4 NFL Teams Who Will Inject New Blood into the 2013 NFL Playoffs
The NFL is one of the most parity-laden leagues in all of sports. Every year, new playoff teams emerge and former playoff teams sink below the threshold.
In 2012, expect more of the same. Here's why the aforementioned teams will make the playoffs next season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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After finishing the 2010 season at 10-6 and barely missing the playoffs, the well-hyped Tampa Bay Buccaneers laid an egg in 2011.
The Bucs finished last season with the fourth worst record in the league at 4-12. The massive underachieving of the entire team was too much to be overlooked by management and resulted in head coach Raheem Morris' firing.
Just a few weeks later, Tampa Bay hired Greg Schiano, who had been the Rutgers University head football coach for the last 11 seasons. Schiano brings a defensive emphasis and disciplinarian's attitude to the team.
The Bucs also made numerous on-field changes this offseason. The addition of Vincent Jackson will give Josh Freeman a true No. 1 receiver for the first time in his career. Dallas Clark will also help tremendously in the passing game, as he will provide a veteran presence both on and off the field.
At this point, Freeman can use all the help he can get. The four-year veteran regressed significantly in 2011 after a stellar 2010 season. While his yards increased, his yards per attempt (7.28 to 6.52) and touchdowns (25 to 16) saw severe drops as his interceptions skyrocketed (6 to 22).
Schiano and new offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan will change that quickly. Although Sullivan is a former quarterbacks coach, he knows the importance of a potent running game after being on the New York Giants staff for seven years.
Also coming in to help with the run game is offensive guard Carl Nicks. The Bucs signed Nicks, perhaps the best offensive lineman in football last season, to anchor their offensive line and create some running lanes for LeGarrette Blount and first-round draft pick, Doug Martin.
The Buccaneers's real problems last year stemmed from the defensive side of the ball. They were third worst in yards per game allowed and especially struggled in the running game where they gave up over 150 yards per contest, good enough for last in the league.
While the majority of their big-name signings were on offense, the team did make some under-the-radar personnel moves on defense. Tampa Bay signed defensive linemen Amobi Okoye and Gary Gibson, who will help with the rotation up front.
Defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price—who were both selected early in the 2010 Draft—have yet to live up to their potential but are still young and will have the opportunity to pan out.
To help stop the opponent's passing attack, the Bucs signed cornerback Eric Wright and also acquired the draft's No. 1 safety in Mark Barron.
Tampa Bay failed to live up to its lofty expectations last year, but with all the new additions and a new head coach, look for the Bucs to finally put it all together and make a playoff push in 2012.
Head coach Mike Munchak should be expecting playoffs in 2012.
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So much of the Tennessee Titans success is going to be based on the ability of All-Pro running back Chris Johnson.
After a record-breaking 2009 season, Johnson has spent the last two seasons putting up mediocre—at best—numbers. The 26-year-old had just over 1,000 yards last season and was one of the more inconsistent backs in football.
Johnson had four games in which he rushed for more than 100 yards. However, in the other 12 games, he never rushed for more than 64 yards—truly a boom or bust season.
Despite Johnson's struggles, the Titans still finished 9-7 last season and just missed the playoffs. This was due in large part to the defense—which had a true "bend but don't break" season. Tennessee's defense was 18th in yards per game allowed—far from dominant—but allowed the eighth fewest points in the league.
One of the biggest problems on defense was a lack of a pass rush—the Titans were second worst in the league with just 28 sacks on the year. The signing of Kamerion Wimbley should help in that regard, as he is a gifted pass-rusher who has 42.5 sacks in his six-year career.
On offense, the Titans added some significant pieces. The team signed All-Pro offensive guard Steve Hutchinson and also drafted wide receiver Kendall Wright with the No. 20 overall pick in April's draft.
Hutchinson, despite his age, is still one of the better offensive guards in football and can help in the running game as well as protect the quarterback—whoever that may be.
Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker will battle it out for the starting quarterback position in Tennessee. Hasselbeck came to the Titans last year and put up solid numbers in his first season with the team—over 3,500 yards passing and 18 touchdowns. It's obvious the 36-year-old can still play in the league and play well.
Locker, who saw minimal action last season after attempting just 66 passes in five games, is expected to have a much bigger role this year, even if he doesn't start.
Whoever the quarterback is in Tennessee, one thing is for sure, they will have plenty of weapons to choose from.
Wright brings speed to an already extremely fast Titans offense. The former Baylor Bear should have an outstanding rookie season as the Titan's No. 2 receiver opposite Kenny Britt. Also expect a breakout season from fourth-year tight end Jared Cook, who will continue to develop into one of the best tight ends in football.
Throw in the fact that this will be the first full offseason under head coach Mike Munchak, and you can expect a playoff appearance for the Titans in 2012.
Kansas City Chiefs
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The Kansas City Chiefs have mostly injuries to blame for their 7-9 season in 2011. Three of the team's best players —Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki—were all lost for the season before the end of Week 2.
The Chief's starting quarterback, Matt Cassel, also missed seven games, which disallowed him from ever developing real chemistry with his offensive weapons.
Kansas City made the playoffs in 2010 with a healthy team, and were expected to do so again last year as they were one of the up-and-coming squads in the league. They have an extremely young core group of players, and if healthy, can give anybody a run for their money.
Despite losing the best player in the defensive backfield in Berry, the Chiefs still allowed just over 200 yards passing per game, good enough for sixth in the league. This was surprising considering that the Chief's pass rush was subpar, only accumulating 29 sacks on the season.
Another questionable aspect of the defense is the team's ability to stop the run. The Chiefs were seventh worst in the league last season, allowing over over 130 yards per game. This problem was addressed in April's draft when the Chiefs selected defensive lineman Dontari Poe with the No. 11 overall pick.
The selection of Poe raised some eyebrows, but Scott Pioli has done a tremendous job of drafting since he arrived in Kansas City in 2009, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt with this pick.
Along with returning numerous players from injury-reserve, Pioli and the Chiefs also signed some key free agents this offseason. Peyton Hillis will spell Charles and help tremendously in short-yardage situations; Kevin Boss should pair nicely with Moeaki and the rest of the offense, helping in the run game as well as providing a solid target for Cassel; Stanford Routt will help fill the void left at cornerback by Brandon Carr's departure to Dallas; and Eric Winston at right tackle will solidify the offensive line as one of the best in the NFL.
Like the Titans, this offseason will be the first under new head coach Romeo Crennel (although he's been with the Chiefs as a D-coordinator since 2010). Nevertheless, this will do nothing but help the young Chiefs develop.
This team is littered with young talent. Cassel is one of just three offensive players in their 30s. Charles (age 25), Dwayne Bowe (age 27), Jon Baldwin (age 22), Dexter McCluster (age 23) and Moeaki (age 25) will all be expected to play significant roles on offense.
On defense, it's more of the same. Key players include Berry (age 23), Brandon Flowers (age 26), Tamba Hali (age 28), Javon Belcher (age 24), Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson (both age 26).
If the Chiefs can stay healthy, there's no denying that they could be one of the elite teams in the AFC not just in 2012, but for years to come.
LeSean McCoy will have another Pro Bowl season in 2012.
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The Philadelphia Eagles were expected to win the Super Bowl last season after an outstanding offseason in which they acquired some of the best talent on the market including Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie and Cullen Jenkins.
They had such high expectations, Vince Young even coined them as "the dream team."
After failing to live up to their championship aspirations, the team formerly known as the dream team will give it another go in 2012. And you can bet things will end differently for the Eagles.
Philadelphia won five of its last seven games last season and nearly snuck into the playoffs after starting the season 1-4. All that talent finally started to shine through as they began to put it all together—especially on defense. In their final seven games, the Eagles allowed an opponent to score 20 points just once.
The Eagles simply have too much talent to not be successful. This team is littered with dynamic playmakers on offense—LeSean McCoy, Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson to name a few. And it showed last season as the team put up nearly 400 yards of offense per game and were eighth in the league with just under 25 points per game.
On defense, they are nearly as star-studded. The defensive line includes Babin—who finished third in the NFL with 18 sacks—Trent Cole (11 sacks in 2011) and Jenkins (5.5 sacks and six tackles-for-loss). Add in a healthy Brandon Graham, Mike Patterson and first-round pick Fletcher Cox to the rotation and you've got one of the deepest lines in the league.
The secondary is slightly more of a question mark in Philadelphia. The two cornerbacks, Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie, are solid. However, both safety positions are up in the air as of now. Nate Allen, when healthy, is one of the better free safeties in the league.
However, strong safety is a whole different story. Kurt Coleman was the man last year but second-year player Jaiquawn Jarrett will challenge him for the starting spot. Both of them, however, have shown to be liabilities in coverage due to their lack of speed.
Last season, linebacker was by far the most glaring weakness for the Eagles. The acquisition of Pro Bowl linebacker DeMeco Ryans should help solidify the linebacking corps in 2012. Ryans tore his achilles in 2012, but showed little signs of injury playing in all 16 games last season. Ryans will be playing in a 4-3 scheme in Philly, which better suits his game.
One major hurdle that the Eagles will need to overcome is their tough schedule. Philadelphia is the only team on this list that has a strength of schedule ranked higher than 20—their schedule is ranked at No. 7 (based on opponents' 2011 records).
If the Eagles can somehow carry over their late-season momentum from last season and if Michael Vick can improve upon his mediocre numbers, expect the Eagles to finally fulfill expectations and make a deep playoff run in 2012.