As another NFL offseason comes to a conclusion and coaches prepare for a well-deserved vacation before training camp, it seems like the right time to look at last season's 12 playoff teams.
Who has improved and perhaps moved to the precipice of something big? Who has likely taken a step back? Who should expect about the same results they achieved in 2005?
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Super Bowl champions face more challenges in 2006 than you might think. First of all, they have to solidify their offensive identity, which is a ball-control running game. Right now they do not have a back who can give them 25-30 carries a game, and a run game by committee is not overly desirable.
The Steelers also must replace solid veteran contributors such as Antwaan Randle El, Kimo von Oelhoffen and Chris Hope -- all underrated players who were critical parts of their success. The Steelers always seem to prepare for defections and have young guys waiting in the wings, but their depth will be severely tested in 2006. They will look like the 2005 Steelers, but their margin for error will be less than it was in 2005.
Seattle Seahawks: This is a veteran group brimming with optimism and confidence. The Seahawks seem to be over their Super Bowl loss and actually might be better than they were a year ago. Although they lost a great offensive lineman in guard Steve Hutchinson, they re-signed their biggest offensive weapon (running back Shaun Alexander) and added a quality pass rusher (outside linebacker Julian Peterson) and an exciting young receiver (Nate Burleson).
In today's NFL, continuity is a huge advantage, and Seattle has it not only in its locker room but also on its coaching staff. This is a team with few weaknesses that expects to be back in the Super Bowl and win it this time.