The Schein Nine

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Steelers, Bears, Colts among NFL teams to watch this offseason

The Seattle Seahawks earned the right to party, and party they did. Not sure how many kids in the Seattle area made it to school on Wednesday -- though with that parade, who can blame them?

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The Seahawks are rightfully the talk of the league, considered by many to be a budding dynasty with depth, talent and youth -- starting with a 25-year-old quarterback who plays far beyond his years and will only get better.

Seattle is made for a run, but the NFL is topsy-turvy. And the quest to dethrone the 'Hawks begins now, with the league-wide organizational rejiggering that is the offseason.

Some franchises will tinker, some franchises will undergo broad restoration projects, but everyone will experience change in the coming months.

With that in mind, here are the nine most intriguing teams to watch this offseason:

1) Pittsburgh Steelers

I wasn't surprised to see the Steelers go winless in the opening month of the 2013 campaign, because they didn't have the requisite talent. But it says something about the character of a Mike Tomlin-coached team and the play of Ben Roethlisberger that they were able to right the ship and compete through Week 17. Tomlin and Big Ben still make for a winning combo. But those two need some help.

The Steelers need to stop living in the past and trim the fat. You could easily argue that it's time to cut the cord on Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, LaMarr Woodley and Ryan Clark. Pittsburgh needs new blood.

Le'Veon Bell missed the early portion of the 2013 season with a Lisfranc injury, but he proved he can play upon his return. I'm intrigued to see what he can do in a fully healthy campaign. Former Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak, hired to coach the offensive line in Pittsburgh, will make an immediate impact in an area of weakness.

Unlike in prior offseasons, the Steelers need to be active when it comes to changing their look and improving the roster. After back-to-back playoff-free campaigns, I think Pittsburgh can get on track with a productive offseason -- and with the guts to pull the plug on some familiar (and beloved) players who are past their prime.

2) Arizona Cardinals

I was not surprised that Larry Fitzgerald restructured his deal to give the Cardinals flexibility this offseason. He's a great teammate, committed to doing whatever he can to help Arizona win games -- and he still gets paid in the form of a bonus. Last Friday, on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," team president Michael Bidwill succinctly summed up his feelings for the perennial Pro Bowler: "Larry Fitzgerald will be a Cardinal for life. Period."

The Cardinals missed the playoffs despite winning 10 games, including a victory over the Seahawks in Seattle. 'Zona is dangerously close. This seemed like a team that could've made a run in the postseason, what with its swarming, play-making defense.

Coach Bruce Arians changed the culture. General manager Steve Keim did a brilliant job improving the talent.

I expect some offensive tweaks from Keim, like drafting a quarterback at some point in the first three rounds.

3) Chicago Bears

Matt Forte couldn't stop smiling when he joined us on SiriusXM Radio last week.

"Look at our offense. Jay (Cutler) and coach (Marc Trestman) have such a great relationship, and Jay is the perfect fit (for) the offense," the Pro Bowl running back gushed. "And with the weapons we have ..."

It was at that moment that his eyes began to look as big as saucers, as Forte started to daydream.

Last year, GM Phil Emery fixed the offense. This year, the focus in the draft and free agency needs to be defense, defense and more defense.

Another offseason together will strengthen the bond between Cutler and Trestman, putting Chicago in great position to be a playoff team in 2014.

4) Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons were my Super Bowl pick in 2013. They were supposed to be that good. And don't just take my word for it -- GM Thomas Dimitroff thought he had put together a winner, too.

Obviously, one 12-loss season later, that wasn't the case.

The Falcons miscalculated on the offensive line; it will be addressed. They miscalculated on the defense; it will also be addressed.

Dimitroff, who was honest about the lackluster play of the offensive line when we chatted on SiriusXM Radio, has hired good friend Scott Pioli to be his assistant GM. Don't underestimate this move. Dimitroff and Pioli are two of the finer executives in the NFL. Pioli did a brilliant job as a personnel guy in New England. Yes, inadequate head-coaching hires doomed his GM tenure with the Chiefs, but did you notice the Pro Bowl-heavy roster he left behind in Kansas City? Simply put, Pioli could turn out to be one of the best pickups of the offseason.

The Falcons fizzled last year, but they aren't that far away. And they have the right guys assembling the team.

5) Green Bay Packers

Randall Cobb interrupted me before I could finish the question.

"Adam, the answer is yes."

Yes. Yes, the Packers believed the Week 17 win at Chicago -- an NFC North clincher highlighted by Aaron Rodgers' miracle heave to Cobb -- would spark a postseason run.

On the flip side, when I asked A.J. Hawk why the Packers' defense struggled in key spots despite having good talent and a very well-respected coordinator in Dom Capers, the linebacker gave a long, thoughtful pause before saying, "That's a great question."

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GM Ted Thompson needs to find an answer.

Fairly or unfairly, these Packers are always judged by one factor: Did they make it to the Super Bowl? With Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy, they always have a chance. And that should certainly be the case again in 2014, with the best quarterback in the NFL returning to good health and teaming up with bruising back (and Offensive Rookie of the Year) Eddie Lacy.

6) Indianapolis Colts

The Colts should be ready to rock and roll and make a Super Bowl run in the AFC, but they have a lot to figure out.

Trent Richardson needs to stay on his feet. He had a horrible 2013 after being traded to Indy from Cleveland, but I can't totally give up on him before he has a full offseason in the program.

Running back isn't the only concern. GM Ryan Grigson has accomplished a lot in a short time running the Colts, but this defense must get better after finishing the regular season ranked 20th and giving up 87 points in two postseason games.

7) Jacksonville Jaguars

Will they draft a quarterback high in the first round? Is Johnny Manziel the ideal fit at the box office and on the field? Will Maurice Jones-Drew be back?

The Jags play hard and have the right leadership in GM Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley, but these are big questions at hand.

8) St. Louis Rams

St. Louis is the forgotten team in the ultra-competitive NFC West, but don't overlook this group. Last offseason, many among the media were talking playoffs for the Rams, and for good reason: They have a strong defensive line, solid defensive backs and weapons on offense. They need quarterback Sam Bradford to stay healthy and they need to beef up at receiver and along the O-line.

But remember, GM Les Snead and the great Jeff Fisher have two first-round picks, including the second overall selection (thanks to the Robert Griffin III trade with Washington).

9) Philadelphia Eagles

I don't think this team was a one-year wonder under coach Chip Kelly. Still, there is certainly room for improvement here. The Eagles can get much better at safety and they might need to invest in a new kicker. Also, I'm fascinated to see what happens when receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper hit free agency.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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