Injuries, a league-worst running game and a terrible defense caused the Falcons to go from 13-3 and an NFC Championship appearance in 2012 to a 4-12 record in 2013.
Every year there is at least one new team in the playoffs, and in the past decade there has been at least one who was 4th place in their division the year before. 2014 should be no different with plenty of teams vying for a chance to exploit an opponent’s moment of weakness and take their place in the playoffs as either a division champion or a wild card winner.
Here are the ten most likely candidates to do just that in 2014:
10. New York Jets – A surprising 8-8 record in 2013 with some of the worst offensive performances in the league allowed HC Rex Ryan to keep his job in 2014. While his team has fallen a long way since going to two straight AFC Championship games in 2009 and 2010, Rex still puts together one the league’s best defenses year in and year out and used this past free agency and draft to boost an offense that has struggled for several years. The AFC East division title is completely out of reach, but a Wildcard spot is very much in play if QB Geno Smith can step up and cut out the turnovers.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The team had seemingly too much talent to lose so many games in 2013, and yet they did with a combination of bad QB play and strange injuries. Greg Schiano was fired and replaced with former Bears HC Lovie Smith, who brought in Josh McCown to be his starting QB, and drafted WR Mike Evans. Smith has a strong reputation for making winners when he has the right talent, and the Bucs look like they may be as talented as any Bears team Smith coached. They could easily contend for the NFC South division title since they only play 6 games against teams that had a winning record in 2013.