NFL Power Rankings: Ranking the Best Under-.500 Teams for 2012

Ben KrausContributor IIFebruary 13, 2012

NFL Power Rankings: Ranking the Best Under-.500 Teams for 2012

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    The NFL offseason is officially upon us. And you know what that means.

    It means seven months without our beloved game. It means we have to sit through the upcoming baseball season over the summer before our game returns.

    It means it's never to early to preview the next season.

    Everyone wants to know how consistent the more successful teams can be the next year.

    But what all sports fans really love, what they really watch their games for, is the thought that someone down in the dumps can rise up and fight their way back into the light.

    Enter every under-.500 team in the NFL last year.

    We are going to take a look at every team that couldn't manage eight wins in 2011 and see how they may fare in 2012, their prospect of breaking even and the possibility of making it to the postseason.

12. Indianapolis Colts

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    2011 Record: 2-14

    Chances of going over .500:  Very bad. 

    A substantial turnaround for this team would be unprecedented.

    They didn't win a game until Week 15. Their 30th-ranked defense may have had something to do with it. Losing 11-time Pro-Bowler Peyton Manning also may have had something to do with this.

    The biggest story surrounding this franchise has been Manning ever since he missed game one of the 2011 season. It's all about him.

    If the Colts bring him back and pick up his costly $28 million option, which I doubt, he won't be where he was three neck surgeries ago. There is time, but the 35-year-old won't be himself, even after an offseason of trying to get back into form.  

    The other option is Andrew Luck, the probable No. 1 pick in April's draft.

    He had great success while at Stanford, and is clearly the best prospect in this year's draft. If the Colts don't decide to stick with Manning, Luck isn't an option—his acquisition is mandatory.

    I do not think that Luck, though, will automatically take this franchise to a .500 record, let alone a playoff campaign. Even if you are high on Luck, you can argue he'd be put in a tough situation, especially with his best receiver—Reggie Wayne—on the free agent market.

     

    Chances of going to the playoffs: Not going to happen. I know, everyone wants to say "anything can happen." I, though, am going to go out on a limb and say it won't. This was the worst team in the NFL. Yes, that was sans their best player, but that depends on how you look at this team: with or without Manning.

     

    Update: Though Peyton Manning has said he is open to restructuring his contract and owner Jim Irsay wants things to work out for the best, having two high-caliber quarterbacks can turn into a sticky situation. The alternative, though, is still the more likely. A Manning return to Indy has become a hot topic but isn't probable.

11. Minnesota Vikings

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    2011 Record: 3-13

    Chances of going over .500: Bad. 

     

    Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder was thrust into the spotlight in 2011 after Minnesota failed to get the Donavan McNabb project working. He threw for 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He has a lot of work to do, and defensive-minded Leslie Frazier probably won't turn Ponder into the next Tom Brady. It would be a tall order for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to make strides with Ponder that would actually change this team. 

    Even though they were the best team at getting to the quarterback, they were one of the worst pass defending teams. Overall, it was not a great defense. This team needs to look to get younger in that area. That is a long process, not a one-year turnaround.

    Running back Adrian Peterson was the only bright spot on this team, leading it to the fourth-best rushing offense. 

    He probably won't be 100 percent by next year. He's all they've got, and he won't even be fully ready to go.

    This team needs to rebuild through the draft, which is a long process.

    Chances of making the playoffs: Bad. NFC North has playoff contenders. The NFC has playoff contenders. This team has fallen steeply since 2009.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    2011 Record: 4-12

    Chances of going over .500: Not good.

    HBO's "Hard Knocks,", a series that profiles NFL franchises up until opening day of the NFL season, was at one point considering highlighting Raheem Morris and his squad as they looked to compete in the NFC South after a 10-6 finish the year before.

    It all fell apart in 2011.

    Quarterback Josh Freeman had a career high year for interceptions (22). But that isn't the worst of it. His offense's run game—30th in the league—was pathetic, and his 30th ranked defense never game him any help.

    The defensive line for this team looked like it could be a promising unit. Rookies Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn, along with second-year tackle Gerald McCoy, looked like they could be force to be reckoned with.

    They were last in the league in run defense and in sacks in 2011.

     

    Chances of making the playoffs: Very bad. Their division doesn't give them any help. Their conference doesn't give them any help. There is so much wrong with this team.

9. St. Louis Rams

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    2011 Record: 2-14

    Chances of going over .500: Not good.

     

    I realize they are one year removed from almost making the playoffs, but 2011 for the Rams saw a relapse that does not give me hope for this team. 

    Jeff Fischer will be coaching this group, and that is about all that I like in St. Louis.

    The Rams were fourth to last in forcing turnovers in 2011, and that kept their offense off the field (they weren't going to force any three-and-outs); Fischer should be able to improve that facet of the game as a defensive guru.

    Quarterback Sam Bradford was injured for part of the season, but he wasn't anything special while he was healthy. The Rams statistically weren't great on the ground, but until Steven Jackson has a passing game to back him up, defenses will always be ready for him.

    We shouldn't overlook the fact that St. Louis has no receiving threats, either. Brandon Lloyd was a good move mid-season to beef up that unit, but with the Rams, he had less than 700 yards.

    He could become a great receiving threat for the Rams if he ends up there. He is a free agent and if I were him, I wouldn't want to stay in that situation.

    Some also suggest moving on from Sam Bradford would be a good idea and maybe looking to a Robert Griffin in the draft would. Either way, this offense will have some work to do after a poor 2011.

     

    Chances of making the playoffs: Bad. I simply don't like the setup for this team. There is hardly a chance they will compete for a Wild Card spot. Winning the division crown? You're kidding, right? 

     

     

     


8. Cleveland Browns

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    2011 Record: 4-12

    Chances of going over .500: Not great. 

     

    Another year, another string of losses to end the year on for the Browns.

    In 2011, Cleveland lost their last six. Though they did play each game tough—losing by an average of less than a touchdown—it seems that Cleveland always has trouble somewhere while giving fans hope enough to keep watching elsewhere.

    While they boasted the fifth-best scoring defense, they failed to even get into the end zone in five games and were near the bottom with 13.6 points per game on offense.

    Coach Pat Shurmur was brought in with a deep offensive background; he was supposed to be the one to help mold second year quarterback Colt McCoy into a real pro talent. 

    He did miss his last three games with a concussion, but McCoy's 57 percent completion percentage and 11 interceptions were underwhelming, to say the least.

    Shurmur also said he wanted to get the ball into the hands of 2010 breakout running back Peyton Hillis. Hillis, though, was only able to to get into 10 games because of his health and posted 587 yards in his season with the "Madden Curse" (you don't have to believe in the curse, but you have to admit, it sure seemed like it bit him in 2011).

    They also didn't have an outside threat besides rookie receiver Greg Little. Getting someone for McCoy to throw to will be important if he can make a comeback.

    Shurmur will need to make some serious progress-or changes-in 2012.

    If the Browns don't see progress from McCoy, it may be time to move on. Hillis is a free agent now and should begin contract talks soon. The Browns will have to make a big decision to either stick with him, hoping he can outrun his 2011 performance, or head in a new direction.

    If the Browns are to improve in 2012, this offense will need a makeover. 

    Chances of making the playoffs: Pretty bad. The AFC North looks deep and this is not one of the conference's better teams.   

7. Washington Redskins

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    2011 Record: 5-11

    Chances of going over .500: Not too bad.  

     

    It's been a while since we've considered Washington playoff contenders. I am not saying that they will be right now, but they could improve a good deal in 2012.

    Quarterback Rex Grossman was spotty in 2011. At times, he would look like the Rex that he could never be in Chicago, throwing for over 300 yards. Sometimes he would have a pathetic four-interception game, too.

    If he can be more consistent (and if he ends up in Washington this year), or if Washington can get someone more consistent, this offense will get going.  

    This is also true because there is some good skill on this team with improving youngsters (tailbacks Roy Helu and Evan Royster) and solid veterans (Santana Moss).

    If Mike Shanahan can get rid of the unnecessary baggage (second to last in the NFC in turnover margin) and play less sloppily, this team can develop.

    This is a team some feel pretty happy about getting a fantasy football matchup with, but Pro-Bowlers Brian Orakpo and London Fletcher make this is a solid unit that is improving.

    Chances of making the playoffs: Don't bet on it. It's not out of the question and they can get better, but I don't like what they're up against in terms of their field of play for squeezing into the postseason.  

6. Miami Dolphins

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    2011 Record: 6-10

    Chances of going over .500: All right.  

     

    In 2011, Miami had success in the traditional areas of football. They didn't let teams beat them on the ground but did run the ball effectively.

    The hiring of Green Bay's Joe Philbin as head coach is something that can bring this team back into the modern era, though. 

    Philbin has been the Packers' offensive coordinator since 2003 where his units ranked in the top 10 every year for scoring and total offense.

    The one constant there was that he had a good quarterback to work with.

    In Miami, though, he will be in a bit of a different situation.

    Through three games, Miami's Chad Henne looked to be on the right path for a productive season. Then he separated his shoulder and the Dolphins were in trouble. Not that Henne was any Aaron Rogers or Drew Brees but he could get the job done with what he had around him.

    Now, the Dolphins might not even have him because he is a free agent. The defense played tough and they ran hard. Neither of those things are what Philbin preaches.

    If the Dolphins can get a hold of a real passing threat, though, they could start to put this together bit by bit.

    Chances of making the playoffs: Not good. With a division that likes to beat each other up and a Wild Card pool that is sure to be deep, Miami may have trouble playing more than 16 games. 

5. Buffalo Bills

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    2011 Record: 6-10

    Chances of going over .500: All right.

     

    Buffalo ended 2011 on a horrible stretch, losing eight of their last nine. 

    Let us not forget that this was a team 5-2 at one point and riding a potent offense.

    The Bills then ended the season on a...I think you get the idea.

    But as we later found out, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was playing hurt most of the season. Running back Fred Jackson was also competing for a rushing title when he broke a bone in his right leg.

    Those two injuries killed Buffalo. Their defense does a good job forcing turnovers, but this is a team that plays through its offense.

    If this group can come back together and stay healthy, they will be in for success like they experienced early in 2011 as they bring back good skill on the offense and a mix of experience and youth on the defense.

    Dave Wannstedt stepping up to the defensive coordinator role to replace George Edwards will be a interesting change up as well.

    Chances of making the playoffs: It's a long shot. We've seen how this team can get on a roll, but can they sustain it through the entire season? 

4. Jacksonville

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    2011 Record: 5-11

    Chances of going over .500: Not as bad as you might think

    Though you are probably used to being giddy with joy when you noticed one of your fantasy football players is going up against Jacksonville, this was not the case in 2011.

    Paul Posluszny was an incredible offseason acquisition for the Jaguars.

    I'll give it to you straight: 119 tackles, one forced fumble, two interceptions and nine passes defended. He made plays all over the field and lead his defense to top-10 finishes in both passing and rushing defense. 

    This team also was 12th in rushing with Maurice Jones-Drew putting up over 1,600 yards. How did they finish 5-11? How about a last place finish in passing with rookie Blaine Gabbert slinging it?

    The hiring of Mike Mularkey as head coach will greatly benefit this team. He has been the offensive coordinator for Atlanta since 2008 and will have his hands full with Gabbert, if the Jagaurs elect to stay with him.

    Gabbert wasn't great, but his protection also allowed teams to get to him 44 times.

    Mularkey will have to channel is inner OC to bring this team up to speed after a lousy showing in 2011. Some moves to help out this offense (offensive linemen, wide receivers, a backup quarterback) also need to happen for improvements to be made. That said, this team has more puzzle pieces to success than many realize.

    Chances of making the playoffs: Up in the air. They are going to have to play hard all season. Most of the teams that look like wild card contenders, though, aren't that far out of reach for them (that is excluding whichever one of Baltimore and Pittsburgh that almost always takes up a wild card spot).   

3. Kansas City Chiefs

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    2011 Record: 7-9

    Chances of going over .500: Not bad

     

    After a 10-6 outing in 2010, 7-9 may have hurt Chiefs fans who were hoping for a repeat AFC West title. 

    There was more fight in this team than many want to believe, though.

    One big reason for the drop was Pro-Bowl running back Jamaal Charles went down in Week 2 with an ACL tear and was out for the season. The Chiefs were still 15th in rushing but didn't have the same spark averaging 46 less yards per game on the ground than in 2010. 

    With Charles back this offense will improve greatly.

    The Chiefs also had a revolving door at the quarterback position. Matt Cassel got injured, which lead to Kansas City dealing for Kyle Orton. Orton also couldn't get in the whole time due to injuries, so Tyler Palko stepped in and he was nothing special. 

    Cassel will be back in 2012 and that will help a passing game that was 25th out of 32 teams.

    The defense was great defending the pass which is important in the NFL. Edge rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks, and Brandon Flowers headlined a defensive backfield among the best in 2011.

    A very athletic defense, though, had trouble stopping the run. When you bring guys on the edges it can lead to holes opening up in the middle of the field and so opposing teams had some success with that. In any case, if they keep playing like they did in 2011, with some key pieces back, the Chiefs can have a lot of success. 

    Chances of making the playoffs: Okay, but the explosive Chargers and surging Broncos make it a tough field to compete in the AFC West along with Oakland, who finished with the same record as the aforementioned teams.

2. Seattle Seahawks

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    2011 Record: 7-9

    Chances of going over .500: Pretty good

    Though the Seahawks did go from first place in the NFC West in 2010 to thirrd place in the 2011, there really wasn't much regression on this team. They went 7-9 in both seasons.

    The change in placing at the end of the season can be attributed to the emergence of San Francisco as legitimate contenders in a division that has not been too impressive lately.

    Pete Carroll, in his second year in the Emerald City, made improvements defensively. With his background of many great offenses at USC, many forget how he has held three defensive coordinator positions and had some great defenses at Southern California.

    This year, Seattle was 11th and 15th in passing defense and rushing defense, respectively. That's a difference of 30 less yards per game through the air and close to 40 less total yards per game.

    Defensive linemen Chris Clemons and Brandon Mebane lead a defense that was among the most improved in the 2011 season.

    If Carroll can find a way to make his offense better, this team can continue to improve and raise its potential.

    They weren't the greatest team running the ball, but Marshawn Lynch is a reliable bruiser who can back up a solid passing game well. The Seahawks will need to get him (he will be a free agent this year) or someone who can replicate his reliability while the passing game experiences growing pains. 

    Simply put, Tavaris Jackson is not the answer at quarterback for Seattle. He was an offseason acquisition that had some promise but fell flat on its face.

    Seattle has been thrown into the list of teams rumored to be interested in Peyton Manning which could help spark this dull offense. The receiving corps isn't stellar either and the offensive line let up 50 sacks last year.

    If Carroll can patch up a lackadaisical offense in some way, shape or form, the Seahawks could be in good shape.

    Chances of making the playoffs: Not that good. Nothing is set in stone, especially this early, but the 49ers are the clear favorite in this division and there is a deep tier of teams that are in a better situation than Seattle that will compete for wild card spots. 

1. Carolina Panthers

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    2011 Record: 6-10

    Chances of going over .500 next year: Very Good

    While a jump of four wins over a year is nothing remarkable, there is a huge difference between the 2-14 Panthers from 2010 and the 6-10 Panthers from 2011.

    The No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft was Cam Newton, and boy did he look like it.

    He put up over 4,700 yards of total offense for Carolina, accounted for 35 touchdowns and broke Peyton Manning's rookie passing record.

    This was not a one-man show on offense either. The "Smash and Dash" combination of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams made this team the third best team on the ground.

    Any regression from this team seems unlikely.

    That said, standing pat would not be a good idea for the Panthers.  

    They were 24th and 25th in passing defense and rushing defense, respectively. While they did lose three-time Pro-Bowl linebacker Jon Beason, excusing them to some extent, hardly anyone on this defense looked like a legitimate NFL defender outside of cornerback Chris Gamble and linebacker James Anderson. 

    If the Panthers can get some talent on defense through the draft (defensive end Melvin Ingram out of South Carolina looks obtainable) or in free agency (possibly Robert Mathis from Indianapolis), this team will be on its way to competing consistently in the deep NFC South. 

    Chances of making the playoffs: Not great. On this list Carolina is the best team, but their field of play does not help them. Besides the fact that the NFC South is tough to compete in, there are a lot of established teams that will be vying for a Wild Card spot in next year's playoffs.