The Kansas City Chiefs shocked the NFL world last season by going from 2-14 to the playoffs. Who can follow that lead in 2014?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Talent wasn’t the biggest problem facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a year ago. They have their fair share of that. What they lacked was stability and direction under former head coach Greg Schiano. It wasn’t any fun coming to work and there was no unity. So Schiano was sacked and veteran coach Lovie Smith put in his place. Smith developed a reputation for getting the most out of his players in Chicago where he had great success. He’s respected by all and just the antidote the Bucs need. If Josh McCown can play like he did in Chicago and the defense rises to a similar level that Smith built there, this team has the pieces for a run.
It’s easy to forget that the Washington Redskins were a playoff team in 2012. Robert Griffin III was Rookie of the Year. It’s just he and the team saw a number of things go wrong last year. First and foremost was his health and then there was the utter implosion of the Redskins defense, overcome by age, injury and ineptitude. Washington has a new head coach in Jay Gruden who comes from a proven NFL coaching tree. A series of moves in free agency and the draft have helped retool the defense while the offense appears to be loaded up with playmaking talent. If health prevails and Gruden can get them pointed in the right direction, there is no reason they can’t win that division.
Just a few yards separated the Atlanta Falcons and the Super Bowl in January of 2013. Sadly they fell short and the hangover of that defeat, along with a bevy of injuries tanked their 2013 season before it really could ever get going. Still, they have a solid core in place with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White. Together with a sprinkle of solid talents during the off-season such as Jake Matthews, Ra’Shede Hageman and Paul Soliai gives them a much bigger and stronger presence up front, something that was lacking last season. This team is still good and stable. A turnaround would not be a shock to anybody.
Gus Bradley and David Caldwell have steadily built something interesting down south. Off-season by off-season they have assembled a strong cast of young NFL players, first on defense in 2013 and now on offense with additions like Blake Bortles, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. The team played better down the stretch of last season and seem to have a lot going for them. Much of their success will be tied to the quarterback position and whether Chad Henne can guide the ship until Bortles is ready. Jacksonville has done everything possible to field a legitimate offense, including beefing up the ground attack with Toby Gerhart and Storm Johnson. Given the relative weakness of the AFC South, the Jaguars could surprise a ton of people if Bradley gets them playing well early.