The NFL is a tough place. Only 12 out of 32 teams qualify for the playoffs every year, leaving some very talented rosters out of the mix come January. But each season is different and fortunes change at the drop of a hat. So, let’s take a peek at some of those teams who failed to make the playoffs in 2013, but could very well make the tournament in 2014. So, here it is (in no particular order): 10 teams on the cusp of the NFL playoffs. -- Sid Saraf
Getty ImagesChristian Petersen
Matthew Stafford and Co. fell apart in the second half of 2013 and stumbled to a 7-9 finish and third place in the NFC North. What’s worse, the Lions were an undisciplined bunch as they ranked in the top 10 in total penalties. But things have changed. Head coach Jim Schwartz is out, the more cerebral Jim Caldwell is in and the Lions added such weapons as Golden Tate (free agency) and Eric Ebron (draft). It’s not hard to imagine with the added pass catchers, Detroit can easily find itself back in the playoffs.
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY SportsAndrew Weber
New York Jets
Let’s face it, last season’s 8-8 was quite an accomplishment, considering Gang Green’s offense was led by the league’s lowest-rated passer in Geno Smith. But this is a new year! The Jets added wide receiver Eric Decker and running back Chris Johnson via free agency. They also brought in Michael Vick in case the Geno-coaster goes off the rails. Their draft was outstanding as the Jets added what looks to be a surefire star in safety Calvin Pryor in the first round. Is it possible that this team is at least two wins better than 2013? Absolutely.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
Yeah, we all saw the D.C. football club limp to a 3-13 record under the crumbling Mike Shanahan regime. But those days are over and a Gruden (Jay) is now running the show in Washington. The Redskins have done what’s in their power to give Robert Griffin III – who was never 100 percent healthy last season – more weapons by signing star receiver DeSean Jackson. They also upgraded their pass rush by signing Jason Hatcher and drafting Trent Murphy. But the rub here is RG3. If the team gets the 2012 version, who led the Redskins to the NFC East crown, they’re golden. That’s a big if.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY SportsGeoff Burke
There are a lot of people excited in upstate New York this offseason. Really? For a team that went 6-10 last season? Absolutely and here is why: The Bills are sporting an up-and-coming defense led by budding star Kiko Alonso. Then, they went out an added linebacker Brandon Spikes and cornerback Corey Graham in free agency. Score. When the draft rolled around the Bills grabbed this year’s receiving prize in Sammy Watkins. Suddenly, second-year quarterback EJ Manuel has a wealth of weapons with Watkins, Robert Woods, Mike Williams and a backfield of CJ Spiller, Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown. If Manuel develops and stays healthy, are we looking at a 2014 renaissance in Buffalo?
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY SportsKevin Hoffman
Sure, the Super Bowl champs from two seasons ago didn’t make the playoffs in 2013. However, their 8-8 record doesn’t tell the whole story as they were in contention with the Bengals for the AFC North crown until the very end of the regular season. They also had four tough losses of three points or less. GM Ozzie Newsome brought Joe Flacco some receiving help this offseason by signing respected veteran Steve Smith. Their draft was also solid as they brought in linebacker CJ Mosley and big defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. Smith’s toughness along with the team’s new arrivals could very well turn some of those close losses into close victories in 2014.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY SportsMark Zerof
The Black and Gold have missed the playoffs two seasons running. Will that streak end in 2014? If so, the Steelers are going to have to avoid a repeat of their 2-6 start to the 2013 season. What they’d like is to build off the momentum of their 6-2 second half of 2013. It will be tricky, especially considering the Steelers are still a bit old, and they’ll need new arrivals such as free-agent safety Mike Mitchell and second-round draft pick defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt to be able to step up and contribute right away. But it can be done.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY SportsKelley L Cox
It must stink to finish 10-6 and miss the playoffs but that was Arizona’s reality in 2013. You know what else stinks? Losing linebacker Karlos Dansby (free agency) and Daryl Washington (one-year suspension). But nonetheless, the Cardinals can still make do with replacements Ernie Sims and Larry Foote at the linebacker spot and have upgraded their offensive line by signing left tackle Jared Veldheer. Imagine if quarterback Carson Palmer actually gets some time to throw the ball in 2014. Is it that hard to think that the Cardinals could catch a break in the ultra-competitive NFC West?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This team started 0-8 and finished 4-12 in 2013. So, why do they seem like they could knock on the postseason door now? Easy, head coach Greg Schiano has been fired and Lovie Smith is now the man in charge. And here’s another fact: Smith is inheriting a talented roster that finished +10 in turnover margin in 2013, which was third-best in the league. They also have a great group of offensive weapons in Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and rookies Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The one thing they lacked was consistent QB play and with the acquisition of Josh McCown, the Bucs have someone who won’t turn the ball over often. That can make all the difference between a 4-12 record and a playoff contender.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
Another 8-8 team from 2013, however the Bears were battered by injuries and were forced to give some inexperienced players significant playing time. What’s more, their secondary is still a question mark and they let defensive tackle Henry Melton walk in free agency. BUT, here is the key to success in Chicago: Jay Cutler making it through all 16 regular season games, something he hasn’t done since 2009. If he does, the Bears will be right there at the end and could very well be playing football in January.
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY SporDennis Wierzbicki
How does a team go from 13-3 in 2012 to 4-12 in 2013? Simple, injuries. A ton of them. You name the important player, chances are he had something wrong with him. Roddy White, Julio Jones, Kroy Biermann, Sam Baker, the list goes on. If the Falcons can stay relatively healthy, they’ll be a contender in the NFC South. If their team facility resembles a triage station during D-Day … well, we’ve seen what happens.