It's been more than five months since the 2012 NFL season came to a close in New Orleans. Thirty-one teams went home without raising the Lombardi Trophy and immediately began looking ahead to bigger and better things in 2013. Coaching changes, free agency, draft and minicamps have followed, and training camps begin later this week. Which team improved itself the most from the end of 2012 and will be the most optimistic entering the new season?
Two big pieces should have Chiefs raring to goThere isn't a team in the NFL that doesn't feel like it has improved during the offseason. However, I believe the Kansas City Chiefs are the team that should be the most excited about the additions to their squad. They've made major upgrades at the two most important spots in the organization: head coach and quarterback.
Andy Reid had a long track record of success with the Philadelphia Eagles, while Alex Smith proved that he can play efficient, clean football under Jim Harbaugh with the San Francisco 49ers. The rest of the Chiefs' roster, meanwhile, is solid. These two additions will have Kansas City in the playoff hunt this fall.
Momentum favors MiamiThe Miami Dolphins have to be optimistic after landing several targeted free agents and snaring the player they coveted in the 2013 NFL Draft: Dion Jordan. The New England Patriots are clearly weakened, and if Danny Amendola can't stay healthy at wideout, this will be a two-horse race in the AFC East. Considering the fact that the Dolphins have made the playoffs just once in the past 11 seasons, the positive vibes have to be flowing in that organization. Let us also not forget that the club was able to make it to 7-9 with a rookie head coach and rookie quarterback last season.
Only the Seattle Seahawks would seem to be more optimistic heading into the season, as many feel they've improved enough to be Super Bowl contenders. But given some of the less-than-positive offseason news surrounding Pete Carroll's group, the vote here is for Miami.
Giants' offensive tweaks will have big impactImprovement on paper doesn't translate into championships. That being said, I love what the New York Giants did offensively. Sure, it was subtler than what teams like the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts did, but it was needed. New York turned the page on the underachieving and often banged-up Ahmad Bradshaw at running back and gave the ground game to two potential stars in David Wilson and Andre Brown. Brown is a phenomenal angry runner who's going to give an edge to the Giants' rushing attack, while Wilson can score from anywhere on the field.
While the Victor Cruz contract drama ended happily for both sides, the bigger news in the passing game was the signing of Brandon Myers. Eli Manning has made a weapon out of any tight end he's had, whether it was Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard or Martellus Bennett. Now he'll be working with the most talented player the Giants have had at the position in years. Watch the impact he has on every game. In fact, I'll borrow from our NFL Fantasy Live show and give you a bold prediction for the G-Men: If everyone stays healthy, they'll lead the NFL in total offense.
Cards can make noise in NFC WestThere is a lot of buzz around the NFC West, with the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and even the St. Louis FC generating some preseason hype. And it's all well deserved. However, the Arizona Cardinals have many reasons to be optimistic this year.
Last season, the Cardinals started 4-0 (including a win at New England) before the bottom fell out. Now, with new quarterback Carson Palmer and new coach Bruce Arians to go along with a standout defense, the Cardinals should be able to challenge for the NFC West title.
Andy Reid, Alex Smith will make Chiefs winnersGo ahead and use a pen to circle the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Tennessee Titans and St. Louis Rams as teams that'll win more games this year than they did last year. You can do the same with the Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins ... but I suggest using a pencil when circling those.
If we're talking strictly in terms of win differential from 2012 to 2013, it's hard to argue against the Kansas City Chiefs. A relatively talented roster got Romeo'd last season (Crennel might be the worst head coach of the past decade) on the way to a woeful 14 losses. There's no chance that'll happen again this year, though, not with a new, high-profile head coach and quarterback.
Don't be unnerved by his hubris-bloated Eagles squads of the past two seasons: Andy Reid's teams win a lot (championship games notwithstanding). He'll get as much as possible out of Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Tony Moeaki, Jon Baldwin, Dexter McCluster, et al., on offense -- and the defense will create turnovers, thanks to playmakers like Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, Brandon Flowers and Derrick Johnson. As for Smith, he probably won't throw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns ... but not because he'll be a "game manager." Rather, he'll be too busy helping Charles torment defenses in Kansas City's new pistol offense, designed in part by none other than pistol guru/Chiefs consultant Chris Ault. Throw in the fact that the AFC West looks manageable outside of the Denver Broncos, and the Chiefs have a great shot at notching double-digit wins.