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NFL Predictions 2015: Projecting Teams with Most Improved Win Totals

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistJuly 27, 2015

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) jumps up in stretches during mini camp at an NFL football facility Tuesday, June 9, 2015, in Alameda, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Eric Risberg/Associated Press

The 2015 NFL season is almost upon us, which is good news for teams who had subpar seasons in 2014. Right now, the slate for everyone is wiped clean at 0-0.

Of course, NFL teams never enjoy a true fresh start.

Sure, the influx of young talent through the draft helps—and the worse the 2014 season, the better the talent—but many teams are still saddled with the problems that plagued them in 2014, be that incompetent coaching, lack of playmakers on either side of the ball or poor quarterback play.

With all that being said, which teams are on the verge of a flashy comeback in 2015?

We'll take three factors—coaching, rookies and free-agent additions, and quarterback play—and use them to predict win totals for the league's underdogs in 2014.

Oakland Raiders 

2014 record: 3-13

Predicted 2015 record: 8-8

The Oakland Raiders haven't finished above .500 in any season since 2002, though the team did finish at 8-8 in both 2010 and 2011.

That's where the team is predicted to land once again in 2015, and while it may not be the elusive winning record the organization has been chasing for over a decade, it's a marked improvement from its three-win showing in 2014.

New head coach Jack Del Rio is establishing a "winning attitude" in Oakland, his offensive line coach Mike Tice said on a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview in July, per Raiders.com.

Del Rio's players and staff are buying into that attitude as well, and given the talent general manager Reggie McKenzie has assembled on the roster, the team may have something to be legitimately excited about this season.

It all starts with second-year quarterback Derek Carr. Carr showed flashes of excellence in his rookie season but was held back by "an awful supporting cast," as one opposing defensive coordinator put it, per ESPN.com's Mike Sando.

Carr had a subpar offensive line, pedestrian weapons and a limited run game to help him in 2014.

Oakland was last in the league last season in rushing yards per game with just 77.5. Many other teams had top rushing weapons who topped that mark individually every week.

That meant Oakland couldn't keep defenses honest, and Carr struggled to get anything going in the passing game. The 216 receiving yards the Raiders averaged per game was 28th in the league.

Now, however, Oakland added veteran Michael Crabtree and rookie sensation Amari Cooper in the offseason, dramatically improving the quality of Carr's weapons. And second-year running back Latavius Murray, who is in the lead for the No. 1 job, per Doug Williams of NBC Bay Area news, can give Carr the support he needs on the ground.

The Raiders also strengthened the defense this offseason, targeting defensive tackle Mario Edwards Jr. in the draft and adding safety Nate Allen, cornerback James Dockery, linebacker Curtis Lofton and linebacker Malcolm Smith in free agency.

Those players will join standout linebacker Khalil Mack and cornerback D.J. Hayden to bolster both the front and the secondary.

Given the new weapons they added for Carr and the defensive improvements they made, the Raiders should be able to reach .500 on the season.

The Raiders are tied at seventh in strength of schedule for 2015, per CBSSports.com. While games against the Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers could prove challenging, Oakland also faces the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titansall games which could be winnable.

Tennessee Titans

2014 record: 2-14

Predicted 2015 record: 7-9

Speaking of the Titans, can Tennessee claw its way out of the hole it found itself in by the end of the 2014 season?

The 2015 projection of 7-9 isn't lofty by any means, but it would still represent a marked improvement for the beleaguered Titans, who only racked up two wins last season. Inconsistent coaching, quarterbacking and an inability to pass the ball as well as defend against the pass plagued Tennessee, and Ken Whisenhunt's new regime certainly didn't bring the team to new heights. 

Now, however, the Titans have to put their faith in rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota first and foremost. Tennessee averaged only 213 passing yards per game in 2014.

"In OTAs and minicamp, he was more accurate and showed better anticipation than I expected," ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky wrote about Mariota in a training camp preview.

But, of course, Mariota can't do it alone. The offensive line configuration will be critical. Veteran Michael Oher was a bust at right tackle in 2014. Now, Kuharsky points to Byron Bell and Jeremiah Poutasi as the candidates to watch in camp to eventually fill that spot.

The Titans had a Pro Football Focus pass-blocking efficiency rating of 74.6 in 2014, which was 30th in the league. Protecting their new investment at quarterback will be crucial.

If Mariota is successful in Whisenhunt's schemeand the head coach is implementing an offense specifically suited to Mariota's strengths, per Kuharksyand can develop chemistry with weapons such as Kendall Wright, Harry Douglas and rookie Dorial Green-Beckham, we could see a more effective unit overall in 2015.

Then, the question will be how defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's unit performsespecially against the run, where the Titans ranked 31st in 2014.

The Titans, who have the 26th-hardest schedule in 2015, could improve to something approaching .500 this season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2014 record: 2-14

Predicted 2015 record: 7-9

The Buccaneers have two things going for them in 2015: They have the fourth-easiest schedule in the league and play against division rivals who amassed only 21 wins collectively in 2014.

The Bucs were a favorite sleeper in 2014, given the influx of new talent. Lovie Smith took the reins on a team which featured quarterback Josh McCownwho was coming off one of the best years of his career in Chicagoyoung stars Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and defensive standout Gerald McCoy.

Instead, McCown fizzled, Seferian-Jenkins got injured and the team became quickly demoralized with its two-win effort.

Now, rookie Jameis Winston will try to display his football talent on the field and keep relatively quiet off it. Winston has all the mechanics around which the Bucs could hope to build a franchise—a big arm, great size at 6'4" and scrambling ability—but don't expect the Bucs to go from zero to 60 in one season because of his arrival.

Getting a healthy Seferian-Jenkins should give Winston a go-to target when he's in trouble, and if he can develop chemistry with Evans, he could become a top wideout. Vincent Jackson is another huge target (6'5"), and rookie Kenny Bell could round out the top three.

In terms of coaching, Smith may be a better defensive coordinator than head coach. He also didn't have much talent to work with on the defensive side of the ball in 2014 aside from McCoy, but that won't be an excuse this season.

Signing George Johnson from Detroit should give some boost to the pass rush and can help take some pressure off McCoy. Defensive tackle Henry Melton is another talented defensive player whose potential Smith should be able to maximize.