Every year, each NFL team has one goal: to finish as the NFL's best team by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February. Unfortunately, that goal is unrealistic for a majority of the organizations. Whether it's a lack of talent, injuries or a combination of both, only a select few will be given the chance to compete for a Super Bowl title.
Many teams will instead focus and reflect back on dream scenarios that played out during the season. There will be a few teams that dream of having a young quarterback establish himself as the league's next star. Other teams will dream of finishing above .500.
No matter the dream, none is too big or too small. Let's take a look at every NFL team's dream scenario for the 2013 NFL season.
2013 Dream Scenario: Making Sure Carson Palmer Succeeds
The Arizona Cardinals have been busy during the 2013 offseason. They hired a new head coach, a new general manager and traded for a new starting quarterback. Those three moves alone will call for heightened expectations.
However, the most important thing for the organization won’t be winning the Super Bowl or making the playoffs. The most important thing will be making sure Carson Palmer flourishes behind an improved offensive line.
Even though the Cardinals didn’t surrender a whole lot in their trade with the Oakland Raiders, they are guaranteeing Palmer a lot of money for the 2013 season.
2013 Dream Scenario: Reaching the Super Bowl
Last year’s NFC Championship Game was an absolute killer for the Atlanta Falcons. They managed to jump out to a 17-0 lead over the red-hot San Francisco 49ers, but Atlanta’s defense couldn’t hold. The Falcons allowed 14 unanswered points in the second quarter.
The game’s biggest quarter ended up being the Falcons' worst quarter. San Francisco went on to score two second-half touchdowns and secure the victory by a score of 28-24.
Based on Atlanta’s disappointing finish in 2012, anything less than a Super Bowl appearance in 2013 would be disappointing.
When one takes the time to look at the organization’s offseason moves, it’s clear general manager Thomas Dimitroff is all in. Expectations are at an all-time high, and Dimitroff is aware that it’s Super Bowl or bust.
2013 Dream Scenario: Baltimore Becomes Joe Flacco’s Team
For years, the Ravens were viewed as Ray Lewis’ team. The defensive side of the ball has always been the center of attention in Baltimore. Yet a changing of the guard took place during the offseason.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ defense was picked apart because of free agency, so it will be up to Joe Flacco and the offensive side of the ball to lead the way in 2013. Moreover, Flacco was awarded a hefty six-year, $120.6 million contract.
High-dollar contracts always raise the bar in terms of expectations. Flacco needs to show head coach John Harbaugh that he has what it takes to carry the team on his back. Sure, he did it in the playoffs, but can he do it for a full 16-game slate?
That’s the $1 million question.
2013 Dream Scenario: EJ Manuel and Doug Marrone Have Instant Success
Drafting EJ Manuel with the 16th pick in the 2013 NFL draft was a huge risk for the Buffalo Bills. Some analysts believed Manuel would be a Day 2 pick at best. Few had him pegged as the first quarterback off the board in this year’s draft.
Head coach Doug Marrone obviously saw something in Manuel that others didn’t. The former Florida State Seminole has all the physical tools to succeed, yet there are questions about his intangibles and pocket presence.
The free-agent addition of Kevin Kolb was a nice stopgap option, but the organization needs Manuel to excel right away. If he and Marrone prove to be a hit in 2013, the Bills should consider their 2013 season a success.
2013 Dream Scenario: Finishing the Season with a Winning Record
After a six-win season in 2011 and a seven-win season in 2012, the Carolina Panthers need to take a giant leap forward in 2013. In years past, their defense has considerably lagged behind their offense. Newly appointed general manager Dave Gettleman made it a point to upgrade the team’s weakest area during the offseason.
Gettleman used his first two selections in the draft on interior defensive linemen. Moreover, the Panthers used one of their three Day 3 picks on a linebacker. Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short should prove to be impact players right away.
If Cam Newton, Steve Smith, Jonathan Stewart and the rest of the offensive playmakers continue to produce, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott’s defense should establish itself as the perfect complement.
2013 Dream Scenario: Jay Cutler Is Sacked Less Than 35 Times
It’s hard to argue with the fact that the Chicago Bears have annually fielded some of the worst offensive-line combinations in recent memory. For years, fans have been yearning for more competent play up front. Shoot, even Jay Cutler has been calling for improved offensive-line play.
Well, it appears as if 2013 is the year.
From the start of the 2013 offseason until now, general manager Phil Emery has made it a point to retool every position along the offensive line. He drafted Kyle Long in the first round of this year’s draft. Additionally, he signed Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson and Eben Britton in free agency.
Three of the four offseason pickups are in position to be Day 1 starters. For Cutler's sake, let’s hope he has done enough.
2013 Dream Scenario: The Bengals Manage to Win at Least One Playoff Game
Even though the Cincinnati Bengals have made two straight playoff appearances, they haven’t actually won a playoff game since the 1990 season. With a stacked defense and solidified playmakers at every offensive position, this year is shaping up to the Bengals' year.
By no means is the AFC North a cakewalk, but the Bengals have proved over the past couple of seasons that they can go head-to-head with the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Outside of consistent play on the defensive side of the ball, Andy Dalton ultimately holds the keys to Cincinnati’s playoff success.
In year three, Dalton needs to have a breakout campaign. Much like Joe Flacco did last season in Baltimore, the former second-round pick needs to carry the Bengals through the playoffs.
2013 Dream Scenario: Brandon Weeden Solidifies Himself as Cleveland’s Franchise Quarterback
When the Browns drafted Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, analysts felt the organization had severely reached on a player who should have been a Day 2 pick.
Whether or not Weeden was a reach is beside the point. He is the best quarterback on the roster right now, and the Browns are counting on him to succeed. If he is successful in 2013, it will guarantee job security for the coaching staff and the front office.
Avoiding the sophomore slump and guiding Cleveland to an 8-8 record by season’s end should keep the wolves at bay for a little while longer.
2013 Dream Scenario: Tony Romo Dominates and Leads Dallas Back to the Playoffs
Up until this point, the 2013 offseason has been full of surprises. Free agency was as unpredictable as ever, and the draft provided plenty of insight into the needs of all 32 NFL teams.
However, there was no bigger surprise than the figures of Tony Romo’s contract. Without question, he is one of the better quarterbacks in the league. But is he really worth $108 million?
If Romo leads the Cowboys back to the playoffs, his contract becomes a non-issue.
Jerry Jones is competitive and loves to win, so he will pull out all the stops in order to do so. He’s not ready to start over at the quarterback position, and he believes in Romo. The market dictated No. 9’s contract; the Cowboys’ winning percentage in years past did not.
2013 Dream Scenario: Denver Hoists the Lombardi Trophy at the End of the Season
Denver’s Super Bowl window won’t be open much longer. Peyton Manning, Champ Bailey and Wes Welker are all nearing the end. Team president John Elway is aware of this, so he did everything in his power to make sure the Broncos are Super Bowl contenders in 2013.
But the Broncos don’t want to be viewed as Super Bowl contenders; they want to be viewed as Super Bowl favorites. They have one of the best defenses in the NFL, they have a favorable schedule down the stretch and they have a Hall of Fame signal-caller.
Much like the Atlanta Falcons, it’s Super Bowl or bust for the Broncos.
2013 Dream Scenario: The Lions Find Their Way Back to the Playoffs
After a strong postseason run in 2011, the Detroit Lions were viewed as a team who had finally arrived. Years and years of first-round draft picks were starting to pay off. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s offense was one of the NFL’s best, and Gunther Cunningham’s defense was a unit on the rise.
However, Detroit’s one-year breakout was nothing more than fool’s gold. In 2012, the organization sunk back to the bottom of the NFC North, while the Packers, Vikings and Bears all finished above .500.
To return to playoff glory in 2013, quarterback Matthew Stafford will have to rediscover his high level of play. Additionally, the defensive line will need to reestablish itself as one of the most feared lines in the NFC.
2013 Dream Scenario: Dom Capers’ Defense Ups its Level of Play
Despite having quarterback Aaron Rodgers and one of the best offenses in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers only managed to win one playoff game in 2012. Dom Capers’ defense outdid Joe Webb and the Minnesota Vikings with ease, but his defense was no match for Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers.
When offensive coordinator Greg Roman deployed the pistol offense and the zone-read option, Green Bay’s defense looked lost. It simply didn’t have an answer for Kaepernick. He piled up a team-high 181 yards on the ground and 263 yards through the air.
His performance mentally scarred Green Bay.
So, what did the Packers’ front office do on draft day? It drafted five defensive players. Undoubtedly, Capers’ defense will not only be prepared for Kaepernick in 2013, but it will be better prepared for other mobile quarterbacks.
2013 Dream Scenario: Reach the AFC Championship Game
In recent years, experts have been saying this is the year where the Houston Texans finally make a run at the Super Bowl. But we should back up before we link the Texans to the Super Bowl. How about we link them to the AFC Championship Game instead.
That seems more feasible based on the fact they haven’t ever reached the AFC Championship Game. In 2011, the Baltimore Ravens sent them packing before they could reach the big game. And in 2012, the New England Patriots stopped the Texans dead in their tracks by dismantling them, 41-28.
If Houston wants to set its sights on the Super Bowl, that’s fine, but the team should focus on getting to the game that will get it to the Super Bowl first.
2013 Dream Scenario: Dethrone the Houston Texans in the AFC South
Drafting Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft proved to be a no-brainer. He turned a two-win team into an 11-5 playoff-bound team over the course of one year.
Even though the Colts were one and done in the playoffs, they will have heightened expectations in 2013. The talent they brought in on the defensive side of the ball will help them take that next step.
The next logical step for an 11-win team is to overtake the team that stands in front of it in its own division. In Indianapolis' case, it will be gunning for the Houston Texans. An organization always feels a sense of relief when it gets into the playoffs as division champions.
2013 Dream Scenario: Blaine Gabbert’s Talent Starts to Shine Through
It has been a rough road for former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert. He was immediately thrown into the fire as a rookie with a weak offensive line and a mediocre defense.
Since Gabbert's inaugural season, things haven’t gotten better.
The poor offensive-line play has continued, and the once-average defense has even managed to decline. Couple a poor supporting cast with a quarterback who doesn’t appear to be comfortable in the pocket, and Jacksonville has a nightmare on its hands.
However, Gabbert’s past struggles didn’t scare off general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley. They have shown through the draft that they are willing to build around the young quarterback before they officially give up on him.
Gabbert needs to show up in 2013, or Caldwell and Bradley will be building around someone else in 2014.
2013 Dream Scenario: Andy Reid and Alex Smith Prove to Be a Perfect Marriage
Over the course of his coaching tenure in the NFL, Andy Reid has shown that he is a quarterback guru. Every player he has ever tutored at the quarterback position has seemingly turned into either a short-term or a long-term star.
Donovan McNabb was a six-time Pro Bowler, Kevin Kolb was shipped off to Arizona for a king’s ransom and Michael Vick made an incredible comeback after getting out of prison. Some coaches just get it when it comes to specific players and positions.
Reid is hoping his next reclamation project is equally successful.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh coached Alex Smith up to a very high level in 2011 and 2012, but Reid is hoping to take Smith to an even higher level. If this ends up being the case, look for the Chiefs to become instant contenders after a miserable 2012 season.
2013 Dream Scenario: Ryan Tannehill Is Who the Dolphins Think He Is
When the Miami Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill in the first round of last year’s draft, there were plenty of question marks surrounding the pick. Scouts and analysts wondered if Tannehill was pro-ready based on the fact he only made 19 collegiate starts at quarterback.
They also wondered if his anticipation would ever be where it needed to be in the NFL.
Tannehill quickly put the critics to rest when he turned in impressive performance after impressive performance in 2012. He finished his rookie season with 3,294 yards passing and 12 touchdowns.
Still, one above-average season in the NFL doesn’t spell long-term success. Miami is looking for sustained success given his lofty draft status. General manager Jeff Ireland needs the sophomore quarterback to show continued improvement if the Dolphins want to push for the playoffs in 2013.
2013 Dream Scenario: Christian Ponder Shoulders Some of the Offensive Load
For anyone who spent any amount of time watching the Minnesota Vikings last year, it was clear they were a one-trick pony on offense. Adrian Peterson ran like a man possessed for 16 games, while quarterback Christian Ponder would sprinkle in a top-notch play from time to time.
This aspect of Minnesota’s offense has to change moving forward. The organization can’t count on one player’s production for a full 16-game slate. What if Peterson goes down with another season-ending injury?
General manager Rick Spielman is no dummy, which is exactly why he went out and made the appropriate moves on the offensive side of the ball. Besides adding wide receiver Greg Jennings in free agency, he also added Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round of the draft.
Barring any injuries or setbacks, Ponder should have plenty of options outside of Peterson when the season begins in September.
2013 Dream Scenario: Everyone Stays Healthy
When you take the time to scan the New England Patriots depth chart, you see the wealth of talent they have on the offensive side of the ball. Not only do the Patriots have a Hall of Fame signal-caller, they also have two Pro Bowl tight ends and a $31 million wide receiver.
On paper, New England’s offensive resume looks great. But there is still one problem: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Amendola all have health issues that have hindered them back in the past.
Gronkowski had a troublesome ankle in 2011 and a troublesome arm in 2012. He may now need back surgery too, according to ESPN. Hernandez was sidelined with an ankle injury of his own in 2012, while Amendola missed a decent chunk of last season with a collarbone injury.
When healthy, the Patriots offense is as good as it gets. Unfortunately, it has been a while since good health was on New England’s side.
2013 Dream Scenario: Sean Payton Leads the Saints to a Winning Record
What a difference one year makes.
Just two years ago, head coach Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints were pushing their way through the playoffs. Then 2012 happened, when multiple suspensions and sanctions stemming from Bountygate threw the Saints season into a tailspin.
From start to finish, New Orleans' 2012 season was a disaster. Some people often think head coaches are overrated when it comes down to wins and losses. Yet Payton proved he is the glue that holds this team together.
His return brought about several immediate changes. Along with defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, several underachieving players were shown the door. It’s safe to say the sheriff is back in town, and he means business.
His return not only signals joy, but it signals new-found expectations. While playoff success may be on the team's mind, the Saints' first thought should be getting back to above .500. The last time a Payton-coached team finished below .500 was 2007.
2013 Dream Scenario: 2007 Repeats Itself for the Second Time in Seven Years
Are the New York Giants gearing up for another Super Bowl run? If we know anything about the Tom Coughlin-coached team, the answer is yes. New York always seems to excel the year after a letdown season.
After winning the Super Bowl in 2011, the Giants looked poised to repeat in 2012. They had retained most of their roster from the 2011 season and added talent at key positions during the 2012 offseason.
Unfortunately, New York lost five of its final eight games down the stretch, and some of the team’s biggest superstars mailed it in a few weeks too early. This ultimately forced the Giants to miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
Look for an upgraded offensive line and defensive line to lead the way in 2013.
2013 Dream Scenario: Geno Smith Wins the Starting Quarterback Job at the End of Training Camp
Prior to the draft, no one thought the New York Jets would land quarterback Geno Smith in the second round of the draft. Analysts had him pegged as an early pick in Round 1. Instead, general manager John Idzik snagged two defensive starters in the first round and a franchise quarterback in the second.
Even though Smith wasn’t a first-round pick, he will have pressure to succeed right away. Mark Sanchez’s time is slowly ticking away, and Idzik knows that. If he truly had faith in Sanchez, he wouldn’t have drafted his future replacement.
The organization needs Smith to step up. It needs him to beat out Sanchez so the team can start building for the future. Playing Sanchez another year will just delay the inevitable.
Rex Ryan hasn’t put together a playoff-caliber team since 2010, so he’s starting to feel the heat as well.
The pressure is mounting in New York.
2013 Dream Scenario: Tyler Wilson Leads the Raiders to an 8-8 Season
This may seem like a monumental dream, but at this point, the Raiders need to dream big. They haven’t experienced a winning season or had a franchise quarterback since 2002.
Years of bad drafting and poor personnel decisions set Oakland back.
However, things seem to be turning around in a hurry under general manager Reggie McKenzie. Even though the Raiders record didn’t reflect it in 2012, they are well on their way in terms of rebuilding.
McKenzie has managed to turn an aging roster into a young roster ripe with talent.
The latest addition to Oakland’s young talent pool is Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson. Wilson has all the physical tools to lead an NFL franchise, yet questions remain in regard to his mental makeup.
If he can dispel the critics, the Raiders could rise to the top faster than anyone expected them to.
2013 Dream Scenario: Matt Barkley or Nick Foles Emerge as a Franchise Quarterback
Quarterback Michael Vick is the vested veteran of the group, but the Philadelphia Eagles have two young quarterbacks behind him who are full of potential.
At times last year, Nick Foles flashed real on-field potential. His flashes didn’t necessarily translate into wins, but the problems the Eagles had ran much deeper than the quarterback position. More often than not, the defensive line and the defensive secondary should have shouldered more of the blame.
There were also times, though, when Foles looked skittish in the pocket. This will undoubtedly work against him given Matt Barkley’s incredible pocket presence.
Nevertheless, Chip Kelly and the Eagles front office should be pulling for both young quarterbacks. The sooner they replace Vick the better. It’s not like No. 7 will be leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl anytime soon.
Sometimes, playing for the future is a team’s best bet.
2013 Dream Scenario: Ben Roethlisberger Stays Healthy for All 16 Games
By now, we have established that quarterback play and injuries are the two most important factors in the NFL when it comes to success. Very few teams have enough depth to maintain a high level of play when key players succumb to injury.
This statement is even truer when superstar quarterbacks are sidelined due to injury. Just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their playoff hopes went out the window in 2012 when Ben Roethlisberger missed three games due to a bum shoulder.
If the Steelers want to taste postseason play for the third time in four years, they will need to make sure Roethlisberger is in uniform for all 16 games in 2013.
2013 Dream Scenario: The Chargers Running Game Looks Competent for Once
The NFL hasn’t exactly been kind to San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews. Injuries, injuries and more injuries have stunted his growth as a player. Over the course of his three-year career in the league, Mathews has never finished a 16-game season.
In 2010, he appeared in 12 games. In 2011, he suited up 14 times. And in 2012, he reverted back to his rookie season when he logged at least one rushing attempt in 12 games. Missing 10 games in three years is not a vote of confidence for one’s health.
If the Chargers manage to protect Philip Rivers upfront, the running game becomes San Diego’s biggest concern. With the AFC looking wide open for a second straight season, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt needs to get his ground game going early and often in 2013.
2013 Dream Scenario: San Francisco Wins the Super Bowl
The 49ers' dream scenario comes off as a no-brainer because they have nowhere to go but up based on last season. They have the most talented roster in the NFL, the best coaching staff in the NFL and the best general manager in the NFL.
Unlike the Denver Broncos, San Francisco’s Super Bowl window doesn’t appear to be closing anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean fans and media members alike aren’t expecting the 49ers to win it all in 2013.
Several analysts from different major media outlets have already handed the Lombardi Trophy to the Niners before the season has even started. While it won’t be a walk in the park, Jim Harbaugh’s club is primed to make its second Super Bowl appearance in as many years.
The biggest key along the way will be learning how to jump on the opposition early. In the playoffs last year, they found themselves playing catch-up more often than not.
2013 Dream Scenario: Overtaking the 49ers in the NFC West
Even though the Seattle Seahawks didn’t start to peak until late in the season, they showed the nation that they had what it took to take down the San Francisco 49ers. Early on in the season, they went on the road and hung tough with the 49ers, but quarterback Russell Wilson hadn’t yet developed the ability to put teams away.
It took some time for Wilson to develop that trait. The first time he really broke out of his shell and led a comeback charge was against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. After that game, the rookie quarterback looked like a completely transformed player.
The Seahawks will ask him to take another giant leap in 2013 if they are to be crowned NFC West champions at the end of the season. Both teams are equally talented at every skill position, so it will come down to his development versus Colin Kaepernick's.
2013 Dream Scenario: Sam Bradford Lives Up to His No. 1 Overall Draft Status
Before general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher arrived in St. Louis, the Rams were pinning their hope solely on quarterback Sam Bradford. They felt he was a guy who could up the play of players around him.
This notion ended up being partially true. Wide receiver Mark Clayton revived his career in St. Louis for a short period of time, while Danny Amendola scored a big contract after he became Bradford’s go-to guy.
However, Snead and Fisher embraced the fact that one guy shouldn’t dictate the success of a team’s offense. An offense should be built around a quarterback.
Brian Quick, Chris Givens, Jared Cook, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey have all been given to Bradford. Now, it’s up to him to succeed. The Rolodex of excuses for No. 8 are gone; he needs 2013 to be the year where St. Louis’ offense outpaces its defense.
2013 Dream Scenario: Darrelle Revis Returns to His All-Pro Status as a Player
Without question, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' biggest downfall in recent years has been their atrocious play in the defensive backfield. Players like Eric Wright and Aqib Talib never emerged as true shutdown corners. Both players were down more than they were up in terms of consistency.
The inconsistent play in the defensive secondary forced general manager Mark Dominik to make a bold move just days before the NFL draft.
Dominik sent two draft selections to the New York Jets for All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis. The move was viewed as risky for more than one reason. Aside from the fact Revis is returning from a torn ACL, he was given a $96 million contract extension the same day he was traded (no guaranteed money, though).
If Revis returns healthy, the trade will go down as one of the most impactful trades in NFL history. If he doesn’t return healthy, all the naysayers will come out of the woodwork and say, “I told you so.”
2013 Dream Scenario: Chris Johnson Reverts Back to CJ2K
Not too long ago, running back Chris Johnson had some not-so-kind words for his offensive line. Johnson felt like it was the biggest hindrance to the Tennessee Titans rushing attack in 2012.
He believes he still has another 2,000-yard season in the tank. He just needs the offensive line to do its job. Well, he received his wish during the offseason. Tennessee’s front office made it a point to upgrade the blocking in front of him.
The team went out and acquired Andy Levitre, Chris Spencer, Rob Turner, Brian Schwenke and Chance Warmack. Like St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, Johnson’s Rolodex of excuses has come to an end.
In 2013, he will need to either put up or shut up.
2013 Dream Scenario: Robert Griffin III Starts Week 1, Leads the Redskins to Their First Playoff Victory in Eight Years
The Washington Redskins' dream scenario headline says it all. The organization is all in on Robert Griffin III. Washington traded away a plethora of draft picks to the St. Louis Rams for the right to draft RGIII in 2012.
With that being said, the Redskins need him to return better than ever. Sure, Kirk Cousins is a nice spot starter who has the ability to win a game here or there, but he’s not on the same level as Griffin. Griffin is in a league of his own when he is healthy.
The former No. 2 overall pick has great arm strength, good field vision and is a proven leader. Not to mention that his playmaking ability through the air and on the ground can’t be matched by any other NFL quarterback.
Washington winning a playoff game for the first time in eight years will be predicated on Griffin’s health in 2013.