What's on Every NFL Team's To-Do List Heading into Training Camp?

Russell S. BaxterContributor IJuly 6, 2013

What's on Every NFL Team's To-Do List Heading into Training Camp?

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    Everyone has their list of chores to do. For the NFL’s 32 teams, the list is never-ending. Here’s a look at what each club hopes to get done starting later this month in training camp.

    The lists will all look different, but the final goal is the same—leave MetLife Stadium next February with the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

    We'll take a look back at the recent history of each team, particularly playoff appearances and division titles. Then we'll examine three keys to success for each club headed into training camp.

    So sit back and enjoy a little training camp primer. The teams will be back hard at work before you know it.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Since winning back-to-back NFC West titles in 2008 and 2009, the Cardinals are a combined 18-30 and have finished 5-11 two of the last three seasons. New head coach Bruce Arians will try to revive a franchise that was minutes away from winning a Super Bowl five seasons ago.

     

    Keys to success

    • Solidify problem-plagued offensive line
    • Establish running game (worst in NFL in 2012)
    • New faces on defense to contribute immediately

     

    Analysis

    The Cardinals appear to have their work cut out for them this season with both the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs a year ago, while the St. Louis Rams swept Arizona last season. The arrival of quarterback Carson Palmer should be a plus, and the addition of running back Rashard Mendenhall figures to revive an inept ground attack.

    Defensively, the Cards were quite physical and very respectable last season, but they have a new coordinator, Todd Bowles. If a new-look offensive line gels, this team could make things interesting for more than one opponent. These Cardinals are a perfect fit in the intriguing NFC West.

Atlanta Falcons

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    It’s been quite a run for the Atlanta Falcons under their current regime. The team has posted five consecutive winning campaigns and has been to the playoffs three straight seasons. Prior to 2008, the franchise had never enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons or postseason appearances.

     

    Keys to success

    • Improve pass rush and run defense
    • Improve running game
    • Repeat as division champion

     

    Analysis

    Head coach Mike Smith led his team to a 13-3 record in 2012, making the Falcons the top seed in the NFC for the second time in three years.

    The franchise hasn’t capitalized on those opportunities, and last season their flaws became evident as the club struggled to run the football and conversely failed to stop it as well. Those shortcomings eventually proved costly in the playoffs, especially in the NFC title game loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

    Veteran running back Steven Jackson hopes to cure one of those ills, while defensive coordinator Mike Nolan hopes to solve another.

    No team has ever won the NFC South in back-to-back seasons.

Baltimore Ravens

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    The Ravens hired head coach John Harbaugh in 2008, and the team has been in the playoffs all five seasons under his command. It’s the longest active postseason streak in the league. And in 2012, the fifth year proved to be the charm as the team came away with a 34-31 win in Super Bowl XLVII over the San Francisco 49ers.

    Keys to success

    • Avoid a Super Bowl hangover
    • Adjust to new faces on defense
    • Adequately replace wide receiver Anquan Boldin

     

    Analysis

    There will be plenty of new faces on the defending Super Bowl champions’ roster. The retirements of linebacker Ray Lewis and center Matt Birk and the trade of wide receiver Anquan Boldin were significant. Combine that with the free-agent departures of safety Ed Reed and linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe, and this is a dramatically different team.

    Playing in the AFC North is no picnic. The division has sent at least two teams to the playoffs five straight years. General manager Ozzie Newsome has always had the magic touch, and it’s hard to count out quarterback Joe Flacco and company until evidence shows otherwise.

Buffalo Bills

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    The Buffalo Bills own the league’s longest active playoff drought. The franchise has not been to the postseason since 1999 and hasn’t won a division title since 1995.

    Doug Marrone is the team's seventh head coach since 1998.

     

     

     

    Keys to success

    • Make running back C.J. Spiller a bigger part of offense
    • Decide on a quarterback (Kevin Kolb or EJ Manuel) as soon as possible
    • Adjustment to Mike Pettine’s 3-4 defensive scheme

     

    Analysis

    Things never seem to get any better for the Bills, who have finished last in the AFC East five straight years. Marrone is hoping Manuel is one factor in leading the franchise back to the promised land, but when will he be ready to play? Regardless of who’s playing quarterback, Spiller is primed for a career year.

    The defense was a major disappointment last season considering the free-agent signings of defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Now the team shifts its defensive emphasis to the 3-4, where Pettine hopes to take advantage of the personnel.

    It’s worth noting that the Bills are just 6-24 vs. divisional foes since 2008.

Carolina Panthers

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    In 2008, the Carolina Panthers were 12-4 and NFC South champions. Two years later, the team plummeted to 2-14 and head coach John Fox was out of a job. These days, Ron Rivera is at the helm, and the club looks to get back on the plus side of .500, something it hasn’t done the last four seasons.

     

    Keys to success

    • Avoid another slow start
    • Fortify their run defense (14th in NFL in 2012)
    • Find a reliable second wide receiver

     

    Analysis

    The Panthers closed out 2012 with five victories in their last six games, but that still resulted in a 7-9 record, the team’s third straight losing campaign. Of course, it is rough when you only win two of your first 10 games, the second consecutive year Carolina managed that “feat.”

    Quarterback Cam Newton rebounded from a sluggish start last season and played much better in the final seven weeks. Still, the Panthers can’t afford to have him lead the team in rushing once again. The defense made big strides a year ago thanks to linebacker Luke Kuechly—NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year—as well as defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. It’s just a matter of consistency for this improving club.

Chicago Bears

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    After nine seasons, the Chicago Bears fired head coach Lovie Smith. He took the team to Super Bowl XLI in 2006, and the club hosted the 2010 NFC title game. Since losing to the Green Bay Packers that afternoon, the team has fallen short of the playoffs thanks to a pair of late collapses, both for different reasons.

     

    Keys to success

    • Improve offensive line play
    • Work with quarterback Jay Cutler to find other receivers
    • Find new defensive leader with linebacker Brian Urlacher gone

     

    Analysis

    General manager Phil Emery and new head coach Marc Trestman spent the offseason making sure Cutler would be in a better position to succeed. That meant adding left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson via free agency, as well as right guard Kyle Long in the first round of the draft. Receivers Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett will each try to emerge as a viable second wideout for Cutler.

    The departure of Urlacher means looking for a new face to the defense. There are some viable candidates in defensive end Julius Peppers, outside linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman. The Bears are also hoping for some big things from veteran linebackers James Anderson and D.J. Williams.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    The good news is that the Bengals have reached the playoffs two straight years and could be on the verge of making franchise history. The bad news is that the club still hasn’t won a postseason game in more than two decades. Still, this is a team not far removed from an AFC North title in 2009.

     

    Keys to success

    • Pick up where they left off in 2012 on the defensive side of the ball
    • Find out if Mohamed Sanu is the answer as a second wide receiver
    • Reach the playoffs for a team-record third straight season

     

    Analysis

    Marvin Lewis is the league’s second-longest-tenured head coach with the same team, trailing only Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots. The team has built smartly through the draft and is talented on both sides of the football.

    Quarterback Andy Dalton persevered through some tough stretches last season to throw 27 touchdown passes. The defense was also outstanding after a rough first half. In order to take the next step, Dalton must find another standout wideout, and Sanu could be the answer. Cincinnati’s offense should be more potent with the additions of tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard. The AFC North is there for the taking.

Cleveland Browns

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    Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns are still looking for sustained success. Jimmy Haslam is the franchise’s third owner over that span, while Rob Chudzinski is the club’s seventh head coach. The team has lost at least 11 games five straight years.

     

    Keys to success

    • Make second-year running back Trent Richardson the focus on offense
    • Significant improvement by quarterback Brandon Weeden
    • Improve the defense with new coordinator Ray Horton

     

    Analysis

    Last season the Browns did show some improvement, as Richardson had his moments, and the defense was better than advertised. But after a late surge that resulted in a three-game winning streak, the team finished the season with three straight losses.

    Horton should bring a more aggressive attitude to a unit that produced 38 sacks and 29 takeaways. The addition of veterans such as outside linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive end Desmond Bryant should help. Now if they can only manage a few more victories over their divisional rivals, this could be a team worth watching.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Over the last 16 seasons, the Dallas Cowboys are a .500 team (128-128) and have just as many playoff losses as head coaches (six). Since winning the NFC East in 2009, the team has failed to produce a winning season.

     

     

     

    Keys to success

    • Adapt to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan’s play-calling
    • Have all the pieces in place for Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense
    • Find depth at running back behind DeMarco Murray

     

    Analysis

    The Cowboys have had chances to win the NFC East each of the last two years on the final Sunday of the season. Instead, Jason Garrett’s club has finished 8-8 each time and out of the postseason.

    Kiffin is the team’s third different defensive coordinator in four seasons, and the team seemingly has most of the right personnel to play it, although there are some concerns at defensive tackle and safety.

    What of Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense? The quarterback obviously has to cut back on those 19 interceptions (tied for the most in the NFL in 2012), but also to get some help from a running game that was next-to-last in the NFL last season.

Denver Broncos

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    Signs are pointing up for the Denver Broncos. Winners of the AFC West the last two seasons, the club improved from 8-8 in 2011 to an AFC-best 13-3 a year ago. But the franchise still hasn’t returned to the Super Bowl since winning back-to-back titles in 1997 and ’98.

     

     

    Keys to success

    • Put 2012 playoff loss behind them quickly
    • Determine if running back Ronnie Hillman can carry the load
    • Find an adequate replacement for defensive end Elvis Dumervil

     

    Analysis

    Peyton Manning alleviated any concerns following a lost 2011 season when he set a new team record in 2012 with 37 touchdown passes. It was the quarterback’s highest total since his 2004 season with the Indianapolis Colts (49).

    The addition of Wes Welker makes the Denver offense even more interesting, but more balance is needed, and that’s where Hillman hopes to help.

    The Broncos finished second in the league in total defense last season and were the only team in the AFC to give up fewer than 300 points in 2012. You would have never known that with their performance in the 38-35 double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs.

    That defense will be missing Dumervil but has some new faces in outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and rookie defensive tackle Sylvester Williams. Is that enough to get the Broncos back to a Super Bowl?

Detroit Lions

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    In 2011, the Detroit Lions were one of the league’s best stories. The club finished 10-6 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 1999. But instead of building on that success, the team finished 4-12 last season and will take an eight-game losing streak into 2013.

     

    Keys to success

    • Make sure new-look offensive line gels
    • Consistent pass rush from defensive front
    • Bigger role for running game

     

    Analysis

    Making headway in the NFC North isn’t an easy thing these days, especially when the other three teams all win at least 10 games and you go 0-6 within the division. That’s the uphill climb for the Lions.

    Calvin Johnson is arguably the game’s best wide receiver, and the addition of running back Reggie Bush gives quarterback Matthew Stafford a nice one-two punch (with Mikel Leshoure) out of the backfield. But the Lions signal-caller needs to rebound after seeing his touchdown passes cut from 41 in 2011 to 20 last season.

    Of course, all of this is a moot point if the Lions can’t protect Stafford, who will have three new starters on the offensive line. The defensive front will have a few new looks as well.

Green Bay Packers

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    The Green Bay Packers have been to the playoffs four straight years. In 2010, the team parlayed a 10-6 finish into a wild-card berth and an eventual win in Super Bowl XLV. It’s interesting to note that the team has finished 15-1 and 11-5, respectively, and won the NFC North the last two seasons; however, the Pack didn't get past the divisional round of the playoffs in either of those years.

    Keys to success

    • Build rapport on the offensive line
    • Establish a running game
    • Improve run defense

     

    Analysis

    Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been off the charts since becoming the starter in 2008. In five seasons, he’s thrown 170 touchdown passes compared to only 45 interceptions.

    In recent years, the lack of a ground game has taken its toll. Last season, the Packers signal-caller was sacked 51 times, the most of any quarterback in the league.

    The team’s lack of a running game has also affected the defense, which was mediocre in this department last year and even worse in the playoffs. Green Bay allowed 490 yards rushing in two postseason games, and more than half of that was to opposing quarterbacks (249 yards).

Houston Texans

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    After failing to reach the postseason during their first nine years of existence, the Houston Texans are suddenly two-time defending AFC South champions. However, there are only so many times you can beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card Round and lose in the divisional playoffs a week later. Such was the Texans’ season each of the last two years.

    Keys to success

    • Find defense that was one of league’s better units first two months of 2012
    • Solidify suspect right tackle spot
    • Restore the confidence of quarterback Matt Schaub

     

    Analysis

    The Texans might have done the most with the least when it came to free agency this offseason.

    Free safety Ed Reed, recovering from offseason surgery, will contribute eventually. Fullback Greg Jones is the perfect escort for Arian Foster, and punter Shane Lechler is one of the game’s best ever at his position.

    When healthy, rookie Brennan Williams could take over for Derek Newton at right tackle.

    Matt Schaub looked like a different quarterback during the team’s final four games as well as in the playoffs. In his final six overall appearances, the former Pro Bowler threw just three touchdown passes and was picked off five times.

Indianapolis Colts

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    After literally starting over from scratch last season, it all fell into place for the Indianapolis Colts. The team finished 11-5 and clinched a playoff berth one year after going 2-14. It marked the 16th straight season that the franchise had either won or lost at least 10 games.

     

    Keys to success

    • Better ball security by second-year quarterback Andrew Luck
    • Support from Ahmad Bradshaw and running attack
    • More production from revamped defensive unit

     

    Analysis

    Luck set a new rookie record for passing yards in a season in 2012. The former Stanford star also threw 23 touchdown passes and ran for five more scores. But he has to cut back on the 23 turnovers he committed in 16 regular-season tilts.

    The Colts were a top-10 offense in terms of yards last season but ranked just 22nd in the league in rushing. Bradshaw will help, as will second-year runner Vick Ballard.

    Led by newcomers such as outside linebacker Erik Walden and strong safety LaRon Landry, the Colts will be looking for more consistency from a defense that was one of the worst in the league last season, especially against the run. Chuck Pagano’s team forced only 15 turnovers a year ago, a stat they'll look to improve on.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Since reaching the playoffs in 2007, the Jacksonville Jaguars are a combined 27-53 over the last five seasons. The team hasn’t won a division title since 1999, and last season’s 2-14 finish was the worst in franchise history.

     

     

     

    Keys to success

    • Quarterback Blaine Gabbert builds on a respectable second-year performance
    • Finding a second wide receiver until Justin Blackmon returns
    • Improve the league’s worst pass rush (20 sacks in 2012)

     

    Analysis

    Gabbert was making progress before going down in the team’s 10th game of 2012. The former first-round pick had dramatically increased his completion percentage and cut down his fumbles significantly.

    Losing Blackmon for the first four weeks put wideout Cecil Shorts into the spotlight. Last season, the emerging performer finished second on the team with 55 catches and led the club in receiving yards (979) and touchdowns (seven).

    Getting to the quarterback has been a recent problem for the Jaguars. Last season’s 20 sacks were half a sack short of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt’s season total (20.5).

Kansas City Chiefs

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    In 2010, the Kansas City Chiefs were a surprising 10-6 and AFC West champions. The last two seasons, the team is a combined 9-23 and division cellar dwellers each year. Andy Reid is the team’s third head coach to start the year in as many seasons.

     

     

    Keys to success

    • Make sure quarterback Alex Smith is comfortable in another new system
    • Solidify run defense (27th in NFL in 2012)
    • Better ball security (combined 65 turnovers last two seasons)

     

    Analysis

    It’s hard to believe that a team with six Pro Bowlers last season (regardless of what you think about that process) produced only two wins.

    Reid should put his stamp on this team quickly, and it will be fascinating to see what running back Jamaal Charles does under the former Eagles coach.

    In an amazing coincidence, Reid’s team from a year ago and his current club (along with the New York Jets) each committed 37 turnovers last season, the worst such mark in the NFL in 2012.

Miami Dolphins

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    In 2007, the Miami Dolphins were a dismal 1-15, but a year later they stunned the NFL with 11 wins and captured the AFC East. That surprising season was obviously the exception rather than the rule. The team has now suffered through four consecutive losing campaigns, finishing 7-9 in three of those seasons.

     

     

     

    Keys to success

    • Continued development of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill
    • Find out if Jonathan Martin can play left tackle
    • Turn very good defense into great defensive unit

     

    Analysis

    The Dolphins were one of the league’s most aggressive teams during the offseason. General manager Jeff Ireland was a major player during free agency and the draft.

    Additions such as wide receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller should be a big help to Tannehill, who still has plenty to learn.

    Martin moves over to the left side with the free-agent departure of veteran Jake Long. The Dolphins added Tyson Clabo late in the free-agency period.

    Speaking of defense, the decision to move up in the draft and grab defensive end Dion Jordan with the third overall pick could be a masterful one. 

Minnesota Vikings

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    The Minnesota Vikings finished 10-6 in 2012 and reached the playoffs—quite an accomplishment for a club that won a combined nine games in 2010 and 11. In 2009, the team came within an overtime loss in the NFC title game of a long-awaited return to the Super Bowl.

     

    Keys to success

    • Replace do-it-all offensive weapon Percy Harvin
    • Build chemistry between quarterback Christian Ponder and wide receiver Greg Jennings
    • Continue improvement by the secondary

     

    Analysis

    In April, the Vikings were the first team since the 2001 St. Louis Rams to draft three players in the first round. If defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson deliver as rookies, this could be an interesting team indeed.

    Patterson hopes to pick up some of the slack created by the trade of Harvin to Seattle, especially when it comes to the return game. Jennings should help with the continued development of Ponder.

    As for that Adrian Peterson guy, another 2,000-plus-yard rushing season is asking a bit much.

New England Patriots

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    Dating back to 2001, the New England Patriots have posted 12 consecutive winning seasons, tied for the seventh-longest streak in NFL history. Bill Belichick, the league’s longest-tenured active head coach with the same team, has led the Pats to four straight AFC East titles and at least 10 wins in 10 straight seasons.

     

    Keys to success

    • Develop new pass-catching corps
    • Bigger roles for second-year defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower
    • More emphasis on the power running game

     

    Analysis

    Defense has been the biggest issue in Foxborough in recent seasons, but that could be changing, and quickly. The team added veteran safety Adrian Wilson and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to a unit that has some very good pieces in place.

    It’s the other side of the football that may be of some concern. Free agency and other factors have quarterback Tom Brady without four of his top five pass-catchers from 2012, and tight end Rob Gronkowski is on the mend.

    That could mean more work for running back Stevan Ridley and a ground game that finished with the seventh-most yards in the league in 2012.

New Orleans Saints

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    Last season, with an opportunity to reach the playoffs for a team-record fourth straight year, the New Orleans Saints couldn’t shake off the effects of an unusual offseason. After amassing a combined 37-11 record the previous three seasons and winning Super Bowl XLIV in 2009, the team (minus head coach Sean Payton) finished 7-9 a year ago.

     

    Keys to success

    • Fix defensive line
    • Fix linebackers
    • Fix secondary

     

    Analysis

    It reads like there’s fun being had at the expense of the Saints here. But when you give up the most total yards in a season in the league’s 93-year history, it’s far from a laughing matter. Keep in mind that last season, even without Payton on the sidelines, only the New England Patriots (557) and Denver Broncos (481) scored more points than New Orleans (461).

    The problem was that they also allowed 454 points, the second-worst total in the league. While the Saints offense is far from perfect, the issues pale in comparison to the defense. That unit will transition to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

New York Giants

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    In 2006 and 2007, the New York Giants finished 8-8 and 10-6, respectively. Both records were good enough to reach the playoffs, and in ’07 the Giants won Super Bowl XLII. In 2009 and 2010, the club finished 8-8 and 10-6, respectively, and failed to reach the playoffs.

    In 2011, Tom Coughlin’s club was 9-7 and went on to win Super Bowl XLVI. Last season, the Giants were again 9-7 but failed to reach the playoffs. You figure them out.

    Keys to success

    • Second-year running back David Wilson emerges as a major factor
    • Defense rebounds from disappointing 2012 (31st in NFL in yards allowed)
    • Avoid another subpar second-half performance after a good start

     

    Analysis

    The team opted to part ways with veteran running back Ahmad Bradshaw and put the spotlight on Wilson, the team’s first-round pick in 2012, who excelled on kickoff returns last season. For the record, Wilson fumbled in Week 1 vs. the Dallas Cowboys last season; it was his only fumble of the season.

    Only the New Orleans Saints allowed more total yards than the Giants, who ranked 25th vs. the run a year ago. Former Philadelphia Eagles Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson are expected to help here. New York’s pass rush dipped from 48 sacks in 2011 to 33 last season.

    Let’s see if Tom Coughlin’s team can perform well from start to finish in 2013.

New York Jets

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    The first two years of the Rex Ryan regime with the New York Jets didn’t produce a division title, but the team made the playoffs and each time appeared in the AFC title game. The last two seasons the team is a combined 14-18, and no relief appears in sight. It's worth noting that the Jets haven’t won the AFC East since 2002.

    Keys to success

    • Quarterback decision (Mark Sanchez/Geno Smith) is resolved early in training camp
    • Youth on defense is served immediately
    • Eliminate the circus atmosphere surrounding the team

     

    Analysis

    A pair of near-Super Bowl appearances have regressed into two very disappointing seasons for the Jets. Using the team’s departures as a guide, this looks like a rebuilding year for the Green and White.

    Cornerback Darrelle Revis, safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, linebacker Bart Scott, running back Shonn Greene and tight end Dustin Keller, among others, are all gone.

    In four seasons, Sanchez has thrown 68 touchdown passes and committed 89 turnovers in 62 regular-season games. It will be interesting to see how long the former first-round pick can hold off Smith.

    The team did add cornerback Dee Milliner and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson in the first round of the draft. They and fellow first-rounders such as defensive end/outside linebacker Quinton Coples, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and cornerback Kyle Wilson all need to step up this season in a big way.

Oakland Raiders

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    These numbers seem ingrained in our NFL brains. The Oakland Raiders have now gone 10 straight years without posting a winning season since finishing 11-5 and reaching Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002. Since 2003, the Silver and Black are a dismal 49-111.

     

     

     

    Keys to success

    • Quarterback Matt Flynn emerges as leader
    • Keep Darren McFadden on the field for all 16 games
    • Plethora of new faces on defense gel quickly

     

    Analysis

    General manager Reggie McKenzie knows all about Flynn from their days with the Green Bay Packers. Quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and rookie Tyler Wilson are in the fold, but it’s time for Flynn to emerge.

    McFadden is a phenomenal talent, but durability is a massive hurdle for the former first-rounder. He’s yet to play a complete NFL season in five tries.

    With the addition of eight free agents and rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden, defensive end Lamarr Houston and strong safety Tyvon Branch are the lone incumbents on the Raiders starting defense.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    It finally all came apart for the once-promising Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. The team finished 4-12, its worst showing since 1998—the year before Andy Reid took over as head coach. Now it is Chip Kelly’s chance to turn around a franchise that hasn’t won an NFL title since 1960.

     

    Keys to success

    • Finding the Michael Vick of 2010
    • Cutting back on turnovers (75 in last 32 games)
    • Dramatic improvement on defense (3-4 under new coordinator Billy Davis)

     

    Analysis

    It wasn’t long ago that Vick was one of the great comeback stories in the NFL. However, staying on the field and keeping the ball in his hands have become issues.

    What are we to make of Kelly’s new offense? It could be a very good thing for productive running back LeSean McCoy, who saw his 2012 season cut short by injury.

    The team will have a lot of new looks on the defensive side of the ball, courtesy of a rebuilt secondary and the addition of outside linebacker Connor Barwin via free agency.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Steelers have been one of the steadiest organizations in the league seemingly forever. Only having three head coaches since 1969 will do that. But after making an appearance in Super Bowl XLV in 2010, the team failed to win the AFC North in 2011 (albeit with a 12-4 record) and finished 8-8 last season.

     

    Keys to success

    • Stability on offensive line
    • Establish rookie running back Le'Veon Bell as primary backfield threat
    • Regain big-play propensity on defense

     

    Analysis

    Following a 6-3 start last season, the Steelers lost five of their last seven games to finish at .500, the first non-winning campaign under head coach Mike Tomlin.

    The issues were numerous but far from unfixable. A spotty running game ranked 26th in the NFL last year, hence the second-round selection of Bell. Protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gets harder each season, and a talent-laden offensive front must live up to their billing.

    First-round outside linebacker Jarvis Jones hopes to put the big play back in the Pittsburgh defense.

St. Louis Rams

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    Under head coach Jeff Fisher, the St. Louis Rams finished 7-8-1 last season and an NFC West best 4-1-1 within the division in his first season with the club. That was quite a jump for a team that won two games in 2011, but the franchise still hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2003 and hasn’t gone to the playoffs since ’04.

    Keys to success

    • Fourth-year quarterback Sam Bradford continues to improve
    • Wide receiving corps comes together as group
    • More big plays from linebackers and secondary

     

    Analysis

    It may surprise some that there could actually be a three-team race in the NFC West this season (with all due respect to the rebuilding Cardinals).

    Fisher’s team’s made enormous strides last season, led by a defensive unit that tied for the league lead with 52 sacks. On the other side of the ball, rookie wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey join a group of emerging skill players and free-agent tight end Jared Cook.

    Perhaps the biggest question on offense is if second-year running back Daryl Richardson is ready for a much bigger role.

San Diego Chargers

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    Logic says that the San Diego Chargers will finish 6-10 in 2013. New head coach Mike McCoy is taking over a team that was 9-7 in 2010, 8-8 in 2011 and 7-9 this past season. All this after the Bolts won four straight AFC West titles from 2006 to 2009 and reached the AFC title game in 2007.

     

     

    Keys to success

    • Fixing quarterback Philip Rivers’ turnover issues
    • Finding the right combination on offensive line
    • Making sure the new-look secondary meshes

     

    Analysis

    It’s hard to believe that only the Arizona Cardinals gained fewer total yards than the Chargers last season.

    Part of that resulted from the play of an offensive line last season that saw Rivers sacked 49 times, while the San Diego ground attack finished 27th in the NFL. The veteran quarterback should benefit from not only the presence of McCoy but new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt as well.

    Defensively, the Bolts were very respectable last season, and a suspect secondary now has a lot of young faces.

San Francisco 49ers

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    After eight straight non-winning seasons, the San Francisco 49ers have won consecutive division titles under head coach Jim Harbaugh. The team lost at home in overtime in the NFC title game in 2011 and back in February came up short in Super Bowl XLVII.

     

    Keys to success

    • Find a new starting free safety (Eric Reid)
    • Fill the void left by wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s injury
    • Avoid Super Bowl appearance hangover

     

    Analysis

    Third-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick begins the season as the starter and hopes to pick up where he left off, but he won’t have Crabtree for an indefinite amount of time. That means veteran wideout Anquan Boldin could be in the right place at the perfect time.

    The Niners can run the football with the best of teams thanks to one of the league’s best offensive lines. On the other side of the ball, the team hopes to rebound from a late-season slump in 2012 and the loss of two-time Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Goldson to free agency. Reid, the team’s first-round pick in April, is the man on the spot.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Following a pair of consecutive 7-9 showings, the first resulting in an unlikely NFC West title in 2010, the Seattle Seahawks rode a season-ending five-game winning streak to an 11-5 mark and a playoff appearance in 2012. Head coach Pete Carroll and the team have their eyes set on bigger and better things this year.

     

    Keys to success

    • Adequate replacements (early on) for defensive ends Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin
    • Depth behind running back Marshawn Lynch
    • Establish best ways to utilize Percy Harvin

     

    Analysis

    Quarterback Russell Wilson tied the NFL rookie record with 26 touchdown passes last season but got a great deal of help from Lynch. The veteran runner totaled 100-plus yards in 11 of his 18 overall performances last season. Robert Turbin and rookie Christine Michael could ease some of the load.

    The Seahawks allowed the fewest points in the league in 2012, but up front, Clemons is still recovering from a knee injury suffered in last season’s wild-card game, and Irvin won’t be around (suspension) for the first four games. Newcomers Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett hope to help.

    Harvin gives the team an added dimension, and this was a club that had few problems scoring points late in 2012.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Off a 10-6 showing in 2010, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened the following season with four wins in their first six games, but head coach Raheem Morris saw his team drop its final 10 games, hence his departure from the club. Under Greg Schiano last season, the Bucs were 6-4 before losing five straight contests. The team has not reached the playoffs since 2007.

    Keys to success

    • Put an end to pass-rushing issues
    • Bigger role for running back Doug Martin
    • Get quarterback Josh Freeman back on track

     

    Analysis

    It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Martin total well over 2,000 yards from scrimmage this season. That can mean only good things for quarterback Josh Freeman, who started well but threw nine interceptions in his final three games a year ago.

    The league’s worst pass defense from a year ago now has free safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Darrelle Revis as possible fixes, but improving on 27 sacks is crucial. Over the last five seasons, the Bucs have totaled 133 sacks and allowed 134 touchdown passes.

Tennessee Titans

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    It wasn’t that long ago that the Tennessee Titans owned the league’s best record, finishing 13-3 in 2008. They failed to win a playoff game that year and haven’t been back to the postseason since. This will be Mike Munchak’s third season as the team’s head coach.

     

     

     

    Keys to success

    • Change of attitude; adopt more physical style of play
    • Keep quarterback Jake Locker healthy (with his help)
    • Learn how to win within division again (1-5 in 2012)

     

    Analysis

    Munchak’s team allowed a league-high 471 points last season, the most in the NFL and the highest total in the 53-year history of the franchise.

    The team looked to get tougher in many areas, adding the likes of guards Andy Levitre and Rob Turner and drafting Chance Warmack in the first round. On defense, hard-hitting strong safety Bernard Pollard always leaves a mark.

    Locker took his lumps a year ago both figuratively and literally. He threw 10 touchdown passes but was sacked 25 times and committed 15 turnovers in 11 games.

    The Titans' only win within the AFC South in 2012 came in Week 17 vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Washington Redskins

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    Last season, the Washington Redskins became the fourth different team to win the NFC East in as many seasons. It also marked the first playoff appearance by the team since 2007 and the first division crown captured by the Redskins since 1999.

     

    Keys to success

    • Have backup quarterback Kirk Cousins ready to start the season
    • Solidify secondary
    • Secure right tackle position

     

    Analysis

    We’re all wondering if we'll actually see quarterback Robert Griffin III on opening weekend of the season. The 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year severely injured his knee in the playoffs last season.

    Injuries to defensive end Adam Carriker and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo were costly last year, as the team allowed 31 touchdown passes. The Redskins are hoping to see much more of strong safety Brandon Meriweather this season, and the team added three defensive backs in April’s draft.

    The offensive line stayed intact for most of 2012 and was one of the reasons Alfred Morris enjoyed a stellar rookie year, but there could be some competition between right tackle Tyler Polumbus and challengers Jeremy Trueblood and Tony Pashos.