Most Improved Team 2012 – Who Will It Be?


I was watching a bit of ESPN’s Sportscenter this morning while waiting for Pizza Hut to cook my breakfast (yes, it’s pretty good, thanks for asking).  Mel Kiper was on (surprise) and was talking about who the most improved teams in 2012 may be.

A few popular picks were the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

I understand where they were coming from.

The Bills signed Mario Williams and were a solid team at the start of the past season.  I was pretty happy to see The Amish Rifle Ryan Fitzpatrick finally slinging it like we knew he could.  But, like every other year since the 1990s glory days, the Bills faltered and became a joke once again.

The Carolina Panthers and the Bucs are expected to surge in the NFC South with the Saints entering the turmoil that is Bountgate and probably not escaping unscathed.

The Panthers had a pretty solid season last year.  6-10 may not have been the mark they were looking for, but Cam Newton showed that he can turn the team into a bunch of winners almost entirely on his own.  Similarly, the Bucs appeared to be on the cusp of excellence at the end of 2010 until they fell back to earth and stumbled to a 4-12 record in 2011.

The Seahawks came alive at the end of last season and may be reinvigorated by new uniforms that could disguise the fact that they are the Seahawks and confuse themselves into being winners.  Matt Flynn is a nice addition as well and could turn the team into actual contenders.

However, I’m inclined to disagree with these picks for becoming most improved in 2012.  Here’s why:

The Buffalo Bills lack cohesion.  The Bills have never really suffered from a talent drop-off in the past.  The have slowly faded away since the end of the 1990s but have never really been talentless.  They’ve just made themselves irrelevant.  That happens when you go through four head coaches (five counting the interim) since the beginning of the 21st century.  Chan Gailey just isn’t the guy who’s going to turn it around.  My money was on Dick Jauron but that experiment failed.  The coaches haven’t been strong cohesion building coaches.  They need a Mike Tomlin type to instill a team identity.  Right now they’re just a bunch of guys trying to play pitch and catch in the back yard.

The Panthers and the Bucs are going to continue to struggle in the NFC South.  It’s almost as if the analysts forgot that the Atlanta Falcons also play in the division.  The Falcons under Mike Smith have never finished with less than nine wins and average 10.75 a season.  They’ll continue to prey on the Panthers and Bucs for four of those wins a season.  The Saints will do the same.  The Saints have won 10+ games the past three seasons.  Even with Sean Payton sitting out for the season the team will rally around Drew Brees who is Peyton Manning’s equal at commanding the team on the field.  So long as Brees and Mike Smith are in the NFC South the Panthers and the Bucs can improve as much as they want but they’ll have at least four losses on their record and won’t be making the playoffs.

The Seahawks have the best chance of making an impact of the teams listed.  The 49ers currently “rule” the NFC West. But they’re essentially the same team they were in 2010 when they went 6-10.  The ‘Hawks finished the season winning five of their final eight and looking like the team that knocked the Saints out of the playoffs in the 2010/2011 season.  The Niners are going to crash back to reality and the Seahawks may just be the team to make the jump up.  Maybe.  Don’t count on it.  But it could occur.

So who do I think will be the most improved in 2012?  Don’t be surprised if isn’t the Jaguars.  But I’ll lay out why they could be  anyway.  Here are my top two:

The Oakland Raiders truly have new leadership for the first time since they’ve been created.  They’re fresh, have a quarterback who knows how to sling it (yes I am talking about Carson Palmer.  I know…) and a running back that acts like a train with a cowcatcher attached.  The Raiders will do what the Niners did this year and respond super well to the leadership in place.  They aren’t a great roster (much like the Niners) but they have some good players that can rally around good leadership to make the jump.  It also helps that the Chargers are lost in a bad dream, the Broncos are going to be Indy-light with Peyton Manning which will allow the Raiders to fly under the radar, and and the Chiefs just aren’t the same as they were in 2010.

The Chicago Bears will not finish third in the NFC North.  If they aren’t challenging for first, I’ll be blown away.  The only reason Da Bears went 8-8 last year was because Jay Cutler was hurt and Mike Martz was still around.  Lovie Smith is a hall of fame coach just waiting on the right pieces to fall into place (he’ll need a couple more Superbowl appearances to actually get into the hall of fame of course).  Brandon Marshall is one of those pieces.  Urlacher is tired of waiting and wants a Superbowl and the team is growing tiresome of being in Lambeau’s shadow and now having the Motor City Kitties surpass them despite nobody wanting to go to bear-infested Detroit.

And now why the Jags could be the team to make the most significant jump in 2012:

The Jacksonville Jaguars are a very good running team.  While they may be getting retrofitted by the new coaching staff in 2012, they should still focus on the run game to provide constant pressure on opposing teams.  Maurice Jones-Drew was able to win the rushing title in 2011, a depleted secondary will be returning with incentives to win, the Jags have a good chance to nab a real pass rusher or wide receiver in the 2012 draft.  Also, the Texans look like a skeleton after free agency, the Titans have a solid roster but may suffer from a sophomore slump during Mike Munchak’s second year (it happens people), and and the Colts aren’t really the Colts without Peyton Manning (maybe they’ll move in the middle of the night to Montana or LA?).  The Jags could actually outmuscle their division opponents to claim a spot in the playoffs.  However, if Blaine Gabbert suffers from a sophomore slump then we may as well start a high school quarterback and pray for MJD to do what he does best.

– Luke N. Sims

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