Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers moved on from the Greg Schiano era quickly after a 4-12 campaign marred by controversy with their head coach firmly in the center. Some players came to his defense, but others, mostly anonymously, were reported to be against their head coach. Sure, the Bucs finished well in the second half of the season, but time was up for Schiano.
Enter Lovie Smith, the complete opposite of Schiano. Smith will bring balance to a team that has been unable to find its footing. Under Smith, the Bears were able to reach a Super Bowl as well as remaining competitive year in and year out. At this point, the Bucs just want to get back to competing in a tough division, and Smith offers the ability to do that. Players are already in place, now it’s a matter of getting everything out of those players.
How can the Texans not gain ground in 2014? Last season was a complete implosion, but there’s good news. Houston still has a talented roster, Bill O’Brien brings a new attitude to a team that lacked any sort of urgency a season ago, and oh by the way the, Texans have the top pick in the draft.
The big question for Houston entering the draft will be what to do with their current quarterback situation. Matt Schaub could still be a solid starting option, especially if the Texans want to draft a QB later in the draft and let him develop while they continue to build the rest of the team up. If, however, the Texans take a quarterback with the first overall pick, he’ll be expected to start immediately. Either way, the Texans are better than last season’s 2-14 record indicated.
The Jaguars were a team entering a full-blown rebuilding period last season. They brought in a new general manager and a new head coach. After eight games, the Jags were 0-8, losing every game by ten or more points.
Then something weird happened. Just like in Tampa Bay, the Jaguars woke up and started winning games. After their bye week, the Jaguars went 4-1, finishing the season with a 4-12 record. Sure it’s not impressive, but progress was certainly made.
Jacksonville will once again have a high draft pick (third overall), and maybe more importantly, they’ll also be playing with plenty of cap space in free agency. The net result should be easy to calculate. The Jaguars may not be in the playoffs, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t be at least in the mix heading into December.
Atlanta is in the same boat as the Texans on this list. How can they not improve? The Falcons feature a high-octane offense, and although he didn’t exactly dazzle us a season ago, Matt Ryan will still be the team’s quarterback in September.
The stability the Falcons carry into the draft, with a high pick no less, should allow them to patch some of their roster holes while maintaining the core group of their team. The NFC South is a tough division, but the Falcons should be able to at least put themselves back in the running to win the division or at the very least claim a wildcard spot. Frankly, it’s still hard believing they went just 4-12 last season, and there’s no way that happens again.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams are a team that has one huge question at quarterback, but yet again, they’ll have plenty of draft ammunition to help bolster both sides of the ball. The Rams will be drafting second overall courtesy of the trade that sent Robert Griffin III to the Redskins. Once again, the Rams will be looking for trading partners as well.
The Rams are a strange team that seems more than adept at hanging around the .500 mark but never rising to the status of “playoff caliber.” With one good offseason, St. Louis will have the talent necessary to rise in the most competitive division in football. Unfortunately, only three teams can make the playoffs from any one division, so it’ll be a dog fight in the NFC West for one of those coveted positions.