1. Marvin Lewis did the bare-minimum once again. Is upgrading their quarterback position the Bengals’ biggest offseason need?
RICHARD BOADU: As Trent Dilfer said yesterday, you don't just go pick Hall of Fame QB's off of a tree in the draft and ride off into perennial 11 and 12 win season bliss for 10 years. Dalton is a good QB. Hell, Peyton Manning, possibly the best to ever do it has a terrible playoff record. Be patient with Dalton.
JAMES CARR: Of course upgrading at QB would go a long way, but that's a lot easier said than done. Who is Marvin going to get, Jay Cutler? Is Josh Freeman any better? Sure, the Bengals could trade up and try to draft another franchise QB, but that's a big risk. Still, Cinci also has to factor in that the Steelers look like they'll be raring to go next season, and they'll need to improve just to replicate their regular season success in 2014. I doubt it comes at the expense of Dalton, though. I think he can win a chip like Brad Johnson or Trent Dilfer, because he's also a bit better than them (or just has AJ Green to make him look better). Green stood up for his QB after the loss, too. Ultimately, I think Dalton stays, and I don't think the Bengals will win a chip in the Marvin Lewis era.
DJ DUNSON: The NFL is becoming a league run by a few elite families. The Ryans, Harbaughs, Shanahans, Schottenheimers, Nolans and possibly even the Grudens. However, don’t forget about the Pagano’s. Chuck’s brother John has been with a single franchise for the last 11 years for a reason, and has been General Sherman marching through Georgia when he’s drawing up the blitz. Along with Whisenhunt, San Diego might have the NFL’s best coaching staff.
2. Is the presence of a healthy Michael Crabtree enough of an X-Factor to lift San Francisco over the top in the NFC?
BOADU: Yes. He's the best WR with the ball in his hands second only to Dez Bryant. He's not the fastest, but he's one of the top three route runners in the tri-planet area. Everything gets tighter in the playoffs and if Crabtree can get open with just a fraction of an inch, that maybe the difference.
CARR: Definitely. San Fran had enough X-Factors to get the job done without Crabtree. Now that they have their big target, this feels like San Fran's to lose in the NFC, just like most people thought at the beginning of the season.
Dunson: When Kaepernick finds a receiver he can target, he locks onto him and makes defenses pay. He was clearly missing Crabtree, but now that he’s rounding into form, defenses can no longer clamp down on Anquan Boldin or Vernon Davis and the field is opening up. Crabtree's return may be just as important as Percy Harvin's in Seattle. He wasn't active for their inept offensive performance against Carolina back in November, but if he can replicate his Sunday performance against Carolina's inconsistent corners it should be enough for San Fran to win and advance.
3. Coaches are under the microscope in the postseason. Which coordinator off a playoff staff should franchises be knocking the door down to interview for head coaching vacancies?
BOADU: Ken Whisenhunt is calling great games down in San Diego. The NFL does like to recycle former head coaches and Ken didn't do a bad job in Arizona, he just didn't really have a quarterback to trust. He should definitely get a look.
CARR: I doubt Pep Hamilton from the Colts is looking to part with Andrew Luck (Hamilton also coached Luck at Stanford), but coming back from a 38-17 deficit in the playoffs against KC's vaunted defense was extremely impressive. He doesn't necessarily need Luck to succeed either. He set franchise records with Kyle Orton in Chicago and was around for Jay Cutler's best season with the Bears. That's who I'd hire.
Dunson: Marvin Lewis dug the Bengals out from the dumps, but the Chicago Bears might be a model for what actions they should take in the offseason. Dalton has one more season left on his four-year rookie contract. Lewis shouldn’t be the coach for the final year of that deal unless Mike Brown brings in an offensive coordinator on of those coach-in-waiting deals that Jason Garrett had in Dallas. The Bengals should import an innovative offensive mind to get what they can out of Dalton before giving up on him, because I wouldn’t trust the Lewis regime with selecting another quarterback.