Although the lockout is still the engrossing area of the NFL at the moment, the most recent news reports are positive, signalling an end in the near future. According to Barry Wilner of the Associated Press, "Recent progress in labor talks between the league and players has sparked a new sense of optimism."
Therefore, we can get back to concerning ourselves with the usual things, like who will make the 2011-2012 postseason. The 2010-2011 was an exciting season that saw the New York Jets and the Green Bay Packers—two No. 6 seeds—make it into championship games and one of them, obviously, winning the Super Bowl.
Just like the New York Giants showed in 2007 and the Green Bay Packers showed in 2011, predicting the outcome of the playoffs is quite difficult. Still, let's try and figure out who is most likely to make it next season.
Although the New England Patriots didn't win a playoff game last season, they still went 14-2 in the regular season. They've actually gotten quite good at having fantastic regular seasons and then losing in the playoffs. In fact, despite finishing in first place in the AFC East in five out of the last six seasons, they haven't won a Super Bowl.
Still, they'll be in the postseason. There's no reason for them not to be. New England still has Tom Brady, who is coming off an absolutely incredible season in 2010—3,900 yards, 36 TDs, four INT—where he won a second MVP. The Patriots haven't had a losing season since he became their quarterback in 2001.
I can't decide between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots for the winner of the AFC East, but whoever doesn't win it will make the playoffs through a Wild Card slot.
The Jets proved to be more than their six-seed ranking and 11-5 regular-season record, as they made an impressive playoff run, taking out the Colts and the Pats, before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game.
With an ever-improving Mark Sanchez and talent on both sides, they'll be in the playoffs in 2011. They do have some big players such as Braylon Edwards, Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes needing new contracts, however.
I can't resist that beard.
Not much of a surprise. The Pittsburgh Steelers ended the regular season with a 12-4 record and finished first in the AFC North. They took out the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets en route to another Super Bowl appearance.
The Steelers are one of the more consistent teams in the NFL, and last season was their third Super Bowl appearance in the last six years, obviously winning two of them.
Ben Roethlisberger has had an impressive last couple of seasons. Between 2009 and 2010, "Big Ben" has had a combined 49 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 27 games.
Still, the emphasis is on the Steelers' defense, and with Troy Polamalu winning Defensive Player of the Year and the NFL Alumni Player of the Year in 2010, that's looking good too.
The defending Super Bowl champions, Green Bay Packers, should have a fairly easy time getting back to the playoffs in 2010, given the lack of quality teams in their division and in the NFC overall.
The Packers' 10-6 regular season was obviously capped by their wins over the Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers en route to another Super Bowl win.
With Aaron Rodgers playing better than Brett Favre ever has in his career, the Packers organization can be comfortable with Rodgers at the helm for the next decade. He has been averaging around 4,000 yards, 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions each of the last three seasons.
The only team on this list to not have made the playoffs last season is the New York Giants. Despite missing the playoffs, due to tiebreakers with the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants still went 10-6.
The Giants also lacked key players for much of last season, such as Mathias Kiwanuka, who only started one game last season, and Steve Smith, who only started seven.
As a very young team, the experience of last season will be critical. They also had an impressive draft, adding Prince Amukamara, which also makes their secondary one of the best in the league.