Projecting the Realistic Ceiling for Every NFL Team in 2013-14

Tyson LanglandNFC West Lead WriterJune 22, 2013

Projecting the Realistic Ceiling for Every NFL Team in 2013-14

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    Realistically speaking, there are only a handful of teams that have a shot at winning the Super Bowl. Plenty of other teams have sensible opportunities to get into the playoffs, but it truly takes a well-rounded team to be built for the long haul.

    Teams like the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers are thinking Super Bowl or bust in 2013. Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets are just hoping to make it an even .500 for the season. Even though there are always a few yearly surprises, analysts and hardcore fans alike usually have a general idea as to where all 32 clubs will finish by season’s end.

    Prior to training camp, it’s always fun to try and project the realistic ceiling for every NFL team. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and everything in between. 

Arizona Cardinals

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    It seems like the NFC West is getting tougher by the day. The St. Louis Rams took the time to add a plethora of offensive weapons around franchise quarterback Sam Bradford, while the Seahawks and 49ers kept one-upping each other on both sides of the ball.

    Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be wise to look past the Arizona Cardinals and the moves they have made this past offseason. They traded for quarterback Carson Palmer, hired head coach Bruce Arians and upgraded key pieces along the offensive line. 

    Unfortunately for Arizona, it won’t be able to jump the competition after one solid offseason. It’s going to take at least another year before the Cards start challenging the rest of the NFC for a playoff spot.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 8-8

Atlanta Falcons

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    Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Steven Jackson and Tony Gonzalez will undoubtedly keep defensive coordinators awake at night. Every year, it seems like the Falcons either sign a big-name free agent or draft one of the most coveted playmakers in college football.

    Atlanta’s willingness to swing for the fences on offense has helped it make four postseason appearances in five years. Yet that has meant very little because the Falcons have only won one game during that four-year playoff span.

    General manager Thomas Dimitroff realized that a fast-paced offense isn’t any good without a fast-paced defense, so he made it a point during the draft to upgrade Atlanta’s defensive line and secondary.

    Will the Atlanta Falcons bring home the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history?

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 13-3, Super Bowl Win

Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens caught plenty of people off guard during the postseason last year. Week after week, they seemingly found a new way to beat every opponent in their way until they eventually went on to win the Super Bowl.

    Can the Ravens find that same good-luck charm in 2013 and win the Super Bowl for a second straight season? That’s the burning question. The organization lost a lot of talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Additionally, there are only seven teams in the history of the NFL that have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in back-to-back seasons.

    As it stands right now, Baltimore has an uphill battle on its hands.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 11-5, Wild-Card Berth

Buffalo Bills

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    Training camp hasn’t even started yet, and the Buffalo Bills have already had an offseason full of surprises. First, they hired Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone in January, and then in April, they selected Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel in the first round of this year's draft.

    Even though both moves were a bit unexpected, the new head coach-quarterback combo offers hope to an organization that desperately needs it. Buffalo’s success in 2013 will be directly tied to these two individuals.

    A playoff run might be a little too optimistic, although a winning record isn’t out of the picture.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 9-7

Carolina Panthers

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    There wasn’t anything that could hold quarterback Cam Newton back last year. He willed the Panthers to seven victories all by himself. Carolina’s running game took a step back in 2012, and the secondary didn’t exactly do him any favors. For the second straight season, his only viable pass-catching target was wide receiver Steve Smith.

    Newly appointed general manager Dave Gettleman has started to upgrade the talent around Newton, especially on the defensive line. But there’s still work to be done before the Panthers can claim the top spot in the NFC South.

    Based on the team’s offseason moves, the Panthers appear to be no better than an eight-win team in 2013.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 8-8

Chicago Bears

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    After a nine-year run in Chicago, the Bears decided it was time to move on from head coach Lovie Smith. The McCaskey family and general manager Phil Emery wanted to shift the team’s focus away from the defensive side of the ball, so they hired offensive mastermind Marc Trestman.

    Hiring Trestman will help the development of quarterback Jay Cutler more than anything. It should also force the Bears to address their weakest unit, the offensive line.

    So far, so good. The organization drafted offensive guard Kyle Long in the first round of this year’s draft and signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod in free agency.

    Protecting Cutler is the key to success in Chicago. Now let’s see if the upgrades pay off on Sundays. 

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 10-6, Wild-Card Berth

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Back-to-back playoff appearances are a good start for the Cincinnati Bengals, but they should have their eye on a much bigger prize. The Super Bowl is not realistically obtainable for every organization, yet Cincinnati has done an exceptionable job at building a contending roster for the future.

    Andy Dalton needs to turn into the team’s franchise quarterback, and wide receiver A.J. Green needs to establish himself as the league’s top wide receiver. Couple those two happenings with a stable secondary on the defensive side of the ball and the Bengals should be favorites to appear in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1988.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 12-4, AFC North Title

Cleveland Browns

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    Does a new coaching staff in Cleveland spell big things for the Browns offense? Quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson hope so. Weeden will be looking to grow and establish himself as someone who can stick in the NFL, while Richardson is just hoping to stay healthy and eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau for the first time in his career. 

    Defensively, the Browns will be relying heavily on newly appointed defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Horton brings an exotic 3-4 scheme to Cleveland, which is a far cry from the 4-3 defense the Browns ran under Dick Jauron in 2012.

    Expect the switch to the 3-4 to be a smooth transition based on the defensive personnel the team has.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 10-6, Wild-Card Berth

Dallas Cowboys

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    Yes, Jerry Jones has become a national laughing stock in the NFL. More often than not, he is publicly criticized for making a few head-scratching selections during the draft. He’s also been known to throw piles of money at free-agent players when it’s not warranted.

    Nevertheless, Jones somehow finds a way to field a competitive team on an annual basis.

    Over the course of the last 10 years, Dallas has only finished below .500 twice—which means the odds of a favorable season in 2013 are in the Cowboys' favor. The biggest crutch for Dallas is the overall health of the team. If its core group of players can stay healthy, Tony Romo and Co. could become the class of the NFC East.

    It doesn’t appear as if the Redskins, Giants or Eagles are ready to run away with the division any time soon.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 11-5, NFC East Title

Denver Broncos

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    The Denver Broncos are legitimate Super Bowl contenders thanks to quarterback Peyton Manning and outside linebacker Von Miller. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Manning was the best offensive player in 2012, and Miller was the second-best defensive player.

    Having two dominant players doesn’t guarantee the Broncos anything, but it does provide a good launching point for the rest of the team. Even though 13 wins is probably the cap again for Denver in 2013, added offensive firepower should help propel it into the NFL’s biggest game.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 13-3, Super Bowl Win 

Detroit Lions

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    Despite finishing the 2012 season at 4-12, the Detroit Lions are only two years removed from the playoffs.

    Last year, things took a turn for the worse, thanks in large part to quarterback Matthew Stafford’s inability 
to protect the ball. He turned the ball over 21 times. Seventeen of those were interceptions, and three were fumbles.

    Even though turnovers don’t immediately translate into losses, it’s hard to win many games when your defense only garners 17 takeaways of its own. By season’s end, Detroit as a whole gave the ball away 33 times.

    Decreasing the number of giveaways and increasing the number of takeaways will help the Lions regain their playoff form. Adding running back Reggie Bush, defensive end Ziggy Ansah and cornerback Darius Slay should also help both statistical categories.

    Bush will take pressure off the passing game, and Ansah will force quarterbacks to get rid of the ball sooner—which in theory, should allow for more interceptions in the secondary.  

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 10-6, Wild-Card Berth

Green Bay Packers

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    Despite the fact that quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ ability alone accounts for 10 wins, Green Bay still needs help from Dom Capers' defense. If it wasn’t for Capers' faltering defense against the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers could have easily been playing the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl.

    General manager Ted Thompson knows this was the case, so he exhausted every resource during the offseason to upgrade Green Bay’s 22nd-ranked pass defense. The Packers used five of their picks on defensive players in April’s draft. Two of them were defensive linemen, two were outside linebackers and one was a safety.

    Mike McCarthy and Co. will be ready for quarterback Colin Kaepernick Week 1 when they travel to San Francisco.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 13-3, NFC North Title

Houston Texans

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    The Texans finally managed to secure a playmaking No. 2 wide receiver in the draft this year. Ever since Andre Johnson entered the league in 2003, he has been the only reliable pass-catching target at wide receiver for Houston.

    First-round pick DeAndre Hopkins will not only draw coverage away from Johnson, but he will help keep running back Arian Foster fresh. Even though Hopkins won’t be lining up in the backfield anytime soon, he will give the Texans more opportunities to throw the ball in short-yardage situations.

    Houston’s window in the AFC South may be closing; however, there is still some opportunity left.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 11-5, AFC South Title

Indianapolis Colts

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    The Indianapolis Colts easily had the best redemption story in the NFL last year. They improved their win total by nine games, found their way back into the playoffs and finished the 2012 season with one of the most explosive offenses in the league thanks to Andrew Luck.

    All the same, one successful season has very little value overall. Sustaining success in 2013 and beyond will be the Colts' ultimate test for years to come. Luck will need to show continuous improvement on an annual basis, and the defense will need to level off. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s defense experienced too many roller coaster rides in 2012.

    The arrow is pointing up in Indianapolis, and before you know it, the Colts will be the team to beat in the NFC South.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 11-5, AFC South Title

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Hiring head coach Gus Bradley was the best move the Jaguars could have made. He brings a defensive background and a winning attitude from his days with the Seattle Seahawks.

    Bradley has hit the ground running in Jacksonville. Since he was hired on January 17, he’s made significant roster upgrades on both sides of the ball. 

    Chris Burke of SI.com gave Jacksonville’s draft an "A" letter grade.  He specifically applauded the Luke Joeckel, Johnathan Cyprien, Denard Robinson and Ace Sanders picks. The Jaguars finally appear to be on the right tract after disastrous seasons in 2011 and 2012.

    Will Bradley field a playoff team in 2013? Probably not, but he will field a competitive team that fights hard for 60 minutes. 

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 7-9

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Every year there is always one team that totally turns things around. Last year, it was the Indianapolis Colts, and this year, it will be the Kansas City Chiefs.

    They hired head coach Andy Reid and traded for quarterback Alex Smith. Those two acquisitions alone will allow the Chiefs to push for playoff contention in the AFC.

    Furthermore, Kansas City’s defense will need to match the fast-paced tempo of the offense. Players like Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry all need to turn in top-notch performances on a weekly basis. By playing up to expectations, the Chiefs have the opportunity to make their first playoff appearance since 2010.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 9-7, Wild-Card Berth 

Miami Dolphins

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    When a general manager goes hog wild in free agency, it rarely proves to be the right move.

    However, that’s not the case for Jeff Ireland and the Miami Dolphins. One would have a hard time arguing against the fact that the Dolphins now have the most improved roster in the NFL after the 2013 offseason. With quarterback Ryan Tannehill expected to make a huge leap from last year, Miami is now in position to make its first playoff run since the 2008 season.

    Are the Dolphins ready to dethrone the New England Patriots in the AFC East? Probably not, but they do have enough talent to make some noise as a wild-card contender.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 11-5, Wild-Card Berth

Minnesota Vikings

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    Running back Adrian Peterson was literally a one-man show in 2012. He rushed for 2,097 yards and scored 13 total touchdowns. As a result, he took home the Most Valuable Player award. Peterson’s astonishing season single-handedly launched the Vikings into the postseason.

    Without a doubt, general manager Rick Spielman and the rest of the organization can’t help but love Peterson’s dominance.

    Nevertheless, Spielman felt the need to build a more balanced attack, so he went out and signed free-agent wide receiver Greg Jennings and drafted Tennessee standout wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

    Putting star-studded playmakers around No. 28 will make Minnesota’s offense even more dangerous than it already was.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 10-6, Wild-Card Berth

New England Patriots

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    We are all aware of the New England Patriots' murky tight end situation. Rob Gronkowski just went under the knife for a bad back, and authorities are currently questioning Aaron Hernandez about the murder of Odin Lloyd.

    Because of these recent happenings, some have written off the Patriots as AFC East favorites. It’s smart to slightly downgrade their overall record, but to completely give up on them is asinine. Every year, New England has a chance to do damage with No. 12 under center, and this season is no different.

    Tom Brady will continue to do what he does, and the defense is on its way up after a lackluster finish in 2012.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 14-2, First-Round Bye

New Orleans Saints

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    Fans and media members alike knew the loss of head coach Sean Payton would hurt the Saints in 2012, but no one believed it would force New Orleans to miss the playoffs. The good news is, 2012 is now in the rear-view mirror, and the organization can solely focus on the season that lies ahead.

    Upon Payton’s return, the Saints switched to a 3-4 defense, and a new attitude was instilled in a defense that desperately needed it. New Orleans will have an uphill battle on its hands based on the fact that the NFC South as a whole has improved by leaps and bounds.

    But if we know anything by now, it’s never smart to count out a Payton-led team. He has one Super Bowl ring and five playoff victories to his name.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 11-5, Wild-Card Berth

New York Giants

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    The New York Giants are always in contention for postseason play for one simple reason: They have Eli Manning taking snaps under center. Sure, they don’t always manage to sneak into the playoffs, but they always field a competitive team by season’s end. 

    Since 2005, New York has appeared in the playoffs five times and won the Super Bowl twice. That postseason track record is a record plenty of owners would kill for.

    The biggest question mark for the Giants in 2013 will be the production of their defense. They lost a few key players at every level.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 10-6

New York Jets

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    Will Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith be the starting quarterback? That’s the $1 million question in New York.

    The Jets need to decide which quarterback gives the organization a better chance to win now and down the road. Sanchez could pump out more wins in 2013 because Smith is a rookie, yet his long-term ceiling isn’t getting any higher.

    If the Jets start Smith, their initial expectations should be very low. In all likelihood, he would struggle in his first year under center. However, his potential should project out higher than Sanchez’s based on what we know.

    Like so many other teams in the NFL, New York’s success in 2013 is tied to the most important position on the field.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 8-8

Oakland Raiders

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    Even though the arrow is pointing up in Oakland, the organization needs Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor or Tyler Wilson to step up in a big way. Without consistent quarterback play, the Raiders will be doomed for yet another season. 

    Additionally, running back Darren McFadden must find a way to stay healthy. When he’s not in the lineup, Oakland’s rushing attack instantly becomes one of the least productive units in the league. Last year, it averaged 3.8 yards per carry on 376 attempts.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 8-8 

Philadelphia Eagles

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    After a 4-12 season in 2012, the Philadelphia Eagles decided it was time to make a change. Head coach Andy Reid and his coaching staff were dumped in favor of former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.

    Even though training camp is still five weeks away, Kelly has already had a busy offseason. He has taken charge and left his stamp on nearly every area of the team since being hired in January. Philadelphia’s defense now sports a 3-4 look, and the starting quarterback position is up for grabs as the team heads into training camp.

    Record wise, it’s hard to say how the Eagles will finish until they announce the team’s starting quarterback. With Michael Vick under center, Philadelphia has the opportunity to approach 10 wins. With Nick Foles or Matt Barkley, a win total around eight seems realistic.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 10-6, Wild-Card Berth

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    After a disappointing season in 2012, Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers will be looking to redeem themselves in 2013. The keys to successfully redeeming themselves are actually quite simple.

    Roethlisberger needs to stay healthy for a full 16-game slate. The newly installed zone-blocking scheme must thrive, and Dick LeBeau’s defense needs to finish at the top of the league for a second straight season.

    By doing those three things, Pittsburgh can claim its first AFC North title since 2010.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 12-4, AFC North Title

St. Louis Rams

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    When the Rams drafted franchise quarterback Sam Bradford back in 2010, general manager Billy Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo vowed to give No. 8 plenty of playmakers on offense. Disastrously, Devaney and Spagnuolo never followed through on their promise and were consequently fired after the 2011 season. 

    When head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead took over in 2012, they vowed to do the same for Bradford. Unlike Devaney and Spagnuolo, they actually followed through on their promise. Since taking over, Fisher and Snead have totally revamped the running back, tight end and wide receiver positions.

    Now that the Rams finally have a new-look offense with Jared Cook, Brian Quick, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, it’s time to heighten expectations. Without a doubt, 2013 is shaping up to be St. Louis’ year.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 9-7, Wild-Card Berth

San Diego Chargers

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    The success of the San Diego Chargers has been directly linked to the success of quarterback Philip Rivers in years past. Even with a retooled coaching staff and front office, it appears as if this will be the case for the Chargers again in 2013.

    Rivers has shown that he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but it has been awhile since we have seen that high level of play from the first-round pick.

    Aside from No. 17, running back Ryan Mathews will have to get his act together if San Diego wants to realistically contend with the Denver Broncos for the top spot in the AFC West.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 10-6, Playoff Berth 

San Francisco 49ers

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    Have the San Francisco 49ers done enough this past offseason to avoid a Super Bowl hangover? That’s the burning question right now in the Bay Area.

    Michael Crabtree’s Achilles injury will definitely set the team back a bit, but the acquisitions of wide receivers Anquan Boldin in free agency and Quinton Patton in the draft should prove to be enough. 

    Moreover, the 49ers will need to rely on veteran tight end Vernon Davis to pick up a bit of the slack as well. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has been to known to be creative in the past, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if it happens again with Crabtree out of the lineup.

    San Francisco has one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, which instantly makes it a Super Bowl contender for a second straight season.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 14-2, Super Bowl Win

Seattle Seahawks

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    Speaking of stacked rosters, it could easily be argued that the Seattle Seahawks are equally as talented as the San Francisco 49ers. They enter the 2013 season with the fourth-best defense from a year ago and the 17th-best offense.

    Expect Seattle’s offensive numbers to shoot up based on the fact that quarterback Russell Wilson is entering his second season in Darrell Bevell’s offense. Let’s not forget the dynamic trade the Seahawks made for wide receiver Percy Harvin. His presence alone should help the ‘Hawks offense finish inside the top 10 next year. 

    Pete Carroll’s club will have to take down the 49ers just like it did Week 16 if it wants to make its first Super Bowl appearance since the 2005 season.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 13-3, Super Bowl Appearance

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Buccaneers finished the 2012 season with the ninth-best offense in the NFL and 29th-best defense. Those numbers indicated a change needed to be made on the defensive side of the ball. Instead of firing its defensive coordinator, Tampa Bay made a splash during the draft and in free agency.

    The Buccaneers traded for All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis and drafted Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks. Those two moves addressed the team’s biggest needs after it surrendered 4,758 yards through the air in 2012.

    Will the addition of two players in the secondary fix the NFL’s worst pass defense? We'll find out this season.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 9-7

Tennessee Titans

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    Head coach Mike Munchak can feel his time slipping away in Tennessee. The Titans have underachieved during his tenure, so he pulled out all the stops this past offseason. He stacked the offensive line, added weapons around quarterback Jake Locker and shored up the back end of Jerry Gray’s defense.

    Unfortunately, all of those upgrades could end up being worthless if Locker doesn’t get his accuracy issues under control. He’s only managed to complete 55.5 percent of his passes in 16 career games. Aside from No. 10, Munchak is praying for a monster season from running back Chris Johnson.

    It will be an uphill battle for the Tennessee Titans in 2013. Nine wins won’t be enough in the AFC South. They will need at least 11 wins to finish atop the division.  

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 9-7

Washington Redskins

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    The health of Robert Griffin III’s surgically repaired knee will ultimately decide Washington’s fate in 2013. If RGIII experiences an Adrian Peterson-type comeback, the Redskins will have their sights set on the Super Bowl. Right now, that seems a bit far-fetched based on his current status, but let’s not forget he single-handedly surged Washington into the playoffs last year.

    It’s too bad the organization didn't have more resources to work with during the offseason. More money in free agency would have allowed general manager Bruce Allen to add more playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.

    Outside of Pierre Garcon, the Redskins need another wide receiver to step up. Moreover, they also need tight end Fred Davis to return to his 2011 form.

     

    2013-14 CEILING: 11-5, NFC East Title