Ten sleeper teams that could make the playoffs in 2014By cover32 StaffJuly 10, 2014 9:51 pmOne of the great things about the NFL is that nearly every team can make a case for the upcoming season being “their year.” That’s because every campaign sees plenty of worst-to-first turnarounds, where non-playoff teams from the year before suddenly find themselves in postseason contention down the stretch.Some of this is nothing more than false hope, summertime bravado that isn’t grounded in reality. But on occasion, with a few select teams, there is truly a reason for optimism. Between building on upon what they started in 2013, as well as shrewd moves during the offseason, several clubs have put themselves in position to make the leap from an also-ran to a contender.With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at the teams most likely to fall into that category in 2014. Here are 10 NFL sleeper teams that could make the playoffs this season:10. Oakland Raiders (4-12 in 2013)Schaub gives the Raiders a legit NFL-caliber QBThis may sound crazy, especially given that the Raiders haven’t had an above-.500 season since 2002. But last season’s dismal record is somewhat misleading; after all, Oakland was within a touchdown in four of those losses. Remember the near-upset in Week 1 at Indianapolis? That’s just one example where a legit NFL-caliber quarterback (enter Matt Schaub) could have made a difference. Couple a new QB with a slew of other free-agent signings and it could be enough.9. Cleveland Browns (4-12 in 2013)He only needs to make a play or two per gameYes, this is partially because there’s a belief that Johnny Football will be a difference-maker in Cleveland. But it also has to do with the fact that the Browns roster is loaded with talent. At one point last year, they were 4-5; then, things simply spiraled out of control after the bye week, as the team lost seven straight games. A play here or there ends the skid, keeping what could have been a promising season on track. Maybe Manziel makes those plays?8. Houston Texans (2-14 in 2013)Jadeveon Clowney joins an already talented Texans defenseLast year was a disaster in every possible way in Houston, as the season went awry in Week 4 when a sure victory over the eventual-champion Seahawks turned into a loss when Matt Schaub through a late-game pick six to Richard Sherman. That was the second of 14 consecutive losses to end the season, which is just staggering. But new head coach Bill O’Brien doesn’t have bare cupboards; there’s a ton of talent, especially on defense, to work with as the Texans bounce back.7. Buffalo Bills (6-10 in 2013)Sammy Watkins gives Buffalo a new weaponLast season, they lost to the Patriots by two in the opener, fell in overtime against both the Bengals and the Falcons, and lost by a touchdown at the Jets. In other words, they were right there. But the bigger takeaway from last season is that despite disappointing losses, as well as a rash of injuries at the quarterback position, head coach Doug Marrone kept his team from quitting. A late-season win over a Miami team with playoff hopes said a lot.6. New York Jets (8-8 in 2013)Ryan just needs some O to go with his DHow on earth did the Jets go 8-8 last year, scoring less than 300 points across a 16-game season? The other four teams in the league that fell into that category went a combined 17-47. That shows just how good New York’s defense is, as Rex Ryan had them playing at a high level once again. So an offseason that saw quarterback Michael Vick, running back Chris Johnson and wide receiver Eric Decker arrive in the Big Apple is reason to be optimistic.5. Arizona Cardinals (10-6 in 2013)The league’s best DBs help lead the CardsThey went into CenturyLink Field in Week 16 and beat the Seahawks on their home field; that’s really all anyone needs to know about how good the Cardinals can be. They have a defense that can be suffocating at times and an offense that got better in the second half of the season, as Carson Palmer got comfortable. That 7-2 finish wasn’t a mirage; Arizona is a legit threat to win (yes, win) the NFC West in 2014.4. St. Louis Rams (7-9)Robert Quinn powers a stout Rams defenseInconsistency derailed the Rams in 2013, as impressive wins would be followed by two- or three-game losing streaks that simply killed any momentum that the season was building. In part, this was because St. Louis played more than half of the season without Sam Bradford, who will be back under center this year. And in part, this was due to the Rams being a young team, one that will be more seasoned in Jeff Fisher’s third year at the helm.3. Atlanta Falcons (4-12 in 2013)With this trio healthy, the Falcons will bounce backIn the five seasons prior to last year, the Falcons had gone a combined 56-24. Then, a rash of injuries struck in Atlanta, and things got ugly quickly. While that may sound like an excuse, as every team has to deal with its share of challenges, winning 70 percent of their games over a five-year span previously suggests that losing Julio Jones, Roddy White and a host of others was the reason for the tailspin. Now (mostly) healthy, the Falcons are a Super Bowl contender again.2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12 in 2013)Lovie Smith has won with less than he has in TampaThe Bucs started last season 0-8, as Greg Schiano was clearly in over his head; he’s better suited as a college coach. He’s finally gone, replaced by Lovie Smith, a guy who led the Chicago Bears, with Rex Grossman at QB, to the Super Bowl. Now, he has an offense that features newcomer Josh McCown under center, with Doug Martin in the backfield and Vincent Jackson out wide. Plus, they have a defense that got better with Alterraun Verner now at cornerback.1. Washington Redskins (3-13 in 2013)The soap opera is over, meaning it’s winning time in D.C. againRobert Griffin III was never right last year, as he tried to rebound from the injury that ended his ultra-successful rookie campaign. That created a soap-opera atmosphere in D.C. that started in training camp and remained throughout a dismal season. Now, RGIII is healthy, and he’ll have a new quarterback guru (head coach Jay Gruden helped groom Andy Dalton in Cincinnati) to learn from. They were the NFC East champs in 2012; they can do it again in ’14.***Buck Stanton is a former agent and current sports business writer for various web sites, publications and newspaperslink
I saw an article with same premise on bleacher report, it was 9 teams ready to compete for the playoffs… they had Oakland, Jax and Cleveland on there but not us. I couldn’t believe my eyes.I agree, Lovie has won with less. The NFC is really tough right now so it wouldn't surprise me if it took a year or two for us to make it but I think we'll be close.
The Redskins don't have a shot at the playoffs imo. That secondary is just horrendous. Their offense has a ton of speed for sure, but they are just lacking in so many other areas.
Yup. Must be an rgthree fan. Outside of rgthree fans, hardly anyone thinks anything great of rgthree.But I will say this. With the "name change" BS looming, you better believe Snyder is going to, almost literally, break out the whip. They start winning, and even the name issue will be diminished, at least a little.Rg is more flash than substance. They're headed for another rough year imo.
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