One of the great things about the NFL is that nearly every team can make a case for the upcoming season being “their year.” That’s because every campaign sees plenty of worst-to-first turnarounds, where non-playoff teams from the year before suddenly find themselves in postseason contention down the stretch.
Some of this is nothing more than false hope, summertime bravado that isn’t grounded in reality. But on occasion, with a few select teams, there is truly a reason for optimism. Between building on upon what they started in 2013, as well as shrewd moves during the offseason, several clubs have put themselves in position to make the leap from an also-ran to a contender.
With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at the teams most likely to fall into that category in 2014. Here are 10 NFL sleeper teams that could make the playoffs this season:
10. Oakland Raiders (4-12 in 2013)
This may sound crazy, especially given that the Raiders haven’t had an above-.500 season since 2002. But last season’s dismal record is somewhat misleading; after all, Oakland was within a touchdown in four of those losses. Remember the near-upset in Week 1 at Indianapolis? That’s just one example where a legit NFL-caliber quarterback (enter Matt Schaub) could have made a difference. Couple a new QB with a slew of other free-agent signings and it could be enough.
9. Cleveland Browns (4-12 in 2013)
Yes, this is partially because there’s a belief that Johnny Football will be a difference-maker in Cleveland. But it also has to do with the fact that the Browns roster is loaded with talent. At one point last year, they were 4-5; then, things simply spiraled out of control after the bye week, as the team lost seven straight games. A play here or there ends the skid, keeping what could have been a promising season on track. Maybe Manziel makes those plays?