5 NFL Teams That Won't Return to the Playoffs in 2013-14
Say what you will about parity in the NFL.
While only a handful of teams realistically enter each season as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, fans of all 32 franchises have reason for optimism this time of year.
This is because, on average, the league sees five new playoff teams emerge each season.
Last year, we watched three teams—the Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins—go from top-six draft positions to reaching the postseason.
Attempting to predict the next surprise playoff team can be fun, and this season provides plenty of intriguing possibilities.
A more daunting task is trying to decide which of the 12 playoff teams from a year ago won't be making a return trip to the postseason.
It's tough to bet against any of the 2012 playoff participants, but the law of averages tells us that at least a few of them will be spending the postseason watching from home.
What follows is not meant as a prediction of failure, but a look at which five teams from the 2012 postseason are most likely to fall short primarily based on offseason roster movement, injuries and level of competition.
The Texans' playoff chances could hinge on the health of Arian Foster.
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The Houston Texans were one of the NFL's most dominant teams for much of the 2012 regular season.
With a brutal rushing attack (132.7 yards per game on the ground) and the league's ninth-ranked scoring defense (20.7 points per game allowed), Houston jumped out to an 11-5 record and appeared to be a lock for a first-round playoff bye with a month remaining.
However, the Texans dropped three of their final four games—including a 28-16 loss to the division rival Colts in the season finale—and were forced to participate in the Wild Card Round for a second consecutive year.
Houston will be hard-pressed to start the season as strongly in 2013 and could face an uphill battle if the team falls behind a resurgent Indianapolis team early.
If the Texans cannot hold off the Colts in the AFC South, they will be forced to compete for a wild-card spot, which is always a risky proposition.
Foster, who carried the ball an incredible 405 times last season (including playoffs), remains on the physically unable to perform list with back soreness. While the team remains optimistic about Foster's ability to return in time for the regular season, there has to be some concern.
While Houston remains one of the NFL's more well-rounded teams, there is little doubt that the Texans will be less effective with Foster out of the lineup.
The Bengals are trying to make a third consecutive trip to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
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After making back-to-back playoff appearances for only the second time in team history, the Cincinnati Bengals have become a trendy Super Bowl pick for 2013.
A potent offense was bolstered by the addition of running back Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert during April's draft, and last season's eighth-ranked defense (20 points per game allowed) returns mostly intact.
However, the Bengals still must contend with the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in the rugged AFC North.
While the Ravens certainly lost more pieces during the offseason, the team has done a nice job of reloading, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Baltimore has also proved the ability to sustain success under current head coach John Harbaugh, having reached the postseason in each of the past five seasons.
The Bengals, on the other hand, are in unfamiliar territory. The team has never made three consecutive trips to the playoffs in franchise history and will likely have to prove it can dominate within the division (the team posted a 3-3 divisional record in 2012) in order to win the AFC North crown in 2013.
If Cincinnati cannot improve its record against divisional foes this season, the Bengals are likely to be battling for a wild-card berth once again. With several up-and-coming teams present in the conference, that could place Cincinnati on the outside, looking in, as the 2013 season draws to a close.
Can Griffin return at 100 percent this season?
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Most analysts seem to agree that the ability of the Washington redskins to return to the playoffs this season depends largely on the ability of quarterback Robert Griffin III to return completely healthy from last season's devastating knee injury.
Griffin is as dynamic of a playmaker as a quarterback can be and is arguably the main reason the Redskins were able to walk away with the NFC East title in 2012.
However, his availability to start this season would not be quite as vital had backup quarterback Kirk Cousins not suffered an injury of his own during last week's preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Redskins have several offensive weapons, including second-year running back Alfred Morris. However, the team will need to rely on at least one of its talented quarterbacks to provide balance to last season's first-ranked rushing attack (169.3 yards per game).
The unpredictable nature of the NFC East also makes it difficult to pencil the Redskins in for a playoff spot. No team has won back-to-back NFC East titles since the Philadelphia Eagles in 2003-04.
It took a victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the regular-season finale for the Redskins to lock up the division in 2012, and the team will face stiff competition within the conference if forced to compete for a wild-card spot in the final weeks of the upcoming season.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers will have to avoid the dreaded Super Bowl hangover to contend in 2013.
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It is extremely difficult to even believe the possibility that the reigning NFC champion San Francisco 49ers could miss the postseason in 2013.
However, it is a possibility that must be considered, thanks in large part to the emergence of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West last season.
Though the 49ers did manages to post a slightly better divisional record (3-2-1) than the Seahawks (3-3) in 2012, neither team was especially dominant within the NFC West, and many consider Seattle to be the team with a higher ceiling entering 2013.
The potential offseason improvement of the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals also makes it difficult to guarantee the 49ers can take the division this season. This could place San Francisco in wild-card territory with several talented teams—like the Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints and New York Giants—who missed out on the playoffs a season ago.
The 49ers must also be concerned with a long recovery for injured star wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who is unlikely to return until late in the regular season. While the offseason acquisition of Anquan Boldin will certainly help defer some of the loss, the 49ers are likely to miss Crabtree's explosive playmaking ability, especially early in the season.
Add in the fact that the 49ers are going spend the season battling the dreaded "Super Bowl hangover," and there is a strong possibility that San Francisco could fail to live up to expectations in 2013.
How long can the Vikings depend on Adrian Peterson to carry the team?
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The Minnesota Vikings were one of the league's biggest surprises in 2012, posting a 10-6 regular season record and earning a wild-card berth in the process.
However, the Vikings have plenty of questions that must be answered in order for the team to repeat as playoff participants.
The biggest questions surround third-year quarterback Christian Ponder, who has yet to solidify himself as Minnesota's long-term solution at the position. Ponder was more than adequate at times last season, but managed to pass for just 2,935 yards on the year and was wildly inconsistent from week to week.
He will have to show significant improvement for the Vikings to reach the postseason in 2013, as there is no way Minnesota can count on running back Adrian Peterson to carry the offense by producing another 2,097-yard season.
Within the NFC North, the Vikings will have to contend with the reigning divisional champion Green Bay Packers, as well as a Chicago Bears team that matched Minnesota's 10-6 record a season ago.
Thanks to the high level of competition in the conference, it seems unlikely that both NFC wild-card teams will come from the North division.
As long as Peterson remains healthy, it is difficult to completely discount the Vikings. However, without marked improvement from other areas on the team, it is hard to believe that Peterson can carry Minnesota to the playoffs for a second consecutive year.