Parity is certainly alive and well in the NFL, even if there are a few teams that seem to always be vying for a championship each year.
One thing you can count on every season in the NFL is that a few playoff teams will miss the postseason and a few non-playoff teams will take their place.
Three teams that made the playoffs in 2011 were absent last season, and five of the squads that made the postseason in 2010 failed to duplicate their success in 2011.
Rather than focus on the teams that may not make it back to the playoffs this season, here's a look at a few teams that didn't make it in last year but will certainly be postseason players this upcoming January.
Many fans wondered why Lovie Smith was fired after leading his Bears to a 10-6 record last year.
The answer is simple: Smith is a defensive-minded coach, and under his leadership Chicago's offense languished.
The Bears produced the No. 28-ranked offense in the league last season, despite the fact that the team features some impressive playmakers at the skill positions. Even more startling was the fact that the team's passing attack ranked No. 29 last season, averaging just 187.4 yards per game through the air.
Jay Cutler played in 15 games last year, averaging 202.2 yards per game with just 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Cutler is better than that. In his final year in Denver, playing for Mike Shanahan, he averaged 282.9 yards per game while throwing 25 touchdowns with 18 interceptions.
General manager Phil Emery made a bold move this offseason by hiring offensive guru Marc Trestman, who will certainly help Cutler and the team's offense produce to its potential.
Additionally, the team brought in tight end Martellus Bennett and offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod via free agency.
Which NFC North team has the best chance to make the playoffs in 2013?
Bennett will give Cutler a big target in the middle of the field. Second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery—who has impressed coaches this summer—and veteran Brandon Marshall will benefit from the balance Bennett will provide.
Offensive production should soar this year, and even though Brian Urlacher is gone the Bears still feature a dynamic defense capable of dominating most opponents.
The team accomplished this despite the fact that all-world safety Troy Polamalu missed nine games, cornerback Ike Taylor missed four games, and linebackers Lamar Woodley and James Harrison both missed three games apiece.
Will Ben Roethlisberger stay healthy enough to start all 16 games for the Steelers in 2013?
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the team's offense was decimated by injuries.
Ben Roethlisberger missed three games and played hurt in a few others, which caused the Steelers to rely on Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich.
Furthermore, the team's running back situation was a mess all year long. Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Reshard Mendenhall all missed time due to injuries, and the Steelers ended the season with the No. 26-ranked rushing attack in the NFL.
Injuries happen, but Pittsburgh suffered more than its fair share last season.
The team has drafted a few offensive linemen recently. David DeCastro, who missed most of last season with an injury (shocking, right?), is healthy and will join Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Adams this year to form the nucleus for a solid unit capable of paving running lanes and protecting the quarterback.
Le'Veon Bell—one of the best running backs in the 2013 NFL draft class—is already taking reps with the first-team offense, as noted by Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Rookie Le'Veon Bell was RB w/Steelers first team offense for 4 of its 5 snaps in team drills to end practice. Carried 3 times.— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) July 29, 2013
He rushed for 3,346 yards with 33 touchdowns in three years at Michigan State and should provide a significant upgrade on the ground.
With a more balanced offensive attack and some good luck, the Steelers should rebound nicely from last year's disappointing showing and earn a postseason berth.
Given the fireworks display that has been the Dolphins' offseason, expectations couldn't be higher in 2013.
General manager Jeff Ireland landed more than a few top free agents, including receiver Mike Wallace, receiver Brandon Gibson, tight end Dustin Keller, offensive tackle Tyson Clabo, linebacker Philip Wheeler, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Brent Grimes.
Last year as a rookie, quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed real potential as a legitimate franchise quarterback while playing with a rag-tag receiving corps. Starting all 16 games, he passed for 3,294 yards with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Of particular note was Tannehill's willingness to stand tall in the pocket and deliver strikes to his receivers even with pressure in his face. His poise under pressure sets him apart from other young quarterbacks—many of whom tend to panic.
His comfort level with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman's offense served him well (Sherman was Tannehill's offensive coordinator at Texas A&M), and he should continue to progress as an NFL signal-caller in his second year—especially considering the team's improved receiving corps.
The Dolphins will ____ in 2013.
On the other side of the ball, Miami's defense is among the more promising young units in the NFL.
Safety Reshad Jones will soon become a household name, and the team's front seven is absolutely loaded with talent. Dion Jordan will likely be a situational pass-rusher for most of his rookie season, and the Dolphins hope he can begin to produce at an Aldon Smith-type level.
Prediction: Miami will finish in second place in the AFC East with a 10-6 record to beat out the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC wild-card race.
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