A Look into the Future for Every NFL Team

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2012

A Look into the Future for Every NFL Team

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    The 2012 NFL season is almost a quarter of the way complete, and the once-blurry lines between good and bad teams are slowly starting to come into focus. 

    What's amazing about the NFL is that nothing is ever guaranteed, and the future is always an unknown. Things from year to year are never as horrible as they seem for some, while teams riding high can be humbled in the matter of a year. 

    Take the New Orleans Saints for example. Coming off a 13-3 season in 2011, who could have accurately predicted that the Saints would start the 2012 season at 0-3? Or the Arizona Cardinals, an 8-8 team in 2011, would start 2012 at a pristine 3-0?

    Predicting how the fate of each team will change every year can be a daunting task, and predicting the next five or more years is next to impossible. 

    Still, when observed closely, there are clear trends developing for every team. Let's take a look into the future of all 32 NFL teams.

Arizona Cardinals

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    The Arizona Cardinals are the surprise team of the early 2012 season, but does the roster have the talent and depth to keep things moving in a positive direction?

    Quarterback Kevin Kolb has been a decent surprise after costing the organization a hefty amount, but the real story here is an elite defensive unit that most NFL fans couldn't name more than five members of. 

    Stock watch: On the rise

    The Cardinals have a young roster in place to go along with a stellar coaching staff, which means Arizona is on the rise. A return to the Super Bowl may not be imminent, but things are looking much better than the recent past. 

    Players of the future: Michael Floyd, WR and Patrick Peterson, CB

    Rookie receiver Floyd is going to end up being a game-changer for the Cardinals over the course of the next five years. He's big, physical and catches anything thrown his way. Learning from Larry Fitzgerald helps. 

    Peterson is quickly becoming an elite cornerback, not to mention he is arguably the best kick returner in all of football. He'll earn a massive pay day, but an elite corner changes the entire complexion of a defense. Just ask the New York Jets. 


    The Cardinals are going to be in the divisional hunt for the foreseeable future. Quarterback will remain an issue, but the rest of the roster is talented enough to keep them in the race each year.

Atlanta Falcons

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    So far the Atlanta Falcons appear to be an elite team, which makes sense considering the stellar offensive weapons on the roster and a surprising defensive unit. Matt Ryan is the real deal, and when a team has a gifted quarterback like him, the sky is the limit. 

    Stock watch: Surging

    The Falcons are a young team too, and the only weakness on the offensive side of things appears to be in the running game. There's currently no reason to believe the Falcons will not be competitive for quite some time. 

    Players of the future: Julio Jones, WR and Sean Weatherspoon, LB

    Ryan is obviously a player of the future for Atlanta, but not many teams can boast having an elite weapon at the receiver position even close to Jones. He's already one of the best in the league, and his skill set will only expand. 

    Weatherspoon is not a household name yet, but he deserves to be. He's borderline elite in almost all facets of the game, and his youth is something that should keep Falcons fans encouraged about the progress of the defense. 


    Atlanta is not going to stop competing for divisional crowns any time soon. It's a safe bet that the embarrassing postseason losses will come to an end as well with Ryan looking to finally have turned the corner. Super Bowl contention is not out of the question in the near future. 

Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens are off to another hot start in 2012, which should not surprise anyone given the success of the franchise since entering the league. Ray Lewis is still chugging along, but the thing holding together the Ravens now is the offense. 

    Stock watch: Hovering

    Saying the Ravens' stock is the same as always is not a bad thing. The roster has a perfect blend of experience and youth, which means it is being built for the future and will continue to contend as long as correct personnel decisions are made. 

    Players of the future: Ray Rice, RB and Lardarius Webb, CB

    Rice is what makes the Baltimore offense tick, and he's the best back in the league. Joe Flacco is important, but opposing defenses' fear of Rice is what allows Flacco to look great. 

    Webb is arguably the best corner in the league right now, and yet another example of what makes the Ravens so great. He was a small-school pick in the draft, but is now their best defensive player. 


    The Ravens are going to continue to do more of the same, which is competing for the division and Super Bowl. That's not going to change any time soon. 

Buffalo Bills

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    The Buffalo Bills made a big splash in the offseason by bringing in some big names like Mario Williams, and that has translated to some early-season success. However, Buffalo continues to be one of the harder teams to judge each week. 

    Stock watch: Hovering

    The Bills have not done enough to be true contenders yet, and knocking off the New England Patriots still seems like a long way down the road. Things are slowly looking up, but that hinges on the team finding a legitimate quarterback.

    Players of the future: C.J. Spiller, RB and Marcell Dareus, DT

    Spiller finally had a breakout start to a season in 2012, and it appears as if he is here to stay. He has the ability to be one of the better running backs in the league should the Bills be able to pay him when the time comes. 

    Dareus is a disruptive force on the interior of the defensive line for the Bills, and he is only going to get better. He'll be a main cog on the defensive front for a very long time.


    Buffalo will continue to be unpredictable despite all of the talent on the roster. Hovering around 8-8 or 9-7 most seasons is not out of the question, with a divisional crown sprinkled in every now and then for good measure. 

Carolina Panthers

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    While Cam Newton is still a member of the Carolina Panthers, the organization will continue to be relevant. 2012 has not been kind thus far, but Newton will be able to turn things around as the season wears on.

    Stock watch: Surging

    The Panthers have two stellar backs to pair with Newton and a defense that should continue to get better as long as the correct decisions are made when it comes to drafting and free agency. 

    Players of the future: Cam Newton, QB and Luke Kuechly, LB

    Newton is already one of the most popular players in the league, and after his historic rookie year, it is hard to imagine he will regress. It won't always be perfect, but he'll lead his team to victory more often than not. 

    Kuechly has been far from perfect so far, but he has all the skills to play in the NFL at a high level for a very long time. It may take some time, but Kuechly will soon be the most important player on the defense. 


    Carolina will be right up there with Atlanta fighting for the division for the foreseeable future, and Newton vs. Ryan will be one of the better rivalries in the league. Newton will lead the team to multiple playoff appearances in the next few years, but no championships. 

Chicago Bears

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    The Bears have had quite the 2012 campaign to date. Jay Cutler is as lovable or hateable as ever depending on who you ask, but it is hard to get a read on what direction the team is truly heading. 

    Stock watch Hovering

    Chicago has a good thing going on offense, except where it matters most—along the line. The team is aging defensively, but this is the making of a solid roster for at least a few more years.

    Players of the future: Jay Cutler, QB and Shea McClellin, DE

    Like it or not, Cutler is going to ultimately decide how the Bears do for the next five years. He's streaky and has a horrible attitude, but he has enough weapons around him to find success. 

    McClellin may very well turn out to be the best pass-rusher to come out of the 2012 draft. He's made an impact already, and one has to think he can get a lot better while learning from Julius Peppers.


    It's hard to see the Bears having success down the road, unless there are some massive changes in which players are brought in and where. They're an 8-8 team for the foreseeable future, especially in the NFC North. 

Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Cincinnati Bengals have had quite the journey over the past five years, but it appears as if some consistency may finally be on the way. 2012 has been kind to the team so far, but we'll see how they respond when the schedule gets much tougher in the coming weeks. 

    Stock watch: Surging

    Cincinnati is on the rise in a big way, with young talent at almost every position. The front office has done a great job of bringing in the correct players for what they are trying to accomplish, and the roster is built to last as a result.

    Players of the future: A.J. Green, WR and Geno Atkins, DT

    The popular pick here would be Andy Dalton, but without Green, we would be singing a different song about Dalton. Green is top five at his position and is critical to the success of the team. 

    Atkins is a top-five interior lineman in the NFL, and it shows on every play. He's disruptive and makes those around him better while the offense focuses on shutting him down. 


    With the way the Bengals are built, they should be able to compete for the division for the next five years. The first playoff victory in over 20 years should not be out of the question, either. Beyond that is unpredictable given how things happen in Cincinnati. 

Cleveland Browns

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    The Cleveland Browns are starting over once again, and the result so far has been about the same as all the other times. Brandon Weeden and Co. are struggling to mesh properly, and the roster is not talented enough to compete yet. 

    Stock watch: Hovering

    Hovering for the Browns is not a good thing. Not at all. There are a few outstanding players on the roster, but the rest are mediocre. Things won't change in Cleveland until upper management is serious about winning.

    Players of the future: Trent Richardson, RB and Joe Haden, CB

    Richardson is the player who is going to make the offense click for potentially the next decade. He's already shown flashes of being an elite back; the Browns simply have to protect him and not run him into the ground because he is all they have. 

    Haden is an elite defensive back, and that is not going to change. He's solid in all aspects of the position and is the type of player you can build a franchise around. 


    The next five years won't be kind to the Browns. Having a 28-year-old rookie quarterback is not helping things. There are going to be a few more do-overs in Cleveland before it finds sustained success. 

Dallas Cowboys

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    The Dallas Cowboys have started 2012 off in a strong manner, but that's not a surprise. It's down the stretch that is impossible to predict for the 'Boys. Jerry Jones will have you think it's now or never, but the roster is looking good. 

    Stock watch: On the rise

    Dallas has a nice mix of veteran leadership and youth going right now. What it does with it will be interesting to see. The offense is sound and the defense is disruptive.

    Players of the future: Dez Bryant, WR and Morris Claiborne, CB

    Bryant is an elite wide receiver when he is actually on the field and not in trouble. He has all the physical tools to be the best receiver in the game, he just has to keep his head on straight.

    Claiborne was the highest corner picked in the 2012 draft for a reason. While not overly impressive yet, he has what it takes to be one of the best in the league, and fans should expect nothing less. 


    The Cowboys are finally approaching where they want to be. Contending for Super Bowls for the next couple seasons is not out of the question. Success in Dallas will last as long as Tony Romo does, but for the next five years, things are looking good. 

Denver Broncos

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    The Denver Broncos elected to take a huge gamble with Peyton Manning, but so far that risk has been a failure. Things will likely turn around in 2012, but Manning is a short-term answer to a big problem. 

    Stock watch: Falling

    The Broncos are not a bad team with Manning under center, but how much longer he can be effective is hard to say. Things look good defensively, but on offense there aren't many major playmakers to speak of once Manning leaves. 

    Players of the future: Demaryius Thomas, WR and Von Miller, LB

    Thomas is a threat on every down and should make the transition away from Manning easier. He can beat teams deep or over the middle if asked to do so. 

    Miller is one of the better pass-rushers in the league in only his second season, and his disruptive ability will be key for the Broncos defensively. With Miller in the fold, the Broncos could build one of the better units in the league. 


    Manning won't lead the team to a Super Bowl this year, and the postseason is even in question moving forward. When Manning hangs up the cleats, the Broncos are in some serious trouble. 

Detroit Lions

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    The Detroit Lions are built to last, but 2012 has been a struggle so far for the team. There is an elite offense in place, but there needs to be some major work done on the defense. 

    Stock watch: Hovering

    The Lions have been rising in the past few seasons, but we may be seeing them at their peak now. They can keep up with anyone offensively, but the lack of a true defense is going to hurt them in the long haul. 

    Players of the future: Matt Stafford, QB and Ndamukong Suh, DT

    Stafford is the key for the Lions. If he can stay healthy, he is a top quarterback in the league. It helps he has a receiver like Calvin Johnson, but if he can't stay on the field, the Lions won't come close to winning games. 

    Suh needs to get his head together off the field because he has been a mess lately. If he can't, the defense will be even worse. Suh has all the talent in the world, but immaturity issues could sink both him and the defense. 


    The Lions will continue to fight for the division by virtue of the offense, but they will continue to come up short when it matters most, like in the postseason. They aren't getting around the Packers with that defense and will continue to be a regular-season team. 

Green Bay Packers

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    The Green Bay Packers fell victim to a horrible call by replacement officials, but they appear to still be one of the better teams in the league. A Super Bowl could be in the cards this year as long as Aaron Rodgers can stay healthy. 

    Stock watch: On the rise

    While it sounds impossible, the Packers have actually become better as of late thanks to players like Randall Cobb and rookies Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy. All are examples of why the Packers are one of the NFL's best organizations.

    Players of the future: Aaron Rodgers, QB and Nick Perry, LB

    Rodgers is an MVP, and it is unlikely we have seen him win his last one, let alone his last Super Bowl. If he goes down, the Packers do as well considering the lack of an NFL-caliber backup. 

    While Clay Matthews is important, Perry is the reason he is even effective. With defenses having to worry about Perry, Matthews should be free to wreak havoc. If not, the 2011 version of Matthews will be a recurring theme. 


    The Packers will contend for Super Bowls as long as Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback; there's really no way around it.

Houston Texans

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    The Houston Texans are quietly Super Bowl contenders in 2012, and it's been a long time coming for the new franchise after the front office has done a stellar job of building the roster. 

    Stock watch: On the rise

    Stock has never been higher for Houston. The defense is elite thanks to players like Jonathan Joseph, and there is no real weak point on the offense at any position. 

    Players of the future: Arian Foster, RB and J.J. Watt, DE. 

    Foster is what makes the Texans offense work so well right now. The undrafted free agent turned out to be one of the best backs in the league, and as a result, Matt Schaub and the offense have plenty of time to get the job done through the air. 

    Watt is a top-five defensive lineman in the NFL already, thanks to a combination of an elite skill set and an endless motor. He's in the rank of the elite for the long haul. 


    The Texans are going to run the AFC South for a very, very long time. There is not a team in the division even close to matching their talent, and it will take years for any of them to catch up. A Super Bowl win is likely sooner rather than later. 

Indianapolis Colts

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    As expected, the Indianapolis Colts' rebuilding process has started slowly, and that won't change as the 2012 season continues because there is simply a lack of talent on the roster.

    Stock watch Falling

    Offensively, the Colts appear to building nicely, but the defensive side of things is ugly. There's no real talent on that side of the football that is going to be around much longer, which means the offense will have to win in shootouts it isn't equipped to handle yet.

    Players of the future: Andrew Luck, QB and Drake Nevis, DT.

    Luck has lived up to the hype so far on his end; now it is just management's job to surround him with talent. He is making all the correct decisions, but it's going to be some time before he is working with a talented roster. 

    Nevis is an underrated youngster who has the ability to turn into something special if given the opportunity. He's a force along the line that is a nice piece to build around. 


    The Colts are not winning anything for quite some time. Luck can win games on his own once he develops more, but the lack of any defense at all will make this rebuilding process a rough one for the next half-decade. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars have not surprisingly turned out to be mediocre once again, but they do have two nice pieces on the offense. Defensively, the team has been surprisingly bad, which probably should have been easier to see coming.

    Stock watch: Falling

    It may not sound possible, but things are looking worse for Jacksonville. Once Maurice Jones-Drew leaves (and he certainly will), Jacksonville will struggle to score points at all. 

    Players of the future: Blaine Gabbert, QB and Andre Branch, DE

    Gabbert will make or break the Jaguars offense over the next few years. He's been underwhelming so far, and he's only had one game that really showed his true ability. If he cannot get it together, the Jaguars will be starting over once again. 

    Branch is a big part of the Jacksonville defense moving forward. It's a talented unit that is underperforming, but Branch is one of the younger pieces that will decide if it can evolve into a great unit or not.


    The Jaguars are going to be hanging out at the bottom of the division with the Colts for the next few years while they put the pieces together. If Gabbert falters, it could be a decade in the cellar.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Kansas City Chiefs share an honor with the Cleveland Browns in 2012—they are both horrible and have a shot at the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Things looked good on paper, but that ended up meaning very little. 

    Stock watch: Plummeting

    The Chiefs are minus a quarterback because Matt Cassel certainly is not the answer. Outside of that, the defense is soft and the coaching is even worse. 

    Players of the future: Jamaal Charles, RB and Eric Berry, DB

    Charles has had a slow start after coming back from injury, but he is the only outstanding player the Chiefs have offensively. If the Chiefs are to be competitive, Charles is going to have to get back to form. 

    Berry was an elite safety before his injury, but looks a bit rusty now. He can be the best in the league if he makes a full recovery. If not, just add it to the long list of issues in Kansas City. 


    Luckily for the Chiefs, they play in a wacky division, so hanging around at 8-8 every year is not out of the question. Postseason wins are highly unlikely moving forward. 

Miami Dolphins

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    The Miami Dolphins are in a bit of a rut in 2012 as they struggle to find a franchise quarterback and legit offensive weapons. Things don't look horrible defensively, but the roster is still a ways off from being complete. 

    Stock watch: Falling

    Starting over with a rookie quarterback is never easy, nor is letting go of his only good receiver. As things develop for the Dolphins, better weapons will be added. Until then, the Dolphins will struggle to win games. 

    Players of the future: Ryan Tannehill, QB and Koa Misi, LB

    Tannehill has a long way to go before making the Dolphins competitive, but he's shown flashes of why he was worthy of such a high pick a year ago. He'll develop into a sound starter, but until he does, the going will be rough. 

    Misi has been a pleasant surprise for Miami after changing up the defensive scheme, and he looks to now be a major piece of what the Dolphins do moving forward.


    The next few years are going to see the Dolphins in rebuilding mode while fighting it out with other members of the AFC East to catch up with the Patriots. Things will get better, but it's going to take a good amount of time.

Minnesota Vikings

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    The Minnesota Vikings are another team in a state of transition as they completely rebuild their defense and attempt to groom a would-be franchise quarterback. They've started off hot in 2012, but they will come crashing back to Earth. 

    Stock watch: Falling

    It's going to get worse in Minnesota before it gets better, and that is what happens with such a depleted defensive roster. Things are bad on the defense, and it's going to take a few more drafts before things get turned around.

    Players of the future: Christian Ponder, QB and Harrison Smith, DB

    Ponder has looked great so far in 2012, a far cry from how he played during his rookie season. He could turn out to be the leader the Vikings need, so having solved that problem will be a massive step for the franchise. 

    Smith is a young player thrust into a starting role because of how bad the roster is, and how he pans out will have a major effect on the future of the franchise. If he fails, it will only extend the time it takes for Minnesota to be relevant.


    The Vikings are going to dwell at the bottom of the division for a few more years, and longer if Ponder fails to continue to progress. Things are slowly turning around, but the Vikings are still two or three years out.

New England Patriots

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    The New England Patriots have done it again. Already they look like a lock to compete for a Super Bowl in 2012 thanks to the masterful roster building that has taken place by the front office. 

    Stock watch: Surging 

    The Patriots made it to a Super Bowl last year with a horrendous defense, so what did they do? They went out and hit the jackpot in the draft and now have a competent defense as well.

    Players of the future: Rob Gronkowski, TE and Dont'a Hightower, LB

    Gronkowski is the best tight end in all of football, and he is going to be the determining factor in deciding if the Patriots will be relevant without Tom Brady. He's young and a matchup nightmare for defenses, and the nightmare part certainly won't change. 

    Hightower may have been the steal of the 2012 draft. He's playing like a veteran and is already a difference-maker. Things will only get better for Hightower; he is the future of New England.


    A few more Super Bowl rings for Brady is not out of the question, and with the way the front office reloads, they won't miss the postseason for a long time.

New Orleans Saints

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    The New Orleans Saints may be the surprise of the 2012 season for all the wrong reasons. After a horrible offseason thanks to Bountygate, things have only managed to get worse for the franchise. 

    Stock watch: Plummeting

    The Saints are in a free fall. Despite the controversy, the front office had an issue paying Drew Brees, which had to have a horrible effect on the locker room. The defense can't tackle at all, and the offense is not scoring like it used to in past years. 

    Players of the future: Jimmy Graham, TE and Cameron Jordan, DE

    In a league that is focusing on the tight end more than ever, it would be hard to find one better than Graham. While Brees may not last forever, Graham is going to be around for a decade or more, and he is a piece you build an offense around. 

    Jordan is filled with untapped potential that has been shown in flashes, and he is really one of the only promising players on the defensive side of things. Positive developments from him could turn things around in a hurry.


    2012 may be a lost cause for the Saints, and there is a lot of roster building that needs to be done. The Saints are going to be a middle-of-the-pack team for a few years while in transition. 

New York Giants

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    There isn't much to hate about the New York Giants coming off a Super Bowl victory. In fact, it appears like they are marching right along to another one this season with how great they have looked. 

    Stock watch: Rising

    What has been so impressive so far has been the next-man-up philosophy in New York, which means that the front office is doing a great job of finding quality players to fill holes. 

    Players of the future: Victor Cruz, WR and Jason Pierre-Paul, DE

    Cruz is a talented young prospect that broke on to the scene last year and has not looked back. He's a borderline elite player that gives Eli Manning one more target on every down.

    Pierre-Paul is the best defensive end in all of football and does exactly what New York needs—providing constant pressure on every play. He's a freak of a human being that is close to unblockable. 


    A couple of Super Bowl wins in the next few years isn't out of the question, but it's a lock for the Giants to at least be in the postseason for the net five years. 

New York Jets

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    The differences between the New York teams are astounding. The Jets are the complete opposite of the Giants, seemingly more interested in making the news than winning football games. 

    Stock watch: Plummeting

    Mark Sanchez is still not an NFL-caliber quarterback on most days, and the addition of Tim Tebow has done nothing for the franchise except generate headlines. 

    Players of the future: Stephen Hill, WR and Kyle Wilson, CB

    Hill is going to have to turn out to be elite for the Jets to have any semblance of a solid offense over the next few years. He has the potential, but he is raw and the development time is unpredictable.

    Wilson is going to have to step up big time with Darrelle Revis out and potentially never the same. He's had a few years to adapt, but now we'll see if he can be a serious contributor or not. 


    The Jets are going to be stuck competing with the Bills and Dolphins for the final three spots below the Patriots without any serious postseason appearances to speak of, and the Rex Ryan era will be over sooner rather than later. 

Oakland Raiders

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    The Oakland Raiders have been mediocre at best over the past few years, and that does not appear to be changing in 2012. Both sides of the ball could use some upgrades, and those are going to take a few years.

    Stock watch: Hovering

    Things are not horrible in Oakland, but they are not good enough for the team to make postseason appearances. More weapons are needed on both sides of the ball, and quarterback is going to need an upgrade soon. 

    Players of the future: Darren McFadden, RB and Lamarr Houston, DE

    McFadden can be the best back in the NFL by a long shot if he can stay healthy, but that has simply not happened yet. When he is on the field, the Raiders can be untouchable, but staying on the field has been an issue. 

    Houston is filled with untapped potential that could turn him into one of the better defensive ends in the league, but he is a work in progress. If he pans out, things will turn around quickly.


    The AFC West is a mess, so playoff appearances are not out of the question, but it would be unrealistic to expect the Raiders to make a strong push in the postseason once there. 

Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Philadelphia Eagles have managed to scrape by so far in the 2012 season, but whether that has been a fluke or not remains to be seen. The potential has always been there; it's the execution that has been the issue.

    Stock watch: Hovering

    Nothing has really changed in Philadelphia. Last season's roster was pretty similar in the potential department, and the Eagles disappointed. Who knows which Eagles squad will show up each week?

    Players of the future: LeSean McCoy, RB and Nate Allen, DB

    McCoy is an elite back that is criminally underused. If the coaching staff can realize what they have, things will be much easier for Michael Vick or whoever the quarterback may be. 

    The Eagles need a leader in the secondary, and Allen can be that. The physical tools are there, but the decision-making has to improve for things to work out for both parties.


    In all likelihood, the Eagles will continue to falter and then have to find a solid replacement for Vick. His erratic play will be the main reason the Eagles fail to win a championship.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers always manage to stay competitive, even if they are battling serious offensive line issues or injury issues, and 2012 is no different in that regard.

    Stock watch: On the rise

    The Steelers have a great roster once again, with the exception being along the offensive line, but that has never stopped them before. The 2012 edition of the Steelers is just another testament to how great of an organization they have in Pittsburgh.

    Players of the future: Antonio Brown, WR and Lawrence Timmons, LB

    Brown appears to be the centerpiece of the offense for the Steelers moving forward, as a big deal for Mike Wallace likely is not coming. Brown has what it takes to be a top receiver, and he's already delivering. 

    Timmons will be a main cog in an aging defensive unit that will undergo drastic changes in the next few years. He's a critical piece to the process. 


    The Steelers will be in the race for the division, and multiple postseason appearances will be the norm. No Super Bowls for the Steelers in the next few years, but the winning ways won't stop.

San Diego Chargers

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    The San Diego Chargers are currently winning their division, and that should not change as the season wears on.

    Stock watch: Hovering 

    There has not been much change in San Diego as of late, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Philip Rivers is still a great quarterback, and the defense is good enough to keep them in games. 

    Players of the future: Philip Rivers, QB and Melvin Ingram, LB

    The Chargers are only going to go as far as Rivers will take them. He's not the youngest player, but if he can play at a high level for six or seven more years, the Chargers will be in good shape.

    Ingram was one of the top prospects coming into the draft, and so far he has delivered on the hype. The potential to be a top player is there, and if he can develop, the Chargers may actually go a season without underachieving. 


    The Chargers will continue to win the division but falter in the playoffs. The rest of the AFC is too good for the Chargers to suddenly win it all. 

San Francisco 49ers

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    The San Francisco 49ers are one of the top teams in the league again, something that is not shocking considering the excellent work that has been put into crafting a roster. The sky is the limit for the 49ers in 2012 and beyond.

    Stock watch: Hovering

    Hovering is a great status for a team that made it to the NFC championship game last year, and the majority of the pieces are returning from the squad with a few upgrades. 

    Players of the future: Vernon Davis, TE and Aldon Smith, LB

    Davis may be the biggest freak athlete the NFL has to offer, and there is nothing any defender in the league can do to stop him when he gets going. He should be the focal point of the offense on every play for the next five years. 

    Smith turned out to be an elite pass-rusher in only his rookie season. The challenge now is developing him into an every-down player. If the 49ers can do that, they will continue to have the best defense in the league. 


    The 49ers are going to be an elite team for a long time, and that means more and more appearances in the NFC championship. Multiple Super Bowls could be on the horizon. 

Seattle Seahawks

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    The Seattle Seahawks managed to find a rookie quarterback that perfectly fit their system. Beyond this year will be interesting to watch unfold.

    Stock watch: Surging

    A stout defense, solid run game and a developing rookie quarterback means that the Seahawks are on the right path. There is not a lot to hate about the roster.

    Players of the future: Russell Wilson, QB and Earl Thomas, DB

    Wilson is the quarterback in question for the Seahawks. He's been great so far after ripping the starting gig away from veteran Matt Flynn, but his development over the next few years will decide the postseason fate of the team.

    Thomas has already transformed himself into one of the best safeties in all of football and is the clear leader of the defense. Just how great he can be will have an impact on those around him. 


    It's going to be hard for the Seahawks to take the division from the 49ers anytime soon, but Seattle will still make the postseason most years and have a strong push every now and then. 

St. Louis Rams

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    The St. Louis Rams are quietly turning into one of the better teams in football, as the organization has been adding key pieces to the puzzle for the last few seasons. 

    Stock watch: Surging

    The Rams hit home runs in both free agency and the draft this past year, and Sam Bradford is once again playing some great football now that he is healthy. There are still a few problem areas, but nowhere close to as many as there used to be. 

    Players of the future: Sam Bradford, QB and Janoris Jenkins, CB

    Bradford can be an elite quarterback if given time and he is not getting hurt. When given time in the pocket, Bradford can dissect any defense in the league, but the line around him has typically been laughably bad. 

    Jenkins was a massive risk for Jeff Fisher and Co., but one that could pay off wonderfully. If Jenkins can stay on the field, he can form an elite tandem with Cortland Finnegan. 


    Another team that won't be ripping the division away from the 49ers, but the Rams have the ability to make the postseason if everything falls into place. Not a championship team, but much, much better than in the past few years. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had a disappointing start to the 2012 season, but things are not as bad as they seem in Tampa Bay thanks to a new head coach and his philosophy. 

    Stock watch: Rising

    The roster in Tampa Bay is plenty talented and youthful, but it simply needs time to develop. The organization has done a great job adding talent in free agency and the draft; now it just needs to all come together under Greg Schiano. 

    Players of the future: Doug Martin, RB and Gerald McCoy, DT

    Martin was arguably the best back in the 2012 draft not named Trent Richardson, and the Bucs capitalized on that when he fell. Martin is a classic every-down back that could carry the load on his own for the team for years. 

    McCoy has had a slightly disappointing career to this point, but he has turned things around recently. He could end up being the best defensive lineman from his draft class if he continues to develop at this pace.


    The Bucs will be in the conversation for the division each year, but will be unable to take it from the Falcons. They will back into the playoffs a few times, but fail to make any real noise. 

Tennessee Titans

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    The Tennessee Titans have a long way to go to be competitive thanks to a mediocre quarterback and a franchise running back that isn't.

    Stock watch: Plummeting 

    Things aren't all bad for the Titans, but the important things are. Moving forward, the roster not only has to get more talented, but the little bit of talent on the roster also has to develop properly. 

    Players of the future: Jake Locker, QB and Jurrell Casey, DT

    The Titans will go as far as Locker will; if he fails, the search for another quarterback will cripple the franchise for years. He has not looked great so far, but there is still time for the young gunslinger. 

    Casey is a nice piece on the Titans defense, and is one the front office can build around if done properly. He's not one of the best in the league, but is a great foundation for bigger things around him. 


    The Titans are not winning the division any time soon unless Locker really turns it around. It's going to be a mediocre half-decade in Tennessee. 

Washington Redskins

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    The Washington Redskins have one of the most promising futures in the NFL thanks to rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, and 2012 has been an exciting taste of what is to come from the young roster. 

    Stock watch: Surging 

    There is a lot to be excited about in Washington, and a few more smart offseasons could push the roster over the edge into competing for championships. 

    Players of the future: Robert Griffin III, QB and Brian Orakpo, LB

    Griffin is the future, and he has already been playing great. As long as the weapons around him are solid, he should be everything the Redskins had hoped for when they gave up a massive amount of value to move up for him. 

    Orakpo was one of the best linebackers in the league before his injury. If he isn't the same, it will be a crippling blow to an up-and-coming unit. 


    The Redskins will compete for the division each year, but passing the Giants does not seem possible. Griffin has the ability to make some noise in the postseason if they can sneak in.