There are five teams that are ready to surprise the world in 2011. Let's take a look at these teams and see why they are ready for the big stage this season.
The Oakland Raiders made positive strides in 2010. They finished 8-8, which was their first non-losing record since 2002.
The Raiders enter the 2011 season as a confident bunch. They finished 6-0 in division play last season and had the sixth-highest scoring offense in the league. This year the Raiders are looking to make the playoffs.
Hue Jackson should be the next star at the head coaching position. Jason Campbell is primed to have the best season of his career, and Richard Seymour is one of the best leaders in the league on and off the field.
While the Raiders do have great veteran leadership, look for the young players to lead them to success. Darren McFadden, Rolando McClain, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Lamarr Houston and others will help the Raiders to their first winning season since 2002.
The Detroit Lions are a team on the rise. For the first time in a long while there is a very positive feeling about the Lions heading into the 2011 season.
This was one of the worst drafting franchises in the 2000s, and they are only a couple years removed from a 0-16 season. The Lions are due for a competitive year and so is the city of Detroit.
The bad drafting that caused the Lions to struggle for so long is finally turning around. The Lions have drafted some young players who can help turn the franchise into a competitive team.
Players like Ndamukong Suh, Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Jahvid Best and Nick Fairley were drafted to help Detroit win games.
Look for the Lions to compete for second place in their division in 2011.
The Texans have yet to make the playoffs since joining the NFL in 2002. It's not easy for an expansion team to come in and start winning games right away. But it's 2011 now and there are no more excuses for the Texans.
They have enough talent on both sides of the ball to become a playoff contender. The Texans have the NFL's leading rusher from 2010 and one of the best receivers in the league. On defense, Mario Williams leads a young and talented squad.
The Texans' offense shouldn't be an issue in 2011, and their defense will be a lot better with Wade Phillips running the show. Remember that Phillips' defense last year forced Peyton Manning to throw four interceptions when the Cowboys beat the Colts late last season.
If Phillips can have half of that success every time he faces the Colts, then the Texans will be very happy in 2011.
The 49ers are going to win the NFC West in 2011. New coach Jim Harbaugh is not planning on tanking his first season as head coach just so he can draft Andrew Luck in 2012.
The 49ers are a proven veteran quarterback away from winning their division. Don't be surprised if they sign a veteran free agent or trade for one. Kyle Orton or Kevin Kolb could both be options for the 49ers.
Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis are good weapons for any QB. San Francisco drafted two offensive linemen in the first round of the 2009 draft. They have the weapons and the protection in place, now they just need a better leader under center.
Look for Harbaugh to get the 49ers back on track and win the NFC West—but it won't happen unless they change quarterbacks.
The Cleveland Browns have plenty to be excited about in 2011. They have one of the best left offensive tackles in the league. Their running back was one of the best in the NFL, and they have a young quarterback who showed he has the ability to make plays and win games for the team.
The Ravens are one year older, and the Steelers are coming off a Super Bowl Loss. In recent years most teams that lose a Super Bowl don't win their division the following year. The Browns' first two picks in the 2011 NFL Draft were defenders, which is where the Browns need to focus on to get better.
Perhaps their best pick was in the second round when they drafted wide receiver Greg Little out of North Carolina. Little is anything but little on the football field. He is 6'2" and weighs 230 pounds. He should give the Browns a weapon on offense that has been missing since Braylon Edwards was on the team.
The Browns offense Peyton Hillis, Benjamin Watson, Josh Cribbs, Little and Mohamed Massaquoi at the skilled positions. Then throw in an exciting young quarterback with one of the best left tackles in the league and you have a recipe for success.
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