More times than not, winning at least 10 games during the regular season in the National Football League usually ensures you a trip to the playoffs. And these days, once you reach the postseason any one of the 12 teams can get to and win the Super Bowl.
Of course, we’re coming off a year in which the New York Giants finished 9-7 but got hot when it counted most and grabbed another NFL championship. And that accomplishment became even more implausible considering Tom Coughlin’s club went 10-6 a season earlier and found themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Of course, the Seattle Seahawks captured the NFC West with a 7-9 mark in 2010 and actually had the audacity to dethrone the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the Wild Card Round.
But back to the norm, per say. Last season, only nine teams (Packers, Patriots, 49ers, Saints, Ravens, Steelers, Texans, Falcons and Lions) reached double-digit wins after 17 weeks of play—the fewest in the league since 2006 (8)—and all nine reached the playoffs.
That was in contrast to 2010, when 13 teams won 10 or more games, resulting in clubs like the aforementioned Giants and Buccaneers (10-6) failing to reach the postseason (as the 10-6 Packers won Super Bowl XLV).
So who are the likeliest candidates to get to that 10-win mark in 2012? We’re probably not breaking any new ground here but in an age where playoff teams come and go on a yearly basis, it’s worth trying to make a guess. And given that the preseason has not even started yet, the right to amend these selections in a few weeks has been granted
The Patriots have strung together 11 straight winning seasons dating back to 2001, and won at least 10 games each of the last nine years since 2003.
And for those quick to jump on the notion that it’s all due to prolific quarterback Tom Brady (and most of it has been with him behind center), keep in mind that now-Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel was at the helm for the vast majority of the team’s 11-5 finish in 2008 when Brady went down on the opening Sunday, a tribute to the organization.
There’s no reason to think Bill Belichick and company (27-5 the last two seasons) are in for a major fall. Some feel the Bills could surpass the Jets as the division’s perennial runner-up (Rex Ryan has led New York to three straight second-place finishes) but both clubs, along with the Dolphins, seem to have more questions than solutions.
10 or more wins: Patriots
This division was responsible for half of the AFC’s playoff participants a season ago, the Ravens and Steelers going 12-4 and the Bengals finishing 9-7 (which obviously could have been better if Marvin Lewis’ team could have beaten Baltimore or Pittsburgh at least once last season).
Cincinnati has a lot of young talent and doesn’t have the look of a one-hit wonder, but the franchise also has not been to the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1981 and ’82.
The Browns also look improved with rookie runner Trent Richardson and a highly-respectable defense under Dick Jauron. To say the least, the Ravens and Steelers will each be hard-pressed to win a dozen games for a third consecutive season.
10 or more wins: Bengals, Ravens
Many feel that the discussion begins and ends with the Houston Texans, but don’t sleep on Mike Munchak’s Tennessee Titans, who had their ups and downs a year ago but still finished 9-7 in the Pro Football Hall of Famer’s head coaching debut.
Jacksonville’s defense is formidable but there are some question marks on the other side of the football.
Meanwhile, the Colts appear to be starting over in nearly every department and may have problems avoiding the end of a very unusual streak which has seen the team either win or lose 10 or more games every year since 1997. Can quarterback Andrew Luck and company deliver at least seven wins? Stay tuned.
10 or more wins: Titans, Texans
Not only did no team here win 10-plus games but none of the quartet managed a winning season, the Broncos (AFC West champions), Chargers and Raiders all finished at 8-8 and the Chiefs were one game behind at 7-9.
That could change in a big way with Peyton Manning in Denver, San Diego’s Philip Rivers looking to rebound from a career-high 20 interceptions and Oakland's Carson Palmer with a training camp under his belt this summer.
And don’t forget Kansas City, the division winners in 2010 and more than capable of rebounding if they can avoid last season’s injury bug.
10 or more wins: Broncos, Chiefs
Like the AFC West, no team in this group won 10 games last season. But unlike the AFC West, it had never happened in this division dating back to its formation in 1970.
The division champion Giants were 3-1 vs. the Cowboys and Eagles but swept by the Redskins. The Birds and Pokes both came in at 8-8, Philadelphia 5-1 vs. the NFC East rivals while Dallas, who swept the Redskins, went a combined 0-4 vs. the Giants and Eagles.
It’s anyone’s guess who could win this division this season but you can likely count on needing 10 or more wins to do it this time around.
10 or more wins: Eagles, Giants
This division looked like it was well on its way to producing three 10-win teams and the Packers (15-1, including 6-0 vs. the division) and Lions (10-6) did indeed get there. But a 7-3 start in the Windy City turned into an 8-8 season when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte were lost down the stretch.
The Vikings have had their recent problems remaining competitive vs. their other three NFC North rivals and have some ways to go as they look to get back on track.
10 or more wins: Packers, Bears
The Saints have won at least 11 games each of the last three seasons and captured the NFC South two of the last three years. But quarterback Drew Brees and company find themselves in uncharted territory these days with the numerous suspensions involving the coaching staff and players.
The Falcons have done nothing but win since head coach Mike Smith and Matt Ryan arrived in 2008 (although the tandem is still looking for its first playoff victory). Carolina and Tampa Bay each lost 10 or more games last season but both look very improved for different reasons. Another division where nothing would be very surprising, except perhaps…
10 or more wins: None
Two years ago, 7-9 was good enough to win the NFC West and the Seahawks did just that. Last season, the same record had Pete Carroll's team six games out of first place.
Jim Harbaugh’s head coaching debut in San Francisco produced a division title and 13 wins but that could be difficult to match (and usually is for most teams) what with the Cardinals and Seahawks defenses coming on and the Rams under the guidance of Jeff Fisher.
Still, there’s Super Bowl talk with the 49ers what with a bolstered receiving corps, while their defensive unit is as good as it gets.
10 or more wins: 49ers