How to Spot an NFL Team on the Verge of Greatness

Marc LillibridgeContributor IApril 17, 2013

HONOLULU, HI - JANUARY 27: Andrew Luck #12 of the AFC's Indianapolis Colts passes against the NFC Team during the 2013 AFC-NFC Pro Bowl on January 27 , 2013 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)
Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

When I was assigned this article, I was excited about the vast angles the headline created.  Then I sat down and tried to define greatness.  In the NFL, making the playoffs is wonderful.  But to be truly great, a Super Bowl ring and a Lombardi trophy are all that matter.

I am not saying Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills are not outstanding.  I am not saying the Donovan McNabb-led Philadelphia Eagles did not have glimpses of wonderment.  But just like any Hall of Fame player who does not have a Super Bowl win will tell you, “The ring is the thing.”

As a society, we love the underdog—the person who overcame all odds to succeed.  But more than that, we love the victor, the warrior, the champion!  Nobody celebrates the runner-up, the bronze medalist, the participants.  We are a nation of winners and we all want to be associated with winning.

Vince Lombardi said it best: “"Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit.”  So after analyzing all 32 teams, I picked four that have not been perennial winners but are on the cusp of a possible Super Bowl appearance.  Teams like the Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers are now consistent winners, so they are eliminated.  The four teams I will dissect are teams that have the pieces in place to turn their history and franchises around.

These teams all have a good quarterback in place.  They all have strong leadership in the front office and they all have solid head coaches who are proven winners.


St. Louis Rams

The Rams have not been to the playoffs since after the 2004 season.  Poor former Ram and Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson never played in a single playoff game.  But the hiring of head coach Jeff Fisher has given this team and franchise an infusion of fresh blood.  Along with new general manager Les Snead, the Rams have drafted well and accumulated more draft picks for the 2013 NFL Draft.

The signing of former Tennessee Titan cornerback Cortland Finnegan brought toughness to this team.  President Kevin Demoff has locked up cornerstones like defensive end Chris Long and James Laurinaitis.  The Rams actually won the NFC West last year, going 4-1-1 in the division.  If Fisher and Snead can give quarterback Sam Bradford another dynamic weapon at wide receiver in the draft, look for the Rams to challenge for the crown in a tough NFC West race.


Kansas City Chiefs

Former general manager Scott Pioli was brought in to turn the franchise around.  While he did not produce playoff wins, he did stack the team with many young, gifted players.  New general manager John Dorsey and new head coach Andy Reid are the beneficiaries of this collection of talent.

The Chiefs have a storied history and fans that are truly loyal.  With a solid quarterback in place now with Alex Smith, the Chiefs have a chance to take the next step into greatness.  The AFC West is not a very strong conference outside of the Denver Broncos.  The Chiefs have a head coach who has coached in a Super Bowl.  Dorsey helped build the Green Bay Packers into a Super Bowl-winning team. 

They have a top-ranked defense that had multiple Pro Bowl players returning from last season.  Running back Jamaal Charles is one of the best in the NFL and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is a game-changer.  If Dorsey hits with the No. 1 pick overall in the NFL draft, look for the Chiefs to vie for the Lombardi Trophy in the next three years.


Indianapolis Colts

Any time you have a franchise quarterback, you have a chance to win a Super Bowl.  But outside of Andrew Luck, the Colts did not have many “names” on the entire team.  Sure, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and former Colt defensive end/outside linebacker Dwight Freeney were Pro Bowlers, but both are older—and in Freeney’s case, expendable.

General Manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano took a team of castoffs and misfits and led them to the playoffs last season.  One year earlier, the Colts without quarterback Peyton Manning were one of the worst teams in NFL history.  The Colts were so bad, former Super Bowl-winning general manager Bill Polian was shown the door. 

The Colts were active in free agency in 2013 signing starting offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus and defensive tackles Aubrayo Franklin and Ricky Jean-Francois.  They also have six picks in the 2013 NFL Draft.  Pagano has a Super Bowl ring as an assistant coach and knows what motivates players.  With a solid core of young players surrounding Luck, the Colts will challenge for a Super Bowl in the next three years.


Washington Redskins

I know they also went to the playoffs last year, like the Colts, but before last season the Redskins had not been to the postseason since 2007.  The drafting of two key offensive players—quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris—turned the future of the franchise around. 

Head coach Mike Shanahan has a Hall of Fame pedigree and has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy numerous times.  General manager Bruce Allen has been a part of multiple Super Bowl-winning teams.  These two men are building the Redskins into a championship-challenging team and are doing so with patience that past Redskins teams did not have.

Owner Dan Snider went through head coaches and general managers like a sick kid goes through tissues.  The Redskins seemed to sign any big name free agent and are still paying the penalty for salary cap infractions.  All of the negatives aside, the Redskins are one of the up-and-coming teams in the NFL and a place where free agents now want to sign.  With seven picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, Allen and Shanahan can add pieces to compliment Griffin and Morris.  On the defensive side of the football, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is back from his injury and cornerback E.J. Biggers is a solid addition. 

I would expect all of these teams to make the playoffs in 2013 and at least one of them to win a Super Bowl title in the next three years.