Every NFL Team's Biggest Change so Far This Offseason

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2013

Every NFL Team's Biggest Change so Far This Offseason

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    The NFL is an ever-changing world.

    As skill sets, strategies and rules change, so does the game of professional football.

    Teams and players must, in turn, evolve in order to keep up with the game as it changes from year to year.

    Every offseason, we see coaches hired and fired, game plans tweaked and rosters overhauled in an effort to keep up with the competition, changing trends and the great game itself.

    This offseason, like each before it, each of the NFL's 32 teams has undergone changes—some only minor, some drastic.

    Today, we will take a look at the biggest change for each franchise to occur this offseason.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Considering the team fell only a few plays short of taking home the Lombardi Trophy last season, there wasn't exactly a pressing need for dramatic change in San Francisco this offseason.

    The 49ers did make a few additions during free agency—most notably, former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin—and had a pretty successful draft on paper. However, the biggest change for the 49ers this offseason likely has nothing to do with personnel and everything to do with preparation.

    Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick shocked the football world in 2012, taking over for an injured Alex Smith in Week 10 and never looking back.

    Kaepernick's rare combination of athleticism, arm strength, poise and accuracy allowed him to compile a 5-2 record during the regular season and lead the 49ers to the brink of a Super Bowl title. 

    Even though San Francisco may have had to modify its offense midseason to account for Kaepernick's skill set and inexperience, the Nevada product was a revelation for the 49ers.

    Th 49ers are widely considered to again be contenders in 2013 and will have the added benefit of an entire offseason with Kaepernick under center.

    With Smith now in Kansas City, Kaepernick is the unquestioned starter and will have a chance to fully prepare, which could make him even more dangerous than a season ago.

Chicago Bears

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    It is exceedingly rare when a franchise responds to a 10-6 campaign by firing the head coach and retooling the entire staff, but that is exactly what the Chicago Bears decided to do after missing the postseason in 2012.

    After releasing head coach Lovie Smith, the Bears decided to go in an unusual direction in their search for his replacement.

    Instead of scouring through young coordinators and NFL head-coaching retreads, the Bears decided to hire Marc Trestman, formerly head coach of the Montreal Alouettes—of the Canadian Football League.

    Of course, Trestman does have a little NFL experience. From 1985 to 2004, he served in various roles with the Vikings, Buccaneers, Browns, 49ers, Lions, Raiders and Dolphins before returning to the college ranks and eventually making the move to Canada. 

    Trestman is widely regarded as a quarterback guru and could be just the man to finally push Jay Cutler over the top and help make the Bears perennial contenders once again.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    In 2013, the Cincinnati Bengals will be looking to make a third consecutive trip to the postseason for the first time in franchise history.

    As a team that appears to now be a perennial contender, the Bengals spent most of the offseason focused on re-signing key players. The team did little outside of the draft to add to its already playoff-caliber roster.

    However, a pair of players the Bengals drafted could be just what the team needs to land that elusive playoff win.

    For the past two seasons, the Bengals' identity has been forged around a tough, aggressive defense. While Cincinnati's offense has been efficient, it has rarely been especially explosive, lacking few true playmakers outside of Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green.

    The drafting of Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert (taken 21st overall) and North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard (37th overall) could change everything.

    Eifert is a versatile pass-catcher who can line up at both tight end and receiver and who will add another dynamic weapon to quarterback Andy Dalton's arsenal.

    Bernard, who rushed for 1,228 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012, should be an explosive complement to the tough running of starting back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

    While the play-calling in Cincinnati is not likely to see a drastic change, the addition of these two potential playmakers could very well reshape the way we view the Bengals offense in 2013.

Buffalo Bills

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    The addition of new head coach Doug Marrone is sure to bring a slew of changes to a Buffalo Bills franchise that has struggled to find consistency over the past several seasons.

    However, the biggest change the Bills will likely see is the addition of former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel.

    Manuel, the 16th overall selection in April's draft, was picked to help solidify a quarterback situation that has seen its fair share of difficulties over the years.

    A dynamic and versatile quarterback, Manuel looks to be an immediate upgrade over last year's starter, Ryan Fitzpatrick—at least on paper.

    The former Florida State star managed to pass for 3,392 yards and 23 touchdowns, complete 68 percent of his pass attempts, and add 310 rushing yards and four more scores with the Seminoles last season.

    Perhaps more importantly, he threw just 10 interceptions in 387 pass attempts.

    Ryan, by comparison, turned the football over 20 times in 2012, which created a constant problem for the Bills.

    The Bills already have a talented offense and one of the game's most dangerous offensive weapons in running back C.J. Spiller. If Manuel can truly bring consistency to the quarterback position, Buffalo could quickly become a contender. 

Denver Broncos

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    The Denver Broncos fell painfully short of reaching the Super Bowl in 2012. It wasn't due to a lack of offensive talent.

    Boasting one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game in Peyton Manning and a talented receiving corps, the Broncos are again poised to be an offensive juggernaut in 2013.

    Their prize offseason acquisition should certainly aid their efforts.

    When the Broncos successfully lured slot receiver extraordinaire away from the New England Patriots (though it sounded as if the Patriots weren't too keen on re-signing him), it made one of the most probable AFC contenders a near lock to make a deep postseason run.

    Welker, who logged 118 receptions for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns last season, should be a great complement to Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker while providing Manning with possibly the top outlet receiver of the past decade.

    While the Broncos shouldn't need too much help moving the football this season, new offensive coordinator Adam Gase will certainly take this extra addition as he looks to keep the Broncos running on all cylinders.

Cleveland Browns

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    The Cleveland Browns underwent a number of notable changes early this offseason, from losing longtime kicker Phil Dawson to hiring new head coach Rob Chudzinski.

    However, no change appears to be more impacting than the hiring of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator.

    Although he has yielded mixed results as a head coach, Turner has long been regarded as one of the league's top offensive minds and best play-callers.

    He could be just the man to turn around a Browns offense that has fared near the bottom of the league seemingly every year since the franchise returned in 1999.

    Turner's specialty lies in a deep vertical passing game balanced with a power running attack, which seems to fit second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden and second-year running back Trent Richardson perfectly.

    Weeden showed promise as a rookie last season, passing for a franchise rookie record 3,385 yards in 15 starts, but he did throw more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (14) and was often wildly inconsistent.

    If anyone can corral Weeden's potential, it is Turner.

    Turner's offense also bodes well for Richardson, who battled numerous injuries in 2012 yet still rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    Running backs playing under Turner have won league rushing titles five different times.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers once had a reputation for fielding innovative pass defenses, that reputation has fallen to the wayside in recent years.

    Last season, for example, the Buccaneers ranked dead last, allowing 297.4 yards per game through the air.

    That reputation could be on its way back thanks to a pair of offseason moves made by the Buccaneers.

    Early in free agency, Tampa Bay targeted hard-hitting 49ers safety Dashon Goldson, landing him with a five-year, $41.25 million contract.

    Last season, Goldson amassed 69 total tackles, 11 passes defended and three interceptions for the NFC champion 49ers.

    Next, the Buccaneers targeted and landed the nation's top collegiate defensive back, selecting Jim Thorpe award-winner Jonathan Banks with the 43rd overall selection in April's draft.

    Last season at Mississippi State, Banks logged 39 tackles, four interceptions, two tackles for a loss and a forced fumble.

    The addition of Goldson and Banks should add some much needed punch—and attitude—to the back end of the Buccaneers defense.

Arizona Cardinals

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    It seems like the Arizona Cardinals have been desperately searching for a competent quarterback ever since Kurt Warner retired in 2009.

    That's probably because they have been.

    The Cardinals certainly didn't find one in 2012 when John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer each took turns under center with disastrous results.

    With a less-than-impressive quarterback class entering April's draft, the Cardinals decided to go out and get a quarterback, trading for Raiders signal-caller Carson Palmer.

    While Palmer may not provide an ideal mental image of a team savior, he is still an above-average quarterback and far better than who the Cardinals have seen in recent years.

    He even managed to pass for 4,018 yards and 22 touchdowns last season with a questionable Raiders receiving corps. In Arizona, he'll get to throw to some guy named Larry Fitzgerald.

    The addition of new head coach Bruce Arians will certainly help (and is really a more important long-term change). Everyone saw what he was able to get out of Andrew Luck last season.

    While no one is expecting Palmer to suddenly transform into a player of Luck's talent (or youthfulness), the fact remains that while the Cardinals do have talent, they are unlikely to compete in the division without a competent quarterback.

San Diego Chargers

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    Norv Turner received six seasons to prove he had what it took to lead a potent San Diego Chargers team to the Super Bowl.

    After six seasons, it became apparent he didn't.

    While Turner did lead the Chargers to the postseason in each of his first three seasons at the helm, his team failed to make the playoffs in each of the last three, and he was jettisoned following the 2012 season.

    His replacement is Mike McCoy, who has spent the past three years as the offensive coordinator for the division rival Denver Broncos.

    McCoy had built somewhat of a reputation for being able to adapt to circumstance.

    Not only did McCoy help coach a Tim Tebow-led team to the playoffs in 2011, but he allowed quarterback Peyton Manning enough freedom the following year to take things in a completely different direction and come within seconds of reaching the Super Bowl.

    McCoy inherits a roster built primarily by Turner and former general manager A.J. Smith, but with his experience and adaptability, he should have little trouble commanding the team toward any direction he wishes to take it. 

Kansas City Chiefs

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    At first glance, the addition of former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith may appear to be the biggest change to the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason.

    That is, of course, until you realize that longtime Eagles head coach Andy Reid has taken the reigns of the franchise. 

    Love him or hate him—and you'll talk to plenty of Eagles fans on both sides of the argument—Reid has been one of the most consistent head coaches of the past decade.

    While he never delivered a Super Bowl victory to the city of Philadelphia, Reid did lead the franchise to nine playoff appearances, five NFC title game appearances and one trip to the big game during his 14 seasons as the Eagles' head coach.

    Reid knows how to build a winner for the long-haul, which should be fantastic news for a Chiefs fanbase who has longed to see its team regain the relevance it had in the late '60s and again in the early '90s.

    Reid has also built a reputation for a coach who works extremely well with quarterbacks, having both guided the career of Donovan McNabb and rejuvenated the career of Michael Vick.

    His presence should bode well for Smith and the Chiefs for several years to come.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Considering the team went through the 2012 season with a rookie quarterback, a shadow of a consistent running game and with their head coach recovering from a successful battle with cancer, the Indianapolis Colts had a pretty successful season.

    The team made the postseason only a year removed from a league-worst 2-14 record, and with a few more pieces in place, the Colts could quickly regain their spot at the top of the AFC South.

    They may have found one of those pieces in April's draft, using the 24th overall selection on Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner.

    The 6'3", 266-pound German import has freakish athletic ability, despite playing football for only a relatively short time. 

    The Colts, for all their efforts, ranked just 23rd in the league in sacks last season (32) and said goodbye to longtime sack artist Dwight Freeney during the offseason.

    This means Werner, who logged 13 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss with the Seminoles in 2012, should have a significant and productive role early in his professional career.

Dallas Cowboys

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    For years, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has taken the brunt of criticism for every mistake, misstep or failure the team has undertaken.

    So naturally, the team has decided to back Romo 100 percent entering his eighth season as the Cowboys' starter.

    Despite the vocalization of numerous naysayers, Romo rightfully deserves the backing of his team, as the Eastern Illinois product has led his team to three playoff appearances and has statistically been one of the league's top quarterbacks since taking over in 2006.

    It's still been one heck of an offseason for Romo, however. He was signed to a six-year, $108 million contract, which is sure to bring plenty more attention to the polarizing quarterback.

    Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has also announced his intentions to give Romo a significant role in play-calling duties, which will either increase the quarterback's praise or add to his infamy depending on the results.

    For the Cowboys, who always seem to have media-driven expectations, this brings even more unneeded attention to a team that has won just one playoff game in 16 years.

    For Romo, it could change the landscape entirely.

    This is as close to a make-or-break season as the quarterback has seen in his career, and it will be interesting to see how Romo and the Cowboys respond.

Miami Dolphins

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    Riding the arm of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Miami Dolphins posted a surprising 7-9 record in 2012 and have the look of a team built to contend over the next several seasons.

    Tannehill managed to pass for 3,294 yards and rush for 211 more in his inaugural NFL season, despite lacking the aid of a true No. 1 receiver.

    Four-year veteran Brian Hartline tried valiantly to fill this role in 2012, hauling in 74 passes for 1,083 yards.

    However, he only registered one touchdown reception on the year, and most analysts will agree that he is more of a reliable No. 2 type than a truly dominant first option.

    Enter Mike Wallace.

    The Dolphins managed to lure Wallace away from the Pittsburgh Steelers with a five-year, $60 million contract and the promise of a bright future in South Beach. 

    Though he had a down year in 2012, Wallace is widely considered one of the most dangerous deep threats in the league. He has racked up 4,042 yards and 32 touchdowns in just four seasons with an impressive 17.2 yards per reception career average.

    His presence should provide Tannehill with the downfield No. 1 receiver he was missing a season ago. It should also make Miami's other receivers—such as Hartline, who signed his own five-year deal during the offseason—better as complementary options. 

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Following up Andy Reid as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles appears to be a nearly impossible task any way you look at it.

    However, the Eagles seem to feel that they have won the head coaching lottery when the team emerged as the one to land former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.

    No one knows exactly what to expect from Kelly at the pro level, but as the head coach of the Ducks, he carved out a reputation for building a revolutionary up-tempo offense that collegiate teams have been desperately trying to copy.

    Even the mighty New England Patriots have tried to copy elements of Kelly's system to varying degrees of success.

    However, Kelly's no-huddle, mile-a-minute offensive scheme is unlike anything the modern NFL world has seen, and no one seems to know how it will translate—or if Kelly will even attempt it.

    This, of course, is part of the mystery surrounding Kelly and the Eagles this offseason. 

    The only thing that anyone seems to know (or at least anticipate) is that Kelly will bring something fresh to the game of professional football, which is why he was so coveted in the first place.

Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons were one of the league's hottest teams in 2012, compiling an impressive 13-3 regular-season record and winning the franchise's first playoff game since 2004.

    The team returning this season looks a lot like the one from last year, except for one notable exception—running back Steven Jackson.

    The Falcons acquired Jackson during free agency, which provides a win-win situation for both the team and the player.

    The nine-year veteran was seeking a situation that would provide him with a significant role, while the Falcons were looking for an upgrade over last season's starter, Michael Turner.

    Turner struggled mightily in 2012, logging just 800 yards and a sub-par 3.6 yards per carry average, though he did manage to score 10 touchdowns.

    Jackson, on the other hand, rushed for 1,042 yards and a steady 4.1 yards per carry.

    There is every reason to believe that Jackson can be just as productive with the Falcons in 2013. He hasn't rushed for fewer than 1,000 yards in a season since his rookie year in 2004.

    While the Falcons are still expected to field one of the league's top passing offenses this season, the presence of Jackson should bring some much-needed balance to the equation.

    It could be just what the team needs to make that long-awaited push to the big game.

New York Giants

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    The New York Giants are now two years removed from their last Super Bowl title (their second in the past six seasons) and failed to make the playoffs at all in 2012.

    With Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins emerging as one of the league's hottest stories last season, the Giants lost their place as the NFC East's flagship franchise.

    With the hype surrounding Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and the constant media surveillance surrounding the Dallas Cowboys, the Giants have somehow become the division's forgotten team.

    However, the Giants are still a very good football team, narrowly missing the playoffs last season with a 9-7 record—the same record they had during their last championship season.

    Many of the key players from that championship team—including quarterback Eli Manning, wide receiver Victor Cruz, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka—still remain on the roster, and the team doesn't appear drastically different than it did a couple of seasons ago.

    The expectations, on the other hand, certainly are.

    With everyone watching to see what the Redskins, Cowboys and Eagles are able to accomplish in 2013, the Giants will be able to quietly go about the business of trying to fight back toward a championship.

    This could prove to be a major boon, as the Giants seem to do their best work while flying under the radar. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    From injuries, to contract issues to one of the league's least interesting quarterback competitions, the Jacksonville Jaguars have had their fair share of troubles over the past couple seasons.

    Following the 2012 season, the Jaguars and new owner Shad Khan decided that Mike Mularkey was no longer the right man to correct them.

    The Jaguars, instead, decided to turn to former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to fill the position, which means the Jaguars could be in store for yet another major overhaul.

    While one of the biggest priorities will be to try to find a quarterback worthy of starting the regular season (the primary candidates are Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert), expect Bradley to turn much of the focus to the defensive side of the football.

    Bradley is known for bringing a tough, aggressive mentality to his defenses, which would be a welcome change for a Jaguars team that ranked just 30th in the NFL last season (30.5 yards per game).

    By comparison, the Seahawks ranked 4th in the league last season (306.2 yards per game) under the direction of Bradley.

    If Bradley can help the Jaguars make improvements similar to those he directed in Seattle—the Seahawks were ranked just 27th defensively in Bradley's first season—the Jaguars have the potential to emerge as one of the league's top defenses in the near future.

New York Jets

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    The New York Jets made a notable front office change early this offseason when the team chose to let general manager Mike Tannenbaum go and replaced him with former Seahawks executive John Idzik.

    However, the change at general manager is only part of the equation and may prove to be only part of a major overhaul that hangs over the 2013 season.

    With Idzik now in place, head coach Rex Ryan will face immense pressure this season to return the Jets to championship contention. 

    His job could very well depend on it.

    Ryan's Jets were long on talent in 2012 but short on results, as injuries, shaky quarterback play and questionable coaching caused the team to stumble to a 6-10 record  

    In Ryan's first two seasons in New York, the Jets reached the AFC title game, and his brash, arrogant persona was welcomed by fans and media members alike.

    However, an 8-8 season in 2011 followed by last year's debacle has stripped Ryan of any sort of a pass. 

    For the first time as a head coach, Ryan enters the season on the hot seat, and the culture in the Jets' locker room appears very different than it did a few short seasons ago.

Detroit Lions

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    It's hard to argue that the Detroit Lions don't have one of the best passing offenses in all of professional football, especially with a capable quarterback like Matthew Stafford and a game-changing receiver like Calvin Johnson on the roster.

    The running game, on the other hand, has been pretty blah.

    The addition of former Saints and Dolphins running back Reggie Bush could change that, though, and quickly.

    While he was a talented and versatile player for the Saints, Bush never quite lived up to the expectations of being the second overall pick in the 2006 draft. Although extremely explosive, many believed that the 6'0", 203-pound back would never be capable of carrying the load as an every-down runner.

    That was, of course, before his arrival in Miami,

    In two seasons with the Dolphins, Bush has done a solid job of filling the role of starting back, rushing for 2,072 yards and 12 touchdowns while adding 588 yards receiving and three more scores in that span.

    It appears that Bush has finally grown into the role of NFL running back, and considering the relatively light load he had at the beginning of his career, he likely has plenty left in the tank to offer the Lions.

Green Bay Packers

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    Once Aaron Rodgers took over the starting quarterback job for the Green Bay Packers in 2008, it didn't take long for opponents to learn to fear the Packers' passing attack.

    It also didn't take long for opposing defenses to realize that Green Bay's running game wasn't exactly top notch.

    The Packers have even failed to crack the Top 20 in rushing as a team over the past three seasons.

    Green Bay tried a number of options—including Alex Green, James Starks, Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant—in 2012, but none managed to top the 500-yard mark.

    Enter Eddie Lacy, the Packers' second-round draft pick (61st overall). The former Alabama star has the look, build and playing style of an every-down NFL back and should raise Green Bay's rushing attack to a new level.

    In 2012 alone, Lacy managed to rush for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns on 204 carries for an impressive 6.5 yards per carry average.

    While Lacy was widely expected to be the first running back off the board in April's draft, he fell to the late second round and into a potentially perfect situation.

    Rodgers and Green Bay's passing game will help take pressure off of Lacy on the ground, and in turn, Lacy has the potential to give the Packers an extremely effective rushing presence.

Carolina Panthers

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    During his two seasons in the league, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has established himself as one of the NFL's most dangerous quarterbacks.

    During that span, Newton has passed for 7,920 yards, rushed for 1,447 more and scored a total of 62 touchdowns.

    These are numbers that are difficult to argue with.

    However, Newton has yet to take the next step and become the team leader necessary to turn the Panthers into true contenders.

    His continued development in 2013 will greatly depend on the ability of new offensive coordinator Mike Shula. 

    Shula takes over for former coordinator Rob Chudzinski—who left this offseason to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns—and he brings both familiarity and experience to the position.

    In addition to being Newton's positional coach for the past two seasons, Shula brings a wealth of NFL coaching experience to Carolina's offense. 

    Shula has spent 20 years in the league, serving as an assistant, position coach or coordinator for the Buccaneers, Dolphins, Bears, Jaguars and Panthers.

    While Chudzinski has received a lot of praise for helping Newton adjust to life in the NFL, Shula's presence has been equally important, and it will be interesting to see just how far he can take his quarterback in the coming seasons.

New England Patriots

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    Year in and year out, the New England Patriots continue to be legitimate contenders for the NFL title.

    Of course, that's what tends to happen when you have a player like Tom Brady commanding the offense.

    However, Brady and Co. may have a more difficult time than usual shredding defenses in 2013, as the Patriots have literally dismantled their receiving corps and have decided to start fresh with a less-than-stellar supporting cast.

    Gone is Wes Welker, who was allowed to sign with the conference rival Denver Broncos in free agency. Gone too are the 118 receptions and 1,354 receiving yards he brought to the table a season ago.

    Brandon Lloyd was also let go, as was Danny Woodhead, the top pass-catching back on the Patriots roster.

    Toss in the major questions surrounding the Patriots' tight end situation, and it's easy to see how the Patriots offense could look very different this season.

    Fortunately, New England still has a talented tandem of running backs in Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, who could both participate in a transition to a more ground-based attack in 2013.

Oakland Raiders

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    The Oakland Raiders just seem to be one of those franchises who can't get everything together—at least in recent years.

    Part of the problem (a very large part) has been the team's inability to find a franchise-caliber quarterback.

    The Raiders thought they had finally gotten their opportunity to find their long-term solution to the problem back in 2011, when the team traded a series of high-round draft picks to the Cincinnati Bengals for quarterback Carson Palmer.

    However, things didn't quite work out, and after a year-and-a-half, Palmer is out, and former Packers and Seahawks backup Matt Flynn has been brought in to try to solidify the position.

    Flynn, of course, rose to prominence after starting the 2011 season finale for the Packers against the division rival Lions. During that game, he threw for an impressive 480 yards and six touchdowns, while leading the Packers to a 45-41 shootout victory.

    Last offseason, the Seahawks signed Flynn as a free agent, hoping he could become their quarterback of the future. However, he was beaten out in training camp by then-rookie Russell Wilson and spent most of the season on the sidelines.

    Flynn received a second chance to earn a starting job when the Raiders traded a pair of late-round draft picks for the former LSU signal-caller.

    Only time will tell if Flynn can beat out Terrelle Pryor and rookie Tyler Wilson to become Oakland's next starting quarterback, but the fact remains that the position is in a vastly different state than it was a season ago.

St. Louis Rams

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    Since entering the league in 2004, St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson has been one of the most consistent rushers in the league.

    He's also been one of the few bright spots on several less-than-stellar Rams teams throughout the past decade.

    No matter how much the Rams may have struggled over the years, Jackson was always reliable. In the eight seasons since his rookie year, he has rushed for more than 1,000 yards every single year.

    However, Jackson saw his role reduced in 2012, thanks in large part to the emergence of rookie running back Daryl Richardson.

    With Jackson no longer a key piece of the team's long-term plans, the Rams allowed him to seek a significant role with another team during free agency.

    Jackson ultimately steeled in with the Atlanta Falcons, leaving Richardson with an opportunity to establish himself as the team's next great running back.

    While the Rams appear to be a team on the upswing, it will seem a little strange to see someone other than Jackson carrying the Rams offense in 2013.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Like many defending Super Bowl champions before, the Baltimore Ravens lost several key players to free agency this offseason.

    While the team has done an excellent job of retooling the roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball, there are two future Hall of Fame players who will simply be impossible to replace.

    We're talking about linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, of course.

    The tandem of Lewis and Reed has served as the identity of the franchise—as well being two of the most recognizable names in football—for nearly the team's entire existence. 

    Lewis, as we all know, retired following the Ravens' Super Bowl victory, while Reed signed with the Houston Texans as a free agent.

    For the Ravens, finding a way to replace the 115 tackles, 16 passes defended and four interceptions that Lewis and Reed combined for in 2012 will be far easier than replacing the legendary leadership of the duo on the field.

    Replacing the iconic pair off the field may be downright impossible.

    Few players in the history of the game have personified a franchise like Lewis has done in Baltimore, and Reed is not far behind.

    While the Ravens are still likely a championship contender in 2013 (and may even field a superior defense), Baltimore and football fans will be watching a very different team on Sundays.

Washington Redskins

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    Pinpointing the biggest change for the Washington Redskins in 2012 was a fairly simple task.

    Then-rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III took the NFC East by storm last season, passing for 3,200 yards, rushing for 815 yards and scoring 27 total touchdowns.

    Along with rookie running back Alfred Morris, Griffin completely revamped the Redskins offense and helped lead the team to a 10-6 record and a division title.

    Griffin's mastery of the read-option offense allowed the Redskins to keep opponents off balance throughout the season, which led to a surprisingly successful year.

    However, the Redskins won't be taking anyone by surprise in 2013. As reigning division champions, Washington will have a target on its proverbial back leading up to the season, which puts the team in a very different position than last year.

    Considering the success of read-option quarterbacks—including Griffin, San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and Seattle's Russell Wilson—teams will be geared up to defend themselves in 2013.

    As long as he can regain the form he had before last year's devastating knee injury, Griffin will still be an extremely difficult player to defend.

    However, he and the rest of the Redskins must go into the season with the mindset of being the hunted, not the hunters.  

New Orleans Saints

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    Once the butt of jokes, the New Orleans Saints have become one of the league's most consistent franchises in recent years.

    However, the Saints missed the playoffs for the first time in four years last season, largely due to the year-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton for his involvement in the now-infamous bounty scandal.

    Despite having one of the best quarterbacks in all of football and an incredible stable of versatile running backs, the Saints offense was uncharacteristically inconsistent in 2012.

    The New Orleans defense was statistically the worst in league history, surrendering a whopping 7,042 total offensive yards on the season.

    Many of the team's problems can likely be blamed on the overhanging cloud of "bounty-gate" and the absence of Payton.

    With his suspension now complete, Payton is back on the sidelines and ready to pull the Saints back together.

    While the defense is unlikely to jump from the bottom rung to the upper echelon of the NFL's ranks, Payton's presence is sure to help the unit to jell better than it did a season ago.

    His remarkable working relationship with quarterback Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints offense is likely to help that side of the football improve as well.

    The Saints will still find it difficult to contend in the tough NFC South, especially with the Atlanta Falcons again looking like a championship-caliber team.

    However, Payton showed early in his coaching career that he has what it takes to lead his team past even the most daunting obstacles.

Seattle Seahawks

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    The Seattle Seahawks found a winning formula in 2012 with a gutty, capable rookie quarterback, a dominant rushing attack and one of the most opportunistic defenses seen in some time.

    However, a disappointing playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons meant there was still clearly room for improvement, and the Seahawks worked aggressively during the offseason to find it.

    Seattle may have scored a home run when the team worked a trade for Minnesota Vikings wide receiver and return specialist Percy Harvin.

    Harvin has carved out a reputation as one of the league's most versatile and dangerous offensive players, and he should help add an entirely new element to Seattle's offense.

    Despite appearing in just nine games last season due to injury, Harvin managed to amass 677 yards receiving, 96 yards rushing and 574 yards on kick returns.

    Harvin will also provide second-year quarterback Russell Wilson with a dynamic and dependable receiving option. Seattle's top receiver last season, Sidney Rice, caught just 50 passes. Harvin hauled in 62 in his nine appearances.

    The versatility he brings could be enough to help push the Seahawks from a surprise playoff team to legitimate championship contenders.   

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    There was once a time when the Pittsburgh Steelers personified smashmouth football. Tough running and a hard-hitting defense helped bring a slew of titles to Pittsburgh in the '70s and helped forge an identity that still relates to the city today.

    In recent years, however, the Steelers have moved away from that gritty mentality and more toward being a pass-first team, thanks in no small part to the presence of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

    While the Steelers have not had an incredibly dominant running game in some time, they could be on the verge of finding one with rookie running back Le'Veon Bell.

    The 6'1", 230-pound Michigan State product has the size, build and skill set to emerge as a true featured back in coordinator Todd Haley's offense.

    NFL.com's Bucky Brooks even went so far as to call him "the best running back in the 2013 draft class" prior to April's draft.

    How good was Bell in 2012? He managed to pound the ball 382 times for a staggering 1,793 yards and 17 touchdowns last season with the Spartans.

    Though Pittsburgh did lose wideout Mike Wallace in free agency this offseason, the team is still expected to field one of the better passing offensive units in 2013. If Bell can use his hard-charging style to solidify the ground attack, the Steelers offense could become a unit to truly reckon with.

Houston Texans

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    For years, wide receiver Andre Johnson has carried the offense of the Houston Texans nearly entirely on his back.

    The emergence of quarterback Matt Shaub and running back Arian Foster have helped lighten some of Johnson's load—and helped turn the Texans into a playoff-caliber team—but Johnson has always remained the guy when it comes to Houston's passing attack.

    The Texans have tried numerous times in the past to take some of the attention away from Johnson, but the team has had a very difficult time trying to find the right No. 2 option to get the job done.

    By drafting Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans may have finally found their man.

    The 6'1", 214-pound wideout has the speed and separation skills necessary to make him a legitimate concern, even opposite Johnson. He racked up 1,405 yards and 18 scores last season with the Tigers and looks to have a large, if less dominant, impact for the Texans in 2013.

    While the Texans have fielded an impressive offense over the last few seasons, the tandem of Johnson and Hopkins could make it downright dangerous in 2013.

Tennessee Titans

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    If the Tennessee Titans were looking to bring a bit of attitude—and perhaps controversy—to their defense, they couldn't have picked a better candidate than former Saints coordinator Gregg Williams.

    By now, everyone knows about Williams' role in the Saints bounty scandal, but his ability to inspire tough and physical play is also well-known throughout the league.

    Before serving a year-long suspension in 2012, Williams spent 21 years in the NFL with the Oilers, Titans, Bills, Redskins, Jaguars and Saints.

    With his suspension now over, it only made sense for Williams to return to the franchise where he began his coaching career. (Williams served as a defensive assistant and later defensive coordinator with the Oilers/Titans from 1990 to 2000.)

    As a senior defensive assistant, Williams will aid coordinator Jerry Gray in trying to rebuild Tennessee's defense into an elite unit.

    Considering Williams' history with the franchise and his experience in the league, it should be a pairing that blends flawlessly. 

Minnesota Vikings

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    Of all the offenses among teams that made the 2012 postseason, the offense of the Minnesota Vikings was undoubtedly the least balanced.

    While running back Adrian Peterson was off trying to grab historic records, quarterback Christian Ponder and the rest of the aerial offense was struggling just to maintain some semblance of parity.

    Ponder, in his first full season as a starter in 2012, managed to complete 62.1 percent of his passes but did so for just 2,935 yards. Peterson, by comparison, amassed 2,314 combined rushing and receiving yards by himself.

    Now that two of the team's top-three receiving options from a year ago (Percy Harvin and Mike Jenkins) are no longer on the Vikings' roster, it would be easy to assume that Minnesota will be a one-man show again in 2013.

    However, the Vikings have taken the steps to retool their receiving corps, signing former Packers wideout Greg Jennings in free agency and drafting Tennessee product Cordarrelle Patterson back in April.

    Patterson, in particular, appears ready to add a new dynamic to the Vikings offense this season. In 2012, he totaled 778 yards and five touchdowns for the Volunteers and was regarded as one of the most explosive pass-catchers available heading into the draft.

    Jennings, meanwhile, should provide the veteran presence needed to aid in Ponder's development.

    If Jennings and Patterson fit in well with coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense, the Vikings could have a much more balanced and playoff-worthy offense this season.

    At the very least, the team should have enough on film to determine if Ponder can indeed be the team's franchise signal-caller.