The defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints will have a hard time beating the Super Bowl hangover, but they won’t be the only ones fighting an uphill battle this season.
There is always a group of teams knocking on the playoff door, and several 2009 playoff outsiders will break it down this year.
It is easy to pick the same old teams every year when predicting who will make the playoffs, but history says that practice is foolish.
Perhaps the most exciting part of a new NFL season for teams that didn’t make the playoffs is the fact that they have a good shot of making it this season.
So, let’s take a look at the 10 teams most likely to break down the playoff door this season, from least to most likely.
The Broncos have been jettisoning all of their highly talented players the past few years. Goodbye, Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. Hello, playoffs?
It is possible, but most likely the Broncos are a year or two away.
The advantage they have over many teams is that they play in the same division as the Raiders and Chiefs. That has to count for something.
The Broncos have the chance of having one of the better offensive lines in the league. That could go a long way in determining their playoff hopes.
A good offensive line would give Knowshon Moreno the holes he needs to have a breakout season. It would give Kyle Orton the time needed to get something going with Eddie Royal and Demaryius Thomas. That would give Tim Tebow a chance to learn from the bench, which is an important factor in his long-term success.
Ultimately, it is a question of team over stars with the changes the past few years. Is that a strategy that leads to the playoffs?
Seattle has a long way to climb up from five wins last season.
Can Pete Carroll inject life into this franchise and make that happen?
This looks like a team with more of a long-term goal in mind. With safety Earl Thomas and tackle Russell Okung in tow after a masterful first round, they are well on their way.
Okung will have to keep Matt Hasselbeck upright for this team to make the playoffs. I don’t see Charlie Whitehurst being the guy to lead Seattle to the postseason.
One advantage working in Seattle’s favor is the retirement of Kurt Warner. Something tells me that leaves the division up for grabs.
Ultimately, the Seahawks will improve, but probably not enough to jump into the playoffs.
Logic says that Tennessee should be higher on this list.
Once Vince Young took over, the Titans rolled back from a 0-6 start to finish 8-8. Can he do it again with the pressure on him to make the playoffs? Something tells me that pressure wasn’t there last season when they were in a 0-6 hole.
Young still has maturity questions and a lot to prove this season if he wants to stay in Tennessee. All of that pressure might derail him in the end.
A lot depends on Chris Johnson, who just reworked his contract. But the odds of him duplicating his sensational 2009 season are not good. He has the talent, but I see him taking a step back this year as teams key on him and he becomes a little more content with his new contract.
The Titans will always be in the hunt, but I say they just miss out on the playoffs again this season.
Byron Leftwich might have played well in relief duty for the Steelers last time he was in town, but this is Leftwich we are talking about.
Living in Florida, I have seen Leftwich with the Jaguars and Buccaneers. Let’s just say Pittsburgh’s running game is going to have to pick up a ton of slack while waiting for Big Ben to return.
It might be enough, but I say the hole Big Ben finds his team in when he returns is fairly steep. The Steelers have to play Atlanta, Tennessee and Baltimore in that stretch.
The Steelers will fight hard to get back into the playoff picture, but it might be an uphill battle that is too steep. A .500 record might look pretty good when its all said and done, but not enough for the playoffs.
Carolina has many things working in its favor.
It was time for Jake Delhomme to go. Matt Moore should be a suitable replacement. That in itself should improve the .500 Panthers.
The team also always seems to be poised to bounce back into the playoffs after a down season.
It’s also the way things work in the NFC South, where the defending champion has never repeated as division champs. New Orleans pulled the worst to first trick on Carolina last season, although that is a little misleading because the Saints were .500 in 2008. I don’t see my Bucs being able to pull that one off, so why not Carolina?
They have a good shot, but there is one reason why I don’t think they will pull it off. We’ll get to that a little bit later.
The Giants absolutely crumbled as the season went on last year. New York looked primed to be a Super Bowl contender after a 5-0 start. We all know what happened after that.
Tom Coughlin may be fighting for his job after the team’s poor performance at the end of 2009. It may not be fair, but that’s the way it is sometimes.
But I think that’s a good thing. Good enough to make the playoffs? I’m leaning that way, but a few things have to happen first.
One is seeing how the Kevin Kolb era pans out in Philly, the team the Giants will need to overtake. My gut says he will do just fine, but will probably drop at least a game or two more than McNabb would have.
Another is the health of the defensive line. If Osi Umenyiora and crew are healthy, the Giants can be a defensive force again.
If I am a Giants fan, I am cautiously optimistic at a return to the playoffs.
Hey guys, remember me? I’m the team you always pick to make it to the playoffs. Nope, haven’t done it yet.
The Giants are on the line, but I’m making the cut here of teams I am banking on a playoff trip in 2010. There is no such thing as a guarantee in the NFL, so no 100 percent guarantees.
But, in line with predicting Tennessee to falter slightly, I see the door being open for Houston.
The Matt Schaub-Andre Johnson connection is deadly. The defense is solid enough for the offense to take over.
But there is that one question: Who will step up at running back?
That is the decisive factor in whether the Texans make the playoffs or not.
You can pick, but I think they will figure it out and sneak into the playoffs. Texans and playoffs is a risky prediction combination, but here goes nothing.
The Dolphins play in the AFC East? Oh, I forgot. I only hear about the Jets and Pats.
Hmm. Smells like a recipe for playoff darkhorse to me.
The addition of Brandon Marshall should make the offense very dynamic. Marshall is going deep. Oh no, there go Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. You get the picture.
That will also accelerate Chad Henne’s growth. The addition of Karlos Dansby should help the defense become more dynamic, as well.
Miami was better than its record last season. Their tough schedule will help them this season.
Don’t ask me who won’t make it. Maybe all three teams will. But don’t leave out the Fins when talking AFC East.
No, I didn’t forget. Here is the reason Carolina will just miss the playoffs.
I think Atlanta is just a little bit better.
It may seem trivial to you, but putting together two winning seasons in a row for the first time in franchise history was a big thing for the Falcons. This season, their return to the playoffs seems imminent.
Matt Ryan will only continue to improve with age, so the offense should be in good hands. After the defense added Mike Peterson last season, I like the additions of Dunta Robinson and Sean Weatherspoon. Not the best in the league, but a solid unit.
I don’t know if the Saints will falter after their Super Bowl win, but I see Atlanta putting on the pressure and making a return to the playoffs.
The 49ers have the best opportunity of any team to break into the playoffs.
As previously mentioned, Kurt Warner is gone. The 49ers beat the Cardinals twice, so the head-to-head thing probably won’t make a difference. But the door is now wide open, and the division is for the taking.
I loved San Francisco’s draft. So did Frank Gore.
The Niners’ line should be much improved because of those two first round picks. That not only means a nice season for Gore, but the opportunity for a good season from Alex Smith. Having Michael Crabtree for a full season also helps.
So, there you have it. Your odds-on-favorites to break into the NFL playoffs in 2010 is San Francisco.
Who do you have your money on?