Who's going from the outhouse to the penthouse in 2013?
One of the things that makes the NFL so enjoyable is parity. In no other league can a team go from being one of the worst to one of the best and vice versa. It's almost impossible to build a long-term plan with the volatility from season to season.
This season will be no different. There are four or five teams that are primed to make the playoffs after lackluster 2012 campaigns.
Here is where each team ranks in the league, with the teams who will bounce back in a major way this year.
1. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers addressed what was one of their biggest weaknesses in the offseason by drafting Eric Reid. He should fit in the defense very well. Michael Crabtree's injury is not good news. However, you wouldn't bet against Colin Kaepernick, and the combination of Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis should be more than enough to get the offense running smoothly.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Are we done having the Matt Ryan arguments? He's clearly one of the best quarterbacks in the league. His new contract was a great sign of confidence from the franchise. While Desmond Trufant may not have been the best player available, he's a much-needed upgrade to the secondary. It's going to be fun watching the NFC title up for grabs.
3. Green Bay Packers
Bryan Bulaga looks to be out for the season, according to Pro Football Talk, (h/t Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network), which is obviously a huge loss for the passing game.
You still back Aaron Rodgers to do well, and the Packers have done a lot this offseason to help out the running game. Johnathan Franklin and Eddie Lacy are great additions. Along with Bulaga's injury, defense could be a hindrance. Regardless, this is still one of the best teams in the league.
4. Denver Broncos
It’s going to be hard for Peyton Manning to regain his form of 2012. Sure, we’re talking about one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game, but we’re also talking about a 37-year-old QB. Sooner or later, you’re going to see some regression. There’s also Von Miller’s possible four-game suspension and the departure of Elvis Dumervil on the defensive end.
5. Baltimore Ravens
Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger are all tough losses for the Baltimore Ravens. They were necessary moves in order to reinvigorate the Ravens defense. Joe Flacco solidified himself as an elite quarterback in 2012, and while his contract is probably a bit inflated, he should continue to be a top player in 2013.
6. Seattle Seahawks
Percy Harvin's injury is a major question mark. It won't stop the Seattle Seahawks from being one of the best teams in the league, but it does keep them from being the best team in the league. Seattle's defense was superb last year, and Russell Wilson is only going to get better. With Harvin out, though, it's hard seeing the Seahawks have enough to lift the Lombardi Trophy.
7. New England Patriots
Tom Brady is an ageless wonder. Even at 36 years old, you still expect him to be one of the league's best quarterbacks. If there's one franchise that can move past what has been a tumultuous offseason, it's New England. The Patriots always seem to find different ways to win and unearth gems every offseason. Who knows? Bill Belichick will probably turn Tim Tebow into a Pro Bowl tight end.
8. Houston Texans
Everybody knows the Houston Texans can get it done in the regular season. There's no doubt how good the Texans are in the first 16 games of the season. When the postseason starts, though, something happens to Houston, especially Matt Schaub. Until the team makes a deep playoff run, that issue will continue to linger.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
This could very well be the make-or-break season for Andy Dalton. He’s now had two postseasons to forget. On the whole, Dalton has been a steady, if unspectacular quarterback. The question is whether or not he’s good enough to be the signal-caller on a Super Bowl-caliber team.
With A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu at wide receiver and the addition of Tyler Eifert, all signs point to a huge season for Dalton. He needs one if the Cincinnati Bengals are going to take the next step.
10. Indianapolis Colts
Just how good can Andrew Luck be in 2013? You knew he'd be a good player in his rookie season, but you didn't know he'd be as good as he was. Luck needed one season to become a top 10 QB. On the other side of the ball, Robert Mathis and Bjoern Werner will make up for the loss of Dwight Freeney.
11. New York Giants
The New York Giants are one of those teams that you can never really predict where they'll finish. Right when they look like Super Bowl contenders, they finished with a marginal record. When they go into or start the season badly, they win the whole thing. With Eli Manning you don't want to bet against them too much, even after what was an underwhelming draft.
12. Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin III is coming along well in training camp. Until he suits up for the regular season, you can't truly know how he'll be after his injury. Adrian Peterson's rehabilitation is the exception rather than the rule.
There's no guarantee RG3 will be as explosive a quarterback he was before going down. Even with a less-than-perfect Griffin, the Washington Redskins should still be contenders in the NFC East.
13. Chicago Bears
The offensive line should be better in 2013, so that's welcome news for Jay Cutler. The NFC North is up in the air, especially with the injury to Bryan Bulaga. The Chicago Bears are good enough to get the division title, but there are issues with the defense. It could be another frustrating year for Cutler.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers have an aging defense that looks to be over the hill. You could have said the exact same thing about the Baltimore Ravens last year. Drafting Jarvis Jones was a masterstroke. There will be enough left in the tank for the Steelers to make one more major push before really having to overhaul the team.
15. Minnesota Vikings
It says a lot about the Minnesota Vikings that Adrian Peterson can run for 2,000 yards, yet they struggle to make the playoffs. Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson will be a boost for Christian Ponder, and if he struggles in 2013, it will be about the time to pull the plug on the Ponder experiment. Replacing Antoine Winfield is also an area of concern.
16. Dallas Cowboys
Every year, it's the same thing with the Dallas Cowboys. They will go just about as far as Tony Romo can take them. Monte Kiffin's 4-3 defense should be a help, but this is a Cowboys team that is bereft of a ton of star players. They'll be lucky to make the postseason.
17. New Orleans Saints
The Saints defense has to be better from last year, right? New Orleans couldn't possibly set the record for yards allowed again, can they? Given their improvement defensively, the Saints will be much better off with Sean Payton actually coaching again. The defense won't be good enough to push New Orleans into the elite category, though.
18. St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams are emerging as one of the best teams in the league. Sam Bradford got his career back on track in 2012 and looks again like he was worth the top overall pick. The biggest plus for the Rams, though, is their front seven. They look like they'll be able to harass the quarterback on just about every play, especially after the selection of Alec Ogletree.
19. Kansas City Chiefs
Talk about going from worst to first. The Kansas City Chiefs could literally do that in 2013. It's shocking what one offseason can do to a franchise. The Chiefs went from hopeless in 2012 to being a legitimate playoff contender in 2013.
It started with the hiring of Andy Reid and continued with Alex Smith's arrival. Smith is not an elite quarterback, but he's proven himself in the playoffs. He's good enough given the weapons around him. Re-signing Dwayne Bowe was a bit of a surprise given how the situation between him and the Chiefs looked untenable.
Kansas City has also made its secondary better. Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson will really help out, and Eric Berry is only going to get better. The Chiefs are going to take a huge leap this year.
20. Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins have done a lot right this season. They may have overpaid a bit for Mike Wallace. Sometimes you have to do that, though, and he really helps the passing game. Wallace is the home-run threat the Dolphins offense so badly needed last season. Ryan Tannehill had a sneaky good 2012, and with Wallace in the fold, he should thrive in 2013.
On the defensive end, Dion Jordan was a great pick in the first round. He'll turn out to be one of the best players to come out of the 2013 draft. Jordan is a tremendous athlete who offers a lot of versatility. It was a great bit of work from the team to move up and take him with the sixth pick.
The AFC East is a weak division from top to bottom. The Dolphins have a great opportunity to make a major push in 2013.
21. Carolina Panthers
Drafting Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei was a great move and should finally give the Carolina Panthers the All-Pro-caliber defensive tackle they've needed for the last four or five years.
In regards to Carolina as a whole, the question is whether 2013 will see the Panthers play like they did in the first half or the second half. If it's the latter, this could be a playoff team, which will be extremely tough in a stacked AFC South
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It doesn't say a lot about Josh Freeman that the Buccaneers drafted Mike Glennon. Freeman no doubt taken a step back or possibly laterally since his second season. He needs to emerge as the franchise QB, or the Buccaneers are going to be hovering near .500 again.
23. San Diego Chargers
Max Starks is no doubt an upgrade at left tackle, but the bigger issue could be Philip Rivers. He remains an inconsistent quarterback and is only getting older. Can he still be the kind of leader to take the Chargers forward? Don't bet on it, as San Diego puts together another up-and-down season.
24. Arizona Cardinals
Bruce Arians was a great hire for Arizona. He's a brilliant offensive mind and should immediately turn around what was an average Cardinals offense last season. In order to improve, though, the Cards need to force some turnovers. They only had a turnover margin of minus-one last year, so they'll have to make more big plays on the defensive end.
25. Cleveland Browns
Sleep on the Cleveland Browns all you want. This is a team that could have very easily finished 7-9 or 8-8 last season. If that would've happened, you're talking about a completely different situation in Cleveland.
The team laid down a marker with their offseason moves. Paul Kruger was a great pickup, and Barkevious Mingo, while limited, will be a threat coming off the edge. Defense won't be a huge issue in 2013.
The Browns will struggle to win the AFC North, but a winning record is not outside the realm of possibility. Brandon Weeden or Jason Campbell would be a good enough quarterback for what is a young, promising offense.
26. Detroit Lions
With as much talent as they have, the Detroit Lions should finish much better than the cellar of the NFL. With a 4-12 record in 2012, there's definitely nowhere to go but up. Until they can show some improvement defensively and show some consistency, this is a team you can't fully get behind.
27. Philadelphia Eagles
College coaches have a suspect run when getting to the NFL. For every Jimmy Johnson and Jim Harbaugh, you've got a Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino, Butch Davis and Dennis Erickson. Especially given Chip Kelly's offensive style at Oregon, you have to wonder how well he'll be able to translate collegiate success to the pros.
28. Tennessee Titans
So much of the Tennessee Titans' success hinges on Jake Locker. That's not necessarily a good thing. Although 2013 will be the first time Locker is really handed the reins, the evidence so far suggests that he's not going to become a franchise-type player.
29. New York Jets
Whether it's Geno Smith or Mark Sanchez, the New York Jets will struggle. They're a mess on both sides of the ball, and there's little hope for 2012. The picture tweeted out by SportsNation just about sums up where the Jets are right now.
30. Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders have reached the stage where until they are actually a winning team, you'll never believe they can be one. Matt Flynn is a good addition and should be much better than Carson Palmer. There are concerns at so many other positions, though.
31. Buffalo Bills
Having your starting quarterback hurt his knee while slipping on a rubber mat is not a good way to start the season. EJ Manuel was a bit of a head-scratcher, and few had him penciled in as a starter for 2013. He’s more of a long-term project. Even if Kolb doesn’t miss significant time, the Buffalo Bills will have a lot of problems this year.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars are taking steps forward with the hiring of Gus Bradley as head coach and David Caldwell as general manager. What the Jaguars have in mind, though, goes beyond success in 2013. This is a team that has a lot of issues, namely Blaine Gabbert. This won’t be a good team, but fans will be happy to see some improvement over 2012.