NFL 2012: 5 Teams Rising and Falling
In 2012, the NFL is going to see several teams that rise up to the occasion and make the postseason. Meanwhile, there are going to be some unlikely teams that miss the cut and end up watching from home.
This is a list providing some possible answers for the teams that are on the rise and teams that could be falling out of contention.
These "risers and fallers" offer some teams from both the NFC and AFC. Feel free to comment and start the debate and as always: Enjoy!
Rising: Carolina Panthers
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The Carolina Panthers may have finished the 2011 season with a record of 6-10, but they were a very competitive football team.
There are lots of things to like about this Panthers football team. Cam Newton is now is his second year as the starting quarterback, and he broke records as a rookie in a lockout-shortened offseason.
The team also welcomes back its starting middle-linebacker, Jon Beason, who missed all of last season due to injury. The Panthers also drafted linebacker Luke Kuechly in the first round to help bolster the defense.
With the Saints "bounty" issues, it's not inconceivable that this Panthers team could make a run to the postseason in 2012.
Falling: New York Jets
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Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk wrote an interesting piece about the move a few months back. He spoke with Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who tried to clear the air about the "quarterback controversy."
“Mark Sanchez is, has been and will be our starting quarterback,” Tannenbaum said. “We’re adding Tim to be our backup and be used in other packages.”
One thing is certain, this move will not help a fractured locker room. The moment Sanchez throws his first incompletion of the season, the chants of "Tebow, Tebow, Tebow" will become deafening.
Rising: Buffalo Bills
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The Buffalo Bills started the 2011 season 4-1 and seemed poised to return to the postseason. Ultimately, they finished 6-10 and lost seven straight games midseason.
There is a lot to like about these Bills, though. Shawne Merriman is healthy for the first time in years and could help make an impact on a greatly improved defense. The team added Mario Williams to bolster the defensive line and drafted Stephon Gilmore in the first round to help the secondary.
Running back Fred Jackson is returning to training camp healthy along with his explosive counterpart, C.J. Spiller.
If Ryan Fitzpatrick can limit the turnovers in 2012, the Bills very well could see themselves back in the playoffs.
Falling: New Orleans Saints
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The New Orleans Saints have had a tumultuous offseason to say the least. They got hit with unprecedented penalties by the NFL following the "bounty scandal."
The team will be without head coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season.
Somehow, the Saints have still not reached a long-term contract extension with quarterback Drew Brees.
This is a very talented football team, but distractions can not be overlooked. They can often cost a team a berth to the playoffs. This is a situation that might be too big for the Saints to overcome in 2012.
Rising: Philadelphia Eagles
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The NFL's 2011 "Dream Team" turned out to be a nightmare for Eagles fans. They started the season 4-8, but finished the season on a four-game winning streak.
The Eagles took care of most of their issues during the offseason. They extended DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis and Trent Cole. The lack of continuity definitely could help explain some of the Eagles issues last season.
They also shored up the secondary and linebacking corps. They traded Asante Samuel, who no longer fit their scheme, and acquired DeMeco Ryans via trade with the Houston Texans. They also used a second-round pick on Mychal Kendricks to play the outside linebacker position.
The four-game winning streak built a lot of momentum for the Eagles heading into this offseason. If Vick stays healthy, expect that momentum to carry over into the regular season.
Falling: Baltimore Ravens
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Joe Flacco created quite a stir with his bold proclamations this offseason. ESPN.com news services reported some intriguing dialogue from Flacco back in February.
In an interview with WNST 1570 in Baltimore, Flacco spoke of just how highly he regards himself:
I mean, I think I'm the best. I don't think I'm top five, I think I'm the best. I don't think I'd be very successful at my job if I didn't feel that way. I mean, c'mon? That's not really too tough of a question.
Flacco better be prepared to back up his bold statements in 2012. The Ravens will be without the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs, for quite some time while he recovers from an offseason Achilles injury. It's also unknown if Ed Reed will continue his Hall of Fame career.
Ray Rice is still without a contract extension, and it's possible he could hold out of training camp. These are extremely concerning issues for the Ravens to overcome. Especially in a division that touts the Pittsburgh Steelers and up-and-coming Cincinnati Bengals.
Rising: Cincinnati Bengals
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Head coach Marvin Lewis did a tremendous job with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011. The young team finished with a 9-7 record and took a surprising trip to the playoffs.
This team should be much improved in 2012. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green should continue to develop into one of the game's best quarterback-receiver duos.
The Steelers and Ravens are getting older, while the Bengals are moving forward into the future. They had another solid draft and grabbed several guys that will be able to contribute right away.
It should be expected that this team is extremely competitive again in 2012, and they may even sneak back into the playoffs.
Falling: San Diego Chargers
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The San Diego Chargers are truly a football anomaly. In 2011, they finished with a plus-29 point differential, but still managed to only finish 8-8.
In 2010, they had an offense and defense that both finished atop the NFL. They still finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
This team needs to find a way to get the offense, defense and special teams to collectively play well together. If it doesn't, it could see itself on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Rising: Chicago Bears
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The Bears defense is another year older, but there is a lot to like about this team. Bringing in Brandon Marshall instantly upgrades the Bears offense. He and Cutler already have a great connection from their time in Denver.
The Forte contract situation is a sticky one, but there is enough time to get that resolved by the beginning of the season. The second-round pick of Alshon Jeffery gives Cutler another big target to throw the ball to.
This Bears team could potentially return to the playoffs in 2012.
Falling: Dallas Cowboys
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The Dallas Cowboys are many analysts' prohibitive preseason Super Bowl picks. There is a lot of hype surrounding this team, as there always is.
They drafted Morris Claiborne in April's draft, but expecting a rookie corner to solve your secondary woes isn't a smart idea. Brandon Carr was also brought in from Kansas City to help improve the defense. A lot of talented new pieces doesn't necessarily equal wins, though. Look at the Philadelphia Eagles last season.
With all the sacks the Cowboys recorded in 2011 and all the hype surrounding Rob Ryan's defense, here are the Cowboys' actual defensive numbers from 2011. They ranked 16th in the NFL in points allowed per game. That isn't good enough for a Super Bowl contender.
Tony Romo has a career record of 1-3 in the postseason, and he isn't getting any younger. This team will miss the postseason again in 2012.