NFL Teams on the Rise Heading into 2013
Hope springs eternal for every fanbase when NFL training camps start, but there are certain teams that aren't getting catfished.
That's right, that was an MTV reference in the opening sentence of a sports article.
But admit it, it worked.
There are teams that come out of nowhere every year and surprise people. Those where-did-they-come-from squads are what keep fans engaged and give them a reason to believe that this year will be their year.
And for these teams, it just might be true.
It's easy to say that the 2013 season rests in second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill's hands. While it's somewhat correct, the statement glosses over one under-the-radar detail: Jonathan Martin is moving from right tackle to left tackle.
If Miami Dolphins fans aren't concerned about that, they should be. He wasn't particularly effective on the right side, receiving a negative-22.2 Pro Football Focus grade (subscription required). Despite all of his injuries, Jake Long was at least average.
If Martin can fill the former top-overall pick's shoes, the Dolphins will challenge the New England Patriots for the AFC East crown.
Tannehill was much better than anticipated (at least by those outside of the Dolphins organization), and he now has a deep threat in Mike Wallace who will stretch the defense, opening up passing lanes all over the field.
The defense will feature two uber-talented defensive ends. Cameron Wake will bring his 15 sacks from last season on one side, while Dion Jordan will provide his freak athleticism from the other.
The linebacking corps is solid with Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler joining incumbent Koa Misi. And the secondary has a chance to be outstanding with a top-tier safety duo welcoming cornerback Brent Grimes into the fold.
The Dolphins aren't Super Bowl material yet, but they're definitely postseason worthy.
What would have been an oversight on the last slide rings true for the Tennessee Titans. Their season really does lay in the hands of their young signal-caller.
The Titans dramatically overhauled the offensive line with the additions of guards Chance Warmack and Andy Levitre. Running back Chris Johnson still has the talent to be an elite running back, and he's officially out of excuses.
The defense has some holes, but there is plenty of improvement.
Freshly signed defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill is the sorely needed dike that will keep the flood of rushing yards at bay. Safety George Wilson, another offseason acquisition, will bolster the back line to put a cap on those big plays.
That's why everything will depend on Jake Locker taking the next step. If he can just be competent, the Titans will make a push for a wild-card spot.
The Detroit Lions teased their fans with a playoff appearance in 2011 before plummeting back to familiarity, but general manager Martin Mayhew did a great job of identifying the holes and addressing them accordingly.
For instance, the Lions desperately needed an upgrade at defensive end, so Mayhew drafted tantalizing prospect Ezekiel Ansah and inked Jason Jones and Israel Idonije. Now, the position could be viewed as a position of strength next to the best defensive tackle duo in the league.
The secondary also received a huge infusion of talent with the arrivals of Glover Quin and Darius Slay. The offense is stacked, just as it was in 2011.
Reggie Bush will be filling the Jahvid Best role, providing an explosive element and giving Matthew Stafford a home-run threat when he dumps off short passes. The biggest concern is whether the new starting tackles will be able to give Stafford enough time to find his bevy of playmakers.
Out of every team on this list, the Dallas Cowboys were the most difficult inclusion, and it's not because of the talent level—it's because of the coach.
Jason Garrett has taken a lot of heat for the team's failures, but the 2013 version has a chance to turn it all around. The franchise has accumulated enough talent that an inexperienced coach might not be enough to hold the Cowboys down.
The offense has plenty of playmakers, from Dez Bryant to Jason Witten to DeMarco Murray. Some may not agree, but Tony Romo is an excellent quarterback, as his 59 touchdowns over the last two years will attest.
Additionally, the defense doesn't get its due. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher is possibly the league's best-kept secret, and each level has at least two extremely talented game-changers.
Every year, someone predicts big things for the Cowboys. I'm not saying they'll win the Super Bowl, but they'll be an improved team.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs burned a lot of people last year by not capitalizing on what seemed to be a promising level of talent. Not that I'm bitter about it or anything...
But 2013 is a new year, and Romeo Crennel is no longer at the helm. That alone should give the franchise hope, and that hope could spark a dramatic turnaround in 2013.
New quarterback Alex Smith seems to be a perfect fit for Andy Reid's short-passing offense. Running backs Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster can turn those short passes into first downs, while wide receiver Dwayne Bowe keeps safeties busy down the field.
Defensive tackle Mike DeVito will love lining up next to Justin Houston, giving the talented linebacking corps more space to make plays. Meanwhile, as opposing offenses focus on beating the terrifying front seven, cornerback Brandon Flowers and safety Eric Berry will make quarterbacks pay for not keeping their eyes downfield.
The Chiefs likely won't surpass the Broncos for the division title, but they might challenge a team like the Indianapolis Colts for a wild-card spot.