Six 2011 NFL Playoff Teams That Could Miss the Cut in 2012
- Cincinnati Bengals (2009)
- San Diego Chargers (2009)
- Dallas Cowboys (2009)
- Minnesota Vikings (2009)
- Arizona Cardinals (2009)
- Miami Dolphins (2008)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (2008)
- Tennessee Titans (2008)
- New York Giants (2008)
- Carolina Panthers (2008)
- Baltimore Ravens (2003)
- Tennessee Titans (2003)
- Kansas City Chiefs (2003)
- Dallas Cowboys (2003)
- Carolina Panthers (2003)
- Baltimore Ravens (2001)
- Miami Dolphins (2001)
- New England Patriots (2001)
- Chicago Bears (2001)
- St. Louis Rams (2001)
- New York Jets (2010)
- Indianapolis Colts (2010)
- Kansas City Chiefs (2010)
- Philadelphia Eagles (2010)
- Chicago Bears (2010)
- Seattle Seahawks (2010)
- New England Patriots (2007)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (2007)
- Washington Redskins (2007)
- Green Bay Packers (2007)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2007)
- Seattle Seahawks (2007)
- New York Jets (2006)
- Baltimore Ravens (2006)
- Kansas City Chiefs (2006)
- Philadelphia Eagles (2006)
- Chicago Bears (2006)
- New Orleans Saints (2006)
- Cincinnati Bengals (2005)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (2005)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (2005)
- Washington Redskins (2005)
- Carolina Panthers (2005)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2005)
- New York Jets (2004)
- San Diego Chargers (2004)
- Philadelphia Eagles (2004)
- Green Bay Packers (2004)
- Minnesota Vikings (2004)
- Atlanta Falcons (2004)
- St. Louis Rams (2004)
- New York Jets (2002)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (2002)
- Cleveland Browns (2002)
- Oakland Raiders (2002)
- New York Giants (2002)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002)
- Atlanta Falcons (2002)
- San Francisco 49ers (2002)
So I've done a little research to get a good estimation on how many teams routinely make the playoffs in a given year and then proceed to miss the playoffs in the year that follows. Over the past 10 seasons, a grand total of 59 out of a possible 120 playoff teams have missed the playoffs after making the playoffs the previous year. That's an average of 5.9 teams per year (we'll round up and say six).
Regardless of the reason, whether it be from a weak division that constantly changes hands, a team that lost its starting quarterback for the year, or a team that simply got old, it's almost a sure bet that five or six teams will miss the playoffs the following year.
In four separate seasons, five of the 12 teams have experienced this. The year in parenthesis is when they made the playoffs—the year that is in bold is the season they missed.
In four separate seasons, this occurred to six teams.
In one season, seven of 12 teams missed the playoffs.
And in one more season, somehow eight of the previous 12 teams missed the playoffs.
Cincinnat Bengals (AFC Wildcard)
The Bengals started last season hot with a 6-2 record, but faded fast down the stretch to the tune of a 3-5 record. They had a couple of issues as they faded and eventually were blown out by Houston in the wild card round in a game that was much closer then the score indicates.
We'll start with a problem that's in many ways a positive. Though I was no big fan of Andy Dalton's when he came out, and though I don't believe he's going to be a true franchise quarterback, he does have the look of a quarterback who can have limited success in this league. Still, that success could be limited by Dalton's own flaws.
Though he had an excellent rookie season for a young quarterback, I'm not sure if the talent is there. One thing I do really like about Dalton is his poise, but there is still a long way to go before he can be anointed a franchise quarterback.
During the 3-5 stretch Dalton threw 8 TD's to 6 INT's. He was hardly a detriment to his team, but very pedestrian. His yards per attempt was just under 6.6 and his completion percentage was very low by the standards of the offense he was playing in (under 55%). Dalton is going to have to take the next step in many levels. He's added weight and is now up to 224 pounds after finishing the year at 208. That's a good start, but will it truly increase his zip on the ball? Dalton also has to figure out how he's going to improve his ability to read defenses and avoid going to his check downs to quickly.
Dalton isn't the only piece of the puzzle though. There are four big things that are going to be concerns going into the year.
1. Though they return most of the defense from last season, the Bengals struggled to defend the run against some of the better running teams during their 3-5 skid (and one playoff loss). This, will obviously have to change next season. The Bengals have more then enough depth to be able to stop most rushing attacks, but what happened last season that caused the skid?
2. Trying to create a rushing attack with new running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is a grinder, could be an issue. Though the Bengals offensive line should improve with the additions of Kevin Zeitler and Travelle Wharton, there is still no guarantee that teams will respect the Bengals passing game enough to truly open things up.
3. The back end of the Bengals defense is becoming a serious concern. Leon Hall's Achilles surgery is threatening more then just this season. It's a tough injury to overcome for just about any player. When you consider the age of Nate Clements, an inability to count on Dre Kirkpatrick for a major role as a rookie and the addition of Terrence Newman whose best days are long behind him it seems like this could be an issue. At safety, Reggie Nelson is coming off a turnaround season, but he's shown in the past he can be a liability at safety. Taylor Mays has also shown he can be a coverage liability, though he'll be playing strong safety. There are a lot of question marks in the secondary.
4. They play in the AFC North. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are both superior teams, and if the Bengals want to make the playoffs, the odds are a lot smaller if they automatically lose four games to these two teams like they did last year. They will have to play the NFC East next season and it won't get any easier when they have to travel across the country to play San Diego. The margin for error is small because it's unlikely that 9-7 will get the job done again. Four losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore and a loss in a cross-country trip leaves them needing to play well against the difficult NFC East teams.
As long as Mike Brown doesn't mismanage this team, the Bengals look to be just as talented as they were in Carson Palmer's pre-ACL prime. The playoffs may not be in the cards next season, but Cincinnati is going to start competing for division titles if last season was only the tip of the iceberg for Andy Dalton. Sometimes taking one step back can lead to taking two steps forward.
Houston Texans (AFC South Winner)
Really, the Texans? Yes, they could be in a little bit of trouble. They do play in a division that lacks an elite team, but there is actually going to be some parity in the AFC South this season. It's not the loss of Mario Williams that I'm concerned about. DeMeco Ryans also didn't look fully healthy last year and struggled at times in coverage, eventually losing those privileges. They dealt him away like a smart franchise.
The Texans, as a franchise, have acted intelligently. They didn't gamble on anyone being willing to match a trade offer for Mario Williams and didn't get stuck with a large franchise tag bill.
They'll likely get a very nice compensatory selection for Williams next year. They also traded DeMeco Ryans for a mid-round pick, having already drafted his likely replacement in Darryl Sharpton (and eventually signing Bradie James). They also aren't working Matt Schaub back into the line-up too quickly after Lisfranc surgery.
The only odd move was releasing Eric Winston without finding a suitable replacement. They're expecting Rashad Butler to take over that role. There was only one team outside of Houston that ran the ball more to the right side and that was Green Bay according to Football Outsiders. Butler had better be up to the task.
Among other issues for the Texans, I am concerned about the health of Matt Schaub. Schaub is turning 31 and has been an injury liability most of his career. His ability to stay healthy hadn't been a concern the past two seasons, but now, in three of five years with the Texans, he hasn't been able to stay healthy for a long period of time.
There are going to be five starters next season over the age of 30, and by November there will be six starters on offense who are over 30. Several of them have been showing their age with some injury concerns and slower recovery time. There is a reason why the Texans running game is becoming more and more of a focal point. They are getting to the point where age is going to force them to rebuild the passing attack.
Another major concern has to be at nose tackle. While the nose tackle doesn't hold as much importance in Wade Phillips defense, it was still a cause for concern last year that the Texans allowed nearly 4.2 yards per carry up the middle.
Houston is in a good position to win the AFC South again, but I think they're going to face a stiff challenge from Tennessee who is going to be very explosive offensively next season with the amount of speed and lateral agility on their offense.
Jacksonville's defense will also pose a difficult challenge this season. Indianapolis will be competitive, more so then people think, even though they are probably the least talented team in the division.
If there is one team of these six that's going to get back in, it's probably this one.
Denver Broncos (AFC West Winner)
Peyton Manning notwithstanding, there are an awful lot of flaws with the Broncos' roster. Manning was always very good at covering up the Colts' flaws, but he had also been with the team for 14 years. It becomes quite a bit easier to mask flaws when you know the ins and outs of the team better then any other player in the league knows their team.
So what can a player whose career was built off of chemistry in an offense he essentially built bring to a new team?
Amazing work ethic, for one. But obviously there are health concerns about Manning's neck. Bigger concern? The guys protecting him up front have been a slight problem. Beadles and Walton at left guard and center have struggled in pass protection, while Ryan Clady seems to have regressed from his initial success as a rookie. That being said, Manning usually can help solve offensive line woes by getting rid of the ball quickly and knowing his reads. You can be sure he's going to learn the offense from front to back.
The Broncos also can't necessarily rely on Willis McGahee considering his age and contract situation. If Ronnie Hillman can contribute early, this may not be a problem.
On defense, the Broncos overachieved in a big way last season. I'm not sure they'll be able to repeat that performance with the loss of Dennis Allen. I'm very concerned about the middle of the defense--Broderick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas are both gone after big years. The Broncos will likely be relying on Kevin Vickerson, Ty Warren, and rookie Derek Wolfe.
On the backend, Champ Bailey has to hit his age wall sooner or later. Denver has prepared for this with solid depth in Chris Harris, Tracy Porter, and Drayton Florence. The problem is that Florence isn't the same player he once was and Harris is still developing even after a promising rookie campaign.
Denver has improved in some areas, but getting Peyton Manning isn't a cure-all. They are fortunate to play in a bad AFC West division, but Kansas City finished the year very strongly and is getting healthy. San Diego is still flawed, but very dangerous with the amount of wide receiver depth they've added.
If Denver wins the AFC West again, it'll be thanks to the lack of a strong team in this division.
New York Giants (NFC East Champions, Super Bowl Champions)
What the Giants did last season was incredible, and Eli Manning's performance as the year progressed on a team loaded with injuries was even better. I'm not as easily impressed and ready to anoint Eli 'ELIte" yet, but he just had his first season as an elite quarterback which means he's on the fast track. Another one like last year and Eli could bring home another ring. The Giants' defensive line is certainly deep enough again.
The Giants have three big concerns.
1. Eli Manning failing to replicate 2011.
It's not out of the question. 2011 was actually an outlier for Manning who had his highest yards per attempt, yards per completion, and yards per game by an absolute long shot. This seems unlikely, but if Manning doesn't feel his feet to the fire, he might not rise to the challenge again. The injuries and the way the season went forced Eli Manning to perform at the top of his game. Can it happen again? And possibly without Hakeem Nicks fully functional early in the season?
2. The Giants' linebacker corps is going to struggle again.
Right now it's virtually the same unit as last year, but Keith Rivers was added via trade as a possible starter down the line. Rivers has been unable to stay healthy and if he can't add anything to a beaten up group of linebackers the Giants will struggle to cover the middle of the field. With how many close games they played in last year, they can't guarantee to recapture the magic. The Giants didn't change the roster too much, but teams that win a lot of close games have a tendency to not repeat that success the next year. Considering the Giants only had nine wins, it seems unlikely that if that number were to decrease, or even stay the same, for them to win the division again. They can't count on another eight game winning drives from Eli.
3. The Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, and Washington Redskins are all gunning for them.
Just like in many cases, this is a situation where teams in the division have all gotten better. The crazier part is that they ALL have improved substantially. The Eagles' biggest flaws have been corrected in Fletcher Cox and DeMeco Ryans—with Cox likely to have an immediate impact as a rookie. Dallas and Washington were also awfully active in free agency as Dallas overhauled their secondary and interior line while the Skins overhauled the receiving corps. The Giants weren't the only team in this division hurt by the injury bug. Dallas in particular had an unhealthy Dez Bryant and Miles Austin nearly all season and lost DeMarco Murray for the playoff stretch run.
The Giants are good enough to get back, but the NFC is very, very deep and they play in a particularly deep division. Nine wins won't do the job this year. The Giants play a dangerous game. They live by the sword--they could very well die by the sword.
If a team neutralizes the pass rush, the defense becomes ineffective because of its weaknesses in the back end.
Next season will be another fight for the Giants.
New Orleans Saints (NFC South Winner)
The Saints are still the most talented team in their division, and before we get started on all the negatives that occurred this offseason, we can start with a few positives.
The Saints made three big signings on defense by bringing in Broderick Bunkley, Curtis Lofton, and David Hawthorne. Bunkley in particular had an unbelievable season. It was the best of his career, in fact. The Saints were also able to bring back Marques Colston and sign Ben Grubbs as a very suitable replacement for Carl Nicks.
The Saints will field a team that is more talented than the one they fielded last year, but with the aftermath of bounty-gate and the Drew Brees contract situation still a mess, there is a lot of reason to put the Saints on notice.
How does a team deal with losing their head coach for a year? Then again, this may prove the adage true that talent trumps everything else. Then again, it could be a disaster. It now falls to Joe Vitt, who also will face a suspension. Drew Brees needs to get into the team facility, because the Saints need him fully prepared for this ridiculous season they're about to face.
The Saints have filled their biggest need, and if the run-stopping acquisitions do their job, the Saints should be okay. The secondary needs to improve in creating turnovers and limiting touchdowns allowed, but they did a good job keeping the yards per attempt down all things considered.
Another issue will be the division they play in. New Orleans has owned the NFC South for a few years, but Carolina is on the rise and Tampa Bay was outrageously aggressive this off-season.
The biggest issue in New Orleans is how they responded to a tumultuous offseason. I actually think they will respond well and make the playoffs, but it would be foolish not to put them on notice when a team goes through this many issues.
In a normal year, they would probably be Super Bowl favorites with the roster they've assembled.
Atlanta Falcons (NFC Wildcard)
The Falcons are a prime candidate to miss the playoffs next year thanks to natural regression.
If they want to avoid missing the playoffs, they'll need Matt Ryan to pick up where he left off in the regular season. After a rough start, Ryan had a very strong second half of the year. The Falcons went 5-3 while Ryan completed nearly 62% of his passes with a YPA of 7.7 while throwing 17 TD's to just 3 INT's in 290 attempts. That is efficiency. In the first half of the year, Ryan's YPA was 7.1 and he threw an interception about every 31 attempts. In the second half, it was an interception almost every 97 attempts.
Again, Ryan became much more efficient.
Michael Turner just hit age 30 this season, and while he can still be productive, the Falcons are trying to find a way to infuse some speed at the position because Turner seems to have lost a little explosiveness. While the changes in the offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator roles are a good thing for Atlanta, there will still be a learning curve.
The Falcons offensive line is also going to need some work in run blocking. They did not do a good job on runs between LT-LG, up the gut, or off right tackle last year. The hope is that Peter Konz will help early on, but Konz needs to add some upper body strength before he can really succeed at the next level.
Among the other issues Atlanta has to rely on an aging John Abraham and will be bringing back the same group of defensive tackles that struggled to stop the run up the middle last season (Atlanta was 24th in yards up the middle according to Football Outsiders).
While I like the addition of Asante Samuel, it will move Dunta Robinson into the slot where he really struggled (where hasn't he struggled lately?) in Houston.
Again, no reason to think this team is going to be bad. They'll be competitive and in the race until the end barring some serious injury, but they need a fully elite season from Matt Ryan. No more Captain Checkdown.
They need the quarterback we saw to end the 2011 season.
All six of these teams could make the playoffs again next year. Cincinnati is probably the weakest going into 2012, but one of the strongest long-term as long as Andy Dalton progresses.
New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Detroit, and San Francisco I think will all be back in the playoffs. I could make a case against New England. Every year for the past three years, you could have made a case against them, but they continue to defy the odds because of what they can do on offense. In terms of pure talent, New Orleans is more talented then everybody except Green Bay and San Francisco.
But they're on the list for the obviously strange reasons that were discussed earlier.
Baltimore's defense is going to be missing Terrell Suggs, and while that may hurt their chance of winning the AFC North, they're still a strong wildcard contender. Pittsburgh may have a lot of roster turnover, but the core of the team is still in tact and they drafted exceptionally well. Green Bay is still the league's most talented team, though not having Nick Collins or Derrek Sherrod could be an issue. That being said, the Packers are a well oiled machine.
The Lions are the most likely of these six to miss the playoffs next season, but I think they're going to have another run at it. The offense is too explosive and the young defense is coming together. San Francisco may have the second most talented team in the NFL and even with the improvements made by Seattle and St. Louis it won't be enough.
But just think about it. On average, six teams will miss the playoffs the year after they make it.
Who are your six?