese and coordinator Steve Spagnuolo turned the team's defense from laughingstock to loaded in one season. They could have the best young receiver duo in football next season. Most of the team's roster, quarterback excluded, should be entering its prime.
That doesn't mean Reese should stand pat. All four teams that were knocked out of the playoffs this weekend have areas that need upgrading this offseason. Let's take a look at the most pressing concern for each squad:
New York Giants: Offensive line
Watching the Giants struggle to run against nickel and dime defenses in Green Bay was reminiscent of New England's loss in last season's AFC Championship Game. The Packers dared the Giants to run on them, and New York wasn't tough enough to oblige. Blaming the struggles on rookie runner Paul Perkins is missing the point. The Giants can upgrade their depth at running back, but the offensive line's lack of toughness was far more striking.
The Giants need to make an honest evaluation of where Eli Manning is in his career. With the quarterback at 36 years old and coming off one of his worst seasons, the team's best chance to make it back to the Super Bowl is with Eli as a supporting actor. That can be accomplished if the Giants develop a strong running game and protect Manning better. Their offensive line didn't rank in the top-20 in pass-blocking or run-blocking according to Pro Football Focus, despite Manning's quick release and excellent on-field adjustments. Both tackle spots were problems all season, including 2015 top-10 pick Ereck Flowers. Reese erred last season, reportedly losing out on free agent options because he wanted Flowers to get a real chance on the blind side. The results hurt the Giants far more than any shirtless combination of jeans and Timberlands.
Oakland Raiders: Big-play prevention
No defense gave up more passing plays of 25-plus yards than the Raiders. That is a huge disappointment, considering the investment Oakland made in the secondary. Some of that reflects poorly on defensive coordinator Ken Norton, whose future is far from guaranteed.
Oakland needs to get younger throughout the secondary, but the team's linebacker positions are in even starker disrepair. Malcolm Smith is a free agent and was mostly a letdown after arriving from Seattle. Perry Riley was a stop-gap solution at middle linebacker. This team finished dead last in sacks and struggled to find an interior pass rush, so GM Reggie McKenzie has plenty of avenues with which to improve the defense.
Miami Dolphins: Linebackers
This is a big offseason for Dolphins impresario Mike Tannenbaum. The team needs to build on a solid first draft fully under his watch and find quality depth that wasn't present when injuries hit this season. The team's linebacker group is a great place to start. It was exposed badly in games against the Ravens, Patriots and Steelers.
Tannenbaum's trade for Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso from Philadelphia looks like a win after one season, but the team could use two new starters next to Alonso at linebacker. Jumping from 6-10 to 10-6 and a wild-card berth because of a series of close wins is the easy part. Plenty of teams have done that over the last decade, only to fall back to Philbinocrity. Building a consistent winner is far more challenging, and Miami needs young core pieces throughout a roster that still lacks defined strengths beyond the receiver group and defensive line.
Detroit Lions: Running backs
Detroit's inability to run all season made coordinator Jim Bob Cooter's offense too one-dimensional. This was exacerbated by the passing game's lack of explosive plays and injuries to running backs Ameer Abdullahand Theo Riddick. The Lions' offense was fun to watch, but so condensed. Defenses crowded the line of scrimmage, knowing guys like Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin weren't running past them.
A running attack ranked 30th in yards and No. 25 by Football Outsiders' DVOA is screaming for a between-the-tackles runner. The Lions can't count on Abdullah to stay healthy, and Riddick is best as a complementary piece. GM Bob Quinn showed his hand in his first NFL draft by taking offensive linemen with two of the first three picks. While the Lions certainly need defensive playmakers up front as well, look for Detroit to double down with more focus on fixing the running game. Sorry, Zach Zenner truthers.