As much as we try to believe otherwise, the NFL is an unstable, unpredictable minefield where last year's dunces often become this year's contenders.
Show of hands, who had the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts making the playoffs in 2012? Really, all of you? That's a sizable amount. Keep those hands up if you're also pathological liars. I thought so.
Lady Luck often guides a couple teams to glory, backing rookie Andrew Luck and the Colts to a sea of close victories. We can't predict those success stories, but there are teams just on the doorstep of contention.
There were at least tangible signs of the Seattle Seahawks making a splash after finishing 2011 with a losing record despite a positive point differential. Throw in raving reviews of Russell Wilson's training camp, and the writing was on the wall for Seattle to inflict some damage.
With some skill and perhaps a little luck, the following squads could transform a losing 2012 campaign into a winning season.
New Orleans Saints
As Sean Payton watched away from the sidelines, likely running up the score to 100 on Madden, the Saints tumbled to 7-9. It ended a four-year streak of reaching the postseason and marked their first sub-.500 season since 2007.
Drew Brees surpassed 5,000 passing yards and 40 passing touchdowns for the second straight year, but he could not hide an appalling defense that allowed a league-worst 440.1 total yards per contest while ranking 31st with 28.4 points allowed per game.
All New Orleans needs to win is a decent defense. If the Saints defense is not one of history's worst in 2013 and can produce some turnovers, they should at least reverse that 7-9 record and vie for a Wild Card berth.
Considering five of those losses came in single digits, it's not asking the world of New Orleans to gain two more wins.
Payton and the Saints will play the entire season with a chip on their shoulder to avenge their Bountygate treatment. Remember when the New England Patriots had something to prove after Spygate? Are you realizing that we need to stop titling every storyline with "-gate"?
It feels like an eternity since the Lions turned their franchise's onslaught of misfortunes around, finally producing a 10-win season that put an emerging young squad on the map.
Yet it occurred just two years ago, as Matthew Stafford finally stayed healthy and led the Lions to their first postseason appearance since 1999. In typical Lions fashion, a 4-12 letdown followed.
As bad as it looks for a team constantly forced to throw relentlessly while playing from behind, the numbers indicate that Detroit was not nearly as awful as the record suggests.
Despite placing 27th with 27.3 points allowed per game, Detroit's defense ranked 13th in terms of yards allowed. While the team certainly shouldn't brag about its minus-65 point differential for the season, the mark does not befit a 4-12 club. The NFL's other two 4-12 teams, the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles, posted point discrepancies of minus-153 and minus-164, respectively.
In need of a running back to bear some of the pressure alongside Stafford and Calvin Johnson, the Lions snagged Reggie Bush, whose pass-catching prowess makes him a perfect fit in a scheme that frequently employs the back in the receiving game.
The Lions easily could have broken even had some breaks gone their way. Look for them to veer around the .500 mark this season.
Dealt a rough hand aligned in the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns fought valiantly against their division rivals, splitting their series with the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers while losing twice to the Baltimore Ravens in single digits.
Moral victories count for little in the NFL, but hiring Norv Turner to run the offense should lift Cleveland's spirits in 2013.
The offense displayed during the preseason looked nothing like the Browns we've grown accustomed to watching. Brandon Weeden showed life in exhibition play, while Jordan Cameron excited Cleveland fans and fantasy football owners alike by grabbing two touchdowns.
Offered no help by a teetering passing attack and flawed offensive line, Trent Richardson limped to 3.6 yards per carry during his rookie season. If his teammates can clear some room for him in the aerial attack, Richardson should flourish during his sophomore campaign, turning an abysmal offense into a capable unit.
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