There has been a curious trend about NFL playoff teams over the last decade or so. It seems as though each season, there are five teams who made the playoffs during the previous season who don’t get in. Conversely, there will be five new teams who were absent from the post-season the previous year.
Even though we’ve yet to even begin the 2012 regular season, I like making early NFL predictions, while my record is still unblemished.
We’ve already discussed which five teams who made the playoffs in 2011 that will be sitting home this year, now we want to look at the five teams who get to slide into those vacant slots.
Buffalo Bills – The Bills have been stepping up to the proverbial door and knocking on it for a few seasons now. With their off-season free agent acquisitions (Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, et al) and one of the most judicious draft classes of the 2012 NFL Draft, Buffalo may have finally put all the pieces in place reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999. I’m still not sold on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the Bills have enough talent in all the other areas to make up for Fitzpatrick’s deficiencies.
Look for Buffalo to play heavy run, ground control offense, and to have an attacking, aggressive defense. They will be one of the AFC wild card teams, but I doubt they’ll get much further than that this season.
Buffalo will hit the 10-win plateau, going 10-6 and be one of the AFC wild cards.
Tennessee Titans – Watch out for Tennessee and newly anointed starting quarterback Jake Locker. Head coach Mike Munchak has this team believing in themselves, and with good reason. A strong running game behind Chris Johnson and Javon Ringer, combined with the much improved Locker throwing to a relatively unknown but talented group of receivers will have the Titans looking good on offense.
Their young defense will have to make improvements from last year, where they finished 14th in the league against the pass, and 24th against the run. But a year more into the scheme of defensive coordinator Jerry Gray will make a huge difference. The Titans may challenge the Houston Texans for the division title, but will more likely end up as a wild card team.
Tennessee makes some noise in the division, and will take a 11-5 record into the wild card round.
Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles are always one of the hardest teams to figure in the NFC. They are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, but it can seem like one of those ensemble cast movies with tons of stars that leaves you kind of bland when you walk out of the theater. Michael Vick is as talented as they come at the quarterback position, but his tendency to get hurt has been one of the Eagles’ numerous Achilles heels.
With an improved offensive line, a returning cast of dangerous receivers and backs, the Eagles will give owner Jeffrey Lurie his wish (or was it a command) and vastly improve on last year’s 8-8 mark. The New York Giants are still going to win the NFC East, but the Eagles will make them sweat.
Philadelphia pushes the Giants, but can’t overtake them, finishing 10-6 for a wild card berth.
Chicago Bears – The Bears looked like they were going to be in a two-team race with the Green Bay Packers to win the NFC North last season, and then a slew of injuries, including starting quarterback Jay Cutler and star running back Matt Forte, derailed them for the second half of the season. New GM Phil Emery and new offensive coordinator Mike Tice will make a big difference for the 2012 Bears, and Cutler will have an old familiar target to sling to in wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
On the defensive side, All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher is questionable for the start of the season, but the Bears still have one of the most dominant defenses in the league. Barring another barrage of catastrophic injuries, Chicago will make the playoffs this season, and make a deep run.
The Bears can’t top Green Bay in the regular season, but as an 11-5 wild card team they will knock the Packers out of the playoffs.
Oakland Raiders – (I’ll wait for the laughter to stop), OK, but seriously, look at this division. The Kansas City Chiefs will continue to look mediocre with some mediocre talent. The San Diego Chargers will continue their downward trend and finally get head coach Norv Turner canned. And I’ve already said that the Denver Broncos aren’t going to be good enough to get in the playoffs this year. Ten wins is all you will need to secure the AFC West, and Carson Palmer and the Raiders have just enough in the tank to hit that.
Call it Carson’s last stand if you want, but the Raiders squeak by and win this terrible division and go to the playoffs for the first time in ten seasons.
The Raiders win the AFC West at 10-6 and end their playoff drought.
So there you have it. Five out…and Five in. Think it will be different teams on either side? Let us know below!