|Chris O'Meara/Associated Press|
|Greg Schiano is taking over a Buccaneers team that followed up a 10-6 record in 2010 with a 4-12 season in 2011.|
Last year, two head coaches (John Fox in Denver and Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco) made the playoffs in their first full season on the job. Which of the seven new coaches has the best chance at making the postseason in 2012: Miami's Joe Philbin, Indy's Chuck Pagano, Jacksonville's Mike Mularkey, Kansas City's Romeo Crennel, Oakland's Dennis Allen, Tampa Bay's Greg Schiano or St. Louis' Jeff Fisher?
Schiano could get Bucs in wild-card chaseIf there was ever a time for a young team in the NFC South to strike, this might be it. And given that the Bucs remain only one season removed from what seemed to be very legitimate progress, I'll give them as good of a shot as any to take advantage of the Saints' nasty situation ahead.
Tampa has the quarterback and the skill players to excel on offense. If the defense can hold its own against Carolina and Atlanta, the Bucs should be fully capable of getting their squad back on its previous track toward success. It might take a wild-card berth -- since I'll peg the Falcons as the division's early favorite -- but that's nonetheless a scenario that could most certainly play out.
Healthy Chiefs can return to top of divisionI like Kansas City's chances best. This is the same team that won the division two years ago.
The players know Romeo Crennel from the end of last year when he was the interim head coach. More importantly, they will be getting back a number of key players from injury: RB Jamaal Charles, S Eric Berry and TE Tony Moeaki. They have also added some players who will help them: RT Eric Winston, RB Peyton Hillis, NT Dontari Poe.
A guy to keep an eye on is rookie Devon Wylie. I really like the fourth-round pick out of Fresno State as a return specialist and slot receiver.
Raiders can pounce on wide-open WestI'm not sure we're going to see a repeat of last season. Most of these seven teams are firmly in rebuilding mode.
But the AFC West is there for the taking, so Kansas City and Oakland, if they get consistent quarterback play, could find a way into the postseason.
If I had to pick one right now, I'd go with Dennis Allen's Raiders. A healthy Darren McFadden would be a great first step for Oakland, and new general manager Reggie McKenzie is changing the culture there.
Jags, Rams headed in right direction, but Bucs can get there in 2012I am going to keep Romeo Crennel out of this discussion because he finished last season as the Chiefs' interim coach. I do think Mike Mularkey will get Jacksonville pointed in the right direction, as will Jeff Fisher in St. Louis, but both teams might be a year away.
Greg Schiano should make the biggest difference among the first-year coaches. There is a lot of talent in Tampa Bay that could not be corralled last season once adversity struck. Schiano's already sent the message that it's all business. QB Josh Freeman seems to believe, and when the QB is all-in, it trickles down. The Bucs should contend for a playoff berth.
Crennel will have Kansas City in playoff contentionRomeo Crennel is my choice. From the way the team embraced him as interim head coach last year (beating previously undefeated Green Bay was quite the love letter) to how the team expects to be configured this year (welcome back, Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki, Eric Berry), I expect Kansas City to be one of the favorites in the AFC West when the season kicks off.
Yes, Peyton Manning has arrived in Denver, Oakland is under new management and San Diego looks impressive, so K.C.'s path to a division title is not an easy one. But, let's remember that in 2010 this team won the AFC West with many of the same players that are on this roster. And I think K.C. did not reach for a QB in this year's draft because they feel current starter Matt Cassel is ready for a big year.
New weapons, outlook should give Bucs what they need to succeedWith the Saints dealing with suspensions due to the bounty scandal, the NFC South appears to be wide open. The Bucs have what it takes.
Schiano drafted new starters -- safety Mark Barron and linebacker Lavonte David -- to improve the 30th-ranked defense. Young quarterback Josh Freeman now has a new receiver to target in Vincent Jackson and a Pro Bowl guard in Carl Nicks to protect him. A more favorable schedule this fall could also help Freeman return to his 2010 form, as well as aid the Buccaneers in approaching the 10-6 mark they achieved that season.
Quarterback play essential for Chiefs to contendTo make the playoffs, or have a legitimate shot, you have to get to at least nine wins. There are two teams on here with that opportunity: Oakland and Kansas City. I'm going to have to discount Oakland because when Darren McFadden gets hurt, there's no Michael Bush to lean on. That leaves Kansas City.
The Chiefs weren't a bad team last season. The first two weeks were awful, losing Jamaal Charles and getting blown out badly before Matt Cassel got hurt and ... poof! ... there went the season. This time around, Kansas City is deeper and more prepared. Peyton Hillis has a chip on his shoulder and will have every chance to split carries with Charles. If Cassel gets injured or falters, Brady Quinn is a better backup option than last season, where I think Steve Bono started the last 11 games. We know how dangerous Dwayne Bowe is, but don't sleep on Steve Breaston and Dexter McCluster. Tony Moeaki, who reminds me of Tony Gonzalez, will be back, as well. As long as they get good quarterback play, they'll be in the mix, because their defense is better than you think -- especially with Eric Berry back in the fold.
No one is winning 12 games in the West. Have you seen the Denver Mannings' schedule? I like the Chiefs' chances just as much as anyone else in that division. Had Manning gone to K.C.? The Chiefs would be in the Super Bowl this season.