Which NFL Teams Are Favored to Land the No. 1 Pick in the 2014 Draft?
It's that time of year, when hope springs eternal in the National Football League.
Fans of all 32 NFL teams, from the reigning Super Bowl champs to the team with the first pick in last month's NFL draft, are brimming with optimism that this will be the year—that a successful season is just over the horizon.
However, for some of those teams the harsh reality is that this isn't going to be "their" year. There are just too many holes on the roster, too many areas in which the team needs to improve.
In fact, some of those teams stand a better chance of being in the race for the top pick in the 2014 NFL draft then of making any sort of real run at a playoff spot.
With that in mind, here's a look at the leading contenders for the right to choose South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater next year.
Fans of the Buffalo Bills have been waiting quite a while to root for a playoff team in western New York.
It's been 13 seasons since the Bills made the postseason, the longest current drought in the NFL, and the team hasn't posted a winning record since 2004.
The Bills brought new head coach Doug Marrone on board to attempt to end that streak, but the odds are stacked heavily against that happening in 2013.
For starters, even if Kevin Kolb starts the season at quarterback for the Bills, he probably won't finish it, at least if his recent and rather extensive injury history is any indication.
That would put rookie E.J. Manuel in the crosshairs under center. Manuel is a talented youngster, but he's far from a finished product as a passer. There are going to be growing pains.
Also, for the second time in as many seasons the Bills are changing defensive schemes under new coordinator Mike Pettine, moving to a "hybrid" front after playing in the 4-3 in 2012.
The Bills spent a fortune last year improving the pass rush, but the production didn't meet the price tag. Now the Bills have to wait and see if ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson can be successful rushing the passer standing up.
That's far from the only question facing the defense. Veterans such as linebacker Nick Barnett and safety George Wilson are gone. Youngsters such as rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso and safety Da'Norris Searcy will be tasked with picking up their slack.
Buffalo has a fairly favorable schedule, and they're likely a dark-horse candidate for the first overall pick, but given all the changes the team is making, it wouldn't be shocking to see the Bills backslide from last year's 6-10 mark.
New York Jets
If Rex Ryan needs to guide the New York Jets to the playoffs in order to save his job, then he might want to update his resume.
It isn't happening.
In fact, it's much more likely that Gang Green will vie for the top pick in the 2014 NFL draft than contend in the AFC East.
It all starts with a very unsettled quarterback situation.
2012 starter Mark Sanchez was abysmal last year, turning the ball over twice as many times as he had touchdown throws.
Much like the Bills, if the Jets turn the offense over to second-round pick Geno Smith they'll be entrusting the team to a talented yet somewhat "raw" rookie. It could be a bumpy road.
It's also not like whomever lines up at quarterback exactly has a ton of offensive weaponry at their disposal. Even with wide receiver Santonio Holmes back in the fold, and the arrival of running back Chris Ivory, there are as many questions as answers where the offensive skill positions are concerned.
Add in the fact that the team traded away their best defensive player in cornerback Darrelle Revis and toss in a salary cap mess left behind by former general manager Mike Tannenbaum, and you have the makings of a rebuilding year in the Big Apple.
It's not easy being a fan of the Cleveland Browns.
Since the team returned to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have posted a winning record twice. They've made the playoffs only once.
Neither of those trends are going to be reversed in 2013.
Part of what had held the Browns back over the last 15 years has been a lack of consistency.
Well, except for consistently losing, that is.
There have been innumerable changes at head coach, in the front office and even in ownership of the team.
Every few years the Browns are "starting over." It keeps the franchise from establishing any momentum.
This year is no different. There's a new owner in Jimmy Haslam. A new general manager in Mike Lombardi. Rob Chudzinski is the new head coach, bringing with him new coordinators on both sides of the ball in Norv Turner and Ray Horton.
Those would all appear to be solid hires, but it means new schemes, and personnel that may not be ideal for them.
That's especially true on defense. The change from Dick Jauron's vanilla 4-3 to Horton's aggressive 3-4 may be a problematic one, even though the team acquired outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo to ease the transition.
Also, much like every other team on this list, the quarterback position is an issue.
The only question that Brandon Weeden is the answer for is "why is it not a good idea to burn a first-round pick on a 28-year-old rookie?" Backup Jason Campbell is a serviceable pro, but that's all he is.
Frankly, a horrible season may be the best thing that could happen to the Browns.
This is a team who could really use Bridgewater's services.
If there's a mantra that supporters of the Oakland Raiders should be repeating over and over right now, it is "it's always darkest before the dawn."
Because things are pretty dark right now.
When general manager Reggie McKenzie took over in Oakland, he inherited a hot mess of a roster filled with underperformers and bloated contracts.
In an effort to right the ship, McKenzie took a chainsaw to that roster.
The result will be a ton of salary cap space in 2014, but in 2013 it means a roster of below-average talent at nearly every position.
Matt Flynn is an unproven quarterback who turned one big game into a fat free agent deal with the Seattle Seahawks. Flynn's so good that he then ended up starting all of zero games for the Seahawks.
Running back Darren McFadden can't stay healthy. The receiving corps is precariously thin. The Raiders are sorely lacking pass-rushers. The secondary is an amalgamation of journeymen and untested youngsters.
I could go on.
It's going to be a long year in Oakland, but fans need to be patient. McKenzie has the team headed in the right direction, and Rome wasn't built in a day.
Besides, Jadeveon Clowney would go a long way towards fixing Oakland's pass rush problems.
It wasn't that long ago that the Jacksonville Jaguars were a playoff team, and as recently as 2010 the Jags were a .500 ballclub.
What they wouldn't give for a .500 season now.
The Jaguars were, for lack of a better term, the worst team in the NFL in 2012. They won all of two games, ranked 29th in the league in total offense and 30th in total defense.
The Jaguars had fewer sacks as a team than J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans had by himself.
By all rights the Jaguars should have picked first in the 2012 NFL draft, but the dastardly Kansas City Chiefs swooped in and out-sucked them, stealing the top pick.
No matter, because the Jaguars will be in the running again in 2013.
The addition of Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel will no doubt help to solidify the offensive front, but it won't help change that fact that quarterback Blaine Gabbert has been a colossal bust to this point, or keep 2011 top pick Justin Blackmon from getting into trouble off the field.
Then there's the matter of the team's best player. The heavy workload that Maurice Jones-Drew has carried throughout his career is beginning to show, and Jones-Drew still hasn't recovered fully from last year's Lisfranc injury.
Without the 2011 NFL rushing king the Jaguars offense would be in serious trouble, especially with Blackmon suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season.
Defensively, the Jaguars not only have the league's most anemic pass rush but also feature three new starters in the secondary, including two rookies.
The bad news is that it's going to be a rough 2013 for the Jaguars.
The good news is that the top two prospects for 2014 would both fill huge areas of need for the team.