For all but eight teams, the 2013-14 NFL season has reached its end.
For many teams, it is time to begin preparations for next year. There are roster moves to ponder, a pool of free agents to evaluate and a bevy of draft-eligible collegiate stars to get to know. With the new league year beginning on March 11, there is little time to waste.
For a handful of NFL franchises, however, there could be a little more at stake over the next few weeks.
We're talking about those teams in need of drastic changes, either along the depth chart or in the front office. You know, the teams about to enter the dreaded "rebuilding mode."
Fortunately, returning a franchise to relevance no longer requires a long, arduous process in today's NFL (think this year's Kansas City Chiefs team or the Indianapolis Colts a season ago). Some teams have at least a few key pieces in place and have the potential to make a quick turnaround.
These are the teams we will examine over the next few pages.
Since expectations and the definition of a "disappointing season" vary from franchise to franchise, we will only include teams that had a losing record in 2013 and that have made or are expected to make a change in the front office or at quarterback (sorry, Atlanta Falcons fans).
All statistics from NFL.com unless otherwise stated.
While the Detroit Lions finished the regular season 7-9, the team remained in the playoff hunt for much of the year. This is because the Lions have franchise-caliber players on both sides of the ball.
Detroit fields one of the league's most dangerous defensive lines, a top-end quarterback and a quality dynamic running back. Oh yeah, and they have some receiver named Calvin Johnson. He's pretty good.
What the Lions currently lack is a coaching staff with the ability to put all of these pieces together in order to win consistently.
Former head coach Jim Schwartz was given five years to assemble the puzzle, but produced a disappointing 29-48 record instead (including playoffs). This is why he was fired following the regular season.
Detroit has a lot of talent already in place and competes in a division that was won with an 8-7-1 record this past season (though quarterback injuries might have had a little something to do with things). Assuming the Lions' coaching search yields a competent candidate, the team should be back in the NFC North hunt as early as next season.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won just four games in 2013, which led to the firing of head coach Greg Schiano after just two seasons. Of course, Schiano did not do himself any favors with his handling of the Josh Freeman situation.
With a new head coach already in place, the Buccaneers could join the Lions as a team to make a quick return to contention. Lovie Smith, who was hired shortly after the end of the regular season, brings hope to the organization for a number of reasons.
He is a defensive-minded head coach and the Buccaneers—with top-notch players like Darrelle Revis and Gerald McCoy already in place—have the potential to field a very good defense (it ranked 17th, allowing 348 yards per game in 2013).
Smith also brings Super Bowl experience and he knows how to reach the post-season and succeed with a less-than-elite quarterback (no offense, Rex Grossman). This means that quarterback Mike Glennon, who posted a respectable 83.9 passer rating as a rookie, shouldn't have to carry the team if he wins the starting job next season.
Toss in the unpredictable nature of the NFC South (no team has ever won the division in consecutive seasons), and there is reason to believe the Buccaneers could be back in the playoff hunt in the very near future.
Like the Buccaneers, the Houston Texans moved quickly to hire their new head coach. Unlike in Tampa, however, a new head coach isn't the biggest reason Houston has to hope for a quick turnaround.
One only need look to the 2013 Texans season in order to understand just how big of a difference successful quarterback play makes for a team. Inconsistent play from the duo of Matt Schaub and Case Keenum caused the Texans to rake in the league's worst record a year after going 12-4 and winning the AFC South for the second consecutive season.
If new head coach Bill O'Brien can find the right signal-caller to lead the franchise, the team should be very close to returning to double-digit-win territory.
The Texans had the league's seventh-best defense in 2013 (317.6 yards per game allowed), and are not short on offensive talent. Guys like Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Owen Daniels and Arian Foster should make a new quarterback's life much easier.
With the first pick in the 2014 draft, O'Brien will likely be able to hand-pick just who that new quarterback will be.
What separates the Minnesota Vikings from the first three teams on our list is the fact that the Vikings do not have a franchise quarterback or head coach currently in place.
What Minnesota does have is a dominant rushing attack (ranked eighth in 2013, averaging 130.1 yards per game) and a team that has been to the playoffs in three of the past six seasons.
The new coaching staff will need to tighten things up on defense (the Vikings allowed a league-worst 30 points per game last season), but as long as running back Adrian Peterson remains healthy, the offense should be competitive.
The Vikings actually performed fairly well toward the end of the 2013 season (3-2 record over the final five weeks), with journeyman quarterback Matt Cassel playing at an average level.
Minnesota will have an opportunity to land a quarterback who can potentially play far above an average level with the eighth overall pick in May's draft. As long as the three other NFC North teams continue to beat each other up during the regular season (Minnesota actually tied or won half its division games in 2013), the Vikings should have a chance to compete next season.
The Cleveland Browns had more Pro Bowl players (five) than wins (four) in 2013, which is exactly the type of statistic that gets a head coach like Rob Chudzinski fired after just one season.
It is also an indication of the talent on the roster, which is why Cleveland makes a surprise appearance on our list.
Assuming the Browns decide to re-sign center Alex Mack, the team will return four offensive Pro Bowlers next season—including the league’s top receiver, Josh Gordon. This means that the next coaching staff and quarterback to come into town should both have plenty of toys.
The Browns also have a number of high draft picks, including seven in the first four rounds. This means additional talent should be on its way soon.
With two picks in the first round alone—including the fourth overall—Cleveland should have no trouble in at least landing its choice of quarterback.
Of course, the decision-makers on Lake Erie will have to get their coaching and quarterback choices right in order for any of this to matter.