4 Surprise NFL Teams Who'll Crash the Playoffs Next Season

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If there's anything known about the NFL from one season to the next, it's how much things can change. One year's disappointment can become the next year's playoff darling with just a few tweaks to the roster and a lucky break or two.

So it will likely go in 2012, with new faces entering the playoffs. Two AFC West teams, the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, could find themselves in the postseason as long as they can overcome the issues that nagged them in 2011.

For the Chiefs, that means rebounding from a number of injuries suffered by key starters, including running back Jamaal Charles, tight end Tony Moeaki, quarterback Matt Cassel and safety Eric Berry. At full strength and with Romeo Crennel at the helm, the wide-open AFC West division could easily be theirs.

That is, if the Raiders don't nab it first. With a full offseason for quarterback Carson Palmer to become further acquainted with his crew of receivers, their running game back in top form with Darren McFadden healthy and defensive-minded head coach Dennis Allen making improvements on that side of the ball, Oakland could field an intimidating and hard-to-stop team.

The Carolina Panthers have significantly more work to do than most other teams in order to make the playoffs in 2012, but it's not impossible. With Cam Newton under center, the Panthers already are at an advantage.

If Carolina plays the draft and free agency correctly and their injured defensive starters can return to their ideal effectiveness, the Panthers have a chance to hang with—and defeat—the big boys in the NFC South.

Despite the 9-7 New York Giants going on to win Super Bowl 46, the NFC East is still one of the most perennially unpredictable divisions in the league, with all four teams looking both good and bad throughout the course of a season.

That puts the Philadelphia Eagles at an advantage. They have a roster full of big-name playmakers; with a full offseason to bring those components together into a cohesive whole, they will enter the 2012 regular season making a strong case for why they're the best team in the NFC East.

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