It seems like every year there's a team, or two, or even three that exceeded expectations coming into the season. Generally, those teams had poor records in the prior season.
Just look at last season. The Indianapolis Colts finished 2-14 without Peyton Manning in 2011. They let him go, and entered their post-Manning/rebuilding stage. Enter Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck. Indy won 11 games in 2012 and earned a spot in wild card weekend.
The Minnesota Vikings finished 2011 3-13. Adrian Peterson tore up his knee, and many wondered if Christian Ponder could be “the guy.” Peterson recorded an unbelievable, near record-breaking season, the defense improved, and they got to 10 wins and made the playoffs as a wild card.
The Redskins suffered through an unthinkable season at quarterback, trotting out Rex Grossman and John Beck. The defense actually played well enough to win more games, but the inept offense made sure the Redskins finished 2011 at 5-11. Robert Griffin III came to DC and hopes were renewed. Things didn't start so well at 3-6, but after the bye week, they ran the table to a 10-6 record, and their first division title since 1999.
My point is that it can be done. Going into last season, if I would've told you that those three teams would be playing in January, you would've laughed at me. Granted those teams had beyond stellar performances from their star players, and we're not going to see rookie QB seasons like those for a long time, but it has been proven time and time again that teams can make the “worst to first” jump.
Now I pose the question: Who has the best shot at doing that this year?
I can think of two teams.
1. St. Louis Rams (7-8-1 in 2012)
This is hardly a reach, and technically it wouldn't be a worst to first, but they did finish under .500. I still think they'll finish third, but their win total might still have them in the playoffs. I think there's a shot that both wild card teams will be from the NFC west. TJ McDonald is a definite upgrade at strong safety, and the guys they have at free should play well enough to sure up the secondary. Tavon Austin will do wonders for Sam Bradford as well as take some pressure off of a very young group of tailbacks. St. Louis will need some things to fall their way for a postseason berth. The Saints can't have a resurgence like most think they will, the Bears and/or the Vikings have to fall off, and the NFC East can't send more than one team into the field. Even if they're on the outside looking in, I still like the rams to finish 10-6.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14 in 2012)
For the second year in a row, the team who drafted first will make the postseason. They have one of the best coaches in the game, a lot of talent and speed on both sides of the ball, and a quarterback that won't turn the ball over (too much). Not to mention that gigantic chip on his shoulder after losing a job he held down pretty well due to injury. The defense has so much potential, but it failed to produce last year. Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson have joined a secondary that looks amazing on paper. Too bad the game is played on grass (or turf). Yet and still, the back end of that unit should be much better. The Chiefs WILL NOT unseat the Denver Broncos as division champs. I think they win 9 games, and that could very well be good enough for the second wild card spot in the AFC. They'll be fighting with two AFC North teams and the Chargers. If this team does what it's capable of, the fans at Arrowhead will have something to cheer for in December.
Bottom line: I'm predicting the teams from The Show-Me State are finally going to show us something this year.