Earlier, we profiled the NFC teams that have a chance to go from worst to first, and now it's time to take a closer look at the AFC. While the conference is home to the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens, it also featured some of the worst teams in the NFL in 2012. AFC teams finished with the three worst records in the league, and no division cellar-dweller won more than six games. Still, every team is a contender in May.
It was a busy offseason in Buffalo, as the Bills changed coaching staffs and made some major changes to the roster. Will it be enough to propel the team out of the AFC East basement?
Biggest issues in 2012:
The defense, especially against the run, was a major shortcoming in 2012. Buffalo finished 26th in the NFL in scoring defense while allowing the second-most rushing yards. The Bills surrendered 5.0 yards per carry and gave up a league-high 23 rushing touchdowns.
The Bills also had issues on offense, as Ryan Fitzpatrick fell from the starter of the future to benchwarmer. Buffalo finished the season 25th in the league in passing offense and 24th in yards per attempt. Turnovers were another issue, as the Bills finished tied for the fourth-most turnovers in the NFL.
Doug Marrone took over for Chan Gailey as head coach, and he will have a new quarterback to work with. The Bills released Fitzpatrick, then drafted E.J. Manuel in the first round and signed Kevin Kolb. Those two are expected to compete with Tarvaris Jackson as the Bills attempt to spark their passing attack. The Bills also added wide receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin in the draft, giving whoever plays quarterback more threats to pair with Steve Johnson.
Buffalo overhauled its linebacker corps, adding Manny Lawson, Jerry Hughes and Kiko Alonso to the group. The Bills signed Alan Branch, a solid run defender, who should help solve the Bills' issues against the ground attack.
The Bills will play the AFC North and NFC South teams as well as Jacksonville and Kansas City next season. That, combined with their division contests, give Buffalo a challenging schedule in 2013. The good news for the Bills is a number of their tougher games will come at home, including contests against Baltimore, Cincinnati and Atlanta.
Like the other last-place finishers in the AFC, the Browns changed coaching staffs following the season. Now, Rob Chudzinski is tasked with leading the Browns back to the playoffs.
Biggest issues in 2012:
Cleveland struggled on both sides of the ball in 2012, finishing 25th in total yardage on offense and 23rd in defense. The Browns allowed the 19th-most rushing yards in the league last season, but limited teams to a solid 4.2 yards per attempt. The problem, instead, was Cleveland's inability to get off the field. The Browns allowed 345 first downs last season, the fifth-most in the NFL.
The Browns were among the least efficient offensive teams in the league last season, averaging 6.5 yards per passing attempt (27th) and 4.0 yards per rushing attempt (21st). The Browns relied on a number of rookies and other inexperienced players last season, and the learning curve proved to be steep.
With plenty of salary cap space available, the Browns were among the most active teams in free agency. Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant were the biggest additions and they should provide an immediate boost to the defense. Cleveland drafted Barkevious Mingo in the first round and traded for Davone Bess during the draft.
Ray Horton proved he could do more with less during his time as Arizona's defensive coordinator and he will attempt to have similar success in Cleveland. Kruger and Mingo give the Browns a pair of cornerstone defenders to build around and they should have a major impact from Day 1.
Offensively, the Browns will move from a West Coast offense to Chudzinski's down-field passing attack. The offense may be a better fit for Brandon Weeden, who will have a new security blanket with Bess now in the fold. Cleveland's biggest offensive gain may come from continued improvement from Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon.
The Browns won't have it easy in 2013, as seven of their 16 games are against teams who made the playoffs in 2012. In addition to their division matchups, Cleveland will play the NFC North and AFC East. The team will be tested on the road with games at Green Bay, Baltimore, Cincinnati, New England and Pittsburgh.
Gus Bradley will bring plenty of energy and competition to Jacksonville, but he will need more than that to turn around the Jaguars.
Biggest issues in 2012:
The Jaguars struggled to throw the ball, had the third-fewest rushing yards in the league and allowed the third-most sacks in the NFL. And that was just the offense. Defensively, the Jaguars ranked 30th in total defense and tied for 29th in scoring defense.
Pressure on opposing quarterbacks was nearly nonexistent, as the Jaguars finished with an NFL-low 20 sacks. That was 32 less than Denver and St. Louis, who tied for the NFL lead with 52 sacks.
The Jaguars didn't make a lot of moves in free agency, but began the rebuilding process in the NFL Draft. Jacksonville selected Luke Joeckel and Jonathan Cyprien with its first two picks and both should be immediate contributors. Joeckel will help improve an offensive line which allowed 50 sacks while Cyprien will play a key role in Bradley's 4-3 defense.
A number of other rookies should also make an impact next season, but the scheme changes could have the biggest impact. Bradley's defense in Seattle finished first in the league in scoring defense last season, and it wasn't done with all first-round picks. Seattle got major contributions from late-round picks and unheralded free agents. If Bradley can do the same in Jacksonville, the Jaguars' defense could make major strides next season.
On offense, a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew is a good start, but the Jaguars will also need improvements from Justin Blackmon and whoever plays quarterback. Blaine Gabbert's time to prove himself may be running out. If he can establish himself as a legitimate starting quarterback, Jacksonville could improve significantly.
The Jaguars won't get any breaks on the schedule next season, as they will face seven playoff teams. In addition to their schedule against the AFC South, the Jaguars will face the AFC West and NFC West. That comes with tough road games at Seattle, St. Louis and Denver.
The Chiefs have a new coach and a new quarterback, but will it be enough to bring them into contention in the AFC West?
Biggest issues in 2012:
Kansas City's issues last season begin with the passing game, where the Chiefs averaged a NFL-worst 169.6 yards per game. No matter how good Jamaal Charles is, Kansas City needs something resembling a passing attack. Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn combined to average 6.2 yards per attempt last season, good for 30th in the league.
Run defense was also an issue, as the Chiefs allowed the 27th-most rushing yards. To make matters worse, the Chiefs committed an NFL-high 37 turnovers last season while forcing the fewest takeaways in the league. That added up to a minus-24 turnover differential, tied for the worst in the NFL.
Andy Reid takes over on the sidelines, while Alex Smith will be the new man under center after a trade with San Francisco. Smith is coming off the best season of his career, and while he may not be one of the elite quarterbacks in the league, he should be an upgrade. No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher will begin his career at right tackle on what shapes up to be a solid offensive line. If Smith is able to generate a passing attack, things could open up for Charles, who proved to be a dangerous threat without much help.
The Chiefs added Sean Smith, Dunta Robinson and Mike DeVito on defense in free agency. Smith will pair with Brandon Flowers to give the Chiefs a solid 1-2 combination at cornerback. Kansas City has plenty of talent on defense and if the unit is able to come together under new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, the Chiefs could be much better, even without a major overhaul.
The Chiefs will play the NFC East and AFC South teams next year, but appear to have been very fortunate in the scheduling process. The Chiefs will play the New York Giants, Houston, and Indianapolis at home, with road games at Washington and Denver the two toughest contests.
So, which AFC team has the best chance to go from worst to first? You can vote in the poll and weigh in on the comments below.