NFL Surprise Teams: Who Will it Be in 2014?
Every year, there are a few teams who are sitting in the weeds who come out of nowhere to contend for their division titles. Today, we’ll take a look at the teams who could end up being splashy this year and make big moves from the bottom of the pack to the playoffs with a real shot to win the Super Bowl.
Cleveland Browns (+550 to win AFC North) – Here’s what we have to remember about a Browns team which went 4-12 last season: The club went 3-0 with QB Brian Hoyer playing a big role in the proceedings. Between Hoyer and QB Johnny Manziel, there is a real chance here for Cleveland to take a big step in the right direction, especially with one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with DB Joe Haden and DB Justin Gilbert. The signings of LB Karlos Dansby and S Donte Whitner will only help as well.
The Steelers and Ravens are trending in the wrong direction as we see it, and the Bengals are never going to be better than a nine or 10-win type of team that can only get past the wild card round under QB Andy Dalton. If there is a club which can make a drastic turnaround in this division, this is it.
Washington Redskins (+425 to win NFC East) – The Redskins weren’t nearly as good as they were two years ago, but they weren’t nearly as bad as they were last year either. This is a wide open division which any team can win. Running a West Coast offense is going to be good for QB Robert Griffin III as we see it. Yes, his legs are going to be taken away just a bit, but the reads are much easier for a quarterback to make.
The question is going to be whether the defense can really step it up this season or not. There are tons of changes on that side of the ball, but if we had to guess, Head Coach Jay Gruden has a plan in place to limit possessions in game. The NFC East is wide open once again.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+650 to win NFC South) – For all of the talk about how brutal the NFC West is (and it is), the argument could be made that the NFC South is every bit as difficult. The Falcons were a disaster last season, but they might be just a few pieces away from bringing this all back together again. The Saints and the Panthers were the class of the division last year, but as we have historically seen in the NFC South, none of that matters. Teams go from worst to first all the time. Head Coach Lovie Smith is a proven “regular season” winner, and his team has made some good moves here in the offseason.
This is a young team which is only going to get better over time this year, but this is also a club which looks a bit like some of those Bears teams which Smith did a great job with over the course of the last decade. QB Josh McCown can take care of the football, and if he does that, he’s got big enough targets in the middle of the field to make teams pay. The Bucs are definitely sneaky in 2014.