5 NFL Teams That Will Fail to Return to Playoffs

Alan Zlotorzynski@@zlotsportsCorrespondent IIIAugust 18, 2011

5 NFL Teams That Will Fail to Return to Playoffs

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    One of the biggest reasons fans love the NFL so much is because of the parity the league offers. No other sport can honestly say that 80 to 90 percent of the league has a chance to be a playoff team before the year starts.

    You certainly cannot say that in baseball, the payroll between the haves and have nots is too large. The NHL and the NBA take over half of their teams to the playoffs, but even still, the parity does not come close to what you see in the NFL.

    There simply aren't many teams that go from worst to first in the NHL, NBA, or MLB.

    Since 2002, which was the first season the NFL included eight divisions, at least one team that finished last in their division one year wound up winning their division a year later in every single season.

    In order since 2002, the Panthers, Chiefs (twice, '03 and '10), Falcons, Chargers, Bears, Giants, Eagles, Saints (twice, '06 and '09), Ravens, Buccaneers and Dolphins were all worst to first products.

    The Indianapolis Colts have the longest active playoff streak in the NFL, having been to the postseason nine consecutive years. The next closest teams are the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles, each shooting for a fourth straight appearance.

    Each year, for the past 13 seasons, five teams that missed the playoffs the year before made them the following year. So, which five teams will be making a postseason trip that did not last season, and maybe even more importantly, which five teams that made the playoffs last year will be home the second week in January this year?

    The following video slideshow is a comprehensive look at the five teams that will fail to return to the postseason after making the playoffs last year, and the five teams that will replace them. 

    I would love to know which five teams you feel are in, and which five are out of the playoffs this season. Please enjoy and feel free to leave your comments; thank you for reading.

Seattle Seahawks

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    I am going to start with the teams that made the playoffs last year and will miss them this year. There is no better place to start than the great Northwest and the Seattle Seahawks.

    NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell owes a very big debt of gratitude to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.

    Seattle embarrassed the NFL by winning their division and hosting the World Champion Saints in an opening-round playoff game last year by finishing the regular season at 7-9. The Saints were a 10-point favorite, and in the end, were beaten 41-36.

    The Seahawks were not just any 7-9 team last year; they were a very bad 7-9 team, and look no further than their point differential last year to support this claim.

    The Seahawks allowed 407 points during the regular season while scoring just 310. That is 97 points, and when you divide that by 16 games, it means that they were outscored by a touchdown per game.

    The Seahawks offense ranked 28 out of the 32 NFL teams, while their defense ranked 27th.The San Diego Chargers, who missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record, were No.1 in both categories.

    Seattle was any easy pick not to return to the postseason. Gone is quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was signed by the Titans, and in his place is Tavaris Jackson from the Minnesota Vikings. Jackson was named the starter by head coach Pete Carroll before he even practiced with the team.

    Seattle also signed Sidney Rice, who also comes over from Minnesota. Joining them is their offensive coordinator from Minnesota, Darrell Bevell. Although Seattle won its preseason opener, it was done by players who will be back driving a UPS truck next month. They also lost left tackle Russell Okung to a sprained left ankle on the first series.

    This Vikings reunion will be nice for an easy transition, but it won't produce more wins, and if Seattle can finish 7-9 this season, that would be considered a success by many.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Chiefs were one of the squads that roared from worst to first last season. They did so in part because of a very balanced offense, which boasted the top rushing attack in the NFL last season.

    Behind Jamal Charles, who rushed for a career high 1,467 yards, the Chiefs averaged 164 yards per game on the ground.

    Quarterback Matt Cassell also had a good year, throwing for 27 touchdowns with just seven interceptions, and his primary target, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, is quietly becoming one of the best receivers, if not the best receiver, in the NFL. Cassell’s 93 quarterback rating was good for ninth in the league, and Bowe led all NFL receivers with 15 touchdown receptions.

    Despite finishing 2-4 in their division, Charles and Cassell led the Chiefs to a 10-6 record and a first-place finish in the AFC West.

    They were promptly thumped 30-7 by the Baltimore Ravens at home in the wild-card game, but gained some much needed playoff experience in the process. The Chiefs' front office brass must have been impressed with the Ravens because they signed three of them (Kelly Gregg, LeRon McClain and Jarred Gaither) during this offseason and hired Joe Flacco's former QB coach, Jim Zorn.

    Like most teams that pull the worst to first feat, the Chiefs benefited from playing a last-place schedule last season. The combined winning percentage of their opponents from last season was a paltry .394, as the combined record of the 13 teams they played during the year was 101-151.

    This season, the Chiefs face 13 teams with a combined winning percentage of .511 and a combined 2010 record of 131-125. I would feel a lot better about their chances this season if they did not face a brutal stretch of games that include, in order, the, Patriots, Steelers, Bears, Jets and World Champion Packers starting in late November. That stretch would be brutal for one of the NFL's elite teams.

    While the Chiefs are not an elite team yet, they can make major steps forward this year. How they respond as a team and an organization to missing the playoffs this season could go a long way in just how fast the Chiefs can become one of the NFL's top tier teams.

Chicago Bears

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    The up and down Chicago Bears are 34-30 since losing to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI. Last season, the Bears were 11-5 and surprisingly won the NFC North. They earned a first-round bye, but eventually faltered at home in the NFC Championship game to their hated rival, the Super Bowl Champion Packers.

    The game was not without controversy, as quarterback Jay Cutler was criticized for leaving the game early with a knee injury. Even though it was later disclosed that Cutler had no chance of playing because of grade-two tear of the medial-collateral ligament in his left knee, the Bears quarterback had taken a beating from fans and players from other teams on the social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

    Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett wrote on Twitter that, "If I'm on Chicago team, Jay Cutler has to wait til me and the team shower, get dressed and leave before he comes into the locker room! FACT."

    The Bears did not do a very good job of protecting their quarterback's reputation during the controversy, and in fact, they didn't do a very good job of protecting him at all last season. It should be considered a miracle that Cutler even made it to play in the title game considering he was sacked 52 times last season, which led the NFL and were 12 more than the next QB on the painful list.

    The O-line was not very impressive in their preseason debut, either. According to an article in the Chicago Sun Times by Mark Potash, “When left guard Chris Williams, the chronic whipping boy of the line, is fourth or fifth on the list of grievances, you know it wasn't pretty".

    The Bears' schedule does get a little easier this season, with games against the AFC West instead of the AFC East, in which they managed to post a 3-1 record against last season. However, it will be tough for the Bears to sweep both the Vikings and Lions once again this season.

    Splitting the division wins drops the Bears to 9-7, and in reality, 8-8 is where Da Bears fans can look to finish this season. If the O-line cannot improve, 7-9 or 6-10 could also be a reality, and talk will once again turn to Lovie Smith and his job security.

Indianapolis Colts

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    I have no problem saying that no other quarterback in the history of the NFL has meant more to his team than Peyton Manning has meant to the Colts. I also have no problem saying that I don't believe the Colts are being exactly forthcoming with Manning's condition, either.

    Manning is currently recovering from an injury that is not an easy one to recover from, and one that he has now endured for a second straight offseason. In May, the 35-year-old future Hall of Fame quarterback, who will be entering his 14th season, had surgery to repair discs in his neck.

    In fact, Manning has undergone surgery in three of the past four offseasons. He had an infected bursa sac removed from his left knee prior to the 2008 season.

    Manning is also coming off his worst season since 2001, when he threw 23 interceptions. Last year, he threw 17 interceptions, including a three-game slump between Weeks 11-13, in which he tossed 11 interceptions—including two separate games in which he threw two pick-6s in the same game.

    Manning was slow out of the gate in '08 following his knee surgery, and as a result, the Colts dropped two of their first three games. That year, Manning did throw in camp and participate in whatever team drills he could, but so far, he has not participated in any training camp activities this year.

    However, Manning was recently spotted throwing with decent velocity according to several published reports.

    As they seem to do every year, the Colts will once again face an extremely tough schedule. The Patriots, Steelers and Ravens will headline their out of division AFC games this season. The Falcons, Buccaneers and Saints will pose major hurdles for the Colts from the NFC. All of those games are on the road except for the Steelers and Falcons.

    The Colts were in danger of missing the playoffs last year and trailed the Jacksonville Jaguars in the division at one point until, you guessed it, Peyton Manning led them on a four-game winning streak to close the year and win the division. This streak included a crucial division win at home against the Jaguars in Week 15.

    Manning had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9-2 during that stretch, and if you give him the benefit of the doubt and throw out the bad three-game stretch, Manning's TD-interception ratio was a Manning-like 25-6.

    Despite having No.18 and pass catching weapons to work with, the offensive line is the Colts Achilles heel. Jeff Saturday is still old reliable at center, but GM Bill Polian has failed to build the line through the draft, until this year. Polian chose Anthony Costanzo and Ben Ijalana in the first two rounds to protect Peyton Manning.

    The defense is built on speed and speed is generally used to protect leads, not play smash mouth football. The Colts may be involved in a few more smash mouth games this year and may be unable to get out front against teams like Pittsburgh, New England, Atlanta and New Orleans.

    Age and a lack of depth could seriously hamper the Colts this year, and if the Texans defense improves, then the streak stops at nine.

    Like the Dallas Cowboys last year, who missed the playoffs all together with the Super Bowl being held in their stadium, the Colts will follow suit, with the big game being held at Lucas Oil Stadium. Look for a fired up Manning to get back on track next season as he puts the finishing touches on the final years of a Hall of Fame career.

New York Jets or Baltimore Ravens: One Watches from Home in January

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    The final team of the five was a toss-up. In fact, it was hard to select the Colts. Any number of teams that made the playoffs last year could miss them this year, and it may be more than five teams that fail to return by the end of the 2011 season.

    I considered the Jets, Ravens and yes, even the New Orleans Saints came into consideration.

    Ultimately, I eliminated the Saints because their loss to the Seahawks in the playoffs will only add fuel to their fire and the fact that they should be a lot healthier with a better running game to help Drew Brees will be a major factor.

    That leaves the Jets or the Ravens as the fifth team. The Jets are coming off back-to-back AFC title game appearances and the Ravens have made the playoffs for three consecutive seasons. Both are so similar that whatever is written about one team could virtually be written and said about the other.

    Both are defensive teams led by young quarterbacks that still have major question marks next to their names despite their success so far. Each has a division rival that holds a few extra Super Bowl titles than they do, and former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan coaches the Jets.

    Offseason moves, strength of schedule and which quarterback, either Joe Flacco or Mark Sanchez, could take the biggest step forward this year were what ultimately decided which team was in and which team was out for the 2012 playoffs.

    The Ravens lost four key veterans in tight end Todd Heap, wide receiver Derrick Mason, running backs Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain as well as nose tackle Kelly Gregg. They also lost starting defensive backs Josh Wilson and Dawan Landry.

    The Jets re-signed their biggest offseason concern in wide receiver Santonio Holmes and then locked up ILB David Harris to the largest guaranteed contract ever for a player at his position. Harris, who calls every play for Rex Ryan's defense, was given the Jets word last that he would be a priority this year after they re-signed Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson before the start of last season.

    The Ravens countered by adding fullback Vonta Leach and then stole Lee Evans from the Buffalo Bills for a fourth-round pick last week. Still, the offseason advantage goes to the Jets.

    Next came Flacco vs. Sanchez, and while Flacco has improved his stats every year since coming into the league, Sanchez appears to be the better leader.

    Each can look great one week and then play like a red shirt freshman the next. If I had to bet my house on which would take the next step, I would have to go with Sanchez simply because Flacco has not responded well to pressure yet in his young career. Make no mistake about it, this is a pressure year for Flacco.

    Flacco must figure out how to finally get over the hump that is Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sanchez exorcised his rivalry demons during the playoffs last year by beating Tom Brady and the Patriots in New England. Flacco is also in search of a new contract extension, one he was hoping to sign this past offseason, but the Ravens wanted to see how he performed this year before giving it to him.

    The final factor is strength of schedule and the Ravens clearly hold this advantage as they both play second place AFC schedules but the Ravens face the miserable NFC West this year, while the Jets take on the tough NFC East.

    October 2 could be a big weekend for both teams as they face each other at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Even with the Ravens holding the advantage in strength of schedule, they have more to overcome than do the Jets.

    The Ravens D is older and greener in places that will hurt them this year and losing Flacco's two favorite targets that also happened to be the top pass catchers in team history will not work out well for him.

    This is tough for me to say considering I am a diehard Ravens fan, but I don’t see the Ravens making the playoffs. The J-E-T-S JETS, JETS, JETS will once again claim their rightful wild card spot in the 2012 post season.

San Diego Chargers

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    Now that we know which five teams will not return to the playoffs this season, it is time to look at the teams that will replace them, starting with what everyone believes is the obvious choice in the San Diego Chargers.

    Riddle me this, Chargers fans, how in the world does Norv Turner still have a job? Aren't you tired of hearing what a great guy he is and how likable he can be and how much the locker room loves him? While Turner was the eight coach in NFL history to have the No.1 ranked offense and defense for an NFL season, he also owns the dubious distinction of becoming just the second head coach in the history of the NFL to miss the playoffs with a team ranked No.1 in both categories.

    Turner joins head coach Jim Trimble of the 1953 Philadelphia Eagles, who went 7-4-1 in a 12-team league that sent just two teams to the postseason back then.

    This year, the Chargers defense will suffer some with the loss of coordinator Ron Rivera (now head coach at Carolina), but the offense, led by elite quarterback Phillip Rivers, should make up for that.

    Turner does know how to run an offense and a full year from Vincent Jackson and continued improvement from second-year back Ryan Mathews, along with the contributions of all-world pass catcher Antonio Gates, the Chargers offense should be better than last year. Rivers is also a very smart quarterback, and last year, showed his knowledge of Turner's complex offense by completing passes to 17 different receivers.

    The result was his third straight season with over 4,000 yards passing. In fact, Rivers only fell 290 yards short of the 5k mark, completing a career high 66 percent of his passes. For his efforts, Rivers was named to his third Pro-Bowl and

    Look for the Chargers to cut down on stupid mistakes this season, and losses like the 34-20 debacle the day after Christmas to the lowly Cincinnati Bengals should be a thing of the past. With a healthier offense, the No. 1 ranked unit from a year ago could be even better this year. If they do play more disciplined football, then the Chargers should return to 12-4 or 11-5 form and be back in the 2012 postseason.

St. Louis Rams

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    The St.Louis Rams may still be a year or two away from making the playoffs in any other division in football, but this is the NFC West. The Rams finished 7-9 last season, and only a loss to the Seahawks in the season's final game prevented them from winning the division.

    The 2010 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year will again lead the Rams attack on offense, as quarterback Sam Bradford returns for his sophomore campaign. Let us not forget that lining up behind Bradford is still one of the best hard-nosed running backs in all of the NFL in Steven Jackson.

    The Rams have taken the right steps to ensure Jackson's health for the future by recently signing Cadillac Williams. In his Rams debut, he had 40 yards on 11 carries as Jackson watched in uniform from the sideline during the Rams 33-10 over the Colts last week.

    Bradford continued where he left off last season by producing 17 points in four possessions against Indy. Also new to the St.Louis offense this year is former Denver Broncos boy wonder and head coach, Josh McDaniels. The former youngest head coach in the NFL was brought in by Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo to be the Rams offensive coordinator.

    The Rams will be better defensively this season, but they won't be great. Their front seven is so-so, but they do have two good young players in end Chris Long and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.

    The defensive backfield is also average at best, but good enough to play against the quarterbacks in the NFC West. The unit is young and will continue to mature as the season progresses. What we do know is that the Rams will not beat themselves and they will play disciplined football.

    They committed just two penalties in their preseason win over the Colts, and for a team as young as the Rams to pull that feat speaks volumes for head coach Steve Spagnuolo and his staff.

    The Rams will be fun to watch this year and for a few years to come if they continue to stick with the re-build plan. G.M. Bill Devaney continues to turn over the roster. Only nine players remain from the pre-Devaney era, and only three of them—running back Steven Jackson, defensive tackle Clifton Ryan and cornerback Ron Bartell—are starters.

    Adding talent around Bradford and building a defense will be Devaney's mission going forward. With a few more key additions both through the draft and in free agency, the Rams should be contending again for a conference title by the middle of the decade.

Houston Texans

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    Last season, the Houston Texans ranked dead last in pass defense and 30th out of 32 NFL teams in overall defense. Enter former Dallas Cowboys head coach and new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

    Phillips has been known to resurrect a defense or two throughout his NFL career, but the Texans' new coordinator faces the toughest task of his career in trying to better a unit that allowed 24 or more points 14 times last season. The Texans will move from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and with it, will watch their former No. 1 overall pick, Mario Williams move from DE, where he collected 8.5 sacks last season to OLB.

    Phillips turned DeMarcus Ware into an All-Pro sack machine with the Cowboys, and many in the Lone Star State south of Dallas envision the same for the 6'6", 285-pound Williams.

    The major reason the Texans are expected to overtake an aging and banged up Colts team this season is the improvements made to the secondary during free agency. It is a good bet that Houston will not have the league’s worst pass defense again after signing Jonathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning. These two join the battle tested CB Kareem Jackson, who was thrown to the wolves last season. However, the experience he gained should translate into a better season for the second-year DB out of Alabama. Phillips also has high hopes S Glover Quin, who moves back from cornerback.

    The return of injured LBs Brian Cushing (knee) and DeMeco Ryan’s (Achilles), as well as  DE Conner Barwin (ankle), combined with Phillips' new scheme, should make the Texans defense inherently better than last year.

    The Texans possess one of the best offenses in all of football, with quarterback Matt Schaub directing last year’s No. 3 ranked unit. Despite dislocating his finger during the first week of camp this year, Andre Johnson should improve on his 86 catches from last season. Johnson was 14 catches shy of the century mark despite playing most of the season with a high ankle sprain he sustained in week two.

    Besides Schaub and Johnson, the Texans also have last season’s winner of the rushing title in running back Arian Foster. The third-year back rushed for 1,616 yards last season and averaged almost five yards per carry. Foster is a big back at 6'1" and almost 230 pounds and is no flash in the pan. He displayed great bursts of speed at times last season, as he had 12 runs of 20 plus yards. He is also very reliable, fumbling just three times in 327 attempts, which was the third most carries by a back last season.

    Fans should know quickly if the Texans are for real this season. They face the Colts in Week 1 and then play the Saints, Steelers and Ravens in before the middle of October. If the Texans can maintain a top five offense, and with Schaub, Johnson and Foster, there is no reason to believe they will not and their defense can improve to a middle of the pack unit, then the Texans are a virtual lock to make the playoffs and beat out the Colts for the AFC Southern division crown.

    If the Texans falter and fail to make the playoffs again this season, then owner Bob McNair will probably, finally get rid of Gary Kubiak. Of course, I thought that last season when they finished 6-10.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Some may disagree, but missing the playoffs last season after going 10-6 may have been the best thing that happened to head Coach Raheem Morris and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Young teams that find early success tend to rest on their previous year's accomplishments and usually miss the playoffs the next season. Even Bill Belichik's 11-5 Patriots in 2011, who won the Super Bowl, finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs the following season. It happens; it's psychology 101, and the fact the Bucs just missed may make them a very dangerous team this year.

    This team is hungry, but with a tougher schedule, this year could go either way on the left coast of Florida. Do not be surprised if they are this year's version of the Atlanta Falcons or finish the year at 6-10.

    The Achilles Heel of the Bucs for the past two seasons has been their front seven, but the Buccaneers front office has done a great job at re-building the once vaunted Tampa defense through the draft.

    In the last two seasons, the Bucs have drafted DT Gerald McCoy, DT Brian Price, LB Mason Foster, DE Adrian Clayborn, DE DaQuan Bowers and CB Ahmad Black, all of whom should start or will be in the defensive rotation.

    The offense is just as young as the defense led by their ever-improving quarterback, Josh Freeman. The big man from Kansas State has improved his numbers every year since being drafted back in '09, and his maturation process was aided greatly last season by the play of two rookie wide receivers.

    Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn were very impressive last season catching passes from Freeman. The duo will improve on their combined numbers of 1,369 yards and 13 touchdowns from last season to this season. Toss in Kellen Winslow Jr.'s 700-plus yards and five scores, and the Bucs appear to be set with their receiving corp.

    In the backfield, undrafted free agent LeGarrette Blount emerged as the starter, rushing for a little over 1,000 yards in 13 games. He split time with Cadillac Williams, but now that Williams is gone, Blount could be a 1,400-yard back this season, and with their passing game, that would most certainly mean a playoff berth for Tampa.

    Head coach Raheem Morris is a motivator and a teacher. There is no doubt that he made sure his team learned the proper lesson in missing the playoffs with a 10-6 record last season. Look for Tampa to secure the final wild card spot in the NFC with another 10-6 finish.

Miami Dolphins

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    You must think I am crazy and have no idea what I am talking about by placing the Fins into this year’s postseason. Quite the opposite when it comes to the Miami Dolphins, and if they would have received any play from the quarterback position and won more than once at home last year, they may have snuck in.

    They will improve by two or three wins this season by just simply winning more than one home game. Granted, they won't be 6-2 on the road again either, but they did prove to themselves, with boring but impressive defensive road wins against the Packers and Jets, that they can win big games away from the heat and humidity of south Florida.

    Even if the Fins go 4-4 on the road and win five of their eight home games, 9-7 has landed teams in the playoffs in recent years. They will be battling the Colts, Jets, Ravens and possibly the Raiders for one of the final two spots, but this is the NFL and stranger things have happened.

    Head coach Tony Sparano returns for his fourth season, but only returns because Dolphins owner Stephen Ross could not secure the services of new 49ers head coach, Jim Harbaugh. Sparano was even reportedly fired by several news outlets as Ross went as far as to get on a plane to go try to talk Harbaugh into coming to Miami when he was close to signing with San Francisco. Of course, when that failed, Ross apologized and admitted he made a mistake.

    Sparano returns with his pride in check but without offensive coordinator Dan Henning, who retired after 42 years in football.

    New coordinator Brian Daboll, who was hired to replace Henning, is not exactly considered an offensive guru. For the past two seasons in Cleveland, where he held the same position, his offenses ranked 32nd and 29th in total yards. Also gone are Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. Reggie Bush brings his talents to South Beach after signing a two-year contract and will team up with Miami's second-round pick in this year's draft, Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas.

    Bush did not play in the preseason opener, but according to published reports from training camp, he has lined up in the slot, out wide and at running back depending on the play call. Since Dan Marino retired, quarterback has been a big question mark in Miami. There was some success with Chad Pennington, but another Chad has not been so successful, former Michigan star Chad Henne has struggled. The former '08 second round pick has thrown more picks than touchdowns over the last two seasons.

    Miami fans are frustrated with him because he has weapons at his disposal in wide receivers Brandon Marshall, Brian Hartline and Davon Bess.

    With Bush coming out of the backfield to create mismatches with linebackers, the Dolphins would be wise to spread it out more this season. I'm not saying that they abandon the power running game completely, but their personnel dictates that they spread the defense out and let the pigskin fly a little more. Surprisingly, Henne does very well from the spread formation.

    According to a stat from a NY Times blog previewing the Fins, Henne’s passer rating when two wide receivers were on the field was 67; with three receivers it was 79; with four or more receivers it was 83. Sporano and Henne should do well together this year, as both shares a common bond in no longer being wanted by the Dolphins.

    The Dolphins were the front-runners to obtain Denver QB Kyle Orton in a trade before training camp began, but the deal fell through leaving Henne’s confidence shattered and wondering about his future. However, if Henne (and it is a big if) can man-up, swallow his pride and just even out the TD-to-INT ratio, then the Dolphins, with a very good offensive line, could easily be a wild card team.

    That could be hard, as Dolphins fans have already hurt his feelings with chants of "We want Orton" at training camp this year. It is a foregone conclusion that if Henne fails, then both he and Sparano will not be back in Miami for the 2012 season.

    Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is as good as any coordinator in the league. His 3-4 defense catapulted the Fins from a No. 22 ranking in '09 to No. 6 last season. He utilizes his personnel better than most D-coordinators. Nolan is also blessed with talent in Miami, as Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby and 344-pound DT Paul Soliai anchor a very talented front seven.

    The defense alone is good enough to carry the team, and they could be even better than sixth this year, especially when you consider all four stating defensive backs from last season return this year. The Dolphins may be a long shot to make the playoffs, but they are not as long a shot as you may think. It is almost a perfect script and one that would I would not be surprised to hear Jim Nantz narrating just before the Dolphins take the field to play in the 2012 NFL playoffs.

    "The embattled Tony Sparano, who just one year ago was as close to being fired as a head coach can be without actually receiving the pink slip leads his 10-6 Miami Dolphins, against the upstart AFC South winning Houston Texans—on this, the opening game of Wild card Weekend."

Final Outlook

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    My predictions, like most, are simply an educated guess based off stats and previous performances of teams and players. Nothing is ever guaranteed or a mortal lock in sports, especially in the NFL.

    However, what is guaranteed: nothing is ever as it seems. From fourth-quarter miracle comebacks to a 4-10 team blowing out a 10-4 team on any given Sunday.

    Just like every year before it, the 2011 season will no doubt be as unpredictable and exciting as ever. The millions of fans that follow their favorite teams and watch each weekend will more than likely come away disappointed but satisfied with another year of NFL football once the first fateful Sunday in February has ended.

    After all, only one fanbase can smile once the season is truly over following the Super Bowl.

    Football fans do not always agree on much, but I am sure we can all agree that the season always goes by too fast and before you know it, the Super Bowl will be here.

    To close out my video slideshow, I leave you with what teams I think will make the 2012 playoffs and which one will ultimately win the big game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

    In the AFC, the Patriots, Steelers, Texans and Chargers will win their divisions with the Jets and Dolphins locking up the wild cards.

    In the NFC, the Eagles, Packers, Rams and Saints will win their divisions, with the Falcons and Buccaneers securing the wild card spots. Look for the Saints to beat the Eagles in the NFC title game, and in the AFC, the Patriots will defeat the Chargers.

    I like Drew Brees over Tom Brady and the Saints to win their second Super Bowl in three years.Thank you for reading, and please do not forget to leave your five teams in the comments section.