1 Reason Each NFL Team Will Improve in 2012

Gordon BlockContributor IIIMay 1, 2012

1 Reason Each NFL Team Will Improve in 2012

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    With several months of waiting before any meaningful football, now is a great time for a little bit of optimism for fans across the league that their team can get better in the upcoming 2012 NFL season.

    Whether its a star under center, an excellent coaching staff or even basic probability, there should be something that inspires hope that this season won't be another series of weekly disappointments.

    Here is one reason each team can improve in 2012.

Arizona Cardinals: A Healthier Kevin Kolb

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    Fans of the Arizona Cardinals may not have been too thrilled by the play of quarterback Kevin Kolb in his first season with the team.

    However, it would be fair to give him the benefit of the doubt due to some of the injury problems that limited him to only nine games this season.

    Kolb has been approved to return to play, and he'll have more weapons to throw to in 2012. The team used its first pick of the draft to select wide receiver Michael Floyd, who should pair nicely with their All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald.

Atlanta Falcons: Revised Short Yardage Game Planning

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    The Atlanta Falcons seemed to have it all offensively in 2011, except for when they had to convert short yardage situations.

    The team struggled both in the regular season and the playoffs on fourth-down plays, especially in its playoff loss to the New York Giants, in which their offense was shutout and held off on a pair of fourth-and-short situations.

    However, the team invested some high-level picks in some additional blocking, including center Peter Konz, tackle Lamar Holmes and fullback Bradie Ewing.

    Those picks, along with some time to evaluate the play call in those situations, should lead to improvement in 2012.

Baltimore Ravens: Improved Offensive Play

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    The Baltimore Ravens defense isn't getting any younger, and as the unit shows signs of aging, it will become more important for the offense to show its strength.

    Fortunately, the Ravens offense has shown a marked improvement in the past few seasons and should be even better in 2012.

    Running back Ray Rice has been a sparkplug for the unit, and when he isn't skateboarding, quarterback Joe Flacco has all the skills necessary to be a winning passer in the league. The team's wide receiver situation seems to be improving with the rising development of Torrey Smith.

Buffalo Bills: Going on the Defensive

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    The Buffalo Bills might be one of the big surprises of 2012 after their big free-agency signings on the defensive side of the ball. 

    Shifting to a 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, the team has committed over $180 million to its defensive line through the signing of players like Mario Williams (pictured) and Mark Anderson, along with big deals from the previous year for Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. 

    Look for opposing quarterbacks to have a little less time to throw when they go against Buffalo.

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton's Improvement

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    The Carolina Panthers hit the jackpot with the drafting of quarterback Cam Newton, who proceeded to shred the record books for rookie passers in both passing and rushing numbers. However, those numbers didn't necessarily transfer into wins, and it looks like the young passer wants to change that. 

    Coming into year two, Newton has fully taken advantage of having a full offseason to prepare. He told the Associated Press that his improvement this offseason has been "through the roof."

    Needless to say, opposing defensive coordinators will have their hands full as they attempt to slow this statistical juggernaut down.

Chicago Bears: The Return of Jay Cutler

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    The Chicago Bears had the look of a championship contender toward the latter half of the 2011 season, at least until quarterback Jay Cutler went out following an injury to his hand.

    Backup Caleb Hanie proved himself to be unfit for carrying the team's playoff hopes, and the team flamed out well before the end of the season.

    With Cutler back, look for the Bears to be primed for a return to NFC North contention. As a bonus, Cutler should get some additional wide receiver help in Brandon Marshall (who played with Cutler in Denver) and newly-drafted rookie Alshon Jeffery.

Cincinnati Bengals: Building Momentum

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    The Cincinnati Bengals were one of the pleasant surprises of 2011 as they managed to earn a playoff bid on the backs of rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, along with a surprisingly effective defensive unit.

    With this success in mind, the Bengals will have to take that positive energy and keep it going as they come up against more challenging competition not only around the league, but in their own division. The Bengals struggled at times against the more seasoned Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.

    However, the Bengals should be able to build on the foundation that helped them reach the playoffs with rookie additions like cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who might be one of the steals of the draft after falling to them in the third round.

Cleveland Browns: Broken Clock

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    A broken clock is right at least two times a day, and similarly the Cleveland Browns have to win at least a few games just in the process of showing up.

    With that said, the team will face some major challenges as it prepares to integrate a new starting quarterback and running back in Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson, along with several pieces of the defense.

    At the very least, fan enthusiasm in Cleveland remains consistently high.

Dallas Cowboys: Pride

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    The Dallas Cowboys seem to have everything going against them this offseason:

    —an inexplicable salary cap reduction based on rules the league seemingly made up as it went along

    —a defense that couldn't make critical stops

    —several missed playoffs in a row

    Despite their bad fortune, it's clear that the team is ready to turn its bad fortunes around in 2012. The first step in this process has been improving its defensive secondary. In addition to smartly moving up to grab Morris Claiborne in the draft, the team also signed free agent Brandon Carr to a lucrative deal.

    Opposing passers may have to think twice before letting the ball fly in Dallas.

Denver Broncos: Enter Peyton Manning

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    The Denver Broncos were able to reach the playoffs in 2011 despite limited production from the passing game, and now the team is sure to improve with the addition of surefire Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.

    In addition to Manning, the team should be excited about its rushing production and its steadily improving defense, which features last season's rookie of the year, Von Miller.

Detroit Lions: Experience

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    The culture of losing with the Detroit Lions appears to be over, as the team has assembled a truly talented roster on both sides of the ball.

    The Lions now must take their success in 2011 and parlay that into a championship run. With rising competition from their divisional rival Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, the team's window of opportunity is limited.

    Despite this competition, the Lions appear to be in the driver's seat as they move toward their first championship since 1957.

Green Bay Packers: Moderate Defensive Improvements

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    The Green Bay Packers may not improve on their 15-1 regular-season record of 2011, but the player moves the team has made should suggest the Pack will be a better team in 2012.

    Most important of these moves was the focus on defense during the recent draft. The signing of Nick Perry should create an immediate boost as he pairs with standout linebacker Clay Matthews.

    Look for the Packers to be on the short list of teams ready this year to win it all.

Houston Texans: Quarterback Stability

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    The Houston Texans may have lost some talent in their defense this offseason, but the team should be ready to continue the success from 2011 that landed them their first playoff appearance in franchise history.

    Helping that goal will be the return of quarterback Matt Schaub, who steered the team for a good portion of the season before a leg injury ended his year. While the team was able to rally without him, the drop in play under center was definitely noticeable. 

    Schaub's return will also be helped by the likely improved health of wide receiver Andre Johnson, who played through the pain most of last year.

Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck

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    The Indianapolis Colts have their quarterback of the future in Andrew Luck, and with that confidence the team should be able to pick up some wins in 2012.

    While the defense needs work, the Colts smartly planned their draft around serving the interests of Luck, drafting two of the best pass-catching tight ends to go with a returning Reggie Wayne.

    Even if things go bad, Colts fans need to show patience. Former franchise quarterback Peyton Manning led the league in interceptions his rookie year as the team went a pathetic 3-13 in 1998. The Colts flipped that record the following year, going 13-3.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Playmaking Ability

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    Things may not be perfect for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but at the very least they should have some additional playmakers for young quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

    Most important of these additions is newly-drafted wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who should stretch the field with his speed and exceptional athleticism.

    If the passing game can rise just a slight bit over dysfunctional, it would do wonders for exceptional running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who faced a pounding as defenses loaded up the box to stop him.

Kansas City Chiefs: Welcome Back

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    The Kansas City Chiefs should be happy about their prospects with several key players returning from season-ending injuries in 2011.

    Among those are running back Jamaal Charles and safety Eric Berry, along with quarterback Matt Cassel.

    Those returns should make a world of a difference for a team that was surprisingly close to contending in a weakened AFC West division last season.

Miami Dolphins: Optimism

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    The Miami Dolphins may not have a lot of talent, they may have reached in grabbing Ryan Tannehill, and they may be in a tough division but the team does have an impressive amount of resiliency. 

    That attitude was most clear as Miami fought back from an 0-7 start to finish the year at 6-10. The Dolphins could have folded right then and there, but they fought back and won back some of the pride they had lost earlier in the year (along with a much less helpful draft position).

    With that said, this is still a league that decides games based on scoring more points than your opponent, so the Dolphins still might have some issues in 2012. 

Minnesota Vikings: Growth

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    The Minnesota Vikings have a tough year ahead of them as they look to continue their rebuilding process. 

    Perhaps most important is the growth of quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder, taken in the first round of the draft last year, showed signs of greatness before injuries ruined his chances of making an impact. Look for him to take advantage of the full offseason and be ready to go this fall.

    His play will be even more important as the team's leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, returns from a nasty leg injury that ended his year.

New England Patriots: Racing Against Time

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    The New England Patriots have all the talent necessary to make another championship run and will proceed this year knowing they may not have too many opportunities left to make their mark after losing again in the Super Bowl this past February.

    Quarterback Tom Brady is 34, coach Bill Belichick is coaching his 37th year of football and it's clear the two won't be in town forever.

    The Pats have been making moves like a team ready to win now, including their move up in this year's draft to score top defensive talents Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower in the first round.

New Orleans Saints: Suspensions Don't Last Forever

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    The New Orleans Saints have been under siege this offseason as ugly revelations have emerged about the team's bounty program, along with rumors of wiretapping by general manager Mickey Loomis.

    Both Loomis and head coach Sean Payton (along with former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams) are among several team officials who have been given lengthy suspensions, and several players are expected to learn their fates shortly for their part in the program.

    Despite these painful penalties, the team should be able to recover once these punishments are over. The team's head coach for this season, Joe Vitt, will be back after being suspended six games this season, and they will still have plenty of returning talent after they re-sign quarterback Drew Brees.

    It may not be easy, but things should manage to work themselves out in New Orleans

New York Giants: The Foundation Is Set

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    The New York Giants may have won the Super Bowl last season, but that doesn't mean they were the perfect squad. They have plenty of places where they could improve and have spent the season doing so.

    Entering the playoffs at 9-7, the Giants were able to win despite a majorly flawed rushing attack along with a surprising lack of depth on the offensive line and defensive secondary. 

    The team has attempted to address those issues through free agency and in the draft, including the first-round selection of running back David Wilson. 

    Look for an even better Giants squad to seriously challenge for yet another Super Bowl title.

New York Jets: The Need for Vindication

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    The New York Jets have failed to impress the past few seasons as they have won little while leading the league in shenanigans and locker room dysfunction.

    However, fans of the team have been able to put up with this dysfunction as they place their faith in head coach Rex Ryan

    For Ryan, this season will be critical as he hopes to re-establish the team's legitimacy as a title contender.

    If he were to succeed in leading the team to a playoff bid, it would be sweet vindication for the seemingly endless amount of criticism he faces regularly from writers and analysts across the country (such as myself).

Oakland Raiders: New Coaching

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    The Oakland Raiders may be a bit hamstrung this season in both draft picks and cap space, but the team feels confident it can succeed under new head coach Dennis Allen.

    Allen, the former defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, faces a difficult challenge in changing the culture of an organization that hasn't played a postseason game since 2002.

    He'll face an uphill climb as he looks to reestablish the defense after it suffered in 2011 some of its worst numbers in franchise history. 

Philadelphia Eagles: Payback Time

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    The Philadelphia Eagles were one of the big disappointments of 2011, failing to make the playoffs after backup quarterback Vince Young proclaimed them to be the "Dream Team."

    Despite this humbling experience, all signs point to this team having a chance to win big this upcoming season. The offense should remain in good shape if it can continue its progress from late last season, and defensive additions like linebacker DeMeco Ryans should fix one of its biggest flaws. 

    Look for this team to potentially stir up some trouble for opposing teams in the NFC East this coming season.

Pittsburgh Steelers: A Healthy Ben Roethlisberger

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers have seen quarterback Ben Roethlisberger easily sacked one too many times and have finally dedicated the resources necessary for him to be less at risk for injury.

    The drafting of David DeCastro and Mike Adams early in last week's draft means the veteran passer should have to deal with opposing rushers just a little less than usual.

    If Big Ben can stay healthy in 2012, look for this team to rebound nicely from its embarrassing playoff exit against the Denver Broncos last season.

San Diego Chargers: One Final Shot

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    The hot seat cannot be hotter for San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith, who know their time is limited.

    The message is clear: Win now or you're gone.

    It should be interesting to see how the team responds to their coach's extra motivation (even if it feels like Turner has been on the hot seat for ages).

San Francisco 49ers: The Hunger for More

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    The San Francisco 49ers were a pair of poorly-timed muffed punts away from a Super Bowl appearance, and with that success in mind, the team should be ready to attempt another deep playoff run.

    Building on the solid roster of last season's team, the Niners have added a number of free-agent wide receivers to fill one of their few weak points, a list that includes Mario Manningham and Randy Moss.

    The defense should also return with most of their starters from last season, when they put up some of the best numbers in the league.

Seattle Seahawks: Confidence Under Center

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    Somebody will play quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks whose name isn't Tarvaris Jackson, most likely the newly-signed Matt Flynn (pictured).

    That news alone should have 'Hawks fans thrilled about the team's prospects in 2012.

    Jackson struggled for large portions of 2011 as he fought injuries and adjusted to the team's West Coast offense, which wasn't necessarily a natural fit.

St. Louis Rams: Fresh Faces

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    The St. Louis Rams, limited by injuries and poor play in 2011, should benefit from the large number of fresh faces coming into town.

    Most important of these additions is head coach Jeff Fisher, who should help bring about a change of culture within an organization that had become too comfortable with losing.

    Aiding Fisher in his first year is a bounty of players through the draft that should be able to play immediately. In addition to first-round pick Michael Brockers, players like Brian Quick and Janoris Jenkins should develop quickly into regular contributors to the team.

    Overall, things are looking up in St. Louis.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Helping the Quarterback

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman has shown several signs of improvement in the past few seasons but has been limited by the lack of a true No.1 receiving option.

    That should be a worry of the past as the team signed Vincent Jackson to a five-year, $55.55 million deal this past offseason.

    Look for the two to put up some healthy numbers as the team looks to contend in the stacked NFC South division.

Tennessee Titans: A Return to an Efficient Offense

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    The Tennessee Titans offense was ineffective for good portions of 2011, as the unit struggled to craft an identity. However, players like running back Chris Johnson, who was a colossal failure early in the year, found their way toward the latter portion of the season.

    If Johnson can continue his progress of late last season, it would go a long way for making the life easier for quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, who will compete for the starting role.

    They should also get a boost from draft additions like wide receiver Kendall Wright, who should bring an element of speed that the passing game lacked in 2011.

Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III

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    The rise of new Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, a man with foreign roots (Griffin was born in Okinawa, Japan, where his parents were stationed with the U.S. Army) and an unlikely story of rising to the top (he's the first Baylor quarterback taken in the draft's first round since 1954), seems awfully familiar to the backstory of another man who has taken a prominent role in nation's capital: President Barack Obama.

    Regardless of how that connection makes you feel politically, Griffin's selection brings something the team has lacked for years: a positive face for the franchise and a steady hand under center.

    Now Redskins fans have to wait and see whether this promise of hope and change can turn into some competitive play and wins. All signs indicate the team should improve in 2012.