We started to look ahead to the NFL offseason as soon as Billy Cundiff's field goal fluttered off-target and we will dive headfirst into the offseason two weeks from now when the scouting combine begins in Indianapolis. In the meantime, let's take a glance at what the Ravens' AFC North opponents are tasked with this offseason.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7 in 2011, lost in the wild card round):
First-round draft picks: No. 17 (via Oakland) and No. 21
Three key free agents: RB Cedric Benson, K Mike Nugent, WR Jerome Simpson
Biggest holes to plug: Cornerback, offensive guard, running back, safety
Offseason objectives: Cincinnati was one of the season's biggest surprises as the Bengals, led by impressive rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, made the playoffs as the AFC's No. 6 seed. The offense can be improved with an upgrade at running back, as Benson, a free agent, isn't very explosive. On defense, the Bengals need a reliable corner to play opposite of Leon Hall and their secondary will also benefit from upgrades at safety.
Cleveland Browns (4-12 in 2011, did not make the playoffs):
First-round draft picks: No. 4 and No. 22 (via Atlanta)
Three key free agents: RB Peyton Hillis, MLB D'Qwell Jackson, S Mike Adams
Biggest holes to plug: Defensive end, quarterback, running back, wide receiver
Offseason objectives: Colt McCoy doesn't appear to be the answer under center, but whether the Browns go with McCoy or land someone like Robert Griffin III in the draft, they desperately need playmakers on offense. At pick No. 4, the Browns can draft a stud running back in Trent Richardson or star receiver Justin Blackmon if they don't get Griffin. Cleveland's defense is solid, but they need another pass rush besides Jabaal Sheard.
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4 in 2011, lost in the wild card round):
First-round draft picks: No. 24
Three key free agents: OT/G Trai Essex, CB William Gay, WR Mike Wallace (restricted)
Biggest holes to plug: Cornerback, nose tackle, offensive line, running back
Offseason objective: The Steelers defense started to show its age this season. Pittsburgh needs a long-term replacement for nose tackle Casey Hampton and other reinforcements on the defensive line. Cornerback Ike Taylor had a strong season until he got toasted in the playoff loss to the Denver Broncos and he turns 32 in May. Per usual, their offensive line needs to be addressed, especially at the tackle position. The Steelers also might consider drafting a running back as Rashard Mendenhall, their ho-hum starter, is rehabbing a torn ACL.