Where it has gone wrong, what's next for NFL teams out of playoff race

Is this a make-or-break season for Gase? (2:01)

Mike Golic and Trey Wingo question how long Dolphins head coach Adam Gase has to turn around his Miami team before getting fired. (2:01)

With four games left to play in the 2017 season, some NFL teams already have turned their attention to the 2018 offseason and what they have to do to become playoff contenders. No doubt coaching changes will be part of the equation.

But can teams turn it around in one season? You bet. Just check out the Rams under coach Sean McVay. And look at what the Saints have done by drafting Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore, likely the offensive and defensive rookies of the year.

Here's a closer look at some teams that are out of the playoff race and what's next for them in 2018:



Arizona Cardinals

What has gone wrong this season? Injuries, injuries and more injuries. The Cardinals lost all-everything running back David Johnson in Week 1 when he fractured his wrist and was lost for the season. The hits kept on coming. The offensive line kept breaking down: Left guard Mike Iupati went on injured reserve, and later in the season, left tackle D.J. Humphries suffered a knee injury that ended his season. In London in Week 7, quarterback Carson Palmer broke his left arm and was put on IR. And that was just on offense. But those pieces were enough to put Arizona's offense in neutral -- where for the most part it has remained throughout the season. When the offense isn't moving the ball and staying on the field, the defense tends to play more snaps than it's accustomed to, and it's an obvious domino effect.

What needs to happen in offseason? The Cardinals could go with a complete roster overhaul, including releasing Palmer and backup QB Drew Stanton. They also could part ways with receivers John Brown, Jaron Brown and Brittan Golden, all upcoming free agents. And they could start rebuilding the defensive line. The other train of thought is that if the Cardinals' core -- coach Bruce Arians, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Palmer -- return for another season, then Arizona should draft a quarterback and add another playmaking receiver. They also should keep Adrian Peterson on the roster.

Is a coaching change the answer? Maybe changes in the front office are in order, but as of now, a coaching change isn't the answer. Yes, there have been times when Arians' playcalling has been questionable. But for the most part, injuries have hampered the Cardinals' ability to consistently move the ball as they have in the past. If Arians returns and the Cardinals have another losing season, then a coaching change would be necessary. But not yet. -- Josh Weinfuss

Chicago Bears

What has gone wrong this season? For starters, the Bears lost starting wide receiver Cameron Meredith to a torn ACL in the preseason. Former first-round draft pick Kevin White followed Meredith to injured reserve in Week 1. Quarterback Mike Glennon, whom the Bears guaranteed $16 million in 2017, turned the ball over eight times in four games and was so bad that the Bears replaced him with rookie Mitchell Trubisky, who's very raw. Chicago's 2017 free-agent class of Markus Wheaton, Quintin Demps, Marcus Cooper and Glennon turned out to be a bust. Team leader Zach Miller suffered a catastrophic knee injury in late October. The defense, which had been the strength of the team, began to wear down because of injuries to Leonard Floyd, Willie Young, Adrian Amos and Danny Trevathan. For the grand finale, ex-kicker Robbie Gould, whom the Bears shockingly released in 2016, hit five field goals, including the game winner, in Sunday's embarrassing 15-14 loss to San Francisco. That about covers it.

What needs to happen in offseason? The Bears need to fire coach John Fox. After that, Bears ownership needs to take a hard look at general manager Ryan Pace; the Bears are 12-32 since he took over for Phil Emery. The Bears have to upgrade at wide receiver. The highly paid offensive line also needs some retooling; that group has not lived up to expectations. Trubisky has to take a major step in the offseason -- presumably surrounded by a new coaching staff. The Bears will have to locate a defensive coordinator on par with Vic Fangio, if, as expected, Fangio and the rest of the staff depart. On defense, the Bears still need to add another corner and safety, not to mention a pass-rusher up front to complement Akiem Hicks. The Bears have to hope Floyd recovers from his knee injury in time for training camp. Basically, the Bears have to wash away the stink of the Fox era, when losing became the norm.

Is a coaching change the answer? It's a necessity. The Bears cannot continue with Fox. However, the Bears also can't be trusted to make the correct hire. So just because Fox leaves doesn't mean the Bears will bring in the right person to replace him. It's a catch-22. The organization is in such bad shape after missing the playoffs in 10 of the past 11 years that simply changing head coaches does not guarantee success. The Bears have to hit a home run and surround Trubisky with the best and brightest offensive minds. But why would those coaches choose Chicago over better jobs? There's no easy way out for the Bears. It's going to take a lot of luck to break the cycle of losing. -- Jeff Dickerson

New York Giants

What has gone wrong this season? You name it. Everything. The offensive line was doomed before it ever took the field. The star wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., was injured in the preseason and broke his ankle in Week 5. During that same game, the Giants lost receivers Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris as well. Then they had to suspend two veterans for violations of team rules, the coach was anonymously slammed and they benched Eli Apple (multiple times), all before the coach and general manager were eventually fired. Anything else?

What needs to happen in offseason? The Giants need to decide what to do at quarterback and with Eli Manning. He has a no-trade clause and the Giants will have a top-five pick. These are decisions that need to be made after they hire a general manager and a coach. When they finally do have a GM and a coach, they absolutely need to upgrade the offensive line. It's not going to be easy, given the state of the free-agent market and that their best three linemen are unsigned for next year.

Is a coaching change the answer? On Monday, the Giants became the first team to decide they needed a new coach when they fired Ben McAdoo before the conclusion of his second season. It again proved that you never want to be the coach who replaces a legend. McAdoo was Tom Coughlin's successor. The demotion of Manning was the final straw, but it wasn't the genesis of the move. The Giants' offense -- McAdoo's offense -- has been bad for almost two full seasons. He also had seemingly lost the locker room. There were too many incidents that bubbled to the surface and embarrassed the franchise this season. -- Jordan Raanan

San Francisco 49ers

What went wrong this season? It's not so much what went wrong this season as what went wrong in previous seasons. The Niners put off a full-blown rebuild for three years, and with former general manager Trent Baalke continuing to fail to find talent in the draft, the roster in San Francisco continued to diminish. Now, the 49ers are finally in rebuilding mode with coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. It was a mild surprise that veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer didn't have more success, and the Niners have been ravaged by injuries, but there were never any delusions of grandeur about what this season would bring.

What needs to happen in offseason? The 49ers already seem to have answered the biggest personnel question they faced when they traded for a potential franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. Now they must take care of his contract situation -- the franchise tag is the best bet right now -- and begin building around him. They could use a difference-maker at wide receiver and upgrades on the interior of the offensive line. On defense, help at edge rusher and cornerback are top priorities.

Is a coaching change the answer? A coaching change would be one of the worst things that could happen for the Niners, given the musical chairs they've experienced at that spot in recent years. And frankly, there's no way it's going to happen after just one year with Shanahan in charge. CEO Jed York gave Shanahan a six-year contract with the idea of giving him time to see his rebuilding project through, and there are signs the Niners are headed in the right direction. Could Shanahan do some tweaking to the coaching staff? Perhaps. But he's the guy the Niners should -- and will -- roll with for the foreseeable future. -- Nick Wagoner

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What has gone wrong this season? Despite signing DeSean Jackson and drafting O.J. Howard -- and Jameis Winston being in his third year in the same system with Mike Evans and Adam Humphries -- the Bucs continue to founder on offense, averaging 18 points a game. Running back Doug Martin and the offensive line have been a huge disappointment as well. Winston's shoulder injury only compounded things, although he wasn't making the strides you'd expect from a franchise quarterback in his third year. On defense, the Bucs banked on both of their speed rushers -- Noah Spence and Jacquies Smith -- to come back from injuries, despite both undergoing surgery and missing the entire offseason program. Spence is now on IR after re-injuring his shoulder, Smith is no longer with the team and the Bucs' 17 sacks are the fewest in the league. The Bucs also have gone from having the league's best third-down defense last season at 34.4 percent to the league's worst at 48.5 percent, despite having what was supposed to be an improved secondary.

What needs to happen in offseason? The Bucs need help at edge rusher. There are no guarantees that Spence's shoulder will hold up, and Robert Ayers will be 33 years old next season. Gerald McCoy continues to take on double-teams, too, and no one is getting to the quarterback in one-on-one matchups outside. They also need to invest a significant draft pick in a running back, as Martin has shown no signs this year of returning to his 2015 Pro Bowl form, despite what appeared to be a promising training camp. The Bucs neglected their offensive line this past offseason, and with the struggles they had getting the running game going, that can't happen in 2018. Veteran cornerback Brent Grimes is coming up on the end of his two-year contract and will be 35 years old in July.

Is a coaching change the answer? The verdict is still out on Dirk Koetter, but it's not looking good, as the losses continue to mount. The Bucs went 9-7 under Koetter last year -- their first winning season since 2010. But they're now 4-8 and the offense -- his system -- just can't score enough points. Buccaneers ownership is notoriously impatient, so even after two years, it won't hesitate to fire a head coach, after what happened with Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith. -- Jenna Laine

Washington Redskins

What has gone wrong this season? Injuries. Yeah, there were other issues within games, including blowing a 15-point lead against New Orleans, an inconsistent run game, costly turnovers and spotty defense (again). But the Redskins have 15 players on injured reserve, 11 of whom were projected as starters or key players. That doesn't include safety Su'a Cravens who, temporarily at least, decided to retire. Then there are players such as left tackle Trent Williams (knee), who has missed three games and remains questionable every week, and tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring), who has missed six games. The defense finally showed promise early on, only to be undone by key injuries. The offense was still good and effective, but it would have been better with good health. Losing a good chunk of its key players was too much for Washington to overcome.

What needs to happen in offseason? Figure out the quarterback situation. Having Kirk Cousins play under the franchise tag for a third consecutive year -- at $34.5 million -- doesn't make much sense; he would then leave in 2019. So unless the Redskins draft someone to groom -- making the situation more awkward -- they need to sign Cousins to a long-term deal or a tag and trade (if possible). It's hard to move forward and build when you're not sure who will be the signal-caller. The Redskins still must add to the defense (another lineman or two, and settle the inside linebacker spots). But first and foremost, resolve the Cousins issue. Please.

Is a coaching change the answer? No. While Jay Gruden still must prove he can help build and then coach a team capable of a playoff run (until you do it, it's just speculation), it would be wrong to blame this season's woes on coaching. The injuries proved to be too much for a team with little margin for error, and only a complete collapse over the next four games would put him on the hot seat. Certainly, there are decisions to second-guess and there needs to be less sideline confusion over situations. But Gruden's offense and his demeanor helped during an adverse season, and he maintains the support of the locker room. -- John Keim


Buffalo Bills

What has gone wrong this season? A promising 5-2 start faded into usual disappointment for the Bills, which likely will lead to their playoff drought extending to 18 seasons. What seemed like a top-tier defense through four weeks -- after an impressive remodeling job by first-year coach Sean McDermott -- proved to be a mirage. The Bills allowed an NFL-best 13.5 points per game through Week 4; they have slipped to 30th since Week 5, giving up 28.6 points per game. It is fair to pin some of the blame for the defense's struggles on an offense that often has failed to stay on the field. The Bills have the NFL's second-worst offensive time of possession and the sixth-worst starting field position for their defense. The problems can be traced to quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the passing game, which has averaged 174.4 yards per game -- third worst in the league.

What needs to happen in offseason? Expect general manager Brandon Beane to invest a high draft pick in the quarterback position after making the anticipated move to part ways with Taylor before a $6 million roster bonus is due in March. The Bills own extra selections in the first round (from the Chiefs) and the second round (from the Rams), so they will have assets to help move around the board on draft night. It also would make sense for the Bills to add a veteran to their quarterback room to compete with whatever rookie they select and with Nathan Peterman, a fifth-round 2017 pick. The change at quarterback should be part of a continuing roster overhaul for Buffalo, which also could move pricey but oft-injured left tackle Cordy Glenn ($14.5 million cap number in 2018) and other players inherited from the previous regime.

Is a coaching change the answer? Not a chance. McDermott will be given two years at a minimum to turn things around in Buffalo and most likely longer. McDermott is the third coach who has worked under owners Terry and Kim Pegula since they bought the team in 2014. Turning to a fourth coach in five seasons would work against the message of continuity and long-term building that ownership has stressed. In fact, McDermott's team generally has exceeded expectations in his first year. When Terry Pegula spoke during training camp in July, he said his goal was to return to respectability, and then, "Wherever it falls, it falls." There was not a stated requirement from Pegula for the Bills to make the playoffs this season. Buffalo still has a chance to finish with just its third winning record since 2000, so some level of respectability has returned to the franchise. McDermott is safe. -- Mike Rodak

Cincinnati Bengals

What has gone wrong this season? The Bengals failed to address their offensive line in the offseason -- they lost tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler to free agency -- and the offense took a nosedive, resulting in coordinator Ken Zampese being fired after Week 2. Their first-round pick, wide receiver John Ross, never contributed. While the Bengals' defense played well at times, the unit was on the field too much due to lack of production from the offense and couldn't play consistently enough to make up for it. The Bengals were able to beat mediocre teams this season, but when it came to the better teams in the league, they simply weren't good enough.

What needs to happen in offseason? The Bengals should totally revamp their offensive line. Whether that means changing things up with a new offensive line coach (Paul Alexander is in his 23rd season in Cincinnati), drafting some linemen early or adding in free agency, the Bengals must make it priority No. 1. The Bengals need to replace some aging veterans on defense, as well, and continue the trend of getting younger. If they don't re-sign Tyler Eifert, finding a pass-catching tight end also will be a priority.

Is a coaching change the answer? Marvin Lewis' contract is up at the end of the season and a changing of the guard might be in order to spark some life in a franchise that has been trending downward since the 2015 season. The situation could be similar to Andy Reid's exit from Philadelphia in 2012, which worked out for both Reid and the Eagles. It's possible for a coach to stay too long in one place, and this could be the situation in Cincinnati. -- Katherine Terrell

Cleveland Browns

What has gone wrong this season? What didn't go wrong? The Browns are still searching for certainty at quarterback, lack depth throughout the roster, are overwhelmed by youth and inexperience and have significant needs at receiver and the secondary. Even vice president of football operations Sashi Brown admitted he has not given the roster enough talent to win consistently. Season-ending injuries to LT Joe Thomas, LB Jamie Collins and DE Emmanuel Ogbah took away the few high-level players on the roster. The Browns have too many needs at too many important positions to win a single game in the NFL, much less contend for a division title or the playoffs.

What needs to happen in offseason? The Browns have five picks in the first two rounds of the 2018 draft, including (likely) the first overall selection. They also will have more than enough salary-cap space to sign a few more free agents. They hope that influx of talent, combined with what is on the roster, will give the team enough foundation to show real progress in 2018, not merely express happy words about it. The key: making the right picks. The Browns can't afford any more mistakes like they made when they passed on Carson Wentz and signed Kenny Britt. Player evaluation has to improve.

Is a coaching change the answer? Only if the roster gets better by the team hitting on those draft picks. It's tough to imagine how Browns owner Jimmy Haslam sells a coach who has one win in 28 games. But the only way a coaching change would matter is if Paul Brown were reincarnated to lead the team. This team's biggest issue isn't coaching; it's a significant lack of talent up and down the roster. If you want to judge Hue Jackson by his record, have at it. He owns it. But until he has an actual and complete roster, it's tough to see what he can do. Yes, there have been questionable in-game decisions, but there are very few NFL games without something that can be second-guessed. It would have taken a miracle worker to turn this season's team into a winner. -- Pat McManamon

Denver Broncos

What has gone wrong this season? It would be easier to list what hasn't gone wrong, as the Broncos are mired in their longest losing streak since 1967. They went from believing they would have a major say in the playoff conversation to perhaps playing worse than anyone in the league. The offense has limped along since a 3-1 start; the special teams are consistently a mess; the rookie class has been underwhelming; the quarterbacks have unraveled in what looks like an ill-fitting offense behind an inconsistent offensive line; and the defense appears to have buckled under the weight of the rest and has surrendered a pile of touchdowns, as opposing quarterbacks have 26 passing touchdowns in 12 games.

What needs to happen in offseason? A meeting -- a brutally honest one among the team's decision-makers, with John Elway at the head of the table -- because the Broncos keep changing offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators and quarterbacks, and Vance Joseph is their third head coach since the 2014 season. They need more from their draft classes if they are going to avoid the hamster wheel of free agency and dead money, because Von Miller, their first-round pick in 2011, is the last Broncos draft selection to be named to the Pro Bowl (not as an injury replacement). Is the evaluation process flawed? Or is the developmental strategy flawed? Or both? It's long past time for the Broncos to hash it out, because they are one of the worst teams in the league and are facing the prospect of a long climb out.

Is a coaching change the answer? Gary Kubiak stepping away from coaching was a surprise, and it turns out it was more difficult to overcome than perhaps anyone with the team believed. But anyone believing the cave-in that the Broncos have experienced is all on Joseph and his assistants is simply allowing the players and the personnel department off the hook too quickly. This was an across-the-board failure. The Broncos have never gone one-and-done with a head coach during Pat Bowlen's tenure. -- Jeff Legwold

Houston Texans

What has gone wrong this season? Injuries. It's hard not to wonder where this Texans team would be if rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson had not torn his ACL in early November. Watson had a historic start to his career and led the NFL in touchdown passes when he was put on injured reserve. The Texans were 3-4 at that point but were rolling on offense behind Watson and wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Headed into the second half of the season, the team had the fourth easiest schedule. Instead, the Texans have lost four of five since Watson's injury and will not finish with a winning record for the first time under coach Bill O'Brien.

What needs to happen in offseason? The Texans need to revamp their offensive line to make sure they can protect Watson. His injury was noncontact and he didn't get hurt in a game, but the Texans have been inconsistent on the offensive line all season. Houston has started five different left tackles in 2017 -- Kendall Lamm, Chris Clark, Julien Davenport, Duane Brown and Jeff Allen. Houston has a few other holes to fill on defense and will have to do it without picks in the first or second round.

Is a coaching change the answer? O'Brien is entering the final season of his contract, so owner Bob McNair and general manager Rick Smith will have a decision to make on whether to sign him to an extension or part ways. The organization should give O'Brien another chance upon seeing what he could do with the offense after finally having a good quarterback. It was a small sample size, but in the six games that Watson played, O'Brien's playcalling was creative and had a lot of success. The Texans have a bright future with Watson under center if he can come into next season healthy, and O'Brien should be there to coach him. -- Sarah Barshop

Indianapolis Colts

What has gone wrong this season? Andrew Luck. His value to the franchise couldn't be any clearer after what has happened to the Colts this season. You can probably argue that Luck deserves more than the $140 million contract owner Jim Irsay gave him in summer 2016. Luck's right shoulder surgery, which ended up costing him this entire season, is the biggest reason the Colts will miss the playoffs for the third consecutive year. They would be a wild-card team had he played this season. The Colts tried to quickly recover by trading for Jacoby Brissett a week before the start of the regular season, when they realized Luck would miss more than just a few games early on. Brissett, instead, has been playing catch-up to learn the offense. What Luck's absence also showed is that the Colts have a roster that's flawed and needs a lot of improvement if they expect to compete for a playoff spot in the future.

What needs to happen this offseason? The Colts first need to figure out if Luck will be ready for the 2018 season. Nobody inside the organization can definitively say he will be their Week 1 starting quarterback. Luck's health likely will play a factor in what direction the Colts go in the draft, especially since they're on track for a top-five pick and Brissett has regressed some as the season has progressed. Indianapolis -- as has been the case every year -- must find a way to improve its offensive line. Despite Irsay saying over the summer that the offensive line is fixed, the group has allowed an NFL-high 51 sacks. GM Chris Ballard also has to find some pass-rushers (only 20 sacks), upgrade the middle linebacker position and potentially add receivers to go with T.Y. Hilton.

Is a coaching change the answer? Cutting ties with Chuck Pagano is necessary. It's surprising that Irsay didn't fire Pagano when he fired GM Ryan Grigson back in January. The Colts are about to go from three consecutive playoff appearances to missing the playoffs in three consecutive years under Pagano. The Colts will be an offense-first team as long as Luck is with the organization. Getting an offensive-minded coach could help offset the fact that Luck potentially could be dealing with the fourth offensive coordinator in his career. -- Mike Wells

Miami Dolphins

What has gone wrong this season? A strong case can be made that no team in the league had more misfortune -- some self-inflicted -- this season. It began during the first week of training camp when starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill blew out his knee and was lost for the season. From there, Hurricane Irma forced the cancellation of Miami's Week 1 game and took its bye week. Starting linebacker Lawrence Timmons briefly went AWOL before the first game and offensive line coach Chris Foerster resigned after a video surfaced on social media of him snorting a powdery white substance. Miami tried to hold it together and started 4-2, but the hits kept adding up and things eventually fell apart. The Dolphins went on a five-game losing streak and couldn't recover. They showed signs of playing better on Sunday with a 35-9 victory over the Broncos.

What needs to happen in the offseason? The Dolphins must take a hard look at their roster and decide how much of a rebuild they want to undertake. They have a lot of needs, particularly on offense. Miami likely needs a new right tackle, tight end, two new guards and maybe a new running back. It's going to take free agency and the draft to fill these holes. The Dolphins also must decide whether to go back to Tannehill in 2018 or move in another direction. A former first-round pick, Tannehill is under contract for $17.5 million, but he will be 30 in July and coming off back-to-back season-ending knee injuries. The Dolphins should at least draft a quarterback as insurance in the event Tannehill isn't the same player.

Is a coaching change the answer? No. Adam Gase proved last year that he is a good choice to lead the franchise. He led the Dolphins to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth in his first year as head coach. Gase could not control some of the aforementioned misfortune this season. Yes, it was Gase's call to sign Jay Cutler, which was a $10 million mistake. But Gase thought he could patch a very difficult situation. The fact the Dolphins are still fighting late in the season in meaningless games is a positive reflection of Gase. -- James Walker

New York Jets

What has gone wrong this season? Actually, nothing went wrong -- unless you're part of the tanking crowd that wanted the Jets to lose every game and secure the top pick in the 2018 draft. If that was your hope, too bad. By every measure, the Jets have overachieved. It's important to remember there were no expectations when they began the season; they were supposed to be a punching bag, a laughingstock. Todd Bowles was Dead Coach Walking. USC's Sam Darnold was deemed the savior. Then the season began and they actually resembled a football team and won a few games, hanging on the periphery of the playoff race into December. There are bad 5-7 teams and good 5-7 teams; the Jets belong in the latter group.

What needs to happen in offseason? They need to find a long-term answer at quarterback. (Where have you heard that before?) Josh McCown, 38, is having a terrific year, but he can't be expected to maintain this level of play into the future, not even if he steals Tom Brady's cookbook. They need a young quarterback to build around and it's quite obvious that Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg aren't the answer. The Jets should re-sign McCown (free agent) and draft a quarterback in the first round, even if it requires a trade up. They also need a playmaker at running back, a new center, a pass-rushing linebacker and a cornerback. But the overall focus should be on the offense.

Is a coaching change the answer? No. Despite some painful fourth-quarter losses, Bowles has the team moving in the right direction. This has to be a big-picture decision: Are the Jets ahead of where many expected them to be? The answer is a resounding yes. Retaining a coach who probably will miss the playoffs for the third time in three years usually doesn't fly in the cut-throat NFL -- or in the demanding New York market, for that matter -- but Bowles has the respect of the locker room. The fan base, while turned off by his boring personality, has come to respect the job he has done with this young team. Barring a collapse in the final month, Bowles will be back. -- Rich Cimini