2010 is the year of mediocrity in the NFL. Through 13 games, only four teams have double digit wins and five have double digit losses. As always, there are a handful of teams that caught a lot of people by surprise (Bears, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Jaguars), as well as quite a few dissapointments (Cincinatti, Houston, Minnesota, San Francisco…to name a few).
Any team is capable of turning things around quickly with one good draft like the Chiefs managed to do. However, there is also the possibility of a good team, like the Vikings, failing to meet expectations, as they watch their window of opportunity slam shut.
People constantly talk about the direction or future of the franchise. Which have the brightest future? And which ones are on the decline, with their brightest days behind them?
Today, the SportsSavior will give hope to five franchises who are either trying to get over the proverbial hump, or attempting to maintain their dominance as one of the NFL elite. Tomorrow, I will reveal five teams who I believe have an uncertain future ahead of them.
When taking into consideration, the team’s recent history, room for improvement, current roster, coaching staff, and front office drafting ability, here are the top five teams with the brightest futures:
1. Atlanta Falcons
There isn’t much to dislike about the Falcons. It starts with the cool, calm demeanor of Matty “Ice” Ryan and his partner in crime in running back Michael Turner. Along with veteran receivers in Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, Ryan and Turner have emerged as two of the best in the game at their position.
Add that to a young, but talented defense, and you have a team emerging as the class of the NFC for years to come.
2. New England Patriots
I was hesitant to put the Pats this high up, considering they are already considered one of the premier teams in the NFL. However, despite winning three Super Bowl rings since 2002, everyone thought the Patriots were ready to fade into the distance.
The Jets were the talk of the town and the league and were to take over the reins in the NFC East. Not so fast. As long as Tom Brady is quarterbacking a Bill Belichick led team, New England remains a Super Bowl caliber team.
Oh, and that once aging defense has been morphed into the youngest defense in the NFL. Brilliant.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs shocked the NFL world this year, with a 7-3 start. They have lately cooled down a bit, losing two out of the last three, however they are still in the NFC Wild Card playoff race, which is incredible considering they won three games last year and used the No. 3 overall pick on defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
Speaking of last year’s draft, the Bucs drafted VERY well. Following McCoy they took defensive tackle Brian Price who hasn’t shown a whole lot. However, they found two talented wide receivers in Arrelious Benn (2nd round) and Mike Williams (4th round). Williams could end up being the steal of the draft and the Bucs best player from the 2010 class, with 784 yards and seven TDs through 13 games. If that wasn’t enough, the Bucs found a starting linebacker in Cody Grimm in the 7th round.
Then there’s the Josh Freeman story. Many coaches and GMs actually preferred Freeman over the top two quarterbacks of the 2009 draft, Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez.
Like most rookies, Freeman struggled through his first season with 18 interceptions in 10 games. This year Freeman is proving to be worth more than the 17th pick in the draft with 17 TDs and just six interceptions. The offense is an explosive running back away from putting the Bucs at the top of the NFC.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chief’s front office has done a remarkable job at turning the page on the Dick Vermeil, Trent Green, Larry Johnson era. They appeared to be going nowhere after three straight losing seasons from 2007-2009.
However, Scott Pioli, a former New England exec, in a very short time has put together a more-than formidable coaching staff led by Todd Haley, has found his franchise quarterback in Matt Cassel, and has put together a roster with young talent on both sides of the ball.
Dexter McCluster and Jamaal Charles give reason to watch, as they are two of the most dazzling young backs in the game. Quietly the Chiefs are putting together what I believe will soon be one of the best defenses in the NFL. A secondary of Brandon Flowers, Brandon Carr (who went to college at GVSU, where I graduated from), and Eric Berry will surely create problems for opposing offenses. It’s an exciting time to be a Chiefs fan.
5. Detroit Lions
After a decade of futility, the Lions hopes and dreams rest on the delicate shoulders of quarterback Matthew Stafford. The entire offense is built around the oft-injured former No. 1 pick, including a playmaker and potential star in rookie running back Jahvid Best.
Unlike the Matt Millen days, it is apparent that the Lions actually have a plan on how they want to build their football team. And so far current GM Martin Mayhew has proven that he knows how to wheel and deal. Mayhew hasn’t missed on too many draft picks and has potentially found a franchise quarterback in Stafford and a pro-bowl defensive tackle in Ndamukong Suh in the past two drafts.
On offense, questions remain on the offensive line; however the rest of the offense is set for the next few years. The big problem that may arise in a year or so is Calvin Johnson’s decision on whether to sign an extension with the Lions or hit the jackpot in free-agency. If the Lions win next season, then Johnson probably stays. But if the Lions have another losing season, then Johnson will be an afterthought in a franchise that has found few stars since the departure of No. 20, 11 years ago.
The only other question I have is whether or not Jim Schwartz can progress as a decision maker. I don’t doubt his ability to lead and motivate a team; however there have been far too many errors in time management and other game-day blunders that have many questioning his ability to get the Lions over the hump. Schwartz has a lot to prove next year, where his roster should be light years better than the past two…errr 10..seasons.
If it wasn’t for their aging defense, I would have the Ravens in the top five because I love what they have done with the offense. Joe Flacco may never put up Drew Brees-like numbers, but he is a leader on the field and has the talent to make all the throws. Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin will provide Flacco with enough ammo to become one of the better offenses in the NFL.
Room for improvement is minimal, as they are consistently elite. Similar to the Ravens though, the Steelers young offense is what excites me, yet I am somewhat cautious about their veteran defense. The average age of the 11 starters is 29.5. Young pups in defensive end Ziggy Hood and linebacker Lawrence Timmons give reason to believe the defense will be a force for years to come.
With a Ben Roethlisberger led offense featuring an elite back in Rashard Mendenhall, paired with the fact that the Rooney family loves their football team, the Steelers should contend for Super Bowls for at least the next decade.
San Diego Chargers
Again, there are many things that have the arrow pointing up; most notably Philip Rivers playing at MVP caliber levels. However, they have many questions on the defensive side of the ball, and I am not sold on Norv Turner’s ability to lead San Diego to the promise land.
Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for the five teams with the gloomiest futures in the NFL.