Citing the 13 NFL teams with losing records from last season, FOX Sports South outlines the five most intriguing candidates for a 2014 breakthrough -- in the form of a rare winning campaign, a prodigious march to a division title or even a seismic jump to conference Championship Sunday in late January. Truth be told, the four NFC clubs were rather elementary to identify ... but we had to think outside the box -- wayyyyy outside the box -- to reconcile the one AFC entrant for this countdown. (Photos: Dale Zanine/Brace Hemmelgarn/Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
2013 RECORD: 4-12 ... WINS OF 7 POINTS OR MORE: 2 ... LOSSES OF 4 POINTS OR LESS: 5 ... REASONS TO BELIEVE: 1) In 2013, the Falcons' receiving corps was derailed by injuries to Roddy White and Julio Jones. 2) The Falcons restocked the trenches during the offseason, signing O-guard Jon Asamoah and drafting O-tackle Jake Matthews. On the other side, Atlanta added two significant pieces in defensive end Tyson Jackson and tackle Paul Soliai. 3) Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are now established NFL corners ... and primed for big steps forward. 4) Steven Jackson (above) logged 16 or more touches in his final six games ... and collected six total TDs in that span. 5) QB Matt Ryan (4,515 yards passing, 26 TDs) won't feel the need to throw 651 balls this season -- even though he completed 67.4 percent of his passes last year.
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY SportsKevin Hoffman
2013 RECORD: 4-12 ... WINS OF 7 POINTS OR MORE: 2 ... LOSSES OF 4 POINTS OR LESS: 3 ... REASONS TO BELIEVE: 1) Free agency is seldom the answer for downtrodden clubs. But the Raiders should be commended for signing QB Matt Schaub, WR James Jones, left tackle Donald Penn, D-tackles Antonio Smith, Justin Tuck, CB Carlos Rogers and RB Maurice Jones-Drew. 2) To execute a jump of 4-5 wins, the Raiders must beat the Texans, Browns, Bills, Jets and Dolphins. 3) With Jones (21 TDs from 2011-13), Rod Streater and Denarius Moore (above -- 695 yards, five TDs), Oakland has its best three-pack of wideouts since Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Jerry Porter. 4) IF Darren McFadden and Jones-Drew can remain healthy, they should be ideal complements in the Raiders backfield. Neither runner is a single bet for 1,200 yards or double-digit TDs.
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New York Giants
2013 RECORD: 7-9 ... WINS OF 7 POINTS OR MORE: 5 ... LOSSES OF 4 POINTS OR LESS: 1 ... REASONS TO BELIEVE: 1) Eli Manning (above) and the Giants started 2-6 last year -- a far cry from the previous four teams during the first half (6-2, 6-2, 6-2, 5-3). On the plus side, the 2013 Giants rallied for a 7-3 finish, with the defense allowing more than 24 points just once in that span. 2) Tom Coughlin deftly hired Ben McAdoo to run the offense. For 2012-13, McAdoo helped create a top-seven offense in Green Bay. 3) The Giants upgraded the rushing attack three ways -- drafting Boston College's Andre Williams (2,177 rushing yards in 2013), signing Rashad Jennings and getting medical clearance with tailback David Wilson (neck), a home-run asset when healthy. 4) Unsung WR Jerrel Jernigan rolled for 147 yards and two TDs in Week 17.
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAYRobert Deutsch
2013 RECORD: 7-9 ... WINS OF 7 POINTS OR MORE: 5 ... LOSSES OF 4 POINTS OR LESS: 6 ... REASONS TO BELIEVE: 1) The Lions have too many great pieces to muddle through another bad campaign -- from Matthew Stafford (above), Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Reggie Bush, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and perhaps the NFL's most underrated O-line. 2) Johnson (above) is the gold standard of receivers, accounting for 302 catches, 5,137 yards and 33 TDs over the last three seasons. 3) Head coach Jim Caldwell should be a good fit for a potentially dynamic club that needs discipline. Coordinators Joe Lombardi (offense) and Teryl Austin (defense) could be game-changers, too. 4) Never underestimate the power of motivation through humiliation, as the '13 Lions inexplicably blew an easy chance at the NFC North title.
USA TODAY SportsTim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
St. Louis Rams
2013 RECORD: 7-9 ... WINS OF 7 POINTS OR MORE: 6 ... LOSSES OF 4 POINTS OR LESS: 0 ... REASONS TO BELIEVE: 1) This would be an easy call, if the Rams played in a different division. 2) In 2013, the Rams had the No. 4-ranked rush defense (84.2 yards per game) and were one of three teams to tally 20-plus sacks. 3) Before suffering a knee injury last year, QB Sam Bradford accounted for 300 total yards and/or multiple TDs in four of seven starts. 4) Zac Stacy (1,114 total yards, eight TDs) and rookie Tre Mason (1,816 rushing yards, 24 total TDs last year at Auburn) could soon become the NFC's best 1-2 rushing punch. 5) Robert Quinn (29.5 sacks the last two years) may be the NFL's best defensive end. 6) The Rams nailed the May draft, landing O-lineman Greg Robinson and D-tackle Aaron Donald high in Round 1.