We don't know much about what the 2013 season has in store. And with the 2013 playoffs not even under way, trying to discern too much is probably a frivolous task.
But if there is one thing we know, it's that next season's standings won't look anything like this season's. Turnover occurs at an alarming rate in the NFL, with bottom-feeders ascending toward competitiveness faster than ever.
Need some proof? Look no further than ESPN.com's preseason power rankings. Teams No. 32 and 31—the bottom two spots in the league—will both be playing Wild Card Games this weekend. So will team No. 25.
Despite their disappointing records last season, the Colts, Vikings and Redskins were able to make the playoffs this year because they had sneakily talented rosters to begin with and they found a lot of success in the 2012 draft. Forget obvious names like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin and Matt Kalil; where would those teams be without Alfred Morris, T.Y. Hilton and Harrison Smith?
Next year will be no different. Teams that are picking high this April will be playing next January. And the formula they use won't be all that different. Let's look at some teams that could be next year's surprise:
Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)
In one respect, a Chiefs' turnaround looks less auspicious than the Colts' was. They both finished 2-14 and secured the top overall pick, but Indianapolis did so in a year with Andrew Luck. The Chiefs did so in a year with Geno Smith and Matt Barkley.
But in another respect, a Chiefs' turnaround looks even better than the Colts'. Why? Because they have much, much, more to build around elsewhere on the roster. With the addition of a competent quarterback, another viable receiver and some depth at other positions, this team is ready to compete in the very near future.
This isn't the best draft for QB and WR, but it could be a great free-agent class for both spots. Names like Alex Smith, Michael Vick, Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings could all be in play. Combine one of those with, say, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, and the Chiefs will be a bounce-back team next season.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-12)
They've got some serious work ahead of them, but there's no denying the talent Philadelphia still employs. And it's not that of your typical 4-12 team.
The offensive line, more than anything else, completely failed them in 2012. Jason Peters' offseason injury presaged a long season, and subsequent injuries to Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins and Todd Herremans cemented it. Drafting highly rated tackle Luke Joeckel would assuage those problems, but even without him, improved health will make this unit much better.
The real questions lie at quarterback and cornerback. Nick Foles' potential as a franchise passer is questionable, especially if they bring in, say, Chip Kelly to run the team. Whether it be Geno Smith, Alex Smith or...gulp...Michael Vick, they probably need to find a better signal-caller. And defensively, they need to find out what the heck is wrong with Nnamdi Asomugha.
But if they can solve those problems, this team is surely good enough to compete in the NFC East next season.
Detroit Lions (4-12)
Last season's fourth-place finisher in the NFC North, Minnesota righted the ship and made the playoffs in 2013. Especially with the newfound state of turmoil in Chicago, it wouldn't be crazy to see Detroit do the same.
A whole bunch of questions surround these Lions. Which one was the outlier: 2011's success or 2012's failure? Either way you skew, it's hard not to admit this team was better than the record indicates.
They need secondary help more than almost anybody, but drafting fifth overall might be a little high for Alabama corner Dee Milliner. They could trade down, collect some assets and draft Milliner a few picks later. Or they could take that pick and draft a dynamic playmaker like Jarvis Jones—a good pass rush helps the secondary too, right?
Either way, so long as they address the defense, they're talented enough to compete in 2013.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!