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Organic Email Chain: Picking playoff sleeper in 2014

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Time for another wholly organic email chain from the Around The League team:

From: Hanzus, Dan
Sent: Monday, June 9, 2014 12:17 PM
To: Sessler, Marc; Wesseling, Chris; Rosenthal, Gregg; Patra, Kevin
Subject: ORGANIC EMAIL CHAIN #15

Seven teams will hold mandatory minicamps this week. Three of those teams -- the Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions -- are led by new head coaches.

The Browns, Bucs and Lions all have some buzz attached to their product right now, and it's not crazy to think any of them can make a run to the playoffs in 2014. Yes, even the Browns.

That got the Around The League team thinking: Which one of those three teams has the best chance of joining the postseason field in 2014?

I'll go first. The Bucs are well-positioned to make a run and the reasoning is simple: Josh McCown and Lovie Smith represent a massive upgrade over Josh Freeman and Greg Schiano in the quarterback-coach department. This was never a roster lacking in talent, even as the Bucs crumbled to 4-12 last year.

McCown could be primed for a Rich Gannon-like late-career boom, and Mike Evans combined with Vincent Jackson have the ability to be McCown's new version of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

Throw in a promising defense led by Lavonte David, the return of a healthy Doug Martin and a questionable offseason for the defending division champ Panthers and the Bucs have every right to be bullish about their chances.

GR: Unfortunately for Sessler and Greg Schiano, any Bucs playoff push will come a year too late.

MS: Back the truck up, Gregg.

I nailed this Bucs-related prophecy on the nose. A year early? Fine, but Tampa's about to make good.

Have fun authoring a rushing stream of feel-good posts on Lovie Smith's return to the league, because the Bucs are your NFC South champions-in-waiting.

CW: After watching all of Josh McCown's 224 passes last season, I think the Bucs have the clear edge here. The Browns are the fourth-best team in their division. The Lions have to contend with the superpower Packers along with an improved Bears squad.


While I think the Saints could have the NFL's best record this season, the Bucs should be every bit as good as the Falcons and a depleted Panthers squad.

KP: Ummmm ... so is anyone not taking the Bucs?

GR: I'm not. As much as I like the Bucs' chances to own a top 10 defense, their quarterback position is by far the weakest in the division. I'd roll with Patra's Lions.


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Look up and down their roster. They do not have many big weaknesses. They have an above-average quarterback with room to improve. They have a difference-making defensive line. They have continuity on an offensive line that was surprisingly good last year. They were better than the league average in points scored and allowed last year.

My biggest concern is the inexperience with their coordinators and assistants, but they don't need to get much better to win 10 games.

DH: Marc should be clicking send on his love letter to the 19-0 Browns any moment now ...

MS: No love letter will be penned.

Honestly, I'm more tempted to pick the Lions than the Browns. Detroit's going to be fun to watch under Joe Lombardi, but that NFC North will eat itself up.

Detroit will wind up the best team in football to miss the playoffs this season.

DH: The Lions are a hard team to get behind, personally. Perhaps it's my general distrust in Stafford, who still feels to me like a stat compiler rather than an elite talent at the position. Patra -- you've watched every snap of Stafford's career -- do you feel he's capable of taking the next step as a franchise quarterback? For me, that's really what it's all about in Detroit right now.

And while we're on the subject of QBs, I'm curious if Wess agrees with Gregg's assessment that Josh McCown is the fourth-best signal-caller in the NFC South. Wess and McCown are boys, as we know.

CW: The other three QBs in the division are top 10 NFL signal-callers. McCown's game film was phenomenal last season, but he has to prove it outside of Trestman and the three power forwards catching passes to join their ranks. I will say this, though: I wouldn't worry about the QB position in Tampa this season.

KP: I wouldn't take the Lions out of these three. They are the third-best team in the division right now and we have yet to see whether the changes to the defensive coaching staff will make a difference on the back end.

As for Stafford, he absolutely has the tools to take the next step. The question, as it is for all young quarterbacks who have to shoulder the load, begins with consistency. When's he's on a roll, Stafford can make any throw in the game. Whether he'll improve his technique under Jim Caldwell and Joe Lombardi this offseason to rid those brain-fart moments remains to be seen.

CW: He can start by beating a team with a .500 or better record for the third time in his career.

KP: I'd still take him over Cutler.

GR: I'd take Cutler any day. And since Marc won't step up, it's really not hard to make the case for the Browns. The rest of the AFC North teams all have big concerns; it's a good division without any great teams. I'd take Cleveland's defense over all of them with Pettine running the show. If Manziel gives them Tannehill-level production, they should be in the mix.

STOP TRYING TO LOWER EXPECTATIONS SESSLER.

DH: Power rankings of famous celebrities from each city:

1. Paul Newman (Cleveland)
2. Eminem (Detroit)
3. Gallagher (Tampa)



The latest "Around The League Podcast" picks the best receiver group in the NFL, and goes deep previewing the season with Bucky Brooks.

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