NFL Playoffs: Predicting the Teams from 2011 That Won't Be Back in 2012
Going into a new NFL season, it's always easy to imagine that the teams that were great last year will also be great next year. History, however, has taught us that's rarely the case.
There are six teams that qualify for the postseason for the AFC and six more NFC postseason teams. Typically, only 50 percent of the teams will return the following year. I'm going to try to predict which six teams made the playoffs in 2011, but won't return in 2012.
First, the NFC...
NFC Team No. 1: New Orleans Saints
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
This pick was just too easy. Really, was anyone expecting me to start this article with a less obvious choice?
Bountygate has shaken the New Orleans Saints organization to its core. Gregg Williams, the team's former defensive coordinator, had already left the team for a position in St Louis before news of the scandal broke. He has since been suspended indefinitely.
Sean Payton, New Orleans' head coach, has been suspended for the entire 2012 NFL season. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis both received multiple-game suspensions.
As if the punishments to the front office and coaching staff weren't enough of a hit, Jonathon Vilma, the leader of the Saints defense, has also been suspended for the season.
Add on the fact that Drew Brees is unhappy about his contract situation, and this team appears to be primed for a downward spiral. I don't think that the glory days in the bayou have ended for the Saints, but I fully expect the team to take a step back in 2012 and fall short of the postseason.
NFC Team No. 2: Atlanta Falcons
Al Bello/Getty Images
Two teams from the NFC South made the playoffs in 2011, and I'm predicting that both teams fail to make the playoffs in 2012.
The Falcons and Saints have been the top two teams in this division for the past three years in a row. Before that, this was the division that had the streak where the last-place team would turn into the first-place team. I'm expecting a changing of the guard.
Atlanta is a team stocked with talent, but is struggling to find an identity. Is it a power running team that wants to feed the ball to Michael Turner? Or is it going to get into shootouts by throwing the ball to Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez?
Also, after trading up to grab Julio Jones in the 2011 draft, the Falcons weren't able to grab a first-round prospect in the 2012 draft.
The Falcons have been one of the top NFL teams during the regular season for the past few years, but continually fail to win in the preseason. After a few seasons like that, teams have a tendency to get so focused on winning in the postseason that they forget that they have to get there first (think San Diego Chargers).
Cam Newton had the best rookie year that any QB has ever had. If he can have a successful sophomore campaign and the defense stops giving up so many points, the Panthers could win quite a few games.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won 10 games in 2010 and then went into a tailspin in 2011 after growing a little too confident. After having one of the best offseasons in the NFL, expect them to be ready to prove that 2010 wasn't a fluke.
NFC Team No. 3: New York Giants
Al Bello/Getty Images
I know that Giant fans are going to be ready to crucify me for this pick, but I don't expect the returning Super Bowl champs to make the playoffs in 2012.
Any team that wins a Super Bowl is susceptible to a Super Bowl hangover. It's much easier to be hungry for a championship when you haven't won one yet (or at least not recently).
With how well the Giants played during the postseason, it's easy to forget that they didn't play quite as well during the regular season.
They finished with a 9-7 record. Two NFC East teams were within one game of taking the division title. If they hadn't beaten the Cowboys in the final week of the season, Eli Manning would've been sitting in his living room in January watching the Cowboys compete in the postseason.
The Giants also have to worry about whether the Eagles stay hot. The "Dream Team" failed to meet expectations at the start of the 2011 season, as they stumbled to a 1-4 start. Heading into the final stretch at 4-8, the Eagles finally found a groove and won their last four games to end the season at 8-8.
If the Eagles can play together as a team and keep Michael Vick healthy, they could easily win 10 or 11 games in 2012.
AFC Team No. 1: Cincinnati Bengals
Tyler Barrick/Getty Images
Three teams from the AFC North made the playoffs in 2011. It is extremely rare for one division to produce three playoff qualifiers, and it is unlikely to happen again in the near future.
At 9-7, the Bengals barely made the final cut.Andy Dalton played much better than expected as a rookie QB taken in Round 2, but I'm expecting a sophomore slump. No disrespect to Andy; I think he's a capable QB and I think that he'll be successful in the NFL for several years, but year two is not kind to many QB's that had good rookie seasons.
AFC Team No. 2: Baltimore Ravens
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
That's right. After the AFC North had three teams qualify in 2011, I'm only expecting the Steelers to make it back to the postseason in 2012.
The Baltimore Ravens have owned one of the most intimidating defenses in the NFL for the past decade. I still think that they'll be an above-average defense in 2012, but they will be disappointing by Baltimore Ravens standards.
Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are great players and are both likely to be in the Hall of Fame someday. But they're also both fighting losing battles against Father Time.
I wish Terrell Suggs the best of luck in returning from his Achilles injury, but as we've seen with Shawne Merriman, Achilles injuries aren't easy for elite pass-rushers to recover from.
Terrell Suggs posted 14 sacks for the Ravens last season. The second-most productive pass rusher for the Ravens posted six sacks.
Unless second-round draft pick Courtney Upshaw is able to put together a rookie season comparable to what Aldon Smith and Von Miller did in 2011, it's unlikely that the Ravens win enough games to continue competing after the regular season ends.
AFC Team No. 3: Denver Broncos
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
But since I started this article under the premise that 50 percent of the playoff teams from 2011 won't make it back, I had to pick either the Broncos of the Texans to struggle, and I think that the Broncos are more likely.
Peyton Manning is one of the best QB's in the history of the NFL, and probably the best during the regular season. That doesn't mean that he's superhuman and can't be slowed down by injury.
His neck injury was severe enough to cause him to miss an entire NFL season, and even after the season ended, rumors persisted that he didn't have the same velocity on his passes that he used to have. At the age of 36, it's very possible that his best days are behind him.
Even if his neck has fully recovered, there's no guarantee that a solid hit from an NFL defensive end or outside linebacker won't send him back to the sidelines.
I was actually thinking about saying that the Texans would be overtaken by the Titans in this slide, but looking at everything the Texans faced in 2011, I think that's unlikely to happen.
Arian Foster missed several games early in the season. When he finally recovered, Andre Johnson got hurt and missed most of the second half. If that wasn't bad enough, Matt Schaub went down.
In their first season with Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, they went from having one of the worst defenses in the NFL to one of the most dominant. The more I think about it, the harder I find it to believe that the Texans won't return to the postseason.
Who Will Make It?
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Since I went through and predicted the teams that will fail to make the postseason, I decided that I'll try to predict the teams that will be there. Here goes:
NFC Division Champs
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC Wild Cards
AFC Division Champs
New England Patriots
San Diego Chargers
AFC Wild Cards
I hope you enjoyed the article. Feel free to comment and let me know which picks you agreed with and which ones you think I'm wrong about.