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Lawlor: Seven Things To Watch In 2017

Posted Jan 20, 2017

The NFL postseason is a magical time.

Ideally, the Eagles are playing and you live and die with each pressure-packed game. Even when your favorite team isn't in the playoffs, you still get to see some good football. Beyond entertainment, I always look to see if there are any lessons that can be learned from the teams that got to the postseason and the ones that have success in January.

I think there are a few things we can take away from this year.

1. You Need A Quarterback

Let's start with this very obvious point. The Raiders had a fantastic year thanks to Derek Carr's breakout season. Unfortunately, Carr got hurt and missed the postseason. The Raiders were a completely different team without their quarterback. They totaled just 20 points and 424 yards in the two games he missed. The Raiders scored 33 points and had 463 yards in Carr's final game.

That is a huge difference.

The Texans went 9-7 and won the AFC South. They struggled with quarterback play all season, but finished with the No. 1 defense in the league and that was a big reason they got to the playoffs. The postseason isn't a time when you can just "not lose" games. Good defense isn't enough. You must be able to make plays and score points. Houston has a lot of talented pieces in place, but without a high-quality quarterback it stood no chance to beat good teams.

The Eagles have Carson Wentz and they believe he is going to be a really good quarterback. The Eagles have a chance to be a title contender if he pans out. We don't know if he'll be as good as Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady, the final four quarterbacks left this year. Those guys are proven veterans and at least two of them are headed to the Hall of Fame. Wentz has definitely shown the potential to be a star and that offers a lot of hope for the future.

2. Instant Impact Is Needed

Another key point is that rookies matter.

I don't know if the Chiefs make it to the playoffs without Tyreek Hill. Dallas wouldn't have gone 13-3 without Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. Guard Joe Thuney starts for the Patriots. The Steelers have a couple of rookies who have started on defense. Keanu Neal and Deion Jones have been terrific for the Falcons' defense. The Packers, as always, have several rookies playing a lot of snaps for them. C.J. Prosise was an impact player for Seattle when he was healthy. He is one of those unusual guys who could end up being a better pro than college player.

You can't draft someone and go, "That's our starter." It doesn't work like that. These aren't just talking about first- and second-round picks making an impact. Hill was a fifth-round pick. Dallas got Prescott in the fourth round. Prosise and Thuney were taken in the third round. Rookies can become key players. You have to give them a chance to get on the field and show what they can do. I think some fans get confused with this point. You don't just give them a job. The rookie has to earn it on the practice field, in the classroom and in the weight room. When he performs well in those areas, then you have to give him a chance in games.

Some coaches embrace rookies better than others. Doug Pederson certainly embraced young players in 2016. There were 10 rookies who got regular snaps at some point during the season. That number would have been 11 if Joe Walker didn't get hurt in the preseason. Pederson didn't blindly throw players on the field. He made them earn their chance, but then wasn't afraid to let them go play and show what they could do. There were ups and downs, as with all rookies, but it was great that Pederson gave them a chance to play and also learn from their mistakes. Let's hope he does that again in 2017.

3. Help Wanted In Free Agency

Free agents can have a huge impact. The Falcons signed center Alex Mack last March and he proved to be a great addition. Mack started all 16 games and provided the kind of leadership and quality play you want in a center. He made everyone around him better. There is no way the Giants come close to the playoffs if they didn't add Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison in free agency. Those three guys were critical to the defense going from awful to pretty darn good. Oakland signed guard Kelechi Osemele and he proved to be a great addition to the line. Osemele was physically dominant in the run game and helped the Raiders take a big step forward.

The key here is to get the right players. Signing the biggest names and spending the most money don't always deliver the best results. Identify players who fit your team and your scheme, and guys who are worth giving big contracts.

4. Discover Treasure In Other Teams' Castoffs

Other pro personnel moves can be important. The Patriots traded for Martellus Bennett last March. No one thought that would be a huge move, but with Rob Gronkowski hurt Bennett has become a critical player for New England. The Falcons added Taylor Gabriel after he was cut by Cleveland. A guy who wasn't good enough to make the Browns became a key weapon for the Falcons' high-flying offense, tying for the team lead in touchdown catches. You need to use any and all methods possible to improve your roster.

5. Reap What You Sow

Beyond adding outside talent, development of your own players is critical. Jesse James, Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers went from little-used backups to key receivers for Ben Roethlisberger. Trey Flowers only played in one game in 2015, but led the Patriots in sacks this year. Davante Adams caught total four touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Packers. He had 12 touchdown receptions this year and became a key receiver for them. Vic Beasley went from disappointing rookie in 2015 to leading the NFL in sacks.

Be patient. Give young players a chance to develop.

The Eagles have plenty of young players who could take a big step forward. Isaac Seumalo could become a starter on the offensive line. Dorial Green-Beckham has only scratched the surface of how talented he is. Trey Burton gets better every season. Wendell Smallwood could have a breakout year in 2017. The Eagles need a young player or two to really improve to help push the team to the next level.

6. Don't Be Risk Averse

The Packers cut veteran Josh Sitton and went with a younger, cheaper player at left guard. The Patriots traded away proven stars Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. Their defense didn't seem to miss those guys. Dallas didn't panic when Tony Romo got hurt. Dak Prescott got a chance to play and he had a great season.

The Eagles took a chance when they traded Sam Bradford away and Wentz became the starting quarterback. I think that shows that Howie Roseman and Pederson are willing to roll the dice. You can't be afraid of making mistakes.

7. Injuries Are Not An Excuse

Finally, good teams overcome injuries. Jamaal Charles, J.J. Watt, Tony Romo, Eddie Lacy and Rob Gronkowski all missed at least half of the season, if not all of it. Their teams overcame the injuries and found a way to replace those players.

The Eagles did a great job of this during the Andy Reid era. Players rose to the occasion. They found a way to overcome adversity. The current team needs to work on this. Instead of letting a bad situation get the best of them, they need that situation to bring out the best in them. A big part of this is players playing together, the sum being better than the whole of the parts.

Let's hope Eagles players, coaches and executives have watched this postseason, learned some lessons and are ready to attack 2017 as soon as they can. Watching the playoffs isn't nearly as fun as when the Eagles in the playoffs.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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