Predicting NFL's Biggest Win-Loss Turnarounds in 2014

Kristopher KnoxFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2014

Predicting NFL's Biggest Win-Loss Turnarounds in 2014

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The NFL landscape is fluid. Each year, it seems at least one powerhouse suffers a serious slide while previous basement dwellers fight their way to an impressive turnaround.

    This coming season is likely to be no different. Today we will examine five teams that appear poised for a major improvement in the win-loss department.

    Each team will be marked for improvement based on offseason roster and coaching moves, the current state of that team's division and health in situations where injuries seriously impacted performance the previous season.

    Teams will then be ranked based on potential win-total improvement.

5. Cleveland Browns

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 4-12

    Projected 2014 Record: 8-8



    The Cleveland Browns have only finished .500 or better twice since 1999, but a four-win improvement to 8-8 is a reasonable goal for the franchise.

    Most of the offseason chatter surrounding the Browns has been focused on the quarterback battle between journeyman Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel. Either player will likely be an improvement over the Browns' last first-round QB, Brandon Weeden, who went just 5-15 as a starter in his two years with the team.

    However, Cleveland's greatest chance for success will come from fielding a smothering defense and a consistent rushing attack.

    New head coach Mike Pettine is a defensive-minded coach who inherits the league's ninth-ranked defense (332.4 yards per game allowed last season). During the offseason, the Browns added marquee players like Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby to the unit and drafted Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert in the first round.

    The team's 27th-ranked rushing attack (86.4 yards per game) should be greatly improved by the additions of Ben Tate and rookie Terrance West in the backfield.

    This gives Cleveland the potential to field a top-five defense and a strong ground game, which will give the team a fighting chance in the physical AFC North. Unless the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are able to greatly improve as well (each team went 8-8 last season), the Browns should have an opportunity to make some real noise within the division.

    The wild card here is the status of star receiver Josh Gordon, who is currently facing a season-long ban, per The Associated Press (via USA Today). Gordon led the NFL with 1,646 yards receiving a season ago, and the Cleveland receiving corps is relatively unimpressive without him.

    Pushing for a wild-card spot isn't out of the question for Cleveland, especially if Gordon avoids missing the entire season.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 4-12

    Projected 2014 Record: 8-8



    One of the biggest reasons to get excited about the potential improvement of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the addition of new head coach Lovie Smith. Not only does Smith have experience with the organization (he served as linebackers coach from 1996 to 2000), but he brings with him much-needed playoff and Super Bowl experience.

    The Bucs also signed journeyman quarterback Josh McCown via free agency and subsequently named him their starting quarterback for the upcoming season. McCown brings his own experience and should help solidify the quarterback position for at least the short term.

    In fact, McCown may have a chance to really thrive in Tampa.

    Thanks in large part to the presence of playmaking receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, McCown tossed 13 touchdowns with just one interception in eight games for the Chicago Bears last season. The Buccaneers drafted 6'5" receiver Mike Evans in the first round of May's draft to pair with Vincent Jackson. This should give McCown a similarly talented duo to target with his new team.

    The Buccaneers also drafted tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins out of Washington, which should give the team another capable pass-catcher and solid red-zone target.

    Upgrading the passing attack should greatly increase Tampa's chances for success, as the team ranked last in the NFL in that category last season (176.3 yards per game).

    The Buccaneers defense was a middle-of-the-pack unit a season ago, ranking 17th in yards allowed with 348.0 per game. The free-agent addition of pass-rusher Michael Johnson should help, but the Buccaneers will have plenty of chances to win as long as the defense plays well enough to keep the team in games. 

    Having running back Doug Martin back in the fold should also be a tremendous boon. Martin appeared in just six games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Martin has already been medically cleared and should be back to 100 percent by the regular season.

    Pushing for a playoff spot isn't out of the question for the Buccaneers, but tough NFC South opponents such as the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers may keep the team on the outside at season's end.

3. Atlanta Falcons

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 4-12

    Projected 2014 Record: 9-7



    The Atlanta Falcons reached the postseason for three consecutive years before stumbling to a 4-12 record last season. Atlanta has an opportunity to get back into the playoff mix in 2014 but, like the Buccaneers, may be left just outside the cutoff line.

    Unlike Tampa Bay, the Falcons know what they have at under center. Even though he rated just 14th overall among quarterbacks at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Matt Ryan is an established, franchise-caliber quarterback.

    Atlanta has no questions at the game's most important position.

    The difficult part for the Falcons will be trying to improve a defense that allowed 27.7 points (27th in the league) and 135.8 yards rushing (31st) per game last season. Bringing in free-agent defensive tackle Paul Soliai and drafting defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman should at least help make the Falcons defense more stout up front.

    The Falcons should be able to improve their rushing attack, which ranked dead last in the NFL last season (77.9 yards per game). Steven Jackson should begin the season healthy, and the team added Florida State standout Devonta Freeman in the fourth round of May's draft. The free-agent addition of guard Jon Asamoah should not be overlooked.

    If the defense and rushing attack can show improvement, the Falcons should have a chance to push for a playoff spot thanks to the strength of their passing attack.

    Part of the team's struggles last season stemmed from the foot injury that ended wideout Julio Jones' season after just five games. According to Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today, the former Alabama star plans to be ready for the opening week of the regular season.

    This means the talented pass-catching trio of Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas should be available right out of the gate. Also, promising rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews should help ensure Ryan has the time to attack downfield.

    Unfortunately, it will still be difficult for Atlanta to surpass the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. However, the NFC South is unpredictable—a team has never won back-to-back NFC South division titles—so anything is possible.

2. Houston Texans

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 2-14

    Projected 2014 Record: 8-8



    After reaching back-to-back postseasons, the Houston Texans stumbled in a disappointing 2013 campaign. This was largely due to two key factors.

    The first problem was inconsistent quarterback play.

    Long-time starter Matt Schaub set a new NFL record early in the season by throwing a pick-six in four consecutive games. He tossed 14 interceptions in total during eight starts (10 total games), and his struggles led to Case Keenum and T.J. Yates also seeing time at quarterback.

    While offseason acquisition Ryan Fitzpatrick (77.5 career passer rating) might not be a long-term solution at the quarterback position, new head coach Bill O'Brien seems to believe he is better than what the team had last season. O'Brien recently named Fitzpatrick the starter over rookie fourth-round pick Tom Savage.

    Meanwhile, the Texans traded Schaub to the Oakland Raiders during the offseason.

    The other problem for Houston in 2013 was the back injury that caused playmaking running back Arian Foster to miss half the season. Foster has already returned to practice and appears healthy, at least according to left tackle Duane Brown, via Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle.

    Even a small improvement in the passing game should allow the Texans to edge toward contention, so long as Foster is back at 100 percent and the defense plays up to its potential.

    Houston ranked seventh in the league in total defense a season ago (317.6 yards per game allowed) and added freakish pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. The defense should again be a major strength of the team, and there is top-three potential for the unit.

    The Texans might be able to surpass the eight-win mark, especially considering the AFC South is far from a powerhouse division. However, the team is no lock for a playoff spot, mostly because some uncertainty remains at the quarterback position.

    The wild card here is star receiver Andre Johnson, who has been staying away from offseason activities as a show of displeasure with the franchise.

1. Washington Redskins

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 3-13

    Projected 2014 Record: 9-7



    The Washington Redskins match the Texans with a projected six-win improvement, and they earn the top spot on our list because 9-7 would put them squarely in playoff contention.

    The potential is there for the Redskins to again reach the postseason, as the team won the NFC East only a year before last season's train-wreck campaign.

    The biggest problem for Washington last season was the drop-off in performance from quarterback Robert Griffin III. Griffin saw his combined touchdown total drop from 27 to 16 and his passer rating tumble from 102.4 to 82.2, as the previous season's knee injury clearly limited him.

    He eventually retreated to the bench in favor of backup Kirk Cousins.

    According to USA Today's Jim Corbett, Griffin is now without the bulky knee brace he sported last season and looks like a "completely different player." This means we should see at least some of the magic that helped Griffin lead Washington to the playoffs in his inaugural NFL campaign.

    The addition of wide receiver DeSean Jackson should certainly help Griffin as he looks to rebound.

    The Washington defense, which ranked 18th overall last season (354.1 yards per game allowed), should see a boost from free-agent defensive lineman Jason Hatcher and rookie second-round linebacker Trent Murphy. Hatcher recently underwent surgery but is only expected to miss four to six weeks.

    As long as Griffin and the offense can hold up their end of the bargain, the defense shouldn't be under as much pressure as last season, when offensive points were relatively difficult to come by.

    While the Philadelphia Eagles will look to build on last year's playoff season, the division appears to be in a state of flux. The New York Giants went just 7-9 last season, and the Dallas Cowboys have myriad roster questions, including the health of starting quarterback Tony Romo. There is no truly dominant team in the bunch.

    This means the Redskins should have as a good a chance as any team to compete within the division. The wild card here is new head coach Jay Gruden, who may try to sprinkle some of his Arena League-inspired tactics into the offense.