No team will benefit more from a coaching change than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Lovie Smith will run an organized operation with a clear motive from Day 1: Run the ball and play good defense. This roster is absolutely loaded with Pro Bowl talent on both sides of the ball. A torn labrum caused running back Doug Martin to land on injured reserve in November. His return will be big for Tampa Bay and Smith will ride his young runner hard. If new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford has it his way, he’ll be able to mold Mike Glennon into the quarterback of the future. Expect big things from the Bucs in 2014.
Getty ImagesAl Messerschmidt
Chip Kelly’s first season in the NFL was a success, to put it mildly. Once quarterback Nick Foles was able to find comfort in the offense, they won seven of their last eight games. Linebacker Connor Barwin said recently that he thinks “there’s going to be a lot of growth from Year 1 to Year 2” when it comes to Philly’s defense. The Eagles will need to make decisions at the wide receiver position, however, as Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are free agents. The NFC East will always be a competitive division, but Philadelphia will continue to ascend as Kelly gets his guys in house.
Getty ImagesRonald Martinez
The Bengals coaching staff was purged this past month as defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer took the head job in Minnesota and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was tabbed as the Redskins head coach. Could that mean a change in scheme on both sides of the ball? Possibly, but the team shouldn’t be altered drastically. The offense is built around a good core of Andy Dalton, AJ Green and Giovani Bernard, but expect emerging talents like Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert and Andrew Hawkins to be consistent factors next season. The defense is built for a championship run and the highly anticipated return of Geno Atkins will only help.
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Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone temporarily derailed the Packers’ postseason hopes in the middle of the season. That was until a culmination of events occurred, which allowed them an opportunity for a late-season push at the NFC North title. Led by Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy, the running game should allow for a more balanced offensive attack and will give them an edge to put away their opponents. Rodgers has a bounty of weapons at his disposal and the only question mark on this team is the defense. General manager Ted Thompson has some decisions to make this offseason as defensive tackle B.J. Raji, cornerback Sam Shields and other notable players are scheduled to hit free agency.
Getty ImagesGregory Shamus
Andrew Luck has led the Colts to back-to-back postseason berths in his first two seasons, but he surely isn’t satisfied. An offseason and another year in coordinator Pep Hamilton’s offense will benefit Trent Richardson. The third-year running back must make big progress next season for the team’s plan to formulate. Veteran receiver Reggie Wayne’s return to the lineup will also benefit the offense. General manager Ryan Grigson is building a roster from top to bottom to compete with the best. The first order of business must be to stabilize the defense. The Colts must add a playmaker along the defensive line to help with defending the run. It’s important that they calculate their moves, too.
Getty ImagesAndy Lyons
New England Patriots
The Broncos were able to torch New England this postseason, but young defensive talent like linebacker Jamie Collins, defensive end Chandler Jones and cornerback Logan Ryan will stiffen the unit. Head coach Bill Belichick does a fantastic job at assembling a team and maximizes each roster spot. Tom Brady didn’t have much to work with on offense, so it’s important that the Patriots are active in pursuing some more weapons. But don’t expect Belichick to be ultra-aggressive in going after big-name free agents. That’s not his style. He’ll likely use the draft and find bargains in free agency that will ultimately help this team down the stretch. Tight end Rob Gronkowski’s rehab from a torn ACL will be paramount to this team’s success and if he can return to 100 percent, that will give New England a much-needed boost on offense.
Getty ImagesJim Rogash
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers will make their home debut at Levi’s Stadium in the fall after playing 43 years at Candlestick Park. Let a new era begin. Since Jim Harbaugh has taken the reins as the team’s head coach, the 49ers have played in the NFC Championship Game in each of his three seasons. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick will need to improve on his passing game inside the pocket, but he will be assisted by a full season with wide receiver Michael Crabtree. A torn Achilles sidelined Crabtree until Week 13, but he was able to make the most of his opportunities when he got back on the field. It’s a different offense with Crabtree in the lineup. Frank Gore, 30, enters the final year of his deal so expect young running backs Kendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore to have a bigger role next season. While there isn’t a timeline for linebacker NaVorro Bowman’s return, it wouldn’t be a longshot to assume that he’ll be ready for Week 1.
Getty ImagesJeff Gross
Peyton Manning’s assault on the record books didn’t amount to a Vince Lombardi trophy presentation. As good as the Broncos offense was during the regular season, they weren’t able to find their rhythm when it mattered most. Their roster is likely to have some players, including running back Knowshon Moreno and wide receiver Eric Decker, walk in free agency. Manning, who will be 38 when next season kicks off, has another offseason to contemplate how the season resulted in an unsettling finish. With all of that said, this team is too talented to not compete for their fourth straight AFC West title. Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway must add more talent to the defensive side of the ball to counter how well the offense plays.
Getty ImagesDoug Pensinger
Other than the Kansas City Chiefs, no team made a greater leap than the Carolina Panthers. Quarterback Cam Newton’s less-is-more approach benefitted the team this season, but the front office should add a game-breaking wide receiver as Steve Smith enters the twilight of his career. Defensively, this team rounded out as one of the most exciting units in football. Led by linebacker Luke Kuechly, Sean McDermott’s defense must maintain their vicious mindset and continue to suffocate opposing offenses.
Getty ImagesStreeter Lecka
The Seahawks are the second-youngest team ever to win a Super Bowl and will be able to keep their core intact this offseason. While defensive end Michael Bennett, offensive tackle Breno Giacomini and wide receiver Golden Tate are set to test free agency, this team is built to win multiple championships. General manager John Schneider has done an excellent job of bringing in both known and unknown and head coach Pete Carroll has a knack for shaping a team that fuels on camaraderie. Quarterback Russell Wilson might not be the most dynamic quarterback in the league, but he moves the chains and is clutch when it matters most. A solid running game sparked by Marshawn Lynch is the foundation for this team and a stifling defense will allow them to compete with any team. Free safety Earl Thomas will likely cash in on his All-Pro season.