Ranking the Boldest Picks for Wild-Card Berths in 2012
With NFL training camps now underway, talk of who the true 2012 NFL playoff contenders are has begun to circulate local water coolers.
Not to jump the gun, but the NFL is unavoidable and this topic will be highly debated until Week 17 concludes.
Some of the teams on this list will rise through the ranks this season while others will have take a step back and settle for a wild-card berth.
In any event, fans are in for another unforgettable NFL season.
The Extra Point: The Carolina Panthers Are the "Sexy" Pick, but Won't Make It
Behind quarterback Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers were one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NFL last season.
Finishing with a 6-10 record, there's been plenty of chatter of the Panthers making the playoffs this year.
Offensive lineman Ryan Kalil believes the team will win the Super Bowl this season, but the NFC South is suddenly stacked from top to bottom.
The team has a solid rushing attack in the trio of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, but lack an established No. 2 wide receiver to give star Steve Smith any relief.
The team also has a defense that allowed 30-plus points eight times in 2011.
It's going to take a 10-win season to win a wild-card spot in the NFC and the Panthers will fall short of that mark.
The team could easily start the season 0-4—expect nothing better than an 8-8 record in 2012.
It Will Be the Tampa Bay Bucs That Win a Wild-Card Berth out of the NFC South
Behind new head coach Greg Schiano, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be a true contender in 2012.
Schiano has done a miraculous job in making the Bucs a class-act in his short time in town and his attitude will translate into wins.
The first-year NFL head coach is creating a well-disciplined machine in Tampa Bay. His enthusiasm is infectious and he even runs with his team during practice. How many NFL coaches set the tone by doing that?
Along with their new head coach, the Bucs franchise has improved in every facet. Offensively, Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin will instantly give quarterback Josh Freeman confidence. Defensively, rookie Mark Barron and Lavonte David will start from day one and give the team a new identity on "D."
The team may feel a bit disrespected heading into Week 1 when the highly touted Carolina Panthers visit the ship. The Bucs will want to send a message to the rest of the NFC that they are the team to be feared, not the Panthers.
Look for the Bucs to be 3-1 heading into their Week 5 bye week and keep the pedal to the metal throughout the season.
You can pencil in Schiano for Coach of the Year right now as he'll take his team to the playoffs.
Final Record: 10-6
It Seems That Everyone Has Already Counted the San Diego Chargers out
Yes, the San Diego Chargers have disappointed over that past two NFL seasons, but that doesn't mean they should be left for dead in 2012.
Quarterback Philip Rivers is one of the best in the NFL, yet no one is talking about him heading into the season. The team has plenty of new faces this season, but it was time for a change.
With so many new faces on the team, the Chargers will surprise this season. Every player they have acquired via free agency this offseason will play with a chip on their shoulder because they have something to prove, yet have no memory of what it felt like to fail in San Diego in the past.
This is the year that once again solidifies the Chargers as a threat to every opponent.
Their toughest AFC West competition in 2012 will be the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, but that doesn't mean that they will both be better than the Chargers. The Broncos should be concerned because quarterback Peyton Manning is not 100 percent yet and the Chiefs have big expectations to fill after an injury-filled 2011 season.
Just when everyone counts them out, the Chargers will become one of the grittiest teams in the NFL and will themselves to win. Not to say that they'll look pretty week in and week out, but they'll get the job done.
Thanks to a wild-card berth, head coach Norv Turner will live to see yet another day in sunny San Diego.
Final Record: 9-7
The Green Bay Packers Won't Finish 15-1 This Season
Face it, finishing an NFL season 15-1 isn't easy to do.
The Green Bay Packers did just that in 2011 and while they'll return to the playoffs in 2012, they won't win the NFC North.
Now before you just out of your chair and scream at your screen, the Packers won the Super Bowl just two years ago as a Wild Card team.
The NFC North is one of the toughest divisions in all of football and the Chicago Bears have actually added enough offense this offseason to win the division this season. Although the Minnesota Vikings are an afterthought at the moment, the Detroit Lions were a playoff team a year ago and won't go quietly this season.
There's little argument when it comes to quarterback Aaron Rodgers being the best in the league, but the Packers secondary was worst in the NFL last season. This season, plenty of questions surround the secondary as they'll rely on youngsters like M.D. Jennings and Morgan Burnett to step up.
In the end, the secondary will cost them the division, but don't count them out at a run for the Lombardi Trophy.
Final Record: 11-5
The Future Is Bright in Cleveland
Believe it—the Cleveland Browns will earn a wild-card berth in 2012.
This offseason has treated the Browns well as they have added three instant impact rookies to turn to in 2012.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Trent Richardson and wide receiver Josh Gordon will all be difference-makers this season.
It is true that all of their AFC North opponents, the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers all made the playoffs in 2011, but that won't be the case in 2012.
The Steelers are bound to take a step back this season. It's still unclear if and when wide receiver Mike Wallace will report to the team, running backs Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are unproven and the defense showed their age in the playoffs last season.
If the Cincinnati Bengals made the playoffs in 2011 with a rookie quarterback and receiver duo, why can't the Browns in 2012? Don't forget, second-year receiver Greg Little is set to become a superstar this season.
Don't forget that the Browns have stub cornerback Joe Haden and ranked No. 2 against the pass in 2011, the "Year of the Quarterback."
Ball control on offense will be the key for the Browns in 2012. They scored 17-plus points just six times in 2011 and won only two of those games. Look for them to increase time of possession on offense and subsequently their win total in 2012.
Final Record: 9-7
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