Every year there is a playoff team that was written off at the beginning of the season or before the season even started. The Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos are examples of that, both exceeding low expectations to secure a playoff berth last year. Here are three teams nobody is talking about that will make a playoff run this season.
Darren McFadden was having a tremendous year in 2011 until it was cut short due to a foot injury. Around the same time McFadden got hurt, Carson Palmer was brought to Oakland in order to fix the quarterback situation. He started out slowly, but he got into a groove later in the year.
The loss of Michael Bush is substantial, but a healthy McFadden and a full season of Palmer should provide a significant improvement from last season, when they finished 8-8. The defense was 29th in points allowed—also something that should be improved upon if the Raiders want to contend for a playoff spot.
Cam Newton put on a rookie performance like no other in 2011. He threw for over 4,000 yards and added another 700-plus on the ground, leading the Carolina Panthers to a 6-10 record. Though the offense ranked sixth in total points, the defense had plenty of issues, giving up the sixth-most points in the NFL.
Newton now has the rookie season under his belt and should improve, while the defense needs to step up big-time in 2012. The problems in New Orleans and an underachieving Atlanta squad leave an opening for Newton and company this season.
The San Francisco 49ers are a talented football team, but they are not a 13-3 football team. They should come down to earth this year and will have to fight for the division crown with Seattle. Everyone overlooks the Seahawks in the NFC West, even though they had a better point differential last season than the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. This year will be the end of that.
The team with one of the best defenses in the league will finally have a talented quarterback under center in 2012 with the addition of former Packer Matt Flynn. Marshawn Lynch is a beast in the backfield and the receiving corps includes former star Terrell Owens. The Seahawks will surprise a lot of people this season and be right in the mix for a playoff spot until the end.