In the NFL, it seems like one thing is guaranteed: Something no one expects to happen will happen. That usually means at least one playoff team from the previous year not doing so hot.
There are 12 playoff teams from 2011. Which ones have the best chance of falling short in 2012? Whether it is roster changes, exceeding expectations or a more difficult schedule, at least one team seems to drop in every year. It's nearly impossible to predict which team will fall, but there are a few with significantly higher odds than others.
Dropping from the playoffs to the top 10 of the draft is a big fall, but at least one team seems bound to do it. Let's look at four candidates.
This all comes down to the man in the picture.
If Peyton Manning is healthy, the Broncos will almost certainly not be one of the first 10 teams picking in the draft. However, like the 2011 Colts, Denver could collapse without Manning.
Last year, the Broncos played way better than their talent warranted. Without Manning, this isn't a playoff roster. As we all know, however, Manning can make a roster look a lot better than it actually is.
More importantly, does anyone think Brock Osweiler can lead a playoff team?
The Falcons have an above-average quarterback and some great receivers. Beyond that, Atlanta doesn't have a special roster. The team's offensive line is nothing special, and no aspect of its defense is anything to write home about.
Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones were enough to make the playoffs in 2011. They may not be in 2012, as the Falcons didn't really improve their roster during the offseason.
It's not like the Falcons dominated in 2011, either. They made the playoffs as the NFC's five seed and fell to the Giants 24-2 in their first and only playoff game.
There are reasons for optimism in Atlanta, but there are also reasons for caution.
The problem with the Bengals is their youth. With youth comes potential to succeed, sure, but it also comes with potential to fail.
Second-year quarterback Andy Dalton played excellently in his rookie year, but many quarterbacks see drop-offs in their second seasons. This could happen to Dalton.
The Bengals enter 2012 with BenJarvus Green-Ellis as their starting running back, which isn't a great situation. Otherwise, Cincinnati has a solid yet inexperienced supporting cast.
The team's defense remains unfinished, and the Bengals play in an ever-difficult division. There's a chance Cincinnati will win the AFC North, but it could also trip and fall to the cellar.
The Pittsburgh defense, which, for years has been the team's staple, is finally declining. Many of the team's famed defenders are now gone, and the Steelers haven't been able to replace them with the same elite talents.
On offense, the Steelers are showing promise, but the team's offensive line and receiving corps remain young and unproven. This combined with a potentially shaky defense could mean trouble.
It's tough to predict a sharp decline for a Ben Roethlisberger-led Pittsburgh team, and it probably won't happen. There is, however, the chance that it will if the team's offense doesn't show dramatic improvement.