The NFL season produces a few new playoff teams each year. Last season we saw the Broncos, Texans and Bengals reach the playoffs in the AFC. For the Broncos, it was the first playoff appearance since the Jake Plummer era (2005). The Bengals missed the playoffs in 2010, after winning their division in 2009. For the Texans, it was their first playoff appearance in franchise history.
The NFC also produced three new playoff teams. The Giants returned to the playoffs after a two year absence, and won the Super Bowl. The 49ers made the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Finally, ending a big drought between playoff appearances, the Lions returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
The 2012 NFL season will see its share of new playoff teams as well.
Here they are.
Dubbed the "Dream Team" last season by Vince Young, the Philadelphia Eagles started off with a nightmarish 1-4 record. They did win their final four games to finish 8-8, but the team many picked to win their division, and even go to the Super Bowl, didn't even make the playoffs.
Heading into this season, no one is calling them a "Dream Team," but Michael Vick did say that his team has, "a chance to develop a dynasty." Head Coach Andy Reid was OK with Vick's comments, and why not. There's a lot of talent here.
The Michael Vick-led offense is one of the most explosive in the league. LeSean McCoy is poised for huge year after re-signing with the team. DeSean Jackson will not be distracted by his contract status this season after re-signing with the team. Add in Jeremy Maclin at the other wide receiver spot, and this offense has some very solid weapons.
The defense, which ranked 11th last year according to FootballOutsiders, should improve in the second year of the wide-nine defense. It's also the second season with the Eagles for Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Both are big time corners who will bounce back this season. The additions of DeMeco Ryans, Fletcher Cox and Oshiomogho Atogwe should also have a positive effect.
In the end, the Eagles have more talent on both sides of the ball than the vast majority of teams in the NFL, but they will only go as far as Michael Vick takes them. I see a big season for Vick. Looking at their schedule, I see 10 wins, which will get the Eagles back in the playoffs.
Like the Eagles, the Bears finished 8-8 last season. Unlike the Eagles, they started strong, and faded late. Jay Cutler was lost for the season during the Week 11 game against the Chargers. At the time the Bears were 7-3, and thought to be a lock for the playoffs. From there they went 1-5 to close out the season.
If Jay Cutler didn't require season ending surgery, this team is in the playoffs.
They were a playoff caliber team with Cutler last year. During the offseason, they made some excellent acquisitions. Number one being Brandon Marshall reuniting with Jay Cutler. Both had their best years when they were teammates in Denver.
They also added running back, Michael Bush, who will be a great backup to Matt Forte. If Cutler does miss a game or two, the newly signed Jason Campbell is a more than competent backup. I also really like the Alshon Jeffery draft pick. Getting him with the 45th pick could prove to be a steal.
Oh, and the Bears had the fourth-ranked defense in the league last year. Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman—they're all back.
Looking at their schedule, I can easily see 11 wins, maybe 12. They will challenge for the division, and make the playoffs.
The Bills had a pretty good start to the season last year. By Week 8 they were 5-2 with victories over the Eagles and the Patriots. Then the bottom fell out. They lost their best player, Fred Jackson, and lost seven games in a row. They ended up with a 6-10 record, thoughts of what could have been.
The offseason couldn't have gone much better for the Bills though. They signed pass rushers Mario Williams—arguably the best pass rusher in the league, and going back to his natural defensive end position—and Mark Anderson. That will definitely improve the 24th-ranked defense in the league.
The offense, when healthy, can put up points in a hurry. Fred Jackson, as fantasy football players know, racks up a ton of yards rushing and receiving. C.J. Spiller filled in well while Jackson was out. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Stevie Johnson are turning in to one of the better pass and catch combinations in the AFC.
What about their schedule?
The Bills have the third easiest schedule in the league next year. Looking at their schedule, I see 10 wins for the Bills, and a ticket to the playoffs. It would be the Bills' first playoff appearance since 1999.
After winning their division in 2010, the Chiefs were supposed to ride that success in to another playoff appearance in 2011. Injuries derailed this team early in the season.
They lost their starting tight end, Tony Moeaki, before the season began. They lost their best defensive player, Eric Berry, in the first game of the season to a torn ACL. They lost their best offensive weapon, Jamaal Charles, to a torn ACL in Week 2.
Both should be back at full strength this season.
The Chiefs made some good additions during the offseason. They acquired, arguably the best right tackle in the league, Eric Winston. They also signed Peyton Hillis, who will be a nice and powerful change of pace to Jamaal Charles. The Kevin Boss signing will give the Chiefs a very good tight end combo with Tony Moeaki.
The defense ranked 13th in the league last season, without Berry. There's no reason to think they won't improve on that, if they can stay relatively healthy next season.
On the offensive side of the ball, Matt Cassel is a good enough quarterback to lead this team to the playoffs. His job is made easier by Dwayne Bowe, who has become a top 10 receiver in the league.
Looking at the schedule, even though it's a rough start, I can see nine wins for sure, but I'm going to give them 10 wins, and a playoff spot.
Follow Brian on Twitter @coldy4goldy.