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NFL Playoff Preview: Outlook And Analysis For All 12 Teams

All eyes remain on young stars Patrick Mahomes and Todd Gurley as the NFL transitions from the regular season to the playoffs. But it’s the under-the-radar, cheap-yet-effective signings that have carried many of the postseason teams this far.

Still, for all those smart signings, free agency looms, and teams will have to decide which of their players are worth retaining. For many of these players, the postseason represents one last chance to impress their GMs before the off-season decisions must be made.

Forbes.com contributors have in-depth analysis on the situations for all 12 playoff teams. Catch up on where your squad stands for the postseason and beyond right here:

NFC

1. New Orleans Saints: Getting big talent out of small contracts carried the Saints to their top-seed status. With a $1.3 million salary, Michael Thomas was easily one of the NFL’s best values, and star running back Alvin Kamara, although often overshadowed by the Rams’ Todd Gurley, takes up just $878,193 of cap space for the Saints. While the Saints have free agency decisions to make on players including Mark Ingram and Dez Bryant, loom for New Orleans, their ability to inject the right draft prospects into their roster should keep them Super Bowl contenders beyond this season.

2. Los Angeles Rams: Smart signings should get the credit for the Rams’ playoff charge. Los Angeles picked up CJ Anderson for just $92,941 to replace an injured Todd Gurley, and he rushed for two touchdowns and 299 yards. And with a league-high 20.5 sacks, Aaron Donald proved his six-year, $135 million contract was worth every penny. Count on Ndamukong Suh and Dante Fowler, both free agents after this season, to make their mark in the playoffs.

3. Chicago Bears: While Khalil Mack is the league’s highest-paid defensive player, the Bears enjoyed cost-effective production from running backs Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard, who earn a combined $1.4 million. With roughly $20 million in cap space, the Bears face a tough decision on whether to keep Bobby Massie or Adrian Amos during free agency.

4. Dallas Cowboys: Although the Cowboys don’t seem quite ready to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, their nucleus will remain for the 2019 season. Dak Prescott is expected to be offered a contract extension, and Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper are signed through next season.

5. Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks are a longshot to win the title, and an early exit from the playoffs wouldn’t be the end of the world. With $63 million in projected cap space, and their top players still under contract, they have plenty of room to improve in 2019. For a team that beat only three teams with a winning record this season, Seattle’s offseason will be pivotal as the team seeks to compete with the Rams, and the first step toward that goal is retaining defensive end Frank Clark.

6. Philadelphia Eagles: While the Eagles are in the same quarterback situation as last year, they face a new challenge: Fan favorite Nick Foles, alongside stars like Golden Tate and Jordan Matthews, is entering free agency after this season. If the Eagles repeat as Super Bowl champions, which of these popular Eagles are worth retaining?

AFC

1. Kansas City Chiefs: One thing is certain for the Chiefs: Pat Mahomes, with a four-year, $16.4 million deal, is the next face of the NFL. And although he may become the league’s first $200 million player down the line, Kansas City needs to address the big extensions due for Dee Ford, Tyreek Hill and Chris Jones. With $41 million in cap space, the Chiefs look to be in solid shape to hang on to their Super Bowl-contender status.

2. New England Patriots: Super Bowl or no, disruption both in the coaching staff and on the roster is coming to the Patriots. Assistants Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores are being courted for head coaching positions, and 18 Patriots will be unrestricted free agents. With only a projected $20 million in cap space, the Patriots must grapple with whether to keep key players Trent Brown and Trey Flowers. Patriots fans should enjoy the postseason while it lasts because their team is bound to look much differentnext season—even Rob Gronkowski may be gone.

3. Houston Texans: Earning a mere $7 million on his one-year deal, Tyrann Mathieu will likely move on to greener pastures in free agency if he stands out in the postseason. But Texans fans shouldn’t be too worried: Houston still has plenty of talent to compete in the future and cap space to address bigger concerns in the off-season, like upgrading their awful offensive line.

4. Baltimore Ravens: Truly the wild card of the playoffs, the Ravens are entering a post-Joe Flacco era and relying on their youth to mature quickly. Other than Lamar Jackson, Baltimore has leaned on rookies Gus Edwards, whose 718 rushing yards came with the low price tag of $338,824, and Mark Andrews, a tight end who was signed for just $480,000. Regardless of what Baltimore decides to do for their veterans in the offseason, their core of young players should carry them in 2019 and beyond. 

5. Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers’ bets are paying dividends, including a pricey four-year, $19 million deal for rookie Derwin James and a two-year, $15 million contract for Mike Pouncey. With the team looking at a projected $27 million in cap space, look for underperformers Travis Benjamin and Jahleel Addae to try to earn spots on next season’s roster while they still can.

6. Indianapolis Colts: Colts fans can take a deep breath: Their team’s core is built on contracts going strong into 2019. Indianapolis’ three stars—Andrew Luck, TY Hilton and Eric Ebron—are here to stay, with Ebron’s contract set to expire the soonest, in 2020. The only real concern is the end of Anthony Castonzo’s four-year, $44 million contract in 2019. With their star talent on retainer for a few more years, an early playoff loss shouldn’t put a damper on Colts fans’ spirits.

 

This article originally appeared on Forbes

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