Cinderella story. Dark horses. From worst to first. We’ve all heard the cliches. Every year, there’s at least one NFL team that rebounds from a subpar season to emerge as a true competitor. Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs started 9-0 and made the playoffs after finishing 2-14 in 2012. Here’s a look at three teams who have the potential to turn some heads in the 2014 season.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs finished 4-12 last season under head coach Greg Schiano. Out goes Schiano. In comes Lovie Smith after a year away from the NFL. Smith brings leadership and balance to a team that is desperately seeking an identity. Smith made a splash in free agency, signing veterans CB Alterraun Verner and DE Michael Johnson. Verner will take over as the top cornerback in Smith’s defense with the release of Darrelle Revis. The Bucs are also looking to boost their 30th ranked offense, drafting 6’5” WR Mike Evans out of Texas A&M with their first overall pick. Teamed with Vincent Jackson, Evans gives the Bucs a lethal one-two punch at the receiver position. Combined with a healthy Doug Martin running the ball and the veteran leadership of newly acquired QB Josh McCown, the Bucs’ offense might surprise some people this season.
Key additions: QB Josh McCown, CB Alterraun Verner, DE Michael Johnson, DT Clinton McDonald.
Key losses: CB Darrelle Revis, WR Mike Williams.
Current odds to win Super Bowl: 50 to 1
2. St. Louis Rams
Unfortunately for the Rams, they play in the NFC West, the toughest division in football. Fortunately, though, coach Jeff Fisher had a strong draft which will help them compete in 2014. The Rams have finished with seven wins in three of the past four seasons and are looking to get over the proverbial hump. Their schedule this year is tough, playing against eight playoff teams from 2013. But, they get Sam Bradford and Jake Long back from injuries and a new defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams, fresh off his suspension from Bounty gate. The Rams used one of their two first round picks (number two overall) on OT Greg Robinson. The massive lineman from Auburn beefs up the right side of the line with Long holding down the left tackle position. DT Aaron Donald, their second pick in the first round, joins Chris Long and Robert Quinn, helping to form a stout defensive front. One area of concern is the receiving group. Kenny Britt was the lone addition at the position, joining Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Stedman Bailey. But, with a strong rushing attack in second-year player Zac Stacy, it just might be enough.
Key additions: WR Kenny Britt, OL Davin Joseph.
Key losses: QB Kellen Clemens.
Current odds to win Super Bowl: 50 to 1
3. New York Jets
Rex Ryan was on the hot seat entering the 2013 season. But after pulling off an 8-8 record, he was signed to a multi-year contract extension. The Jets were aggressive in free agency, upgrading their entire offense at the skill position with the likes of Michael Vick, Eric Decker and Chris Johnson. But will it pay off? And who will be the starting QB in week one? Vick or incumbent Geno Smith? With Smith under center last season, the Jets ranked 30th in the league in turnover ratio. The Jets had 12 picks in this year’s draft, nabbing Louisville S Calvin Pryor with their first selection. Pryor’s a big hitter and should make an immediate impact in the secondary. At 6’6”, TE Jace Amaro adds a reliable, big target to the passing game. Their defense remains tough, as per usual with a Rex Ryan coached team, with second year player Dee Milliner expected to make big progress. The AFC East champion over the past decade sounds like a broken with the Patriots winning 10 of the last 11 division titles, but don’t count Rex and the Jets out just yet.
Key additions: QB Michael Vick, RB Chris Johnson, WR Eric Decker, CB Dimitri Patterson.
Key losses: CB Antonio Cromartie, QB Mark Sanchez, WR Santonio Holmes, T Austin Howard.
Current odds to win Super Bowl: 66 to 1