NFL Playoffs: 4 Teams with Super Bowl Expectations That Won't Come Close
It isn't easy getting to the playoffs in the National Football League. Whereas the NBA allows half their teams to face off in a round-robin contest, the NFL allows only six teams in each conference, with each conference holding 16 teams respectively.
Out of those 12 teams that make the playoffs, only several that go in have real Super Bowl dreams in the offseason. For example, no matter what you hear from Jim Harbaugh (and this man is willing to say anything), did you really think they had dreams of making it one fumble away from the Super Bowl? I would think not.
But the Patriots? Many pundits predicted they would get that far and the only upset was that they failed to win the whole thing.
However, this list of teams isn't so much a prediction of how bad these teams might be but a result of a numbers crunch in the NFC. The NFC is absolutely stacked this year with teams like the 49ers, Packers, Falcons, Bears, Cowboys, Giants, Lions and Saints presumably holding strong chances to make the playoffs and fighting for just five spots.
Three of my four suffer from that numbers crunch and if they were in the AFC, they'd have a much better chance to enter the single-elimination tournament.
No one would be surprised if these four teams made the playoffs and consequently a run to the Super Bowl, but there are many obstacles that they will need to overcome that ultimately will get the better of them.
Note that the New York Jets will not be included on this list despite ESPN's best attempt to rename themselves TebowTV.
Amidst an offseason brimming with legal issues, the Detroit Lions still field a team that is as talented as any in the entire National Football League. Their legal problems with the players on their team have become so comical they've made headlines by leading the league in arrests.
Keep in mind that these aren't just third-string players that would get cut for these troubles, but players like second-round pick running back Mikel LeShoure, and first-round pick defensive lineman Nick Fairley. Throw in Ndamukong Suh's steadfast refusal to state that he plays dirty or apologizes despite concrete evidence, and they have immaturity issues bursting at the seams.
They even make the recently cancelled Jersey Shore show look mature in comparison.
Their offense, however, has been making the right headlines all season, and they should see a similar high-octane offense this coming year with quarterback Matthew Stafford and Megatron back in the fold, but the issue remains the secondary.
Not only will Suh have to play much better after a sophomore slump, but their 22nd ranked passing defense has remained relatively unfixed.
Unless Jim Schwartz can control his players—this seems unlikely when he is unable to control himself as evidenced by the Jim Harbaugh handshake debacle—this team will be sitting at home in January.
Self-proclaimed "America's Team", the Dallas Cowboys once again come into this season with sky-high expectations with owner Jerry Jones as manager ready to do weird things to get his team in the spotlight.
While that has nothing to do with on-field performance, the injuries to Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant do, and they are a concern considering that those three are 75 percent of their top skill players. The other quarter? The dynamic running back DeMarco Murray, who is coming off a broken ankle last season.
All these things come together to spark questions about whether Tony Romo will be able to replicate his career season last year.
The scariest part is that with the injuries and question marks on defense, they will need Romo to have an even better season, considering they failed to make the playoffs last year. That seems rather unlikely with the issues at hand and the fact their offensive line is still in flux, according to Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News.
It's gotten so weird in Cowboy Nation that they think it's apparently acceptable to treat their star receiver like a little baby instead of the adult he actually is. Your best player caged and grounded like a teenage kid in middle school? This should end well.
On the defensive side, Mike Jenkins is coming off injury and they will rely on fellow cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who signed a big contract last year, to play up his billing. A middle-of-the-league defense must play better with DeMarcus Ware at its helm to get to the playoffs.
The biggest obstacle against the Cowboys is the fact that they play in a division with the up-and-coming Washington (RGIII) Redskins, Michael Vick's bulletproof vest, and the defending champion New York Giants.
It's tough to believe they can usurp more than one of those teams to make the playoffs, especially with their issues on the impact players on both sides of the ball.
There are simply too many question marks on their best players for me to have them going anywhere.
The unlikely postseason run last season came due to the surprising play of rookie Andy Dalton and fellow dynamic rookie wide receiver A.J. Green. It's not that they won't progress this year, but they won't improve at the same alarming rate.
That's not extremely daunting, but a significant step up regardless.
A quick look at the teams they beat show the Browns, Bills, Jaguars, Colts, Seahawks, Titans, Rams and Cardinals. No powerhouses there, to say the least. Juxtapose that to the teams they lost to? How about the 49ers, Broncos (pre-Tebow), Steelers, Ravens and Texans.
Suffice it to say that they beat up on the not-so-good. This is nothing against them, as they were terrible two years ago in 2010, finishing 4-12 with no franchise quarterback to speak of, but it is hard to see them improve significantly without many additions.
They've made no upgrades on offense (Is Benjarvus Green-Ellis the best you can do?) beside another year meshing together. Who will be the second offensive pass-catcher taking the attention away from Green? No one has shown that ability last year or this preseason.
There won't much difference between this year and last.
Throw in their not-so-good preseason performance from Dalton (I know it's preseason but there's a reason they play the games), and they will not be as potent as they were a year ago.
Despite a defensive front that should be in the top 10 again, being in the same division as the Steelers and Ravens and a tougher schedule will lead to their exclusion in the playoffs. Keep in mind Dalton faded down the stretch and ended up getting blown out by a Texans team in the playoffs starting third-string quarterback T.J. Yates.
New York Giants
This might come as a surprise since they are the defending champions, but hear me out.
Not only do they face the toughest schedule in all of the NFL, but they have a slight Super Bowl hangover. Also keep in mind that they barely squeezed into the postseason last year thanks to the Cowboys and Eagles collapsing down the stretch, and they may not be as lucky this year.
With Hakeem Nicks just coming back from a broken foot, and Ahmad Bradshaw also coming off a hand injury, the already small margin for error for the defending champs closes even more with teams in the NFC like the Falcons, Eagles, Saints and the 49ers ready to pounce.
This isn't to say that they will be less hungry with their two Super Bowl wins in the past five years, but the extra publicity, the numbers game and little additions—despite Prince Amukmara's return, he is still not at full strength and unproven—to the 27th ranked defense according to yards in the NFL will leave them out of the playoffs.
While Eli Manning has certainly performed like an MVP during the playoffs and no one can take that away from him, his performances in the regular season leave something to be desired. Even in his first Super Bowl, he threw 20 interceptions in 2007 and 16 just last season.
Contrast that to the last year's MVP Aaron Rodgers' numbers, and while Eli plays like a champ in the playoffs, he won't be good enough in the regular season this year to get them there.