A new NFL season brings renewed hope to many NFL cities looking for a turnaround or improvement from last season. Thanks in large part to the salary cap and a draft that is geared towards helping teams that falter, improvement can easily be anticipated or in some cases, demanded.
Last season, teams like the Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans fell from grace and not only failed to make the playoffs, but fell to the bottom of the league as well. Consequently, they are all strong considerations to have a turnaround this season. The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl, but unlike many the Baltimore Ravens before them, the Seahawks lost very few players from a team that was dominant on both sides of the ball.
These teams represent the 10 teams that should improve from the 2013-2014 season. The following teams all have the ingredients to play better this upcoming season. Barring any major injuries, look for these teams to climb up the standings as well.
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10 Seattle Seahawks - Last Season 13-3
Coming off a 13-3 season, it might be considered a stretch to have the Seahawks on this list. After all, the Seahawks play in the rugged NFC West and improving in what is arguably the NFL's toughest division while also following up a Super Bowl victory is no easy task. For starters, the NFC West is not looking as rugged lately. Sam Bradford just went down with a season ending knee injury, while both Colin Kaepernick and Carson Palmer have not exactly been looking like Pro Bowl quarterbacks this preseason either.
On the other hand, the Seahawks really did not suffer many casualties from their outstanding season last year and still have Russell Wilson playing for what amounts to pocket change by NFL standards. Don't be surprised to see them improve. The Seahawks are solid on both sides of the ball and have Cam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman locked up in the NFL's best secondary.
9 Buffalo Bills - Last Season 6-10
The Bills were very competitive on many occasions last year. The big improvement could come from hard working quarterback EJ Manuel. Manuel got injured last season and only played in 10 games, showing some glimpses of what he could become if he stays healthy. Look for him to improve on his rookie season, with wide receiver Robert Woods along with him and the Bills 19th ranked passing offense along with them. The Bills have Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Bryce Brown and new addition Anthony Dixon to run the ball and did manage to have the league's 2nd best running attack last season.
The defense lost Kiko Alonso to injury, who had a big season last year, but still should be pretty solid this year. The Bills were not the best against the run (28th in the league), but were very good against the pass (4th in the league). If the defense can shut down the run as well as they shut down the pass, it should help give Manuel more opportunities to succeed.
8 Jacksonville Jaguars - Last Season 4-12
Much of the talk surrounding the Jaguars this preseason has been about Blake Bortles. Although Chad Henne will likely start the season for the Jags, two things might come of this unique quarterback controversy. Either Henne will perform better with Bortles breathing down his neck or Henne will falter and open the way for a new era in Jaguar football with Bortels at the helm. The Jaguars might have also found something in University of Miami receiver Allen Hurns and also drafted Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson to upgrade their receiving core. On top of that, they also brought in Toby Gerhart, who should at least give them forward progress at the running back position.
The defense was actually more of a problem last year. Jacksonville gave up 28.1 points per game (28th in the league) and was 29th in the league against the run, averaging 131.8 yards per game. The signing of Red Bryant from Seattle should help significantly, but other players will have to also step up their games for the Jaguars to improve considerably.
7 Baltimore Ravens - Last Season 8-8
The Ravens fell from grace last season after their Super Bowl victory in 2013. They lost a lot of players on the defensive side of the ball, however, it was really the offense that suffered most last season. The offensive line couldn't block and the running game was nonexistent, averaging only 83.0 yards per game (30th in league). The Ravens will lose Ray Rice for their first two games this season, but that might be a blessing in disguise. Bernard Pierce will get his chance to start and should do his best to impress the coaches to earn more playing time. Flacco will have Dennis Pitta back from the get go and that should help extend more drives on third downs.
The defense should only get better and wasn't too bad last year. After all, they did lose Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe from their Super Bowl winning team. They were the 12th best defense in yards allowed last year and could easily improve on that this season.
6 Detroit Lions - Last Season 7-9 / This Season 9-7
The Detroit Lions are a curious team. The roster is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and yet the Lions always find a way to underachieve. Enter Jim Caldwell to try and motivate the Lions to realize more of their potential. Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson are each coming off solid seasons which helped Detroit finish the season with the 6th best offense in the league. The Lions drafted another offensive player, tight end Eric Ebron, with their first pick in the draft. The offense must concentrate more on the running game to improve on their 17th best performance last year and could even score some more points as well (24.7 points per game). If Reggie Bush can run the football like he did last year, the Lions offense has the tools to improve.
The defense is solid against the run (6th in league), but against the pass is quite a different story (23rd in league). Four of their first six draft picks were defensive players that join the many solid players coming back on the defensive side of the ball. It would not be a fluke to see the Lions finally get to the playoffs and even win a postseason game.
5 Green Bay Packers - Last Season 8-7-1
The Green Bay Packers struggled last season when Aaron Rodgers went down, although some good did come from the Rodgers injury. Eddie Lacy came through with a 1,178 yard rushing season in his rookie campaign, a rarity for a Packers back. Rodgers is back and ready to lead what should be a pretty potent offense, if the offensive line holds up. Despite the injury to Rodgers, the Packers offense still averaged just over 400 yards per game (3rd in league) and 26.1 points per game (8th in league). A healthy Rodgers could easily translate into more yardage for the offense and Lacy, as teams key on him less, and a few more wins as well.
The defense was far from stout last season (25th in league). The Packers did draft Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round as well as a defensive tackle, Khyri Thornton, in the third round. The loss of B.J. Raji will certainly hurt, but just a little improvement from the remaining members of the defensive unit should make it easier for the offense to take control of any close games.
4 Houston Texans - Last Season 2-14
The Houston Texans were a good football team until their train wreck season last year. The offense looked average on paper (10th in league), but was only able to score 17.3 points per game (31st in league). They have Arian Foster back and Andre Johnson as well, but the big question remains at quarterback. Many Houston fans seem to think that anyone can replace Matt Schaub and lead the Texans to the playoffs, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is as close as you can get to being 'anyone.' Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions in 14 attempts in his first preseason game to add insult to a quarterback rating of 14.6. A healthy Foster should certainly help him out.
Houston did have a pretty good defense in 2013. The unit finished the season as the 7th best defense overall in the league and the 3rd best against the pass. Last year, the Texans did give up 26.8 points per game (23rd in league) but they also got rid of Matt Schaub to help reduce that figure. They have one of the league's best players in J.J. Watt and will have Brian Cushing back and could easily improve. Not to mention Jadeveon Clowney, the 1st overall pick in the draft, who looks set to cause a lot of mayhem for opposing quarterbacks.
3 Atlanta Falcons - Last Season 4-12
The Falcons certainly didn't fly too high last season as they had difficulties on both sides of the ball. The Falcons were a middle of the road team in total offense but what really derailed them was the fact that they were at the bottom of the league in rushing (32nd in league). Matt Ryan passed for 4,515 yards and 26 touchdowns but the lack of a running game really slowed the offense down. Atlanta did draft Devonta Freeman out of Florida State to try and address the running game where he joins Jacquizz Rodgers and an aging Steven Jackson.
Despite the ailing running game, the real issue Atlanta had last year was on defense. The Falcons were close to the bottom of the league in total defense with a 379.4 yards allowed per game average. Just like their problems with the running game on offense, the Falcons had trouble stopping the run on defense (31st in league). The defense against the pass wasn't much better. The Falcons defense had only 32 quarterback sacks and 10 interceptions last season to land them close to the bottom of the league in both categories. They have to put more pressure on the quarterback to improve in both areas and the win column as well.
2 Washington Redskins - Last Season 3-13
The Redskins are part of the less than formidable NFC East and still finished last season with only 3 wins. Robert Griffin III is back and so is one of the most well-known backup quarterbacks in the league, Kirk Cousins. The offense suffered last season but still managed to have the fifth best rushing offense in the league (135.1 yards per game) behind Alfred Morris's 1,275 yards gained on the ground. The passing offense wasn't horrible (16th in the league) but between Griffin and Cousins, the Redskins had 19 interceptions and only 20 touchdown passes. That will have to change for the Redskins to improve this season. The Redskins did add Morgan Moses (OT) and Spencer Long (OG) to help on the offensive line and DeSean Jackson to shore up the receiving corps.
The defense was the league's 18th best in yards allowed last year, but still struggled to keep teams from scoring (30th in league). The unit only recorded 36 quarterback sacks and gave up a lofty 29.9 points per game. The defense had a very good preseason, giving up only 1,013 yards and 64 first downs in four preseason games. They even recorded 13 quarterback sacks and only gave up 62 points in the four games. If the defense continues to pick it up, the Redskins could easily win the weak NFC East.
1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Last Season 4-12
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had quite a difficult season last year, but with the addition of Lovie Smith things could change real quickly in Tampa. The offense that was last in the league in yards gained and 30th in the league in points scored can certainly improve with the weapons they have. Josh McCown was brought in to improve the play at the quarterback position, Mike Evans was drafted to complement Vincent Jackson at the wide receiver position and Doug Martin is healthy to start the season. The real improvement must come from the passing game that only mustered a league low 176.3 yards per game. The Bucs drafted six offensive players and should improve under Smith's watchful eye.
The defense was far from stout, but was more than likely asked to do too much with the anemic offense keeping them busy every game. They were average at best (17th in league), but should be able to step it up with the defensive minded Smith urging them on. Look for the unit led by Gerald McCoy to make the Tampa Bay defense prominent once again.
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