It's impossible for any NFL front office to build a perfect roster in the salary-cap era. All 32 teams have a weakness, and over the course of a season opposing teams will find that sore spot and pick on it. As good as the Bengals were last postseason, the clear weaknesses on their roster were offensive line and cornerback Eli Apple. The Rams struggled for most of Super Bowl LVI, but their pass rush dominated the interior of Cincinnati's line in the second half, and Cooper Kupp beat an isolated Apple for the championship-winning touchdown.
Let's run through the league's top playoff contenders and identify their Achilles' heel heading into the preseason. Those weaknesses will change as each team begins to deal with injuries; we've already seen one Super Bowl contender develop a much bigger problem at a key position because of a serious training camp injury. What looks like a weakness now might be a strength by January, and vice versa.
Picking the "top playoff contenders" can be thorny business, so I've chosen to let ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) take the heat on this one. Since 14 teams make the playoffs, I'm going with the 14 that FPI believes have the best chance of advancing. Some notable teams are left out of the mix as a result, so if you're a fan of the Bengals, Patriots, Saints, Titans or 49ers, direct your nasty messages to the algorithm.
I'll start with the teams whose issues are the least likely to sink the ship before working my way to the most vexing problems. As a result, I'll start with the team FPI projects as the most likely to make the playoffs:
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN's FPI: 74.8%
Achilles' heel: Guard
The league's best roster on paper doesn't have many holes. The Bills aren't quite as deep as they were in years past, owing to the contracts they've had to pay to stars Josh Allen, Matt Milano and Tre'Davious White. They have missed on a couple of draft picks, although not as many as most teams. You could maybe point toward cornerback, where they will have White coming back from a torn left ACL and rookie first-round pick Kaiir Elam penciled in to start, but even that seems like a position they'll have solved by midseason.
Instead, I'll look up front, where there are more questions than answers. Dion Dawkins is locked in at left tackle, while veteran center Mitch Morse returns after what should have been a Pro Bowl season. No issues there. Spencer Brown, a third-round pick last year, took over the right tackle job during his rookie season and forced the organization to push Daryl Williams inside before cutting Williams. Stats LLC credited Brown with just a half-sack allowed in 2021, and any further development would give Buffalo an excellent pair of tackles on the edge.
Guard, on the other hand, could be a problem. The Bills have options, but each of their choices has questions. Rodger Saffold was signed away from the Titans in free agency, but he is 34 and suffered injuries in a car crash before camp began. On the right side, they are expected to open the season with Ryan Bates, who had just one career start before taking every snap over the final five games last season. The Bears signed him to a four-year, $17 million offer sheet this offseason, and the Bills matched the deal with the plan of keeping Bates installed as the starter.
Buffalo has other options. Ike Boettger started 17 games from 2020 to 2021, although he's beginning camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after tearing his left Achilles in December. Cody Ford, a second-round pick in 2019 and one of the rare misses for general manager Brandon Beane, can either play as the team's swing tackle or settle in at guard. Journeyman David Quessenberry and Greg Van Roten, both of whom were starters on other rosters a year ago, will compete for playing time. Both of these guys would likely be Week 1 starters in other places if healthy. Only by Buffalo's lofty standards would guard be considered an issue.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN's FPI: 65.8%
Achilles' heel: Running back