ESPNs Grantland has been posting different sets of teams. The Cleveland Browns were one of 8 teams in the NFL Rising’s Team article. For Browns fans who have had little hope in the past few years this has to be exciting. The other 7 teams on the list are a unique group as well and we will review those as well. Comparing the Browns to the New Orleans Saints makes for a interesting read for both teams.
Brandon Weeden is not a good quarterback. Let’s get past that right now. Consider what the rest of this team is probably going to be able to do. The Browns are going to play very good pass defense, since they’ve got a great cornerback (Joe Haden) and a trio of promising pass-rushers in Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger, and rookie Barkevious Mingo. They should be tough up the middle against the run, with Phil Taylor and Desmond Bryant keeping blockers off D’Qwell Jackson and T.J. Ward. I won’t pretend the Browns are anywhere near as deep as the Bengals on defense, but there’s the core of a very good unit there.
- Well in the first sentence they got the bad news out of the way. It may be more accurate to say that “Weeden WAS not a good quarterback last year” but he has yet to prove he can consistently be a good quarterback. As we have noted the Browns will depend on their front 7 and offensive line for the possibility of a winning season. If Weeden is able to keep the opposing defenses from loading up on Trent Richardson while limiting his turnovers the Browns could indeed fit the the category of rising.
Best-Case Scenario: The Browns do their best Vikings impersonation, with Richardson winning the rushing title and the defense preventing teams from throwing to catch up. In a wide-open AFC North, everybody beats each other down and nine wins is enough to claim the division crown with a tiebreaker.
Worst-Case Scenario: Richardson limps through another season, the Browns cycle through three starting quarterbacks, and the good pass rush goes entirely for naught in a 4-12 campaign.
- Best case scenario means the Browns won’t have a chance for a elite QB in next years draft, and maybe won’t need one. Worse case scenario they will need one and probably could get one.
Counterpoint? The Panthers were 1-5 in games decided by one possession in 2011, meaning they’re now a whopping 2-12 in one-possession games since Cam Newton came to town. Does that mean they’re unlikely to regress toward the mean and be better in those games in 2013, and that there’s something wrong with Newton in the clutch? I don’t think so. For one, you can see from the examples above that the endgame scenarios often weren’t Newton’s fault. In addition, two seasons’ worth of close games just isn’t a large sample or very meaningful. The Panthers now have a .143 winning percentage in those close games over the past two years. Since 1989, 14 other teams have had a two-year stretch where they won fewer than 20 percent of their one-possession games, a run during which they went a combined 33-182 (.153) in close contests. The following year, those same teams went 55-52 — above .500! — in those same one-touchdown contests. The Panthers aren’t going to be this bad in close games again, and that alone might be enough to make them a contender.
- WR Steve Smith recently blamed new Browns’ HC and former Panther’s OC for their poor offense. With Newton, the first “read option” QB, who now gets very little talk about him, the Panthers need to build a solid team around him. Their defense has begun to be rebuilt but on offense Jon Stewart is still hurt and there is no wide receiver across from Steve Smith.
Best-Case Scenario: A great pass rush and a dominant running game overcomes the weaknesses at wideout and defensive back, and a step forward from Newton pushes the Panthers to 10-6 and the playoffs.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Panthers fail to stop anybody from throwing on them, helping them blow fourth-quarter leads for a second consecutive season, and the move to a more conventional offense plays against Newton’s strengths. The tension mounts until Smith beats up the entire team in a practice outburst.
- Different then the Browns the quarterback position in Carolina is set, at least for the next few years. The team could play well and still not make the playoffs due to the tough division they are in. This is one case where a record may not show how rising a team is.
OK. A great defense and Green? I don’t feel so bad anymore. The other exciting possibility is that they actually have an above-average running game in 2013, thanks to the arrival of Bernard, who will split time with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and bring the Bengals into the modern NFL with the running back time-share. Dalton’s had to make do with the likes of Jerome Simpson and Armon Binns across from Green at times, but Cincinnati has more playmakers in its lineup now than ever before, with Green, a returning Mohamed Sanu, Bernard, Jermaine Gresham, and the arriving Eifert, who could end up becoming Dalton’s second-favorite target from day one. The Bengals could genuinely be an above-average football team in every facet of the game (special teams included, since they were seventh in DVOA there last season) this year. It’s awful hard for a team to be good at everything and not win 10 games. They’re obviously susceptible to an injury to Green or Atkins because players of that caliber are irreplaceable, but they should absolutely be a competitive team in the AFC.
- We at FoS have noted over and over again in our belief in the Bengals with their defense, especially their front 7, and AJ Green and their 2 tight ends.
Best-Case Scenario: Dalton actually takes a step forward with the additional weapons, while the defense stays great and the Bengals earn themselves a first-round bye.
Worst-Case Scenario: Green gets hurt and misses most of the season, and the Bengals suffer through a lot of 13-9 losses as a result.
- Dalton is the key to the Bengals. Injuries, like all teams, could greatly impact the team. The Bengals, like Ravens teams of the past, could ride a running game and a dominant defense still to the playoffs. If Dalton doesn’t make strides the Bengals may look to make a change over the next few seasons.
The best arguments against the Lions playing well? Well, there are a few fair ones. They’re a top-heavy team that’s incredibly dependent upon Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh staying healthy; they’d be toast without either of those guys around for the vast majority of the season, and they might need 16 healthy games out of both Johnson and Suh to make it into the playoffs. They’re still thin in the secondary, which is a problem when one of your starters is Louis Delmas. They used their first-round pick on raw pass-rusher Ezekiel Ansah, who is unlikely to have an impact this year. They turned over both tackle positions, and the starting left tackle is second-year pro Riley Reiff, whose arms are apparently permanently impersonating a raptor.
- This team is based on a strong defensive line, Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford. If they are able to protect Stafford and open up running lanes on offense and stop the pass with a perennial weak secondary the Lions will rise up quickly.
Best-Case Scenario: Everyone stays healthy on defense, Reggie Bush looks like the guy he was supposed to be coming out of school, and the Lions win 11 games and the NFC North.
Worst-Case Scenario: The team gets off to a slow start and quits on Schwartz. Megatron gets hurt. (This might not be physically possible.) Matthew Stafford gets hurt. (That’s way more possible.)
- At some point the Lions will have to address their defensive backfield but may have the pass rush and offensive firepower to make that negligible. The Lions, unlike the Browns and Panthers, have had successful seasons in the last couple. They took a step back last year but could rise back quickly.
Kansas City Chiefs
Even if you don’t believe in the numbers and think Andy Reid and Alex Smith are colossal busts waiting to reveal themselves, it’s hard to figure that any 2-14 team will repeat the feat. Of the 28 teams in league history that finished 2-14, just two were worse the subsequent season, and two more maintained their 2-14 record the following year. 24-for-28 represents pretty good odds for the Chiefs taking a step forward in 2013.
- The short writeup is simply stating “They were so bad last year they have to be able to rise right?”
Best-Case Scenario: Everything goes right, the Broncos struggle with injuries, and the Chiefs claim an unlikely AFC West title at 11-5.
Worst-Case Scenario: Smith is a bust, Jamaal Charles gets hurt, and the Chiefs improve to only 4-12 or so.
- These scenarios expect two tough things: The Broncos struggle and no one gets hurt. Either way there is an expectation of a rising team which should be true with Andy Reid running the show.
New Orleans Saints
With that being said, the Saints weren’t really all that bad of a football team in what’s been written off as a lost year. People remember the 0-4 start, but that included an eight-point loss to the Redskins and a three-point loss to the Chiefs. After that, the Saints lost to the Broncos, 49ers, Falcons, and Giants before finishing up with a loss versus the Panthers in Week 17. That’s a run of four pretty good football teams. The Saints outscored their opposition by seven points over the course of the season, so they had the point differential of an 8-8 team. Very good teams who play well over the course of several seasons, just as the Saints have, occasionally will have seasons like this where they drop off and have the breaks go against them. Young players fail to develop. Their stars play at less than 100 percent. This stuff happens. I don’t doubt that Payton’s absence exacerbated their issues and that his return will help, but I think the other changes they’ve made to the defense will help just as much. There’s every reason to believe these Saints can still be the “old” Saints, the team that won the Super Bowl in 2009 and took the 49ers to the brink in 2011.
- A year dip, with all of the things they had going on, was not surprising. Whether the Saints are a rising team, or just a team who had one bad year is a interesting discussion. Do they have new youth on defense and around Brees on offense to be a team on the rise?
Best-Case Scenario: Ryan revitalizes the defense and Payton brings the offense back from the bottom of the top 10 to the top five, leading the Saints to comfortably claim the NFC South and host a playoff game.
Worst-Case Scenario: Saints fans find out the harsh truth: Even Payton can’t save that defense. The 2013 Saints look more like the 2007-08 Saints than the ones from 2009 to 2011.
- Browns fan know the impact Ryan can have, but also the possible implosion that his defense can create. The offense should be fine but a failing season may lead the Saints to make quick win now decisions this up coming off-season to make the most of Brees’ later years.
About all I know for sure is that the Eagles’ turnover margin will get better. Beyond that, just about anything could happen. The Eagles could run the Music City Miracle like it’s the zone stretch. LeSean McCoy could run for 2,000 yards. Donovan McNabb could finally turn heel on Eagles fans when they boo him for 10 straight minutes during his retirement ceremony in Week 3. In all likelihood, the Eagles will probably be able to run the ball pretty well, revitalize Vick a bit, and have some positive signs for 2014 without having the answers. But what fun is in all likelihood?
- Chip Kelly, he who spurned the Browns, starts the most intriguing new coaching debut since Steve Spurrier came to the NFL. McCoy should have a huge season if healthy. Vick is probably not the long term starter in Philly but could be fun in Kelly’s offense. With their new coach and system it seems like the team is bound to be on the rise.
Best-Case Scenario: The Eagles are Redskins North. Vick is a borderline MVP candidate, the Eagles average six yards per carry on the ground, and the defense is passable enough for Philly to win 11 games.
Worst-Case Scenario: The parade of quarterbacks stumbles through a year of turnovers and late decisions, while the league’s referees threaten to strike if Kelly’s offense doesn’t give them 13 seconds in between plays. The Eagles go 6-10 while Reid goes 14-2 in Kansas City.
- The reality is no one has any idea what the Eagles will do this year but comparing them to Reid’s Chiefs will be interesting.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In terms of the immediate impact upon these players and how it affects the Buccaneers on the field in 2013, there’s going to be a noticeable problem. Tynes is already out for the year. Nicks hasn’t yet been ruled out for Week 1, but he’s unlikely to play, and there’s no clear timetable for his return. Part of the predicted improvement for the Buccaneers in 2013 revolved around the return of three key linemen: Nicks and Davin Joseph on the offensive side of the ball, and Adrian Clayborn on the defensive side. Even if Nicks does make it back onto the field relatively quickly, it’s impossible to imagine that battling a staph infection won’t have sapped his strength. Nicks is more likely to be a nonfactor this season than he is to be his former self. That’s not important in the context of the broader health concern in play, but it does affect how you might view the Buccaneers heading into 2013.
- The Bucs improvement is dependent on their draft built defense. How Josh Freeman plays will decide this year’s fate but the Bucs have a area that they can build off of with their defense as well as a great running back in only his second season.
Best-Case Scenario: Freeman has such a good year that he climbs ahead of Martin and Freddie on the Freeman power rankings and begins to approach the lofty heights of, yes, Gordon. The defense stays healthy and the Buccaneers compete with the NFC West juggernauts for a first-round bye.
Worst-Case Scenario: Josh drops down the Freeman power rankings, past Antonio, all the way to the bottom of the list. They fail to find a pass rush, Revis isn’t 100 percent, and Gerald McCoy gets hurt again. They limp to a 5-11 season and spend the offseason searching for two new leaders: a quarterback and a guy to coach him.
- The Bucs are in a tough division with the Saints, Falcons and Panthers but could be led by their defense to a playoff year. Revis’ return from injury and other injuries could be a problem and Freeman’s failures would lead the team to seek a new QB next off-season.
Did they miss a rising team? Are any of these teams not risers, would you describe them any other way?