Reasons to Buy, Sell Every NFL Team's 2012 Playoff Chances
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You hear it every year going into the season: Every NFL team has a shot to make the playoffs. And it's true, although franchises like the Bills, Raiders and Browns are in the midst of long postseason droughts.
But it's just as true that any of the 32 clubs could miss the playoffs if a few bounces of the ball don’t go their way.
How could anyone forget the 2008 New England Patriots, who finished 11-5 and were on the outside looking in come the postseason? And how about the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, who were 9-7 during the regular season just a year after finishing 10-6 and missing the playoffs in 2010?
So what will be the key to getting an engraved invitation, and what will trip up every club on its way to booking tickets for a possible trip to New Orleans in early February?
Let’s play a little buy and sell.
Larry Fitzgerald remains the Cardinals' best offensive weapon
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The Cardinals defense, led by linemen Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, linebacker Daryl Washington and secondary mates Adrian Wilson and Patrick Peterson, is a formidable unit that responded to first-time defensive coordinator Ray Horton last season. Arizona’s pass rush produced 42 sacks last season, tied for the seventh-most in the league.
The Cardinals still need to settle on a quarterback and rectify issues on the offensive line. Over the last two seasons, five Cardinals signal-callers have combined to commit 52 turnovers and been sacked 104 times.
Now left tackle Levi Brown is out for the season. That's bad news for a club that is hoping to get another big year from running backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams.
The Falcons are hoping veteran Asante Samuel solidifies their secondary
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Fifth-year quarterback Matt Ryan has increased his season touchdown pass total each year, throwing for 29 scores in 2011, and this could be the most explosive Falcons offense in years.
With running back Michael Turner to keep defenses honest, the big play will be prevalent in Atlanta this season and needed to keep up with the other explosive teams in the NFC South.
Mike Smith’s team is just a few years removed from being the NFC’s top seed in 2010, but three playoff appearances have yet to net a win. You wonder if that doesn’t play on the team’s psyche.
While you can win the Super Bowl as a wild card, the Falcons' inability to hold their own against the Saints (2-10 since Drew Brees’ arrival in New Orleans in 2006) could be the difference come tiebreaker time.
Torrey Smith enjoyed a solid rookie season with the Ravens
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Baltimore’s defense may have some age spots, but it also has some highly productive younger players such as Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata, corner Lardarius Webb and inside backer Jameel McClain to complement veterans Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
The emergence of quarterback Joe Flacco as a passer, teaming with veteran Anquan Boldin, second-year wideout Torrey Smith and plenty of safety valves that include versatile runner Ray Rice, is also a plus.
The lack of identity that surrounded the Baltimore offense at times last season rears its ugly head once again. Despite the presence of Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, who led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage last season, the Ravens sometimes got away from what made them successful.
That is potential bad news in the always tight AFC North, where 12 wins hasn’t guaranteed a division title the last two seasons.
Stevie Johnson is the Bills' top wideout
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The addition of defensive end Mario Williams and Mark Anderson should pay immediate dividends as coordinator Dave Wannstedt looks to improve on the Bills’ not-so-scintillating total of 29 sacks in 2011 (10 coming in one game).
Former first-rounder C.J. Spiller gives the team depth at running back. Last season, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and company missed unsung Fred Jackson, a 100-yard rusher in six of his 10 appearances.
If Wannstedt’s defense excels at rushing the passer but fails to stop the run, which has been a weakness for too many seasons, the Bills will be in trouble.
The inability to compete within the AFC East is another problem. The Bills are just 4-20 against division rivals since 2008, including 1-5 last year when they ended a 15-game losing streak against the Patriots, only to drop the rest of their divisional games.
Veteran receiver Steve Smith enjoyed a banner 2011 season
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Second-year quarterback Cam Newton threw the ball with seemingly more authority and confidence during the preseason, so don’t be surprised to see his touchdown pass total from a year ago (21) rise and his rushing scores (14) fall.
The depth in the backfield increased with the addition of free-agent running back Mike Tolbert (Chargers), and don’t be shocked if tight end Greg Olsen puts up career numbers.
The defense looks encouraging with veterans Jon Beason and Thomas Davis returning, rookie Luke Kuechly and the emergence of James Anderson.
However, Carolina did give up a franchise-record 429 points last season, and the defensive front must come up big or that linebacking corps could be making a lot of tackles downfield. In its four losses to the Falcons and Saints last season, Ron Rivera’s team gave up at least 30 points in each contest.
Second-round pick Alshon Jeffery has shown plenty of promise
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Lovie Smith’s team seemingly has an embarrassment of riches on offense, something not usually associated with a Bears team. The running game has depth with Matt Forte and Michael Bush, healthy quarterback Jay Cutler is reunited with wideout Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery has shown plenty of promise.
Plus, Chicago’s veteran defensive unit still has its share of playmakers.
A much-maligned offensive line appears settled for now, although it has been an area of concern for a number of seasons. The Bears did allow 49 sacks last season, although more than half of them came against the backup quarterbacks.
Linebacker Brian Urlacher’s season-long availability could be an issue because of injury concerns, but that’s speculation at best. And what if Cutler goes down again?
Geno Atkins is a big part of the Bengals' deep defensive line
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The continual influx of young talent by this organization, led by last year’s rookie combination of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, and including Pro Bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham, is impressive.
Defensively, Marvin Lewis’ team is loaded at cornerback and has enough depth on the line, two key traits in today’s pass-oriented NFL. And new starting running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis never fumbles.
Following up a promising season with more progress has been easier said than done for a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs in consecutive seasons in three decades.
The Bengals also need to fare better against the Ravens and Steelers than they did a year ago, when they went 0-4. In 2012, the Bengals visit Baltimore in Week 1 and host the defending AFC North champion Ravens the final Sunday of the season (after traveling to Pittsburgh in Week 16).
Brandon Weeden's Browns haven't made the playoffs since 2002
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We haven’t seen third overall pick Trent Richardson during the preseason, but if he lives up to billing, he should be among the league leaders in attempts and rushing yards.
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has had his ups and down this summer, but don’t be surprised if he makes a 1,000-yard receiver out of second-year pro Greg Little. And only four teams in the NFL gave up fewer points than the Browns last season.
If Richardson’s lack of action this summer proves to be a detriment and he struggles to get on the same page with his offensive line, making Weeden’s play-action passes less effective, the Browns offense will struggle.
For all of the positives on defense (10th in the NFL in yards allowed in 2011), only a pair of clubs gave up more rushing yards per game. And the team must put an end to the 10-game losing streak to its division rivals.
Morris Claiborne looks to be key in an improved secondary
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The Dallas offense will be fine if Tony Romo plays as well as he did for most of last season, when he threw 23 touchdown passes and only four interceptions in his final 11 games. The Cowboys also need second-year running back DeMarco Murray to recapture his big-play ability after seeing his rookie season cut short by injury.
The defense will be fine if bringing in cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne pays off, especially in their matchups with the Giants and Eagles.
If head coach Jason Garrett shows more uncertainty regarding the offensive game plan, the Cowboys will be in trouble. Last season, Garrett at times didn’t appear to have much faith in his quarterback and at other times gave him too much rope.
As well, no matter the changes in the defensive backfield, if Rob Ryan can’t find another consistent pass-rusher to pair with DeMarcus Ware, who totaled 19.5 of the team’s 42 sacks last season, the Cowboys will struggle.
Elvis Dumervil bounced back well after missing the 2010 season
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The addition of prolific passer Peyton Manning gives the Broncos a reliable entity behind center (granted he remains healthy) and more balance in an attack that led the NFL in rushing in 2011 but was next-to-last in passing yardage.
An improving defense, led by Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller, should be better under new coordinator Jack Del Rio.
If the addition of Manning results in a less-than-balanced attack similar to his last few seasons in Indianapolis, the Broncos will struggle. That Colts team was dependent on Manning and the offense rolling up leads so they could turn defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis loose.
While that plan of attack may be good enough to win another division title, it could derail any plans of advancing in the playoffs.
Cliff Avril and the Lions hope to make a big leap this season
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The Lions have one of the best offenses in the league that hopefully will get a little more production from their stable of backs. Including last year’s playoff loss to the Saints, the Lions failed to rush for at least 100 yards in their last six games.
The pitch-and-catch combination of quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson may be the best in the NFL, but the former did throw touchdown passes to eight players last season.
Another season of sometimes sloppy play on both sides of the football could derail the Lions. Including the postseason, Jim Schwartz’s club committed 20 turnovers in their last nine contests (4-5), this after giving up the ball just five times during the team’s 6-2 start. The Lions’ penalty problems from a year ago have been well documented.
Plus, the team probably can’t afford to go 1-3 vs. the Packers and Bears again if it plans to return to the playoffs.
Green Bay Packers
Jordy Nelson scored 15 touchdowns for the Packers last season
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While duplicating last season’s 45-touchdown, six-interception performance by league MVP Aaron Rodgers may be next to impossible, even getting close to those figures may be good enough for Mike McCarthy’s team to win a division title.
For all of their problems in the defensive secondary last season, the Packers did lead the NFL with 31 interceptions and returned four of those for scores.
Those 31 thefts were part of an effort that saw the Pack tie for the league lead with 38 takeaways. But as everyone knows, you can’t count on coming up with turnovers. If Green Bay’s pass rush does a disappearing act once again and Dom Capers’ unit doesn’t improve its tackling, McCarthy and company will find themselves in their share of shootouts, and it’s tough to win them all.
Connor Barwin led the Texans with 11.5 sacks in 2011
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If the Texans can win a division title and a franchise-record 10 games with many of their best players sidelined for more than half of the season, who knows what they could accomplish with all the pieces in place?
Arian Foster may be the best running back in the league, while the defense under coordinator Wade Phillips set a few franchise records in 2011. Combine all of the above with a touch of playoff experience, and you have a championship formula.
It’s one thing to have certain players hurt. It's another to have them no longer with the franchise, which was the case with the free-agent departure of Mario Williams and the trade of linebacker DeMeco Ryans.
While the Texans’ offensive line is one of the team’s strength, it will also feature a new right-side combination with guard Mike Brisiel (Raiders) and tackle Eric Winston (Chiefs) gone. And how will Gary Kubiak’s team handle success for the very first time?
Reggie Wayne is one of the few veteran Colts still with the club
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Although this team got a major makeover, it would be surprising if rookie Andrew Luck didn’t have a productive season given what we’ve seen to date. His rapport and timing with rookies Coby Fleener and T.Y. Hilton, as well as veteran Reggie Wayne, has been evident.
Meanwhile, a refurbished offensive line has held up, although that unit hasn’t seen the myriad blitzes headed its way during the regular season.
New head coach Chuck Pagano and new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky will utilize the 3-4, meaning perennial Pro Bowl defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are technically outside linebackers on this new-look unit. It remains to be seen if this experiment will work, but shoring up a defense that has had its issues against the run is a big priority in the running back-rich AFC South.
Tyson Alualu anchors the midde of the Jaguars' defensive front
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Second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert looks like a new man this preseason after a suspect rookie year. The 2011 first-round pick has looked the 2012 first-round pick’s way often, as Justin Blackmon was targeted eight times by Gabbert in Baltimore.
While filling the shoes of last season’s NFL rushing champion Maurice Jones-Drew hasn’t been easy, Rashad Jennings has answered the bell and will continue to do so either as the starter or the backup. Jacksonville’s defense looks solid across the board as well.
If and when Jones-Drew decides to rejoin his teammates, will the versatile back fall prey to injury, as has been the case with past holdouts?
Journeyman wideout Laurent Robinson came up big last season in Dallas, leading the Cowboys with 11 touchdown receptions, but was last year a flash in the pan or a sign of things to come?
And is Gabbert confident enough to win a few games with his arm should the Jacksonville ground attack bog down?
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are happy to have a healthy Eric Berry back on defense
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There could be some old-fashioned football played in Kansas City this season. Quarterback Matt Cassel will have the luxury of not only former Pro Bowl runner Jamaal Charles but free-agent sledgehammer Peyton Hillis as well. An already solid offensive line got better with the addition of Texans castoff right tackle Eric Winston.
And if the Kansas City defense performs as it did in the final three games of last season, it could be a long year for Chiefs opponents.
While he served as interim head coach and defensive coordinator in the final three games of last season, Romeo Crennel now has both jobs full-time. It will be interesting to see how he handles them.
Despite the presence of three former and current first-round picks along the Chiefs’ three-man defensive front, we’re still waiting for breakout seasons from ends Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey, and rookie nose tackle Dontari Poe still hasn’t cracked the starting lineup.
Dolphins running back Reggie Bush takes aim at the NFL rushing title this season
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Veteran running back Reggie Bush opened a lot of eyes in 2011 thanks to his first 1,000-yard season, and he appears determined to win the league rushing title this season. Rookie Ryan Tannehill gets the nod over incumbent Matt Moore at quarterback. His familiarity with Mike Sherman’s system is an obvious plus.
The Dolphins defense is better than advertised in terms of pressuring the passer (41 sacks) and giving up points (sixth in the NFL in 2011).
It’s always risky starting a rookie quarterback. The Tannehill decision could backfire, although Moore has come off the bench before. The Dolphins allowed a whopping 52 sacks last season and will trot out a new right side of the line, with guard Artis Hicks and second-round draft choice Jonathan Martin at tackle.
Despite the defense’s ability to keep the score down, no doubt it would be somewhat easier if the Dolphins could improve on their 19 takeaways of a year ago.
Adrian Peterson will be ready when the Vikings open the regular season
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It looks like we’ll be seeing Adrian Peterson on the opening Sunday against the Jaguars. The prolific runner appears to be nearly all the way back from last December’s tough-to-watch knee injury suffered at Washington. That’s great news for second-year quarterback Christian Ponder, who continues to make a positive impression.
If All-Pro Jared Allen isn’t the best defensive lineman in the league, he's on an extremely short list. He produced an astounding 22.0 sacks in 2011.
The organization used a pair of first-round selections in April on coveted left tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith to solve its pass-protection issues and fix a defensive unit that allowed a league-high 34 touchdown passes last season.
So far, though, the jury is still out on the first issue. The Vikings have allowed a dozen sacks in three preseason games and only produced a pair of touchdowns (equaling the number scored by the Vikings defense).
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick is looking for a record-tying sixth Super Bowl appearance as a head coach
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Tom Brady’s numbers have been mind-boggling as of late, with more than half (153) of his 300 career touchdown passes coming since 2007. There’s reliable slot receiver Wes Welker, the lethal tight end combo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and now deep threat Brandon Lloyd to worry about.
There’s no reason to think that Bill Belichick’s team won’t reach the 500-point mark for the third straight season and the fourth time in six years.
Despite the addition of promising rookie defenders Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, has the Patriots defense improved enough, especially against the pass, to make a difference between a Super Bowl appearance and a championship?
Like all other quarterbacks, even Brady has a hard time throwing the ball when he's being knocked down. So if new left tackle Nate Solder continues to struggle as he did during the preseason, it could be a tricky year for the prolific passer. And how much will reliable runner BenJarvus Green-Ellis be missed?
New Orleans Saints
Mark Ingram looks to have a more productive second season
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Quarterback Drew Brees shattered the NFL record for passing yards in a season (5,476), threw 46 touchdown passes and led a team that scored the fourth-most points in a season (547) in league history.
The combination of a deep receiving corps, now led by Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, as well as a deep and versatile array of backs, led by Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, makes this team extremely dangerous whenever it has the ball.
Having an interim coach for the first six games (Aaron Kromer) for an interim coach (Joe Vitt) is certainly uncharted territory for any franchise, much less one dependent on its offense and its quarterback-head coach combination.
Speaking of defense, the Saints have had their problems in recent weeks. But is that a reflection of Steve Spagnuolo’s system or injury concerns at linebacker? And can the talented coordinator fix a pass rush that saw safety Roman Harper (7.5) lead the team in sacks in 2011?
New York Giants
Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz was one of the great stories of the 2011 season
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Led by quarterback Eli Manning, the Giants offense played with a new kind of confidence during the stretch run and on the way to another Super Bowl title.
While wide receiver Mario Manningham and tight end Jake Ballard will be missed, the combination of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks gives opponents plenty to think about. Rookie runner David Wilson will spell Ahmad Bradshaw on occasion.
On defense, All-Pro Jason Pierre-Paul is the team’s latest find as a pass-rusher. His 16.5 sacks last season were basically one-third of the club’s total (48).
Getting hot at the right time is all well and good, but it’s not exactly the ideal way to win an NFL championship.
True, the Giants defense got healthier as the season unfolded and was playing its best in the playoffs. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that Tom Coughlin’s club gave up more points (400) than it scored (394) last season, begging the question: Was the postseason the exception or the new rule? And Manning is still only a season removed from committing 30 turnovers in 2010.
New York Jets
Is Darrelle contemplating the view from "Revis Island?"
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We really don’t know what to expect from the Jets offense. But regardless of what Tony Sparano truly has in store, the Jets will be closer to the club that led the league in rushing in 2009 than the unit that slumped to 22nd a year ago. Be it Mark Sanchez (the starter) or Tim Tebow, expect some unexpected wrinkles.
On defense, the addition of productive and physical safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell is a big plus. First-round defensive end Quinton Coples has been a pleasant surprise.
Much has been made of the Jets not scoring a touchdown in their first three preseason games. While there’s no cause for panic, there has to be a little concern when all you manage is seven field goals in three quarters of play. Sanchez and Tebow have spent the summer under siege by not only questions but pass-rushers as well. Is one-time undrafted free agent Austin Howard truly the answer at right tackle?
A healthy Darren McFadden would do wonders for the Silver and Black
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Last season, the Raiders were good enough to win seven of their first 11 games before a late-season slump cost them the AFC West title. Young receivers such as former first-rounder Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore give quarterback Carson Palmer plenty of options.
If running back Darren McFadden can finally stay healthy for an entire season, Dennis Allen’s team has enough to make the race for the division title interesting once again.
Dating back to his last year with the Bengals, Palmer has thrown 36 interceptions in his last 26 games, and this summer has been no exception. He been picked off four times in the preseason.
Besides McFadden’s health, the big question has been the defense. The Raiders allowed 159 points and 16 offensive touchdowns during last season’s 1-4 stretch run. Veteran corners Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer are hopefully the answers at cornerback for a unit that gave up the second-most touchdown passes (31) in the league in 2011.
Jeremy Maclin led the team in receptions last season
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These Birds can score with the best of them and do it through the air or on the ground with weapons such as quarterback Michael Vick, running back LeSean McCoy and wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson.
The deepest collection of defensive linemen in the league is now supplemented by veteran middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who fills a major need. Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in the business.
Although rookie quarterback Nick Foles has been impressive this summer, the playoff prospects without Michael Vick would likely take a hit. For all of their talent on offense, this was a team that committed 38 turnovers last season, second-most in the league.
While rookie outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks has looked promising, the team’s inexperience at this position was a major problem a year ago.
Troy Polamalu's Steelers have allowed the NFL's fewest points the last two seasons
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Reports of the Steelers’ defensive demise a year ago proved to be greatly exaggerated. The team allowed the fewest points in the league for the second straight year, and this group appears as talented as ever.
With Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Wallace expected back soon, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a big-play receiving corps, led by Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, as well as Jerricho Cotchery, who will fill the Hines Ward role in 2012.
The team’s plans to rebuild its offensive line via the draft took an unfortunate detour this summer. First-round pick and right guard David DeCastro injured his knee and could miss the season, and second-round pick and left tackle Mike Adams struggled early in the preseason.
Isaac Redman takes over for recovering running back Rashard Mendenhall, but it remains to be seen if he and the rest of the Steelers’ backs can fit the bill in Todd Haley’s attack.
St. Louis Rams
Steven Jackson has rushed for 9,093 yards in eight NFL seasons
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Jeff Fisher is one of the game’s best head coaches, but he has his work cut out for him with a team that’s won only 15 games the last five seasons. You can bet the Rams will be aggressive, especially with a defensive line that features its share of former and current first-round picks.
Despite a rough outing at Dallas, quarterback Sam Bradford has had his good moments this preseason.
Even with Bradford playing better and workhorse Steven Jackson in the backfield, the Rams figure to struggle to score points. They were dead last in the NFL two of the last three seasons. That is even more of a problem considering the defensive prowess of their NFC West rivals, the 49ers, Cardinals and Seahawks. St. Louis failed to beat any of them last season, another issue for Fisher and his coaching staff to ponder.
San Diego Chargers
Malcom Floyd will be one of Philip Rivers' top targets once again
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Despite a career-high 20 interceptions, as well as 25 of the team’s 28 turnovers last season, Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers remains one of the best and most reliable players at his position and figures to bounce back in style. He’ll have some new targets in Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, as well as reliable tight end Antonio Gates.
The Bolts appear loaded at outside linebacker with Shaun Phillips, Jarret Johnson, improving Larry English, sack specialist Antwan Barnes and promising rookie Melvin Ingram.
If the San Diego defense doesn’t play better against the run (20th in NFL in 2011), which is easier said than done when facing the likes of Darren McFadden, Willis McGahee and the combo of Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis twice a year, an improved pass rush will be a moot point.
The team was uncharacteristically busy during free agency. Does that mean this team will play with purpose or desperation this season?
San Francisco 49ers
Vernon Davis enjoyed a banner 2011 postseason
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San Francisco’s defensive performance in 2011 was reminiscent of the great Broncos “Orange Crush” units of the mid to late 1970s. There’s no reason that this group shouldn’t pick up where it left off last season.
On offense, Alex Smith figures to be a more productive quarterback with the addition of wide receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, and rookie runner LaMichael James adds an extra gear to the 49ers’ ground attack.
Those defending Smith’s erratic play since he entered the league in 2005 cite the Niners’ instability at offensive coordinator and the constant change of systems. So if the 49ers quarterback struggles after a solid 2011 showing, the questions will be raised again.
A big part of the team’s winning formula last season was ball security, but asking any team to turn over the ball just 10 times all season once again may be almost impossible.
What can the Seahawks expect from Marshawn Lynch this season?
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Led by their Pro Bowl-laden secondary of safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and cornerback Brandon Browner, as well as a defensive front bolstered by the addition of free agent Jason Jones, the Seattle defense is capable of big things this season, including perhaps carrying this team if so called upon.
If hard-running Marshawn Lynch is able to pick up where he left off late last season, it could spell success.
Given Pete Carroll’s track record with quarterbacks in Seattle (goodbye, Tarvaris Jackson), you can almost count on rookie Russell Wilson, who’ll open the season against the Cardinals, and Matt Flynn as starters this season.
The team’s search for additional help at wide receiver included the signing and eventual release of Antonio Bryant and Terrell Owens, although a return to healthy form by talented wideout Sidney Rice would be a plus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa's new-look ground game will help wide receiver Mike Williams
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That's an appropriate term to use when talking about one of the busiest teams during the free-agency period. The Bucs added former and current Pro Bowlers such as Vincent Jackson (Chargers) and Carl Nicks (Saints) and first-round picks Mark Barron and Doug Martin.
However, new head coach Greg Schiano’s biggest addition is a change in the attitude that was partially responsible for the team’s season-ending 10-game losing streak that wiped out a promising 4-2 start.
The franchise made its share of tweaks on a defensive unit that was virtually nonexistent in the second half of last season. The Buccaneers allowed 31 or more points in their last five games and in seven of their last eight contests. It remains to be seen if the additions and subtractions will pay off.
With some added weapons on the offensive side of the ball, will talented quarterback Josh Freeman rebound from a forgettable season?
Chris Johnson hopes to rebound from his least productive season
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Second-year quarterback Jake Locker won the starting job during the preseason. His live arm should pair well with wide receivers Nate Washington and Damian Williams, rookie Kendall Wright and (eventually) Kenny Britt.
Those opportunities should present themselves if running back Chris Johnson continues to look like his “old” self, making Tennessee’s play-action passing attack quite lethal.
The inconsistency that plagued the team last season rears its ugly head once again. Despite a winning record (9-7), Mike Munchak’s team lost at Jacksonville and at Indianapolis (the Colts' first win after an 0-13 start).
If the addition of Kamerion Wimbley, who is moving from outside linebacker to defensive end, does not improve the team’s pass rush (AFC-low 28 sacks in 2011), it could be a long year for the Titans secondary.
You can usually find Redskins linebacker London Fletcher on top of the action
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Youth is finally being served in the nation’s capital. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is further proof of the organization’s current direction, and Griffin’s rapport with free-agent wide receiver Pierre Garcon could pay big dividends.
Jim Haslett's better-than-advertised Washington defense could be the key to success for Mike Shanahan’s team.
Even with plenty of promise, Griffin is still a rookie and will suffer growing pains. The key will be protecting the ball as much as possible. Turnovers killed Washington’s chances last season, as 30 of their 35 miscues came from the quarterback position.
Led by Tim Hightower, the Redskins appear to have a stable of solid backs. It’s essential that the team improves its rushing attack, ranked 25th in yards gained a year ago.