Could this be the year Dallas pleasantly surprises people?
There are a handful of consistencies in the NFL from one season to the next.
New England and Pittsburgh have been among the most successful teams in football for the past decade, and they both figure to have another great year beginning in September. However, while there are plenty of consistent teams in the NFL, the league always provides a handful of upsets that shock fans and teams alike.
Let’s take a look at five storylines that will surprise the NFL in 2012.
Earl Thomas is the best player on a good Seattle defense.
San Francisco won 13 games last season and walked away with the NFC West division championship. The 49ers addressed their needs at wide receiver by adding Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins, and they now hope to be a more explosive unit offensively.
The 49ers enter 2012 as the prohibitive favorite in the NFC West, but they may see some competition in the form of the Seattle Seahawks.
Despite winning only seven games last season, Seattle boasted one of the best defenses in football, ranking 9th in the NFL in yards allowed and 7th in the NFL in points allowed.
If not for relying on Tarvaris Jackson and a small dose of Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback, the Seahawks may have given the 49ers at least a little competition in the division. Now, after adding Matt Flynn and drafting Russell Wilson, the Seahawks figure to have more stability this season at quarterback, and they could be a surprise to win the NFC West this year.
C.J. Spiller is one of two dynamic running backs in Buffalo.
It’s easy to put too much stock into offseason acquisitions, but the Bills’ offseason addition of Mario Williams cannot be ignored.
Williams and fellow acquisition Mark Anderson will join Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay, forming one of the better rotations of pass rushers in the NFL. These edge rushers will benefit from playing alongside two studs in the middle in Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.
The defense was the weakest part of Buffalo’s team last season, as Stevie Johnson emerged as one of the league’s top receivers and both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller proved to be reliable home-run threats at running back.
It would be an absolute shocker if anybody but the New England Patriots were to win the AFC East, but Buffalo could make a serious push to make the playoffs as a wild card. The ten-win mark is typically enough to punch a team’s ticket to the postseason, and the Bills are certainly capable of winning ten games this season.
Denver is the popular pick in the AFC West, but don't sleep on the Chargers or Chiefs.
Denver is built much like the Indianapolis Colts were when Manning was in Indianapolis with the MVP quarterback surrounded by talented wide receivers, and the defense led by two talented pass rushers. If Manning is able to build a lead, Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller will pin their ears back and rush the quarterback—it appears like to be a recipe for success.
However, Denver’s road to a division title may not be as simple as some may think. San Diego, despite their annual early season struggles, has one of the more talented rosters in football, while Kansas City will benefit from the return of several core players from injury.
Manning has always been better indoors, and the Broncos only play one game in a dome this season—Week Two at Atlanta. If Manning isn’t able to win the division and lead Denver to the playoffs, Tebow supporters will have another opportunity to say, “I told you so.”
Between the Packers, Bears and Lions, the NFC North is the best division in football.
Many will suggest the NFC East is the best division in football, and while the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles and Redskins all figure to be improved teams in 2012, the NFC North now boasts the best division in the NFL.
The Green Bay Packers were the best team in the NFL throughout the entirety of last season—until they were one-and-done in the playoffs. After addressing their needs on defense with three picks in the first two rounds of the draft, they figure to be an improved team overall this year.
Detroit made the playoffs in 2011 for the first time since 1999, and despite having a plethora of offseason arrests, the Lions return their young core in 2012. Prior to injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte, the Chicago Bears looked like a serious threat as one of the best teams in the NFC.
With all three teams back and better headed into 2012, the NFC North figures to be the best—and most competitive—division in football this season. Playoff contenders in the AFC South and NFC West, such as Houston, Seattle and San Francisco, will face a tough slate of games courtesy of the NFC North.
DeMarcus Ware will lead an improved Dallas defense this year.
All attention will be focused on the New York Giants, as the defending Super Bowl champions, and the Philadelphia Eagles, in the 2nd year of their “Dream Team” experiment.
Somewhat quietly, the Dallas Cowboys have had a very solid offseason. The Cowboys have upgraded their leaky pass defense from last season by adding cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne.
Upgrading their defensive backs was essential in a division against Eli Manning, Michael Vick and now Robert Griffin III. Having an upgraded group on the back end will be a luxury as the Cowboys already boast perhaps the league’s best pass rusher in DeMarcus Ware.
The 2011 season was full of frustration for the Cowboys, as they lost five games decided by one possession. Dallas certainly has the talent to compete with the likes of Philadelphia and New York, and if Tony Romo can perform consistently over the course of four quarters and sixteen games, the Cowboys may very well be the surprise winners of the NFC East.