NFL Playoff Predictions: 4 Potential Surprises
The 2012 NFL season has retained the parity that we have all come to expect in this league. The Cincinnati Bengals demolished the New York Giants this past weekend by a score of 31-13, the Indianapolis Colts beat the Green Bay Packers in Week 5, the Minnesota Vikings have emerged from obscurity and into NFC Wild Card contenders, and the list goes on.
Although the playoff picture is beginning to come into form, there are still a few teams creeping in the shadows that are more than capable of making late playoff runs in 2012. There are a few tremendously talented team's in this league that got off to a slow start and have the ability to squeak into the playoffs with strong finishes. Furthermore, some marginally talented teams have favorable schedules that could enable them to make some unexpected noise this season.
Let's take a look at four teams that are currently on the outside of the playoff bubble and looking in, but could move their way into contention for the 2012 Lombardi Trophy.
The Dallas Cowboys are currently 4-5 and lurking 1.5 games behind the New York Giants for first place in the NFC East. Despite some early struggles with injury and inconsistent play, the Cowboys could be getting ready to make a run. With a favorable schedule and imminent return of DeMarco Murray, Dallas will be a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of the season.
The Cowboys will play their next three games at home against the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. Those three teams have a combined record of 8-19. The team will then head on the road to take on the Bengals. Dallas has more talent than every single one of those squads.
It's not inconceivable for the Cowboys to be sitting at 9-5 heading into Week 15. With the Giants in the midst of their annual November collapse, Dallas is in no way out of the running for the NFC East divisional crown.
It's going to take consistent play, but Dallas still has an opportunity to make some noise in 2012 if it plays to its potential. Granted, we've been saying that about the Cowboys for years.
However, there is no reason they can't beat Cleveland, Washington, Philadelphia and Cincinnati in the next four weeks. Don't be surprised to see the Cowboys playing in January.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have had a tumultuous 2012 campaign so far. The team entered the season reeling from the effects of "Bountygate." After dropping their first four games of the season, the Saints have now won four of their last five contests.
It's not going to be easy to dig out of the early hole New Orleans dug itself. In fact, the 1992 San Diego Chargers are the only team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to make the playoffs after starting 0-4. However, it's impossible to underestimate the talent that is on the Saints' offense.
Drew Brees is undoubtedly one of the league's elite quarterbacks, Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston are virtually unguardable and Darren Sproles is still a lethal threat out of the backfield. The Saints can score points against anyone, which makes them a threat to win every game on their schedule.
New Orleans does not have a cupcake schedule ahead of them. They need to beat the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cowboys and Carolina Panthers. Furthermore, they need to take two of three from the San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Giants. That means winning six of their last seven games.
It's unlikely that New Orleans makes the playoffs this season. However, they are way too talented to be considered out of the hunt. Look for Drew Brees and Co. to continue their playoff push in the coming weeks.
San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers began this season 3-1, but have since gone on to lose four of their last five. Despite their apparent collapse, the Chargers still have a relatively decent chance at making the playoffs this season. The team is currently 4-5 and sits two games behind the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers for the divisional lead and a wild-card berth, respectively.
Fortunately for the Chargers, they still get to play both the Steelers and Broncos this season. Wins in both of those games will put San Diego right back into the playoff picture and erase all its recent misfortunes. Furthermore, San Diego still has the Bengals, Carolina Panthers, New York Jets and Oakland Raiders on the schedule. Each of those games are winnable.
If Philip Rivers can find a way to begin moving the ball down the field again, the Chargers have an opportunity to surprise the pundits in 2012. The team has allowed just 82.9 rushing yards per game in 2012. If they continue to put up statistics like that, we could see a drastic turnaround in San Diego before the end of this season.
The Chargers still control their own destiny in 2012. Granted, they are walking an extremely narrow path towards the playoffs. However, San Diego is more talented than they have shown in recent weeks. If they can put their last few games behind them, the Chargers could weasel their way into January.
The Miami Dolphins still have a tough schedule ahead of them. The team currently possesses a 4-5 record and is in second place in the AFC East. However, with four divisional matchups remaining, Miami has the ability to make a run at the playoffs.
Miami still gets to play the Patriots and Buffalo Bills twice this season. Granted, the Dolphins are more than capable of losing any game on their schedule. However, they will have an opportunity to make a move in the AFC East as the season progresses. After playing some poor football over the last few weeks, that's about all this team can ask for.
Furthermore, the last two wild-card spots in the AFC are still up for grabs. With Ben Roethlisberger set to miss some time, the Steelers could be in trouble. Furthermore, the Colts must play the Houston Texans two more times this year. Those teams are more than likely to fall back towards the playoff bubble.
Miami needs to play better if they want to make the playoffs. Scoring three points against the Tennessee Titans is unacceptable. However, despite their poor play and losing record, they are in no way out of the playoff hunt.
It's unlikely this team rebounds against the stiff competition left on their schedule, but the NFL is a league built upon parody. The Dolphins are a better football team than we have seen in recent weeks and it's about time they start playing to their potential.