The Redskins playoff hopes in 2013 rest on Griffin's knee
Every year in the NFL there seems to be about a 50 percent turnover in terms of playoff teams. In 2011, that figure was exactly correct. The Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts were playoff teams in the AFC in 2010. None of those squads made the bonus round in 2011. In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears were replaced by the New York Giants, Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers.
In 2012, only Pittsburgh was left out in the AFC. They were replaced by the Colts and the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts. On the NFC side, it was another 50/50 split with the Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings in while the Giants, Lions and Saints took the year off from the playoffs.
With so much turnover in the playoffs year in and year out, every fanbase has to believe any year could be their year. In this article, I will give some fans hope, while crushing others’ dreams. The NFL is about parity and thus this article will be as well.
With quarterback Tom Brady at the helm, the Patriots are always going to be competitive. But with numerous injuries to tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots are not as strong of a team. The addition of wide receiver Danny Amendola offsets the loss of wide receiver Wes Welker, but the rest of the receiving corps is not as strong as in years past.
The defense should be better with the addition of safety Adrian Wilson and defensive lineman Tommy Kelly. The entire unit should be better than they were in 2012. That being said, I do not see the Patriots improving over the 12-win season from a year ago and actually think they will lose a game or two more.
Tough matchups: BAL, DEN, HOU, PIT, NO, CIN, ATL
Chances of the Patriots improving on 2012 record: Selling
This is a big year for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. If the former Texas A&M star can step his game up, the Dolphins have the making of a playoff team. If not, the Dolphins front office will be looking for jobs in 2014. The addition of wide receiver Mike Wallace should help the vertical game, but if offensive tackles Jonathan Martin and Tyson Clabo do not hold up, Tannehill won’t have the time to go deep.
The defense should be better up the middle with new linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. But the key to the defense will be the health of cornerback Brent Grimes. If Grimes plays in all 16 games, the Dolphins can have a top ten defense. If not, they will be near the bottom.
Tough matchups: IND, ATL, NO, BAL, NE x 2, CIN, PIT
Chances of the Dolphins improving on 2012 record: Buying
The Jets still have Mark Sanchez at quarterback with rookie Geno Smith expected to back him up. A healthy Santonio Holmes at receiver will make a huge difference in offensive production, but the offensive line is still in shambles and the Jets must prove they can run the football in 2013.
The defense lost one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Darrelle Revis. Though Antonio Cromartie is a solid player and held his own last season, he is not Revis. Defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson and cornerback Dee Milliner are solid draft picks, but how much can the Jets defense expect from rookies? New York is in total rebuilding mode and will struggle in 2013.
Tough matchups: NE x 2, ATL PIT, CIN, NO, BAL, MIA x 2
Chances of the Jets improving on 2012 record: Selling
The Bills went through a total overhaul at the quarterback position this past offseason and will either have Kevin Kolb or rookie E.J. Manuel leading the offense by the regular season. The play of the starter will completely dictate the fate of the 2013 Bills. I expect running back C.J. Spiller to have a better year than last season, but the Bills do not have a wide receiver outside of Stevie Johnson that can be counted on.
The defense should improve, and by keeping safety Jairus Byrd in the fold, was a huge coup for the Bills front office. If Marcell Dareus can become a consistent dominant force next to Mario Williams, the sky is the limit for this unit.
Tough matchups: NE x 2, BAL, CIN, NO, PIT, ATL
Chances of the Bills improving on 2012 record: Buying
Quarterback Joe Flacco is now a very rich man and a Super Bowl MVP. I fully expect wide receiver Torrey Smith to step in and fill the void left by Anquan Boldin’s trade to the 49ers. Gino Gradkowski has huge shoes to fill in replacing Matt Birk at center but seems up to the task. And Ray Rice is still lining up behind Flacco, so that is never a bad thing.
The defense lost seven key players on defense, none bigger than inside linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed. But the addition of outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and safety Michael Huff stems the tide of those losses. I can actually see this unit getting better, with a healthy Lardarius Webb back as the No. 1 cornerback.
Tough matchups: DEN, HOU, GB, NE, PIT x 2, CIN x 2
Chances of the Ravens improving on 2012 record: Buying
Besides the addition of running back Giovani Bernard through the 2013 NFL draft, the Bengals offense is almost exactly the same as last season. That could be a good thing or bad thing. Granted, the team did make the playoffs, but they did not go very far. If Bernard ends up being the missing piece, the Bengals front office will look like geniuses. If not, they will look cheap.
On defense, the addition of outside linebacker James Harrison makes headlines, but Harrison has been an injury nightmare the past couple of seasons. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer does not get enough credit for the defense he churns out year after year. I do not see the Bengals improving on last season’s record, but I also do not see them losing more than seven games.
Tough matchups: GB, NE, IND, MIN, BAL x 2, PIT x 2
Chances of the Bengals improving on 2012 record: Selling
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has won the Super Bowl multiple times and as long as he is wearing black and yellow, the Steelers are a playoff-caliber team. The key for the Steelers in 2013 is keeping their quarterback healthy. The play of offensive tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert is key as well. Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell will become the Doug Martin of the 2013 NFL draft class.
The defense needs to get younger and outside linebacker Lamar Woodley needs to stay on the field. The Steelers secondary is one of the oldest in the NFL and was exposed at times in 2012. If that unit does not pick up their game in 2013, the season could turn out to be very long for Steeler fans.
Tough matchups: GB, NE, MIN, CIN x 2, BAL x 2
Chances of the Steelers improving on 2012 record: Selling
The front office and coaching staff went through a major upheaval this offseason. The future is bright in Cleveland. Unfortunately, that does not include this season. The quarterback position is still on shaky ground and the entire offense has to learn a completely new scheme. But the Browns are stacked at the receiver and running back positions for the near future.
The defense has tons of new additions and will carry the squad in 2013. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is one of the best in the business. I will not be surprised if the Browns lead the NFL in sacks in 2013. The Browns have an arrow going up but in a tough AFC North, they will need another season to get rolling. That being said, I do think that, due to some weak matchups on their schedule, the Browns win more than five games in 2013.
Tough matchups: MIN, GB, NE, BAL x 2, CIN x 2, PIT x 2
Chances of the Browns improving on 2012 record: Buying
The Texans should make the playoffs again in 2013. Drafting wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins gives fellow wide receiver Andre Johnson his first true complementary star opposite him in an already potent offense. The addition of fullback Greg Jones is a sneaky good addition.
By adding Ed Reed at safety to the secondary, the Texans finally have a proven leader who will get the unit lined up and who allows them to make more plays on the football. Defensive end J.J. Watt is the best one in the NFL and should compete for Defensive MVP again in 2013. But the Texans have a tough schedule and will need to play their best football week after week to improve on a 12-4 record. I do not see that happening even though the team is stacked with talent.
Tough matchups: BAL, SEA, SF, NE, DEN, IND x 2
Chances of the Texans improving on 2012 record: Selling
With quarterback Andrew Luck at the helm, the Colts should be a playoff team every year. The simple fact he took the worst team in football in 2011 and made them a playoff team in 2012 was as impressive as any feat in football last season. The running game should be better in 2013 with an improved offensive line. Look for Coby Fleener to have a breakout year at tight end.
The defense has an influx of new high-priced talent but I am not sure how many of those players are an upgrade on what they played with in 2012. The defense should get better if the new players can gel quickly with the current players on the roster. The play of safety LaRon Landry will set the tone for the defensive unit. If the defense can improve on the 2012 unit, the Colts can win the AFC South.
Tough matchups: SF, SEA, DEN, CIN, HOU x 2
Chances of the Colts improving on 2012 record: Buying
When the two best additions to one of the worst offenses in the NFL are offensive guards, Titan fans have a reason to worry. Until quarterback Jake Locker takes hold of the starting job and can win close games, the Titans will be in the bottom of the AFC South. I do expect to see running back Chris Johnson to bounce back with a big year in 2013, but I do not think that will be enough offense to win many games.
The defense has a lot of young active players and the addition of safety Bernard Pollard should give the unit an edge it did not have last season. But the defense will have to play lights out to keep the team in football games.
Tough matchups: PIT, SEA, SF, DEN, HOU x 2, IND x 2
Chances of the Titans improving on 2012 record: Selling
The quarterback situation in Jacksonville is a mess. New offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is one of the best young minds in football. If he can get Blaine Gabbert straightened out, the Jaguars have a chance. The health of Maurice Jones-Drew will be a major factor. Without his services, the Jaguars offense was a joke. If the offense can get going, the Jaguars could be a sleeper team in 2013.
The defense is a steady group but the play of a newly constructed secondary will be the key to the unit’s success. Cornerback Marcus Trufant needs to become the leader and get the youngsters on the same page quickly. The signing of defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks will be one of the best sleeper signings in the 2013 offseason free agency period.
Tough matchups: SEA, DEN, SF, HOU x 2, IND x 2
Chances of the Jaguars improving on 2012 record: Buying
Quarterback Peyton Manning played some of his best football in 2013. The offensive line may be the best in the NFL. The addition of wide receiver Wes Welker gives an already explosive offense even more firepower. The running back position does need to be addressed and the offense needs to find one back to lean on more than the others. The answer could be rookie Montee Ball.
The defense got better with the additions of defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. There is a very good possibility that the duo of Von Miller at outside linebacker and defensive end Derek Wolfe could be more disruptive than Miller and former Bronco Elvis Dumervil. The Broncos have the pieces in place for a Super Bowl run. But I do not see them improving on 13 wins. All their big games seem to be on the road.
Tough matchups: BAL, NYG, IND, WAS, NE, HOU
Chances of the Broncos improving on 2012 record: Selling
The Chargers, under new management and with new head coach Mike McCoy, did not make one blockbuster move in the offseason. The offense is the same as last year, if not older and possibly worse. Philip Rivers is still the quarterback but he hardly has any household names for weapons.
The defense is a feisty, young group who will fly around the football field. But they will need to play very good as a unit if they expect to improve on their 2012 record. The Chargers look to be in the middle of a major rebuilding project and I do not expect them to improve in 2013.
Tough matchups: HOU, DAL, IND, WAS, CIN, NYG, DEN x 2
Chances of the Chargers improving on 2012 record: Selling
This is the year for quarterback Matt Flynn to either be "the Man" or stay a career backup. He has been given the keys to the Raiders offense and how he goes, so goes the Raiders. Running back Darren McFadden can help his quarterback out by playing 16 games. If the former Arkansas Razorback can accomplish that feat, he could lead the AFC in rushing.
The defense is sneaky good with solid offseason additions like linebacker Nick Roach and nose tackle Pat Sims. If this unit can get on the same page under defensive-minded head coach Dennis Allen, they could be one of the better groups in the AFC. With one of the easier schedules on paper, the Raiders should easily win more than four games in 2013.
Tough matchups: IND, NYG, HOU, DAL, WAS, DEN x 2
Chances of the Raiders improving on 2012 record: Buying
The hiring of new head coach Andy Reid almost guarantees the Chiefs three wins. One of the best coaches in the NFL needed a new start and Kansas City looks like a perfect fit. Quarterback Alex Smith gets a fresh start and has one of the best running backs (Jamaal Charles) and wide receivers (Dwayne Bowe) playing with him. The Chiefs offense should be one of the most improved in 2013.
The defense is loaded with Pro Bowl players. With an offense that can keep them off the field for long periods of time, the unit should only get better. If they can stay healthy, outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston should both record double-digit sacks.
Tough matchups: DAL, NYG, HOU, WAS, IND, DEN x 2
Chances of the Chiefs improving on 2012 record: Buying
The health of quarterback Robert Griffin III is the determining factor in the Redskins 2013 season. If the former Baylor star can play like he did in 2012, the Redskins will improve. But if he misses any part of the season at all, the Redskins will struggle. Kirk Cousins is a solid NFL backup, but the key word is backup. Alfred Morris is the perfect running back for this offense but he will need to shoulder more of the load without a healthy Griffin.
The defense will be better with a healthy Brian Orakpo back at outside linebacker. But the secondary is a year older and a year slower. The Redskins are another team that did not seem to add enough pieces this offseason to become more dynamic on either side of the football.
Tough matchups: ATL, GB, DEN, MIN, SF, DAL x 2, NYG x 2
Chances of the Redskins improving on 2012 record: Selling
Quarterback Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl champion and seems to make everyone around him better. The offensive line got better with the drafting of tackle Justin Pugh. Running back David Wilson looks poised to have a solid season as the lead runner for the Giants. Keeping wide receiver Victor Cruz happy in terms of his contract is the most important factor for New York entering the season.
The defense has some new faces but many of the wily veterans that Giant fans have come to know. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul must become the vocal and emotional leader of this unit. If he can record 12+ sacks, the team will be much improved.
Tough matchups: DEN, MIN, GB, SEA, WAS x 2, DAL x 2
Chances of the Giants improving on 2012 record: Buying
This is the put-up-or-shut-up season for quarter Tony Romo and head coach Jason Garrett. While Romo’s new contract will keep him from getting released, Garrett will be out of a job without a Dallas playoff berth. Wide receiver Dez Bryant seems to be on a healthy track for his career and if running back DeMarco Murray can carry the running game, the Cowboys can have a very explosive offense.
The defense in 2013 hinges on two players, linebacker Sean Lee and cornerback Morris Claiborne. If these two young players can become dominant playmakers, the Cowboys defense can take the step into the upper echelon of the best in the league. Look for linebacker Bruce Carter to also have a huge impact on the unit in 2013.
Tough matchups: DEN, MIN, NO, GB, NYG x 2, WAS x 2
Chances of the Cowboys improving on 2012 record: Buying
The entire NFL is anxiously waiting how new head coach Chip Kelly’s offense will work in the big leagues. The entire Eagles organization went through a major facelift and how the team plays in 2013 will set the stage for the future of the franchise. Figuring out who the starting quarterback will be is the first step. Can Michael Vick hold up and can he even grasp the playbook? Where do Nick Foles and Matt Barkley fit into the scheme? The Eagles still have a lot of questions left to be answered.
On the defensive side of the football, general manger Howie Roseman bought an entirely new secondary in free agency. He also went all in on pass-rusher Connor Barwin. Only time will tell if these bold moves will pay off in terms of wins for the Eagles. I do not see the Eagles having a winning record in 2013, but they will win more than four games.
Tough matchups: GB, MIN, DAL x 2, WAS x 2, NYG x 2
Chances of the Eagles improving on 2012 record: Buying
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers just got PAID! That makes all of Wisconsin and all his teammates happy as well. While most players may get complacent with that payday, I fully expect Rodgers to get better as he works to prove he is worth every dime. The maturity of wide receiver Randall Cobb will supersede the loss of Greg Jennings. The addition of rookie runners Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin will balance the offense out as well.
On defense, the loss of safety and leader Charles Woodson is a blow, but this defense now becomes outside linebacker Clay Matthews'. With a healthy Nick Perry at the other rush linebacker spot and the addition of rookie Datone Jones at defensive end, look for Matthews to have his best year as a professional.
Tough matchups: SF, WAS, CIN, BAL, ATL, DAL, MIN x 2
Chances of the Packers improving on 2012 record: Buying
The Vikings go as running back Adrian Peterson goes. The best player in the NFL is the most important piece of the Vikings offense. But 2013 will decide if quarterback Christian Ponder is a game-changer or a game manager. The Vikings have a great offensive line, a solid tight end in Kyle Rudolph and playmaking wide receivers Greg Jennings and rookie Corderrelle Patterson. Ponder needs to be the catalyst to all this talent.
The defense lacks big names outside defensive end Jared Allen, but is a solid group overall. The play of cornerbacks Chris Cook and rookie Xavier Rhodes will determine the final ranking of the defense. If those two players can shut down the opposing wideouts, Allen and company will get to the quarterback.
Tough matchups: PIT, NYG, DAL, WAS, SEA, BAL, CIN, GB x 2
Chances of the Vikings improving on 2012 record: Selling
Tough to finish with such a solid record and lose your job, but that is exactly what happened to head coach Lovie Smith and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. General manager Phil Emery wanted his own man and hired offensive genius Marc Trestman to take the reins. Under Trestman’s tutelage, I fully expect quarterback Jay Cutler to have his best year of his career. The Bears stabilized the offensive line this offseason and have playmakers at every offensive position.
The defense that once revolved around Urlacher now revolves around defensive tackle Henry Melton. One of the most explosive and disruptive interior pass-rushers in the NFL, Melton makes Julius Peppers look bad. Cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman need to continue to play at their Pro Bowl level. Though I think the Bears are a playoff-caliber team, their brutal schedule may keep them from improving on their 2012 win total.
Tough matchups: CIN, PIT, NO, NYG, WAS, BAL, DAL, MIN x 2, GB x2
Chances of the Bears improving on 2012 record: Selling
As much as I like the addition of running back Reggie Bush to the Lions offense, the line still has major holes and concerns. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has already taken a beating in his young NFL career and has been injured countless times. The one saving grace the Lions have is wide receiver Calvin Johnson. He can single-handedly win games for Detroit.
The defense added a solid player that not many fans know about, safety Glover Quin. But the unit had so much turnover from 2012 that it may take a majority of the season before everyone is on the same page. Head coach Jim Schwartz needs Ziggy Ansah to get double-digit sacks and for the Lions to make the playoffs or he may be looking for work at the 2014 Senior Bowl.
Tough matchups: WAS, CIN, DAL, PIT, BAL, NYG, CHI x 2, MIN x 2, GB x 2
Chances of the Lions improving on 2012 record: Selling
Matt Ryan will be the next quarterback to score big on a long-term contract. He has two of the best wide receivers in the NFL in Roddy White and Julio Jones. Tight end Tony Gonzalez is back for another attempt at a Super Bowl run. But the best thing to happen to the Falcons offense is the addition of running back Steven Jackson. Look for Jackson to have his best season as a professional.
The defense has two of the best safeties in the NFL, William Moore and Thomas Decoud. They allow the cornerbacks to take chances and help the linebackers versus the run. The addition of rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant was an instant upgrade over 2012. With only five really challenging games on paper, the Falcons could improve their 2012 record.
Tough matchups: NE, SEA, GB, WAS, SF
Chances of the Falcons improving on 2012 record: Buying
If quarterback Cam Newton can return to his rookie ways, the Panthers can improve on their record of 2012. But he needs to carry the offense and that may be too much to ask of the third-year pro. The Panthers did almost nothing this offseason to upgrade their offense and more or less return the same squad that underachieved in 2012.
The defense at least has defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. Both of these players would be household names in bigger markets. The defense is a solid unit but need to play as a team to have success due to the lack of true playmakers in the back seven.
Tough matchups: SEA, NYG, MIN, SF, NE, ATL x 2
Chances of the Panthers improving on 2012 record: Selling
The return from suspension of assistant coach Joe Vitt helped stabilize the franchise the second half of the 2012 season. The return of head coach Sean Payton will get the franchise back to their winning ways in 2013. While I think the Saints should have made at least one move on offense to get a dynamic downfield threat for quarterback Drew Brees, Payton’s steady influence will keep his charges in order.
On defense, the Saints completely revamped. They will be running a Rob Ryan-led 3-4 scheme. The additions of outside linebacker Victor Butler and cornerback Keenan Lewis will make the unit a top 15 defense in 2013.
Tough matchups: CHI, NE, DAL, SF, SEA, ATL x 2
Chances of the Saints improving on 2012 record: Buying
Head coach Greg Schiano has a firm grip on the organization and has completely changed the culture in Tampa. He has a marquee runner in Doug Martin and a stud wide receiver in Vincent Jackson. Schiano now just needs to figure out who he is going to hang his coaching career on at quarterback. Schiano drafted Mike Glennon high in the 2013 NFL draft and has said he would not have an issue playing the rookie. Whether or not this is just a mind game to fire up incumbent Josh Freeman is anyone’s guess. But until that position is settled in Tampa, the team will not advance.
The defense lost one of the best to retirement in cornerback/safety Ronde Barber. But they also gained other all-time great in cornerback Darrelle Revis. If Revis can return to his old form of two years ago, the Buccaneers may have pulled off the best trade in a decade. With a fairly easy schedule on paper, the Buccaneers should improve.
Tough matchups: NE, SEA, SF, ATL x 2
Chances of the Buccaneers improving on 2012 record: Buying
Colin Kaepernick seems to be the future at the quarterback position. How he responds to being the “man” heading into the season will be another question entirely. The 49ers have a dominant offensive line and one of the best tight ends in football. But which player will step up to replace recently injured wide receiver Michael Crabtree? His loss is a huge blow to the offense.
The defense is one of the best in the NFL. They have playmakers at every position. But I fully expect rookie Eric Reid, the safety replacing Dashon Goldson, to have an instant impact on the defense. With steady Donte Whitner behind him, Reid will be able to roam the back half and make plays.
Tough matchups: GB, SEA x 2, HOU, WAS, ATL
Chances of the 49ers improving on 2012 record: Buying
General manager John Schneider just seems to get better and better at loading his roster with talent. This season he finagled wide receiver Percy Harvin away from Minnesota. Schneider convinced pass-rushers Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to sign in Seattle for less than market value. The offensive line has the best center in football in Max Unger and Marshawn Lynch is “Beastmode.”
The defense has the best secondary in football and one of the best young linebackers in Bobby Wagner. There is a possibility all five players could end up in the Pro Bowl after the 2013 season.
Tough matchups: HOU, IND, ATL, MIN, NYG, SF x 2
Chances of the Seahawks improving on 2012 record: Buying
In the toughest division in football, I fully expect the Rams to compete for a playoff spot in 2013. Quarterback Sam Bradford finally has offensive weapons in rookie wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Jared Cook is a hybrid tight end/ wide receiver who should create matchup nightmares. Jake Long fortifies the left side of the offensive line. My only concern is how the young running backs pick up the blitz and if they can carry the load Steven Jackson held for so many years.
The defense has two solid defensive ends in Chris Long and Robert Quinn. The cornerbacks, Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan, are Pro Bowl worthy. Look for rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree to lead the team in tackles.
Tough matchups: DAL, HOU, IND, CHI, SF x 2, SEA x 2
Chances of the Rams improving on 2012 record: Buying
The Cardinals were a mess in 2012 and changes were made in the front office and on the coaching staff. Bruce Arians was brought in to stabilize the offense. The question is if that can be done with quarterback Carson Palmer. Rashard Mendenhall had his best success at running back under Arians' guidance. It remains to be seen if he can gain that magic back in the desert. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald finally has a strong-armed quarterback to get him the football, so his statistics should improve in 2013.
The Cardinals defense was better than average last season but the loss of linebacker Daryl Washington for the first four games due to suspension is a major blow. Patrick Peterson is a dynamic returner but this is the year he must prove he can be an elite cornerback.
Tough matchups: ATL, HOU, IND, SF x 2, SEA x 2
Chances of the Cardinals improving on 2012 record: Buying
Marc Lillibridge is a former NFL linebacker who scouted for six years in the NFL. He is currently the only certified NFLPA contract advisor to play and scout in the NFL. He is CEO of www.profootballsyndicate.com