5 NFL teams that could surprise in 2013

It’s been a long offseason for many NFL fans, but as the month of July comes to a close, we can finally start gearing up for the 2013 season. Training camp is now well under way, with preseason games just a short week away. Draft picks have been signed, roster cuts will be made, and depth charts filled. Every player, coach, and team has a fresh start, and for many of us, hope once again springs eternal.

In this article, we’ll look at five sub-.500 clubs from last season that could surprise us this year. By looking at strength of schedule, the number of losses in close games, the draft, as well as offseason moves and acquisitions, I’ll make my case for each of these five teams.

 

San Diego Chargers San_Diego_Chargers_logo.svg

2012 Record: (7-9)

Games lost by seven points or less: five

Strength of Schedule: .457 (117-139-0)

Last Playoff Appearance: 2009

After finally dumping the increasingly unpopular head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith, the Chargers made a variety of offseason moves in an attempt to revive a once formidable franchise. Starting with the hiring of general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy, the Chargers began to reload from a variety of positions.

First- and second-round draft selections right tackle D.J. Fluker and linebacker Manti Te’o will likely be placed in starting roles. Third-round selection Keenan Allen will also look to make an immediate impact at wide receiver. After an extremely productive three-year career at California, Allen was considered a late-first, early-second round pick. When he fell to San Diego in the third round largely due to a knee injury in his junior year, the Chargers may have landed one of the steals of the draft.

They also landed some big names in free agency with the aging but still productive Dwight Freeney, as well as the versatile running back Danny Woodhead.

Unfortunately, Philip Rivers hasn’t exactly been known for his mobility. The Chargers’ woes at offensive line last season led to many offensive breakdowns, sacks, and interceptions. Fluker will begin to anchor what was a weak offensive line, but left newly acquired left tackle King Dunlap remains a huge question mark.

However, if Rivers can find suitable protection, and if running back Ryan Mathews can find a way to stay healthy, San Diego stands a reasonable shot of besting their seven win total from 2012.

 

Detroit Lions New_Lions_Logo.svg

2012 Record: (4-12)

Games lost by seven points or less: five

Strength of Schedule: .539 (138-118-0)

Last Playoff Appearance: 2011

After an impressive season 10-win season in 2011, the Lions fell right back into familiar mediocrity in 2012. Plagued by injuries and plenty of off-the-field drama, Detroit’s hopes of another playoff run were quickly dashed. But for the upcoming season, they’ve returned with a healthy roster and added plenty of talent – both in free agency and the draft.

The Lions finally landed a big name at running back with Reggie Bush. While his talent in the NFL hasn’t quite translated from his incredible years at USC, Bush has shown flashes of brilliance. He’ll be perfectly complimented by the big, bruising Mikel Leshoure, as Detroit will look to offset its incredibly pass-heavy offensive attack.

With wide receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles returning from injury, superstar Calvin Johnson should also find a little relief from double and triple coverages.

Additionally, the now-healthy Louis Delmas will be teamed with ex-Texan Glover Quin and second-round selection Darius Slay, as they will immediately improve last season’s laughably poor secondary.

Raw but physically formidable rookie Ezekiel Ansah, the fifth overall pick in the draft, will look replace the Lions’ highly productive defensive end Cliff Avril, who was lost to the Seattle Seahawks in free agency.

Detroit has clearly added both size and speed to its roster, but concerns remain along Matthew Stafford’s offensive line. As much as Lions fans would love to see another 5,000-yard season (Stafford has thrown for 10,005 yards over the past two years), he’ll need time to make better decisions rather than simply slinging it down the field, primarily to Calvin Johnson. Their 2012 first-round selection Riley Reiff will be called on to fill in as Stafford’s new left tackle, replacing the retired and increasingly less-than-serviceable Jeff Backus.

 

Miami Dolphins Miami_Dolphins_logo_2013

2012 Record: (7-9)

Games lost by seven points or less: five

Strength of Schedule: .520 (133-123-0)

Last Playoff Appearance: 2008

Despite their 7-9 record, the Dolphins were largely competitive throughout 2012. Two early-season overtime losses to the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets put a damper on an otherwise fast start, but if anything, quarterback Ryan Tannehill proved that he is a capable starter.

Despite the losses of Reggie Bush and Jake Long, general manager Jeff Ireland had a fairly successful offseason. Through free agency, the Dolphins were able to pick up the speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler, as well as Long’s replacement, tackle Tyson Clabo. They also added former Jet tight end Dustin Keller, and cornerback Brent Grimes, both of whom were highly respectable starters in the NFL but are coming off of injuries following the 2012 season.

After trading up to the third overall pick in the draft, the Dolphins nabbed Dion Jordan, widely considered the draft’s best defensive end. They also used early round selections to draft cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis.

The Patriots lost a lot of talent this offseason, so expect the AFC East to be wide open. With both the Bills and the Jets in relative turmoil, Miami has a reasonable chance of competing with New England for the division title. Tannehill will need to continue his solid play for the team to have any chance moving forward. Much of the Dolphins success will hinge on his growth, but Ireland was clearly able to load up on a fair amount of talent on both sides of the ball.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tampa_Bay_Buccaneers_logo.svg

2012 Record: (7-9)

Games lost by seven points or less: five

Strength of Schedule: .500 (127-127-2)

Last Playoff Appearance: 2007

Boasting the worst pass defense in the NFL last season, the Bucs were clearly looking to shore up their secondary. And boy, did they. Not only did they pick up arguably the league’s best cornerback in Darelle Revis, they also added ex-49er and stud free safety Dashon Goldson. But they didn’t stop there, either. After trading away their first-round selection for Revis, they drafted Mississippi State cornerback Jonathan Banks in the second round. What was disastrous secondary now promises to become one of the NFL’s strongest.

With a newly beefed up pass defense, the success of the Buccaneers will largely hinge on their offensive play. Even though the Bucs’ offense was largely in the top half of the NFL in 2012, this is a big year for quarterback Josh Freeman. With adequate protection on the offensive front, Freeman will be expected to return to his 2010 form, especially in the final year of his contract. With established weapons such as wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin (“The Muscle Hamster”), Tampa Bay has both the talent and ability to make a push in the NFC South.

 

Kansas City Chiefs Kansas_City_Chiefs_logo.svg

2012 Record: (2-14)

Games lost by seven points or less: three

Strength of Schedule: .473 (121-135-0)

Last Playoff Appearance: 2010

Following a relatively disastrous season in 2012, the Chiefs made a significant number of offseason moves in hopes of resuscitating their franchise. New general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid will almost assuredly create a strong foundation in both the front office and on the sidelines.

The addition of quarterback Alex Smith immediately remedies the Chiefs’ greatest need after Matt Cassell and Brady Quinn completely failed to deliver in 2012, throwing for a league-worst 169.6 yards per game. Smith was arguably having his best season in San Francisco (and one of the best in the NFL) before he was benched in favor of Colin Kaepernick, and you can bet he’ll be looking to prove himself again in 2013.

Despite an utterly woeful passing attack, Kansas City still managed to run the ball for nearly 150 yards per game on the back of Jamaal Charles, which was good for fifth in the league. The re-signing of star wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, as well as the draft additions of offensive tackle Eric Fisher (first overall) and tight end Travis Kelce (63rd overall) will further bolster the team offensively.

Some uncertainties remain, however, as Smith will once again be asked to learn yet another offensive scheme. Aside from Smith and few key re-signings, the Chiefs didn’t make much of a splash in free agency, but did add a few veterans in tight end Anthony Fasano and cornerback Dunta Robinson. Their run defense is another potential liability, but Kansas City almost certainly possesses some of the greatest upside heading into the 2013 NFL season.



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