"Taking the next step" is referring to teams that are knocking on the door to becoming an offensive threat in the NFL. The teams mentioned have done enough in the offseason to make themselves contenders and are no longer an easy pass on the schedule.
Regardless of how they finished last season, these are five teams that may just shock and surprise their critics this year.
Last year with the exception of return man Joshua Cribbs and running back Jerome Harrison, the Browns were just awful. Finishing dead last in overall yards and passing yards, the Browns cleaned house of both their young quarterbacks and brought in veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. Early reports indicate Delhomme has never looked better, healthier, or stronger in his attempt to return to relevance.
New president Mike Holmgren is rolling the dice on a pair of second round draft picks with Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie in the receiving core, but added established tight end Benjamin Watson in the passing game, and a power back out of Tennessee in the draft named Montario Hardesty.
With two new additions to the offensive line in Tony Pashos and Shawn Lauvao, the Browns could finally be contenders in the AFC North next year.
After breaking the bank for New England's backup quarterback Matt Cassel, skeptics were starting to question GM Scott Pioli's decisions. The additions of coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennell however has everyone leaping back onto the bandwagon. The NFL draft saw additions of utility-back Dexter McCluster, tight end Tony Moeaki, and offensive guard Jon Asamoah to the Chiefs weak offense, while free agent acquisition RB Thomas Jones should give breathers to incumbent starter Jamaal Charles.
Another year with the Chiefs should have Cassel back on track, since the additions placed around him should alleviate the need for him to do everything himself. Keeping pressure off Cassel is another huge key to Kansas City's success as he was knocked to the ground an amazing 42 times last season. While a postseason isn't in their immediate future, Charlie Weis should have the offense clicking this year.
We've only seen the tip of the iceberg with last year's No. 1 overall pick Matt Stafford. Stafford on paper didn't look that impressive, but his poise, leadership and arm strength on the field has given hope to Detroit fans around the country. With a year in the system, there's absolutely no reason to believe Stafford won't continue his development into inevitably a future Pro Bowl quarterback.
The Lions put together another solid draft, getting offensive line help with Miami OT Jason Fox, and California running back Jahvid Best. Best should work in a multi-back system with Maurice Morris and Kevin Smith, and even making a contention for offensive rookie of the year.
With a trio of running backs, Stafford has unlimited weapons at his fingertips, especially with tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler; and wide receivers Nate Burleson and Calvin Johnson. While it may sound odd saying it, the Lions may be building an offensive powerhouse in the coming years.
The criticism of former USC coach Pete Carroll came quickly after the announcement of his hiring by Seattle, but in a few short months he's done quite well in reloading the Seahawks roster. In the draft, they added the premier offensive tackle Russell Okung in the first round, a play-making wide receiver in Golden Tate in the second, and former USC tight end Anthony McCoy in the sixth.
Tate has drawn comparisons to New England's Wes Welker and should see a lot of action this season opposite of TJ Houshmandzadeh. Other weapons in Seattle's arsenal are newly acquired backs Leon Washington and LenDale White, who should be used in a multi-back system with Julius Jones and assumed starter Justin Forsett.
The key to Seattle taking the NFC West starts with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, while they also added Charlie Whitehurst and JP Losman as insurance, Hasselbeck has to get his interception numbers down if they want to win the division.
While the Texans offense last year averaged 24 points per game, the majority of those points came off the arm of Matt Schaub. Ranking first in the league in passing with 290 yards, they also ranked 30th in the league with a mere 92 yards.
Provided that second round running back Ben Tate is healthy by the start of the season, the Texans added the complimentary back they needed for Steve Slaton. If they do not have to rely on Schaub putting up 300 yards per game, they can eliminate the shootout scores, and in turn, allow the Texans to grind the clock out.
If the offensive line holds up and doesn't allow 25 sacks again, the Texans could very easily be a Wild Card contender in 2010.