John Harbaugh hoists the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XLVII against San Francisco.
Reaching the playoffs is a remarkable accomplishment by itself. Only 12 of the 32 NFL teams make the single elimination tournament each season via winning their respective division or as a Wild Card. Making it back to the playoffs appears more unyielding than what meets the eye.
But history suggests otherwise in a sport that’s driven by prolonged periods of dominance and stardom.
Baltimore is the only team that has made the playoffs each of the last five seasons. Five teams have made the playoffs four of the last five seasons, including Atlanta, Green Bay, New England, Indianapolis and Baltimore. Five teams have made the playoffs three out of the last five seasons, including Minnesota, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
Still, eight teams have gone to the postseason twice over the last five seasons, including San Francisco, Seattle, the New York Giants, Arizona, Denver, the New York Jets, San Diego and Houston.
Though getting back to the postseason with hopes of ultimately winning the NFL’s grandest game—the Super Bowl—is rare, a number of teams have seen success in doing so over the last handful of seasons.
A pool of postseason teams from last year have a strong case to make it back in 2013.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan throws a pass against San Francisco in the NFC Championship game on Jan. 20.
Atlanta has been a No. 1 seed in the playoffs two of the last three years, including going 13-3 last season. The Falcons went 3-3 in the NFC South in 2012, but dominated outside their division and against AFC opponents, going a perfect 10-0.
Led by Matt Ryan, who tossed a career high 32 touchdowns last season, the Falcons boasted an offense that ranked sixth in the league, averaging over 281 yards per game.
Despite giving up over 365 yards per contest, Atlanta’s defense ranked fifth in the NFL, holding opponents to just 18.7 points per game.
A potential concern for the offense will be the future of tight end Tony Gonzalez, who said his career might over following Atlanta’s 28-24 loss to San Francisco in the NFC Championship game, according to ESPN.com.
“All good things come to an end, and like I said all season long, this is probably my last one,” Gonzalez said, courtesy of ESPN.com. “What an unbelievable ride.”
If Gonzalez calls it quits or decides to go another round with a new team, Ryan shouldn’t have a problem dishing the ball around.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees throws a pass against Carolina on Dec. 30.
New Orleans was without head coach Sean Payton all of last season due to a yearlong suspension for his involvement in the bounty scandal. The aftershock was heartbreaking for the Saints, who limped to a 7-9 finish and failed to make the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Fear no more, New Orleans. Payton will be back roaming the sidelines and calling the shots next season.
The impact of having Payton back will drastically benefit the Saints and especially quarterback Drew Brees. The 34-year-old gunslinger will look to turn in another stellar season in 2013 after tossing a league-best 43 touchdowns and 5,177 yards last season.
The Saints will score points and if newly hired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can improve the Saints sluggish defensive with his 3-4 scheme, then the Saints could give Atlanta a run for the NFC South title.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws a pass against San Francisco in the NFC Divisional round of the playoffs on Jan. 12.
Coming off an 11-5 season and an NFC North Division championship, Green Bay is hungry to get back to the Super Bowl.
With arguably the best quarterback in the game—Aaron Rodgers—the Packers need to find a receiver via free agency or the draft. The odds of Greg Jennings staying in Green Bay aren’t likely and Rodgers will need to have another reliable target to throw to.
With an offense that averaged over 27 points last season, Green Bay should have no problem making it back to the postseason.
Minnesota showed signs of life in 2012—thanks to Adrian Peterson’s monstrous year—but it will be hard to fathom Green Bay falling twice to its division rival.
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick throws a pass against Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3.
Two years ago, San Francisco was one win away from reaching the Super Bowl. In 2012, it finally made it, sneaking by Atlanta in the NFC Championship. However, Baltimore outlasted San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII.
The next objective for head coach Jim Harbaugh and his club is to make it back to the Super Bowl, with a different outcome than the one before.
San Francisco is perhaps the most dominant team in the NFC, having gone 17-6-1 in the last two seasons. Success within the NFC West—arguably the toughest division in the NFL last season—has come relatively easy for San Francisco, as they’ve gone 8-3-1 in the last two seasons.
The emergence of superstar and dual threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick has given San Francisco the momentum and motivation it needs to get back to the ultimate game.
San Francisco will have a tough schedule in 2013, squaring off against the NFC North and South while drawing the AFC South. But the 49ers will have the luxury of hosting the tougher teams on its schedule—Green Bay, Indianapolis, Houston and Atlanta—in 2013.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws a pass against Baltimore in the AFC Championship game on Jan. 20.
New England is solid every year. After falling to Baltimore in the AFC Championship in 2012, New England will be a determined bunch to have better success next season.
With or without receiver Wes Welker, the Patriots will be a rugged team in the AFC, let alone the relatively weak East Division.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck looks to throw a pass against Baltimore in the AFC Wild Card playoff round on Jan. 6.
Few thought the Colts would win a handful of games. Turns out Indianapolis won 11 en route to making the playoffs behind rookie sensation Andrew Luck.
Luck is the real deal and that’s why the Colts will make the playoffs in 2013. His extraordinary talents and patience in the pocket is simply remarkable.
The Colts need to surround Luck with playmakers, and head coach Chuck Pagano shouldn’t have a problem with either through free agency or the draft.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning throws a pass against Baltimore in the AFC Divisional playoff round on Jan. 12.
One thing is certain. Peyton Manning can still play football at the highest level. Not only can the veteran play, but he can perform like he used to while with Indianapolis.
Manning led the Broncos to a 13-3 regular season and the No. 1 seed in the AFC during the playoffs.
Denver shouldn’t have a problem getting back to the playoffs next season, especially in a subpar division.