A few teams have already established themselves as Super Bowl contenders heading into 2013, but recent NFL history has taught us that teams can go from the cellar to playoff contenders in as little as one season. The Washington Redskins were the latest team to go from the bottom of the division to the top in one year. Let's take a look at the NFC teams who could go from worst in 2012 to first in 2013.
Some thought the Eagles would be a Super Bowl contender in 2012. Those hopes faded quickly after a 3-1 start turned into an eight-game losing streak. The Eagles finished the season 4-12, which led to a change on the sidelines.
Biggest issues in 2012:
The Eagles had a few issues last season, but none more pressing than turnovers. Philadelphia didn't force them and turned it over a lot. It all led to a minus-24 turnover differential, tied for the worse in the NFL. The Eagles lost 22 fumbles last season, which was more than the total turnovers for nine teams.
The biggest change in Philadelphia heading into 2013 came on the sidelines. Andy Reid is gone after 14 seasons with the Eagles and Chip Kelly is the new man in charge. There was plenty of change on the field, as well, as Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins and others are gone, with Connor Barwin, Kenny Phillips, Bradley Fletcher and others coming in.
The Eagles remade their secondary, with as many as three new starters being signed in free agency. That could help in the turnover department as the Eagles finished last season with just eight interceptions.
Philadelphia didn't make a move at quarterback this offseason and Michael Vick and Nick Foles will compete for the starting job. Vick struggled with fumbles last season, but may have already improved on that area as Kelly taught him a better way to hold the ball.
The Eagles will play the AFC West and NFC North in addition to their NFC East schedule. The road schedule will be a challenge with games at Green Bay, Minnesota, Denver, New York, Washington and Dallas. The Eagles get a break at home as five of their eight home games come against teams who finished .500 or worst last season.
Calvin Johnson had a record-setting season in 2012, but it wasn't enough, as the Lions sunk to 4-12, just one season removed from a 10-6 campaign and their playoff appearance since 1999.
Biggest issue in 2012:
The good news for the Lions is they averaged the third-most offensive yards per game in 2012. The bad news is those 408.8 yards led to just 23.3 points. Even worse, the Lions' defense went the opposite direction. Despite allowing the 13th fewest yards, Detroit allowed the 27th most points last season. The Lions were not very efficient last season and part of that was turnovers, as Detroit finished with a minus-16 turnover differential.
Cliff Avril, Gosder Cherilus, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jeff Backus and others are gone, but Detroit was active in free agency to bring in replacements. Glover Quin should immediately help stabilize Detroit's secondary, while Jason Jones and Reggie Bush could also play key roles in 2013.
The Lions drafted Ziggy Ansah early and he should step into the void at defensive end. Detroit could also see a major benefit from a few players getting healthy. Chris Houston and Louis Delmas were two of Detroit's best defenders in 2011, but both were limited by injury in 2012.
In addition to their division schedule, the Lions will play the NFC East and AFC North next season. Detroit will benefit by playing Baltimore, New York and Cincinnati at home. The Lions may need to tread water early, as four of the first six games are on the road, including difficult games at Green Bay and at Washington.
Although they finished 7-9 and in a three-way tie for second place in the NFC South, the Buccaneers technically finished last in the division once tiebreakers were factored in. As a result, Greg Schiano's team and not the Saints or Panthers will have the opportunity to go from worst to first.
Biggest issue in 2012:
The Bucs had a few issues in 2012, but none were bigger than their inability to defend the pass. Tampa Bay allowed 297.4 passing yards per game last season, the worst in the NFL. The Bucs allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league, but that was mostly due to the fact teams chose to instead exploit them through the air.
Tampa Bay will open 2013 with a revamped secondary, which includes a pair of new All-Pros. The Bucs made headlines when they traded for Darrelle Revis, but Tampa Bay also signed Dashon Goldson. If Revis is able to return to health and his previous form, he and Goldson could completely reshape the Bucs' defense.
If healthy, Revis is the best cover cornerback in the NFL. Goldson is in the conversation for the best safety in the league. As bad as they were last season, the Bucs could conceivably improve against the pass by 50 yards per game or more.
Like the rest of the NFC South teams, the Bucs will face the NFC West and AFC East in addition to their regular schedule. The Bucs, however, benefit from a last place finish with matchups against the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles. Tampa Bay will be challenged on the road with difficult road contests at New England, Atlanta, Seattle, St. Louis and New Orleans.
The Cardinals began the 2012 season 4-0, but it was all downhill from there, as Arizona lost 11 of its final 12 games to finish 5-11. The late season slide led to major changes in Arizona, and the Cardinals will open 2012 with a new coaching staff and general manager.
Biggest issue in 2012:
Arizona used four different starting quarterbacks in 2012 and none were very effective. Arizona averaged a NFL-low 263.1 yards per game with Cardinal quarterbacks combining for a 63.1 passer rating, the worst in the NFL. While Arizona wasn't very effective throwing the ball, the Cardinals finished last in the NFL in rushing as well. Unable to move the ball, Arizona averaged 15.6 points per game, including 11.0 points in those 11 losses.
Considering how little help they got from the offense, Arizona's defense wasn't bad in 2012, although it did have issues against the run. Playing in a run-heavy division, the Cardinals allowed 137.0 rushing yards per game last season, the 28th worst in the league.
It was a busy offseason in Arizona, headlined by the acquisition of quarterback Carson Palmer to lead Bruce Arians downfield offense. The Cardinals revamped their quarterback depth chart with Palmer and Drew Stanton replacing Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. Palmer may not be the quarterback he was in Cincinnati, but it would be hard to not be an upgrade over what Arizona had last season.
Rashard Mendenhall replaces Beanie Wells in the backfield, possibly giving Arizona's ground attack a boost as well. If Mendenhall is healthy, he should be an upgrade. First-round pick Jonathan Cooper, a guard, should help the offense too. On defense, the Cardinals added a number of veterans on short-term contracts. Karlos Dansby returns and should be a big boost to Arizona's run defense while Jerraud Powers and Lorenzo Alexander could play starting roles, as well.
With Palmer improving the offense, the Cardinals should be better next season, but they will still have an uphill battle. Seattle and San Francisco are not only the favorites to win the division, but they are two of the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Combined with two games against an improving St. Louis team, Arizona could have the most difficult division schedule in the NFL.
In addition to their division slate, the Cardinals will face the NFC South and AFC South with additional matchups against Philadelphia and Detroit. Arizona will benefit some by playing tough draws like Atlanta, Houston and Indianapolis at home.