Posted November 29, 2013

Eight in the Box: NFL teams that will be better in 2014 than they are in 2013

Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Eight in the Box, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There's a lot to like about the Rams' future, especially speedster Tavon Austin.

There’s a lot to like about the Rams’ future, especially speedster Tavon Austin’s development. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

Each Friday, Eight in the Box will highlight a list of eight players, teams or moments and their impact on the 2013 season (and beyond).

The NFL’s parity-driven model makes it possible for teams to turn around their fortunes quickly. Some franchises have taken much better advantage of that reality than others, but it is almost a lock that from year to year at least one or two downtrodden teams make unexpected leaps.

This season, for instance, the Chiefs, Eagles, Panthers, Lions and Cardinals all have jumped into the playoff mix after disappointing 2012 showings.

So, which teams are set to be far better in 2014 than in 2013? Here are eight (including one of those five teams just mentioned):

8. Buffalo Bills: Even though it might not feel like it as they head toward a ninth straight season below .500, the Bills have progressed this season. They might be even better than 4-7 right now had injury issues not slowed EJ Manuel’s rookie season.

The base has been laid, though. Manuel looks at least competent as a young quarterback, and there is young talent around him on offense — Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, to name a couple. A full offseason with Manuel in place under then second-year head coach Doug Marrone ought to do wonders.

Can Buffalo improve its defense this coming offseason despite the likely loss of safety Jairus Byrd? If so, the playoffs might be in order in 2014.

7. Green Bay Packers: Their Thanksgiving Day loss to the Lions proved the Packers have problems beyond simply Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone. Still, Rodgers’ loss has been an insurmountable one, and they likely would have avoided this killer 0-4-1 stretch with him in the lineup. Simply by adding him back for a 16-game season, the Packers should be back in the discussion as an NFC North favorite and a contender in the conference.

There may be substantial changes afoot between now and then, starting with defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who has come under increasing fire as his unit slumps badly.

6. Houston Texans: It can’t get any worse, right? The Texans have lost nine in a row to fall to the bottom of the NFL standings — a humiliating and frustrating turn of events for a franchise that won back-to-back AFC South titles. 

In plummeting, however, the Texans have put themselves in position to use the draft as a fix for their most glaring weakness: quarterback. Houston is headed toward a top-five pick in a QB-heavy class, meaning that the days of hoping Matt Schaub turns a corner appear to be over. Dropping a Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr into this lineup won’t fix all of Houston’s woes (like on the offensive line), but it would help.

STAPLES: Bridgewater leads off the latest 2014 NFL Draft Big Board

5. Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles are neck and neck with the Cowboys in the NFC East, so they won’t exactly be starting from scratch in 2014. But if college football has taught us anything, it is that offenses typically need a year or two to transition into a scheme like the one Chip Kelly brought to the City of Brotherly Love (even though Kelly’s O is an animal unto itself).

Philadelphia also would be wise to re-sign Jeremy Maclin, who has spent his contract year on injured reserve. Plop him back into the lineup alongside DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and an emerging Nick Foles, and Kelly’s attack would have a shot to elevate again.

BURKE: Eagles crack the top 10 in the latest NFL Power Rankings

4. Atlanta Falcons: A no-brainer, only because the decimated offense should be healthier by the start of 2014. The Falcons have played without Roddy White, Julio Jones and Steven Jackson at various points this season, with Jones shut down entirely after a mere five games. As a result, that side of the football has slipped to No. 25 in the league after finishing in the top 10 for points scored from 2010-12.

The hit the Falcons will take this offseason: Tony Gonzalez’s almost-certain retirement. He remains one of their most reliable weapons. Replacing a future Hall of Famer will be no easy task.

The Falcons also have to improve greatly on the offensive line and on defense to really get back to being a Super Bowl threat. However, there’s is no way they will repeat this disastrous showing across the board.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs are laying the groundwork right now for a step up in 2014. And now it may be fair to ask if Tampa Bay can do next season what Kansas City has done this year.

After all, the talent on this roster always seemed too high to justify that 0-8 start, even accepting the fact that the team’s offense was in flux. With Mike Glennon delivering an impressive eight-game stint as the starting QB, though, the future looks bright there — the emergence of guys like Bobby Rainey has further buoyed the outlook.

This defense also sits in the top half of the league, strengthened by anchors like Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, they play in one of the NFL’s tougher divisions. But they won’t be an easy out for anyone over this season’s final five weeks or in 2014.

2. St. Louis Rams: If the Rams take advantage of the extra first-round draft pick coming their way from Washington — possibly a top-five selection — then look out. There’s a ton of budding talent in place on this roster, both on offense (Tavon Austin, Zac Stacy) and defense (Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree, Janoris Jenkins). If Sam Bradford can get back from injury to pick up where he left off this season, the playoffs may not be far off.

So, add in a pair of top-15 draft selections, and St. Louis will have more than enough in the bank to be a threat in ’14 and beyond.

1. Cleveland Browns: Solving their QB conundrum is absolutely task No. 1 for the Browns this offseason. Between free agency and a pair of first-round picks (thanks, Trent Richardson!), Cleveland should be able to do just that in the coming months.

There’s plenty to like elsewhere on this roster, as well as in the coaching staff. Cleveland’s sleeper status this season fizzled out courtesy of its current 1-5 stretch, but the Browns probably overachieved early. The defense remains a couple of pieces away, same as the offense. That said, both units are better today than they were a year ago.

THE PLAYBOOK: Previewing Seahawks-Saints, Chiefs-Broncos, more Week 13 games

16 comments
Yes_Sir_Boss
Yes_Sir_Boss

I know they just made the AFC Championship game, but New England is going to be much better next year than they are this year.   I know this may sound a little crazy to say one of the teams that will improve the most is the #2 seed, but NE happened to be one of the youngest teams in football.  At the beginning of the season I thought they might not even make the play offs.   The biggest reason they did is that the AFC is so weak this year over-all.

I would put NE about mid-way on the list.

About the rest.  I have been waiting for Buffalo to actually be good again for 20 years.  Isn't going to happen next season.  Just my opinion.   there is something deeper wrong in Buffalo than the players and coach.

humdrumdrumhumming
humdrumdrumhumming

the Raiders have the most cap space in the entire NFL next season ($70 million)


so i'm predicting a dramatic improvement from --  "totally crappy"   


to  "kind of crappy"…


Nostradomaoaklandamus

fmfrijoles
fmfrijoles

Methinks the REDSKINS should be listed in this article.

Without the salary cap restrictions they have had to unfairly endure the last 2 seasons they will have quite the war chest to finally address a # of issues in the secondary as well as bring in some talent to what is already a relatively solid base of young players.

 It will also help that RG3 will be healthy for the offseason and won't basically be playing pre-season reps the 1st 4 games like this year and they will be playing a 4th seed schedule (which will provide games against Vikings and Buccaneers and also includes the AFC SOUTH)

Darrell1
Darrell1

Since the Texans and Falcons underachieved so dramatically this season, it's a pretty safe bet they'll be much better next year. Even though Keenum shows some promise, he hasn't shown enough for the Texans not to take a QB with the presumed No. 1 pick. Surely not Derek Carr though! Too much bad karma there. 

Chris P1
Chris P1

This is a ridiculous article. For instance, just because Cleveland has a couple of first-round picks doesn't guarantee that they will find a QB. It just means that they have a couple of first-round picks.

A lot of things can change in one year. Ask the Falcons and Texans - or the Chiefs. One thing IS true in this league.....you can't win without a decent QB.

Frotoon
Frotoon

You can pretty much select the eight teams that have the worst records and proclaim that they should improve next year. That's usually how it works.

The only exception right now might be the Redskins, since once again they won't have a first-round draft pick.

TooSteep
TooSteep

The problem for the Rams is that their division will have 4 of the top 8 teams in the league. 

Olafminesaw
Olafminesaw

Good, the Redskins didn't make the list. I guess they will be good next year.

Mike26
Mike26

Oh good, another writer talking about how improved the Rams will be NEXT year.  The same thing's been written for the past THREE YEARS - and yet they still have made only slight improvements.  Enough with the Jeff Fisher manlove!

CharlesTerrito
CharlesTerrito

I dread reading SI! The writers here seem to bad mouth my Bills quite a lot, for no apparent reason. Today i came and read a good article about the Bills. They are on the rise and next year, oh next year, it can't come fast enough. Too many good and drafted player's right now that will lead to more wins. Whaley has done a magnificent job drafting and lest I forget, Buddy Nix made the STEAL of last years draft getting 3 picks in 2 rounds. All those players are starting. We have great management from the top to the bottom! I see us drafting either a good, franchise type O-lineman or a good middle linebacker first, then look ti the player's still on the board and grab whoever they don't draft first and draft him. Our draft was so good, late round picks and free agents are starting too or are playing lots of minutes. All this points to much better team that will win!! GO BILLS!!

StephenGrange
StephenGrange

And next year, the AZ Cards. will get an "extra" 1st round pick with Jonathan Cooper coming back from a broken leg...Got injured while being WAY downfield looking for someone to hit on a running play in 3rd pre season game...Dude will be a difference maker!

MikeWendlandt
MikeWendlandt

It's not just Rodgers being out, granted that is by far the largest. Think of next year when Green Bay will have back: Cobb, Bulaga, Hayward, a fully healthy Matthews and Perry, Finley (maybe), as well as a new Defensive coordinator. The injury bug killed the Pack this year, mentally as well as physically, but they can make a lot of noise next year.

John4
John4

@TooSteep The NFC West will not have 4 of the top 8 teams in the league.  Too many good teams in the other 7 divisions.  

Chris P1
Chris P1

@Mike26  Yep....I thought they would be better this year, too. Time is running out on Fisher and Bradford. At some point, you have to produce.

logman0u812
logman0u812

@MikeWendlandt packers have 15 unrestricted free agents next year.......... this team will not be same next year... Jolly, pickett, Raji,shields could all be gone. Finely, James Jones, Quarles, Dietrich-Smith could all be gonewith Rodgers and Clay getting so much money

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