San Diego Chargers and Surprise Teams Headed for the 2012 NFL Playoffs
Several teams are entering the the 2012 NFL season without high expectations, but that doesn't mean they won't end up in the playoffs. Because of unsuccessful showings in 2011, the 2012 editions of a few squads are being overlooked.
But being under the radar isn't necessarily a bad thing.
After the Chargers finished out of the playoffs for the second straight season, San Diego general manager A.J. Smith went to work on improving his roster.
He bolstered his squad as much as any other GM this offseason through free agency and the draft and has the Bolts looking like the favorite in the AFC West. The Denver Broncos' signing of Peyton Manning got all the attention out west this offseason, but the Chargers added a much better crop of free agents.
Offensively, they got better by replacing the departed Vincent Jackson with a combination of Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal and Roscoe Parrish. They also signed Le'Ron McClain to help in the backfield.
The Chargers reloaded defensively, too, by signing outside linebacker Jarret Johnson and safety Atari Bigby and drafting pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, defensive lineman Kendall Reyes and safety Brandon Taylor.
Additionally, the Bolts can rely on Philip Rivers getting back into form this year, while Antonio Gates is finally fully healthy for the first time in almost four years.
The Seahawks were horrendous offensively in 2011, but thanks to the free-agent signing of Matt Flynn, their quarterback situation should finally be stabilized.
After all, anyone is better than Tarvaris Jackson under center.
Meanwhile, Marshawn Lynch had a great year in 2011, rushing for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns on 285 carries while adding 212 yards and a score on 28 receptions. Lynch was rewarded with a long-term deal and should be back and just as good this year.
But the area in which Seattle will be the most improved in 2012 is on defensive, where it added to its front seven significantly in the offseason. By drafting pass-rushing specialist Bruce Irvin and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, the Seahawks got much better.
If Sidney Rice is health in a weak NFC West, the Seahawks could jump up and challenge the San Francisco 49ers for the division title.
I'm not sure if this is much of a surprise, but after a supremely disappointing 8-8 season in 2011, the Eagles could even be considered the favorites in the NFC East.
The key to the Eagles living up to expectations this year will be the health of quarterback Michael Vick. In fact Philadelphia's entire season likely rests on whether or not Vick can make it through the whole year.
Defensively, the Eagles should be much improved thanks to a trade that netted them linebacker DeMeco Ryans from Houston and the drafting of linebacker Mychal Kendricks and defensive lineman Fletcher Cox.
Running back LeSean McCoy will be depended on to continue the explosion of his career that has seen him become one of the best all-around running backs in the NFL. But 2011 fifth-round draft choice Dion Lewis will be expected to step up and ease some of the load on McCoy.
If the Eagles can just put it all together and stay healthy, they should take the NFC East crown.
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