2011 NFL Predictions: 6 Teams That Will Make Playoffs After Missing Last Year
Competitive balance has long been a hallmark of the NFL and is part of what makes the league so wildly successful. On any given Sunday, any given team can win any given game.
The balance, or parity, that exists within the league provides fans with close, exciting games every week and enables a team that finished last in their division one year to become a contender the following season.
Since 1996, an average of six teams make the playoffs each year after missing the playoffs the previous year.
Here is my list of six non-playoff teams from 2010 that will make it to the playoffs this season.
St. Louis Rams
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Last season he set an NFL record for most completions by a rookie quarterback and was named NFL Offensive rookie of the year.
The Rams used the fourteenth overall pick in the 2010 draft on DE Robert Quinn, who was at one point thought to be worthy of the first overall pick. Quinn will be an immediate starter for the Rams' defense.
They also added some toys for Bradford to play with: TE Lance Kendricks in the second round, WR Austin Pettis in the third round, and WR Greg Sallas in the fourth round.
The NFC West was pretty embarrassing last season, but at least Bradford looked the part of a franchise quarterback. With more experience and more talent around him, Bradford will now be able to lead the Rams to the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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After finishing the 2009 season with only three wins, the Buccaneers blossomed in 2010. Josh Freeman led the young, talented team to the greatest single-season turnaround in franchise history, finishing the year with a 10-6 record.
The Bucs have put together one of the youngest and most explosive offenses in the NFL—Josh Freeman, a first-round pick in 2009; Mike Williams, a fourth-round pick in 2010; and LeGarrette Blount, an undrafted free agent in 2010.
Josh Freeman finished his second year as a professional with a 95.9 passer rating, good for the sixth-highest quarterback rating in the league. He accumulated 3,451 yards (61.4% completion rate), 25 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions.
The Bucs' defense improved dramatically when Head Coach Raheem Morris began calling defensive plays during the 2009 season. In 2010, Tampa Bay finished in the top ten in the NFL for points allowed, only giving up and average of 19.9 points per game.
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The Houston Texans finished the 2010 season with a 6-10 record, losing eight of their last 10 games. Most of the Texans' problems were on the defensive side of the ball where they gave up 386.6 yards per game (30th in the NFL). They were especially terrible against the pass, allowing teams an average of 267.5 passing yards per game—The worst in the NFL.
With players like Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, and Owen Daniels, there is no doubt that the Texans have the offensive weapons to succeed.
The Texans' defense should improve this season as well since they used their first five draft picks on defensive players: DE J.J. Watt, LB Brooks Reed, CB Brandon Harris, CB Rashad Carmichael, and S Shiloh Keo.
Newly-hired defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will try to utilize the influx of talent on the defense in his conversion to the 3-4 scheme.
The AFC South will be wide open this year, and the Texans may finally be ready to take the top spot.
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The Miami Dolphins have a young, talented defense that will be a dangerous group in 2011. Their offense, however, needs to step up.
This will be Chad Henne's make or break season in Miami, but I think he's got what it takes. If he can eliminate some of the bad decisions and get the ball to his playmakers, Henne could finally become the long-term answer to the Dolphins quarterback problem.
Some of Henne's problems may have been partially caused by former offensive coordinator Dan Henning's questionable play calling. This year the Dolphins have Brian Daboll to turn around their anemic offense.
The Dolphins added a few immediate starters during the 2011 draft: OL Mike Pouncey and RB Daniel Thomas. They also spent a fourth round pick on WR Edmond Gates, who could be a contributor by midseason.
Brandon Marshall is reportedly in the best shape of his career, and Davone Bess will look to keep building his resume as one of the most reliable slot receivers in the league.
In a division with the New England Patriots and New York Jets, the Dolphins will have a long, hard road to the playoffs, but if Henne can elevate his game, the Dolphins could be right in the thick of it.
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For the Minnesota Vikings, last season was a manifestation of Murphy's Law, but with Leslie Frazier promoted to head coach, there is a new attitude in Minnesota.
The Vikings have two young quarterbacks, Christian Ponder and Joe Webb, who will be competing for the starting job. Whoever is under center in Minnesota will have several explosive weapons to work with and a good defense behind them.
Sidney Rice could be leaving via free agency, but I believe the Vikings will do whatever is necessary to keep the star receiver in Minnesota.
As the Vikings' new offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave will likely implement a lot of two tight end sets, so expect to see Visanthe Shiancoe and rookie Kyle Rudolph on the field together. This could cause match-up problems for opposing defenses. And don't forget, the Vikings still have the best running back in the NFL, Adrian Peterson.
With former linebackers coach Fred Pagac taking over defensive play-calling duties, the Vikings will be blitzing with a purpose, creating more turnovers, and being more aggressive overall.
If the Vikings can stay healthy, they have the talent to compete with their NFC North rivals for a spot in the postseason.
San Diego Chargers
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Last season the San Diego Chargers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005 despite have the NFL's number one ranked offense and defense. They did, however, have the leagues worst special teams ranking.
After starting the 2010 season with a 2-5 record, the Chargers won seven of their last nine contests but still fell short of the postseason.
The Chargers have an elite quarterback in Phillip Rivers and a good running back tandem in Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert. Vincent Jackson could leave via free agency, but the Chargers showed last season that they are still capable of moving the ball down the field with players like Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd.
WR Vincent Brown joined the team in the third round of the 2011 draft. Brown may not be a freakish athlete, but he does have good hands, runs good routes and is a smart player.
The Chargers will bounce back from a disappointing 2010 season and go on to win the AFC West.
The Kansas City Chiefs, who won the division last season, are improving, but the Chargers are still the team to beat.