With the second half of the NFL season getting underway, every team is reaching a crossroad, knowing the playoffs are still within reach or if it's time to start building toward 2015. With that in mind, here's one crucial task each of the 32 clubs should be trying to accomplish by the end of the year.
Arizona Cardinals: They're building enviable program but must assess whether franchise face Larry Fitzgerald will remain part of it with $24 million cap number in 2015.
Atlanta Falcons: Have Mike Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff, overseers of most successful era in club history, taken it as far as they can? Tough call, Mr. Blank.
Carolina Panthers: They know they'll be writing big check to Cam Newton. But where do they reinvest savings from presumed exit of franchise player Greg Hardy?
Chicago Bears: Take a hint from Dallas — remove ball from the hands of Jay Cutler (12 turnovers) and force feed Matt Forte, who should top 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving.
Dallas Cowboys: Defense has made big strides since horrid 2013. But only three teams allow more yards per play, which won't fly when DeMarco Murray struggles.
Detroit Lions: They're 4-0 when WR Golden Tate has 10-plus targets. Lions would be wise to ensure his role doesn't diminish too much when Calvin Johnson returns.
Green Bay Packers: Yes, it's a passing league, and Aaron Rodgers may have its best arm. But getting Eddie Lacy more work reduces pressure on Rodgers, so-so D.
Minnesota Vikings: They've seen what life is like without Adrian Peterson. Time to determine whether or not they like this direction and options it would present.
New York Giants: A team that won titles by harassing quarterbacks, seemingly can't do it anymore. Good time to evaluate whether players and/or scheme fit.
New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram averaged 39.5 rushing yards per game before team declined his 2015 option. Since? How about 86.2 yards. Time to re-think his future in the Big Easy.
Philadelphia Eagles: Put band back together in pits. If C Jason Kelce and G Evan Mathis are even 80%, LeSean McCoy should take off followed by rest of offense.
St. Louis Rams: Injury-cursed QB Sam Bradford is owed $13M in base salary next year. Meanwhile, stand-in Austin Davis has more than flashed. What to do ...
San Francisco 49ers: The fork in the road is fast approaching — do they extend Jim Harbaugh's contract or not? You can bet he won't be a lame duck next year.
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson is owed major raise next spring. Marshawn Lynch's rumored departure would loosen cap but enough to add playmaker and depth, too?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rarely is a murky QB situation trumped. But big picture, Lovie Smith's D has been disastrous. He must ask himself if Tampa 2 is still viable.
Washington Redskins: Build some momentum, especially for 2015. That should be achievable with Robert Griffin III's impending return and an ascending defense.
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Baltimore Ravens: Fiery Steve Smith has been the perfect addition. But where is Torrey Smith? Need to get him going or risk being predictable down the stretch.
Buffalo Bills: If they can get run game cranking, especially when Fred Jackson recovers, QB Kyle Orton and defense are playing well enough to reach 10 wins.
Cincinnati Bengals: Ripped for 500 yards twice in past four games, defense better step it up or Cincy will flame out again even if Andy Dalton finally shines in clutch.
Cleveland Browns: QB dilemma must be resolved with Brian Hoyer's contract up. If he's the guy, makes sense to commit and perhaps even shop Johnny Football.
Denver Broncos: Protect Peyton, and they'll be fine. (Nitpick — hash out committee rotation rather than leaning on RB Montee Ball once he's healthy enough to play.)
Houston Texans: They're too reliant on two players — Arian Foster and J.J. Watt. Other studs must emerge, or Texans will be gameplanned into irrelevance.
Indianapolis Colts: They're susceptible to big plays, allowing eight passes of at least 40 yards. If that loophole is open in January, a good quarterback will make them pay.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Cycling youngsters into lineup is right approach for team with few settled positions. But Blake Bortles' mistakes must stop snowballing.
Kansas City Chiefs: Give. Jamaal. Charles. The. Ball. Andy Reid gets too cute rather than feeding his best player, who's only had 20 touches twice this season.
Miami Dolphins: Nice to be 4-3, but they must determine if coach Joe Philbin, 19-20 so far and best known for a scandal and dissing his QB, is really their guy.
New England Patriots: Must fix rush D, a glaring weakness exposed in each defeat and nearly by the Jets, too. Tough to see Pats beating physical NFC team in Super Bowl.
New York Jets: Maybe giving Geno Smith a week off is good idea. But with season lost, he needs to play more so Jets know whether to target new QB (high) in draft.
Oakland Raiders: Follow Jacksonville model and get lengthy auditions from as many young players as possible, which should also create better 2015 free agent plan.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Posting 51 points is great. But they've never had sustained success with Big Ben chucking it 49 times. Time to start re-establishing balance.
San Diego Chargers: They'll need to generate more production from the pass rush if they're going to vanquish a Brady or a Manning along the Super Bowl road.
Tennessee Titans: Ken Whisenhunt has burned through QBs since Kurt Warner retired in Arizona. Now coach needs good read on Zach Mettenberger before draft.
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