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Ranking the Top 10 One-Year Turnarounds in NFL History

Kristopher KnoxFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2014

Ranking the Top 10 One-Year Turnarounds in NFL History

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Now that the 2013-14 NFL season is officially over, it is time to look ahead to the offseason.

    Fans of the Seattle Seahawks will spend their time basking in the knowledge that their team is unquestionably the best in the league. All other fans will simply hope that their teams spend the next few months putting the pieces together for a better run next year.

    While the NFL prides itself on parity, the reality is that not every team will be competitive in 2014. However, fans can still hang onto the hope that their team, no matter how bad it was last season, can have a chance to chase the Lombardi Trophy.

    One-year turnarounds might be a rarity in the National Football League, but we have seen plenty of recent examples. Just this past season, the Kansas City Chiefs improved their win total by an incredible nine games from the year before.

    Who will be next year's surprise turnaround team? That's a little difficult to determine at this point in the offseason.

    What we can determine is which team ranks as the greatest one-year turnaround of past years. Over the next few slides, we will take a look back at the 10 best.

    While every team on this list accomplished something remarkable, each entry will be ranked based on total win improvement, postseason results and long-term success.

     

1976 New England Patriots

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    Associated Press

    11-3, Lost in Divisional Round (3-11 in 1975)

    The Boston/New England Patriots did not produce a winning season from 1965-75, but they managed to close out the latter decade with some relative success.

    New England produced an eight-win improvement in 1976 and made an appearance in the postseason for the first time since losing the AFL title game, 51-10, to the San Diego Chargers following the 1963 season. 

    While the Patriots did not manage to win another postseason contest until 1985, the '76 campaign did start a stretch of winning seasons that lasted for five consecutive years. 

     

1975 Baltimore Colts

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    10-4, Lost in Divisional Round (2-12 in 1974)

    The Baltimore Colts suffered through a horrendous three-year stretch from 1972-74, winning just 11 games in that span.

    The suffering came to an end in 1975, when the Colts produced an eight-win improvement and eanred a trip to the postseason. 

    The improvement was good enough to earn Ted Marchibroda Coach of the Year honors and to bring Baltimore an AFC East division title.

    The campaign sparked a three-year run during which the Colts did not miss the postseason, though the team did not win a playoff game in that span, either. 

1963 Oakland Raiders

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    Associated Press

    10-4 (1-13 in 1962)

    1963 was a notable year for the Raiders' organization for a number of reasons, most notably Year 1 of the Al Davis era.

    After winning just a single game in 1962, the Raiders rebounded with a new look (silver and black) and an exciting new offense.

    A nine-win improvement was good enough to earn second place in the AFL West and to earn Davis the AFL's Coach of the Year award.

    Four years later, Oakland would appear in the Super Bowl, and the future of the Raiders' organization, the AFL and the world of football would never be the same. 

1988 Cincinnati Bengals

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    Reed Saxon/Associated Press

    14-4, Lost Super Bowl XXIII (4-12 in 1987)

    While the Cincinnati Bengals have never really produced a football dynasty to speak of, the team did manage to make a pair of Super Bowl appearances during the 1980s.

    Their last appearance came in 1988, a year after the team suffered through a disastrous four-win campaign.

    Quarterback Julius "Boomer" Esiason took home NFL MVP honors during the regular season and nearly led the team to a Super Bowl title.

    Unfortunately, Cincinnati fell short against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII, and the franchise has won just one playoff game since. 

2012 Indianapolis Colts

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    11-5, Lost in Wild Card Round (2-14 in 2011)

    What a difference a quarterback makes.

    With starter Peyton Manning sidelined for the entire 2011 season, the Indianapolis Colts stumbled to a 2-14 record. Of course, the bad record allowed the Colts to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck first overall in the ensuing draft.

    The 2012 Colts rallied around Luck and new head coach Chuck Pagano, who spent much of the season battling Leukemia. Riding behind the battle cry of "Chuck Strong," Indianapolis made a nine-win improvement and earned a spot in the playoffs.

    Though the Colts lost their playoff opener, 24-9, to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, the team won an AFC South title this past season, and the future for the organization appears very bright.  

2013 Kansas City Chiefs

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    11-5, Lost in Wild Card Round (2-14 in 2012)

    Perhaps, the most remarkable aspect of the Kansas City Chiefs' 2013 campaign is the way it began.

    After winning just two games in 2012, the Chiefs brought in veteran head coach Andy Reid and journeyman quarterback Alex Smith in order to help instill a new culture.

    The plan got off to a remarkable start, as Kansas City doubled its previous win total by the end of the first month and went on to win its first nine games of the season.

    Unfortunately, the Chiefs went on to lose five of their final seven games and missed out on a home playoff game and a possible first-round bye. Forced to travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts, the Chiefs lost in a wild contest, 45-44.

2008 Miami Dolphins

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    11-5, Lost in Wild Card Round (1-15 in 2007)

    The 2008 Miami Dolphins are an interesting addition to our list because of the unconventional way they found to turn things around.

    Faced with a roster relatively devoid of playmaking talent (they did win just one game the season before), new team vice president Bill Parcells and head coach Tony Sparano turned to the unconventional to increase the win total.

    In case you have forgotten, 2008 was the year of the Wildcat offense in Miami. With running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown running over opponents, the Dolphins raced to a 10-win improvement and an AFC East division title.

    The unsung hero of the offense was Chad Pennington, who passed for more than 3,500 yards and won Comeback Player of the Year honors for the second time of his career. 

    This team could have gone down as one of the biggest turnaround teams in league history, but the Dolphins were dominated by the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs and have not made a return trip to the postseason since.

2004 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    GENE J. PUSKAR/Associated Press

    15-1, Lost AFC Championship Game (6-10 in 2003)

    Putting together a disappointing campaign in 2003 may have actually been one of the best things to happen to the Pittsburgh Steelers' organization in recent memory.

    Their record allowed the Steelers to select Miami (Ohio) University quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick of the 2004 draft.

    Roethlisberger went on to lead the Steelers to a nine-win improvement, a franchise-best record and an appearance in the AFC title game. He also managed to take home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

    While the Steelers ultimately fell to the New England Patriots, 41-27, in the AFC Championship Game, the team went on to appear in three Super Bowls during the next six seasons, winning two. 

     

1999 Indianapolis Colts

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    ALAN DIAZ/Associated Press

    13-3, Lost in Divisional Round (3-13 in 1998)

    It is fairly safe to say that drafting quarterback Peyton Manning back in 1998 forever changed the Indianapolis Colts' franchise for the better. 

    However, that fact wasn't quite apparent until Manning's second season. As a rookie in 1998, Manning completed just 56.7 percent of his passes (the lowest total of his career) and tossed 28 interceptions. The Colts won just three games for the second consecutive season.

    Everything changed in 1999, as the Colts increased their win total by 10 and earned a first-round bye in the postseason.

    Indianapolis' season ended with a 19-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the playoffs. However, Manning and the Colts missed the postseason just once over the next 11 years and won a Super Bowl along the way.

1999 St. Louis Rams

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    DAVE MARTIN/Associated Press

    13-3, Won Super Bowl XXXIV (4-12 in 1998)

    Commonly referred to as the "Greatest Show on Turf," the 1999 St. Louis Rams also come in as our greatest single-season turnaround on our list.

    After winning a combined 15 games over the three previous seasons, St. Louis found a way to flip things around, especially on offense. With unknown quarterback Kurt Warner leading the charge, the Rams offense scored 30 or more points a remarkable 12 times during the regular season en route to an NFC West division title.

    Not only was the Rams team good enough to make a nine-win improvement during the regular season, but it was also good enough to take home an NFL title by defeating the Tennessee Titans, 23-16, in Super Bowl XXXIV.

    These Rams also found a way to sustain their success, making the postseason in four out of the next five seasons with another Super Bowl appearance after the 2001 season (lost 20-17 to the New England Patriots). 

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