8 NFL Teams with the Brightest Futures in 2012 and Beyond

Dan Van WieContributor IIIAugust 22, 2012

8 NFL Teams with the Brightest Futures in 2012 and Beyond

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    Which NFL teams that have been down in the dumps look like their futures are bright around the corner?

    If you follow any NFL team long enough, you know that it is impossible for a team to stay in contention every year. There are phases when teams flourish, and then, they inevitably hit the skids. That is the ebb and flow of an NFL franchise. 

    The eight teams that we will focus on are teams that have been residing lately in the basement of their own division recently and appear to be poised to take the next step toward gaining respect. These teams may not wind up becoming a serious contender in 2012, but they all seem to have a brighter future over the next two to three years.

    All eight teams have something in common. They have not been winning very many playoff games in the past 10 years. Of the teams we selected, only one of them, (Tampa Bay), has won at least three playoff games in the last 10 years, and all of their wins came during their Super Bowl run 10 years ago.

    They haven't won a playoff game since. So if your team has been repeatedly in the playoffs for the past decade, they won't be considered here, even if they conceivably have a bright future. Those are the ground rules for the presentation.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Last Year Team Won a Playoff Game: 1990

    Last Year Team Appeared In Playoffs: 2011

    Number of Playoff Wins in Last 10 Years: none

    Last Time Team Appeared in Super Bowl: 1988

    Number of Super Bowl Wins in Franchise History: none

     

    Why team has such a bright future: With the 2011 draft class of A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, the Bengals were able to add two key offensive skill players who will serve as the foundation of their offense for many years to come.

    The Bengals also can boast that they had the No. 7 overall defense in the NFL in 2011, which will keep them competitive in most games. Cincinnati replaced the aging Cedric Benson (he turns 30 right after Christmas) with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who has far less tread on his wheels. 

    Thanks in part to the trade last year of Carson Palmer to the Oakland Raiders, the Bengals had multiple draft picks in the first, third and fifth rounds at the 2012 NFL draft.

    They stockpiled their team with 10 draft picks to bring in some new blood and energy to the team. With rookies like Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler and Orson Charles, the Bengals are continuing to add young talent across the board, to go along with Dalton and Green.

    Marvin Lewis offers up a steadying influence on the young Bengals, as he is now entering his 10th year with the team. It is important that the players have one voice they can listen to, who they have to respect, since it appears that Lewis is not going anywhere else any time soon.

    With no playoff wins in the last 22 years, the Bengals are a hungry team looking to turn their fortunes around.

Houston Texans

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    Last Year Team Won a Playoff Game: 2011

    Last Year Team Appeared In Playoffs: 2011

    Number of Playoff Wins in Last 10 Years: one

    Last Time Team Appeared in Super Bowl: never

    Number of Super Bowl Wins in Franchise History: none

     

    Why team has such a bright future: Granted, the Houston Texans have not been around very long as a NFL franchise. The team started up in 2002, but it took them longer to reach the playoffs than several other start up franchises such as Jacksonville and Carolina.

    But now that they have finally tasted playoff success in 2011, I suspect you will see the team making repeat appearances in the postseason for the foreseeable future.

    Led by their young core of outstanding players on offense in running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate, quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson, the Texans also boast the NFL's No. 2 overall defense from 2011. The defense is choreographed by Wade Phillips, and it plays an aggressive, attacking style of football.

    The Texans were hit hard by free-agent departures, as they unfortunately had a number of attractive players who all had their contracts expire after the 2011 season.

    The Texans couldn't keep them all, so it will be interesting to see if they can withstand the hit on their overall depth and keep right on ticking. If the Texans are able to repeat and win the AFC South, they should be in a position to reload again in 2013.

Buffalo Bills

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    Last Year Team Won a Playoff Game: 1995

    Last Year Team Appeared In Playoffs: 1999

    Number of Playoff Wins in Last 10 Years: none

    Last Time Team Appeared in Super Bowl: 1993

    Number of Super Bowl Wins in Franchise History: none

     

    Why team has such a bright future: The Buffalo Bills had a series of horrendous draft picks over the past decade, setting the team back about 10 years (give or take).

    The guilty parties were Tom Donahoe, Marv Levy, Russ Brandon and Tom Modrak. It wasn't until the Bills hired Buddy Nix to become the general manager of the team that the Bills finally had somebody competent to call the shots, reminiscent of Bill Polian.

    The Bills have as unique an offense as anybody in the NFL.

    All of the key players on offense were either drafted late or not drafted at all. Ryan Fitzpatrick (draft pick No. 250), Steve Johnson (draft pick No. 224) and Fred Jackson (undrafted rookie free agent) are all examples of how the Bills find players who have been overlooked or told they weren't good enough.

    This mentality keeps all of them playing together and wanting to reward Buffalo for giving them a chance to start and carve out a career in the NFL. All three players rewarded the team by signing a new long-term deal within the past year.

    The 2012 offseason has to be considered as one of the best in Bills history. Landing the No. 1 overall draft pick from the 2006 draft in free-agent defensive end Mario Williams is a statement that will have positive repercussions around the league.

    For future free agents, playing in Buffalo is now viewed as a more attractive option than it was before Williams signed. Players take notice of developments like that, as do their agents.

    The Bills are building up a core of top young talent on defense. With Marcell Dareus, Aaron Williams, Stephon Gilmore, Kelvin Sheppard, Jairus Byrd and Ron Brooks, the Bills look like they will be improving their defensive rankings across the board. The Bills' defensive line in 2012 will have a pass rush that might be one of the best in the entire league.

    If you add Kyle Williams, Mark Anderson, Chris Kelsay to go along with Dareus and Mario Williams, you have a formidable group, with solid depth, that will be very difficult to block.

    Even if they get off to a slow start, expect them to gel in the second half. This week's release of Shawne Merriman shows that the Bills mean business this year. Things are finally looking up in Buffalo after a long drought that has tested the patience of their loyal fans.

Detroit Lions

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    Last Year Team Won a Playoff Game: 1991

    Last Year Team Appeared In Playoffs: 2011

    Number of Playoff Wins in Last 10 Years: none

    Last Time Team Appeared in Super Bowl: never

    Number of Super Bowl Wins in Franchise History: none

    For a team that has never been to the Super Bowl and hasn't won a single playoff game in the past decade, it was refreshing to see the Detroit Lions finally reach the playoffs in 2011.

    Now that they have experienced a degree of success, can they handle it, or has it gone to their heads? Based on the number of arrests (via Huffington Post) in the offseason, you have to wonder.

     

    Why team has such a bright future: With the dynamic young duo of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, the Lions demonstrated in 2011 they kind of prolific passing attack they are capable of producing.

    I would like to see them develop a running attack that gives them greater balance, but that is just my personal preference. The passing attack is so good that they should be competitive for the vast majority of their games even if they're one-dimensional. 

    As for their youth, in the 2012 NFL draft, the Lions added a complementary receiver to Johnson with the selection of Ryan Broyles. Riley Reiff gives them a solid addition to the offensive line. In 2011, the Lions invested in Nick Fairley, Mikel Leshoure and Titus Young.

    The defense is led by Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Ndamukong, Suh who will continue to give Detroit a physical advantage at the line of scrimmage and keep steady pressure on the quarterback.

    With all of the police blotter activity for the Lions in the 2012 offseason, I really wondered how that would stunt the momentum Detroit built last year. I was glad to see the team finally put its foot down, when it released starter Aaron Berry after his second arrest.

    That bold move put the rest of the team on notice that there are consequences to actions off the field.

    Going forward, Lions fans have to hope that the team can pick up where it left off in 2011 and continue to grow. Head coach Jim Schwartz will keep the team playing a motivated and inspired brand of football. Now, about that running game...

Washington Redskins

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    Last Year Team Won a Playoff Game: 2005

    Last Year Team Appeared In Playoffs: 2007

    Number of Playoff Wins in Last 10 Years: one

    Last Time Team Appeared in Super Bowl: 1991

    Number of Super Bowl Wins in Franchise History: three

     

    Why team has such a bright future: For a team that has only one playoff win in the last 10 years, the Washington Redskins finally seem to be on the right track.

    The Redskins paid a heavy price to obtain the rights to draft Robert Griffin III, but from all indications so far, it appears that he will turn out to be the real deal that the Redskins were missing. Griffin has shown that he is an intelligent, athletic, powerful and quick quarterback that can make plays equally well with his feet as he can with his arm.

    Before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell put the kibosh on the Redskins' spending spree in free agency (due to the salary cap fine he assessed because of previously front-loading contracts that went against league policy), the team landed wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan to give Griffin some better weapons to throw to.

    The Redskins have been assembling some very good young talent, such as Ryan Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo, Jarvis Jenkins, Roy Helu and Fred Davis, to support Griffin.

    But clearly, the gem of the Redskins last five drafts is Griffin. He is the kind of exciting player whom a franchise can build around, and he will be the centerpiece of a bright future.

Cleveland Browns

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    Last Year Team Won a Playoff Game: 1994

    Last Year Team Appeared In Playoffs: 2002

    Number of Playoff Wins in Last 10 Years: none

    Last Time Team Appeared in Super Bowl: never

    Number of Super Bowl Wins in Franchise History: none

     

    Why team has such a bright future: The Cleveland Browns have had a rough go of it during the Super Bowl era of the NFL. The team has failed to ever make an appearance in the Super Bowl and hasn't won a playoff game in 18 years. But, better days appear to be ahead for the Browns. 

    The Browns have opted to go with a slew of young talent on offense in key positions with the hope that this group of skilled rookies will grow together to form the core of an explosive offense.

    With quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Trent Richardson, receiver Josh Gordon and tackle Mitchell Schwartz, the Browns have an interesting group of rookies that will make their share of mistakes this year—the necessary learning curve they need before they can ultimately experience success.

    The 2011 draft netted the team Greg Little, Jordan Cameron, Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard and Owen Marecic.

    The defense finished the 2011 season ranked as the No. 10 overall unit in the NFL, which shows that the Browns have plenty of fight. If the young guys on offense can develop the way that standout left tackle Joe Thomas has, the Browns will be a team that is going to be contending in the AFC North in the not-so-distant future.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Last Year Team Won a Playoff Game: 2009

    Last Year Team Appeared In Playoffs: 2009

    Number of Playoff Wins in Last 10 Years: two

    Last Time Team Appeared in Super Bowl: 1976

    Number of Super Bowl Wins in Franchise History: none

     

    Why team has such a bright future: Christian Ponder has looked very sharp in his first two preseason games so far in 2012. With no veteran quarterback in the way to block his progress, Ponder looks like he is grasping the offense and has made the necessary adjustments to the speed of the NFL game.

    With a stud running back in Adrian Peterson and Ponder at the helm, the Vikings now just need to upgrade their wide receiver corps to become an even more dynamic offense, especially in the NFC North where so many good passing quarterbacks reside.

    The 2012 draft netted outstanding left tackle Matt Kalil, to go along with Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith. Head coach Leslie Frazier joined the Vikings in 2007 as defensive coordinator, and the team has watched him become promoted to the head coach position.

    Frazier is a stabilizing force for the young Vikings who should give the team confidence, as compared to some other earlier crazy coaches like Jerry Burns. Ugh.

    Kyle Rudolph is another example of a very good young player who is looking to take a step up this year. The Vikings have been drafting well, and it helps to have key veterans like Jared Allen around to provide leadership and inspiration for the young kids.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Last Year Team Won a Playoff Game: 2002

    Last Year Team Appeared In Playoffs: 2007

    Number of Playoff Wins in Last 10 Years: three

    Last Time Team Appeared in Super Bowl: 2002

    Number of Super Bowl Wins in Franchise History:one

     

    Why team has such a bright future: Since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2002, they haven't won a single playoff game. That streak may not end this year, but the Bucs look like they are trending in the right direction.

    After a 10-win season in 2010, the bottom fell out in 2011 when Tampa Bay lost its final 10 games. Greg Schiano was hired to bring discipline and to motivate the team. The Bucs' 2012 offseason was generally viewed as one of the best of all 32 teams, as they signed Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks to big contracts.

    The offense features Josh Freeman handing the ball off to LeGarrette Blount and rookie Doug Martin and throwing the ball to Jackson and Mike Williams. The offensive line boasts two solid guards in Nicks and Davin Joseph.   

    The 2012 draft netted safety Mark Barron, who will be an upgrade for the secondary. Adrian Clayborn leads the pass rush, and the Bucs are hoping to get more out of young defensive linemen Da'Quan Bowers and Gerald McCoy.

    Schiano will keep this team on the straight and narrow, and as we found out with Kellen Winslow Jr. If the players don't like the way he is running things, they will be gone faster than you can say "thar she blows."

     

    Thanks for checking out the presentation.