Each year, the goal is the same in the NFL: Good teams try to stay good while bad teams try to get better.
The offseason affords all clubs an opportunity to upgrade and fill gaps, and some emerge much stronger as a result.
The following is a list of five teams that appear to have made the greatest improvement since the end of last season:
Best moves: Hiring Mike Shanahan as coach and Bruce Allen as general manager, and owner Daniel Snyder stepping out of the way and letting them do their jobs. ... Trading with the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback Donovan McNabb, who instantly transformed them from an also-ran to a contender. ... Adding defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to oversee the conversion from the 4-3 to the 3-4. ... Upgrading the offensive line with a pair of tackles: First-round draft pick Trent Williams and Jammal Brown, whom they picked up in a trade with New Orleans.
Where it will likely lead: A wild-card playoff spot. The Redskins could be held back by a subpar running game and an offensive line that still has some jelling to do. And there's always the constant distraction of disgruntled defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Still, with McNabb, they should have the firepower to hold their own with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
Best moves: Using the second overall pick of the draft on former Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who should be a difference-making force as a rookie. Couple that with the 30th overall choice of former Cal running back Jahvid Best, who should do plenty to give the Lions more offensive balance, while also helping as a returner. ... Trading for former Denver Broncos tight end Tony Scheffler, who should provide second-year quarterback Matthew Stafford a reliable receiving alternative to his big-play targets. ... Signing former Tennessee Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who should put some teeth into the Lions' pass-rush.
Where it will likely lead: Not very far this season. Although the Lions should show noticeable improvement, they aren't likely to escape the basement of a division that also is home to two of the best teams in the league (Green Bay and Minnesota) and the improved Chicago Bears. Look for this team to be in the playoff hunt in 2011.
Best moves: Saying goodbye to colossal quarterbacking bust JaMarcus Russell and trading with the Redskins for Jason Campbell, who has a chance to benefit from a change of scenery, and the arrival of new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. ... Retaining defensive end Richard Seymour. ... Taking a surprisingly sound approach to the draft with the first-round selection of former Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain, a tremendous tackler with considerable range, and the second-round choice of former Texas defensive lineman Lamarr Houston, who should be a disruptive force inside.
Where it will likely lead: Short of the postseason, but they should show significant progress and could very well finish second in a fairly soft division. Depending on how Campbell performs, the Raiders just might be a contender next year.
Best moves: Turning complete control of the franchise over to new team president Mike Holmgren. ... Sticking with Eric Mangini as coach after last season's strong finish, and keeping a solid defensive scheme intact. ... Dumping unproductive quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, and picking up Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. â¦ Drafting Colt McCoy to be their quarterback of the future.
Where it will likely lead: Not to the playoffs this year or even next. But the Browns could very well be postseason contenders in 2012.
Best moves: Using the third overall pick in the draft on former Oklahoma star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who should make an immediate impact on a unit that finished last in the NFL against the run and failed to consistently generate heat on the passer. ... Selecting another dynamic defensive tackle, former UCLA standout Brian Price, in the second round.
Where it will likely lead: Nowhere ... until 2012 at the earliest.