Predicting the NFL's Surprise Playoff Team in 2012

Tony Santorsa@@TonySantorsaSenior Writer IIJune 30, 2012

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 11:  Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers attempts a pass during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on December 11, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The National Football League is far from predictable. We all know the saying that a team can win on any given Sunday—but that also holds true for saying any team can surprise the league by rising from being a losing team to a playoff team in just a year's time. 

In the 2011 NFL season, we saw the Cincinnati Bengals shock the entire football world as rookie quarterback Andy Dalton stepped in and led his team to a postseason appearance despite losing three significant players by the names of Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens

No one expected the Bengals to be a playoff team, or even a winning team, in 2011.

So who's going to be that team in 2012? Which NFL team is going to have a complete turnaround and earn a spot in the NFL playoffs? 


Arizona Cardinals 

Believe it or not, the Arizona Cardinals are a very talented group of players that just lack consistency from the quarterback position.

The Cards have a good enough defense to get by in the league's pass-heavy league with enough weapons on the offensive side of the ball to compete with just about any high-flying offensive attack—it's just a matter of finding steady play out of their quarterback.

With Larry Fitzgerald finally having a legitimate threat opposite of him in rookie Michael Floyd out of Notre Dame, Arizona might emerge as one of the more deadly passing teams in the league. 

I don't think there's any real chance that any NFC West team will be able to compete with the San Francisco 49ers in 2012. However, if Arizona can get a decent performance out of their defense and find some sort of consistency out of either Kevin Kolb or John Skelton at the quarterback position, then this team should have no problem competing for a Wild Card this season. 


Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills were one of the hottest teams in football during the first half of the 2011 season. Buffalo started off with a surprising 5-3 record with key victories over the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. Then, simply, the injury bug caught up to them as they finished with just a 6-10 record. 

Buffalo had a very impressive showing this offseason as they reeled in this year's most-prized possession in free agency, defensive end Mario Williams. 

Williams, along with rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore, should significantly improve an already above-average defense while rookie offensive lineman Cordy Glenn and rookie wide receiver T.J. Graham should help out their explosive offense. 

Buffalo's key to success in 2012 is if quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick can lower the turnovers and can be consistent enough to keep the Bills in contention to winning each game that they're playing. 


Carolina Panthers

With the New Orleans Saints in a complete mess with the whole Bountygate scandal, one team in the NFC South could rise to the occasion and compete with the Atlanta Falcons for top of the division.

One of those teams could be the Carolina Panthers.

The Panthers already have a top-tier quarterback in Cam Newton, who had an incredible rookie season as he threw for a rookie record 4,051 yards, and the team has improved defensively with the likes of linebacker Luke Kuechly out Boston College.

Believe it or not, but Carolina isn't all that far off from being a playoff contender in 2012. If this team can find steady play out of their young group of talented players, they should be a winning team. 


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Much like the Carolina Panthers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the same position in the NFC South with the New Orleans Saints organization in complete disarray. 

If quarterback Josh Freeman can produce at the level that we all know he can and can get the ball to his newly acquired wide receiver, Vincent Jackson, as well as Mike Williams, then they should have a stellar passing attack in 2012.

As for Tampa Bay's running game, I have complete faith in Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount in shredding opposing defenses. They're both young legs that bring a lot to the table and should be able to feed off of each other's style of running. 

In 2011, this team was just as talented as anyone—they simply wouldn't play for their head coach, Raheem Morris, as he lost complete control of the team and they ended the season on a 10-game losing streak. 

If first-year head coach Greg Schiano can step in and set a high level of standards and expectations, then the Bucs could make a ton of noise this upcoming season. 


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