5 Losing Teams That Are Now Playoff Contenders After the 2013 NFL Draft
It happens every year.
A handful of disappointing NFL teams rebound to make the playoffs the following season, surprising the masses.
With plenty of coaching and general manager turnaround, there's no telling how drastically different some clubs will be in 2013.
Let's take a look at five losing teams who could be considered playoff contenders after their draft haul.
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The Carolina Panthers won five of their last six games in 2012, and quarterback Cam Newton threw 10 touchdowns to only two interceptions over that stretch.
As is typically the case in the NFL, team success will ultimately hinge on quarterback play, but the Panthers' overall roster has improved from 2012.
Star Lotulelei should be a much-needed disruptive force on the defensive line, which should make Luke Kuechly even more effective at middle linebacker.
Free-agent signee Chase Blackburn should be a fine backup, too.
Kenjon Barner will add more explosiveness to the backfield, and it will be interesting to see how Ted Ginn performs as a returner.
If Newton takes a step forward, a more defensively stout Panthers club could make some noise in the NFC South.
Kansas City Chiefs
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The Kansas City Chiefs made an assortment of personnel moves before the draft, and Andy Reid is the new head coach.
Although the Eric Fisher selection wasn't flashy, the team now has its franchise offensive tackle to protect Alex Smith and pave the way for Jamaal Charles.
Tight end Travis Kelce has some Gronkowskian tendencies to his game and should learn a great deal from free-agent acquisition Anthony Fasano.
Keep an eye on defensive lineman Mike DeVito—he's an unheralded disruptor up front.
If Smith manages games well, the Chiefs should be in the playoff hunt in the last month of the season in 2013.
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The Arizona Cardinals play in the most competitive division in the NFL with arguably the two best teams in the entire NFC.
With that being said, the Cardinals roster is much more talented from top to bottom heading into the 2013 campaign than it was at any juncture of 2012.
Carson Palmer was a major upgrade at the quarterback position, and his strong arm should be accentuated in Bruce Arians' vertical passing offense.
When healthy, Rashard Mendenhall brings quite the size and speed combination to the running back position, while rookies Stepfan Taylor and the speedy Andre Ellington should bring further stability to the backfield.
First-round pick Jonathan Cooper possesses All-Pro potential at the guard spot. Lorenzo Alexander and Jasper Brinkley should help the linebacking corps. Rookie Kevin Minter has the makings of being a tackling machine in the NFL, too.
Meanwhile, Tyrann Mathieu could become a menace in the turnover department.
Combine the newcomers with Patrick Peterson, Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell and Larry Fitzgerald, and it's easy to see why the Cardinals have a legitimate chance to be vastly improved in 2013.
While they'd still be considered a long shot to make the playoffs, they've made plenty of shrewd offseason moves that could keep them in the postseason discussion into December.
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Chip Kelly's progressive coaching style could change the NFL.
He has emphasized adding speed to both the offense and defense and drafted arguably the most athletic offensive lineman in Lane Johnson.
With a stable of quarterbacks on the roster, Kelly will have flexibility at the position, and nine new defensive players were added in free agency.
If Kelly's spread, read-option offense confuses the Eagles' opponents, Philadelphia could surprise in the NFC East.
San Diego Chargers
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Quarterback Philip Rivers drastically regressed in 2012, and while he rightfully was blamed for the team's disappointing season, the offensive line and defense didn't do him any favors.
The first three draft picks—D.J. Fluker, Manti Te'o and Keenan Allen—could all be instant impact players in their rookie campaigns, and the team's defensive front has plenty of youthful talent.
While the left tackle spot is still a concern, if Rivers is protected better than he was last year, San Diego could compete in the AFC West.