NFL Power Rankings: Which 2010 Losers Will Be 2011 Contenders?
Both teams involved in Thursday night's matchup were contenders last year and are expected to be up there again this year.
However, the NFL is a league with greater parity these days than any other so teams like the Saints, Packers, Patriots and Steelers will be watching their backs for the up-and-coming teams that look to knock them off their perch.
There are a few teams from last season that will be struggling once again this year but there are a number of teams that look to invert their records and become an above-.500 team.
The most celebrated team that is likely to flip their fortunes and make a playoff burst this year are the Detroit Lions.
Hoping for a healthy Matthew Stafford is nothing more than a hope at this point but the defense looks formidable enough that they could potentially overtake the Chicago Bears in the NFC North with Shaun Hill under center.
Hill is better than most backup quarterbacks and with Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril, Stephen Tulloch, Louis Delmas and eventually Nick Fairley all making plays defensively, the offense may not have to be stellar for the team to be a contender. Should Stafford stay healthy, then their chances grow even greater.
Many will point to the tough division that the Lions play in but they have major matchup advantages over both the Bears and Packers as neither team has a strong offensive line. That may not be enough to win the division but pipping the Bears to second place isn't out of question. The Minnesota Vikings shouldn't be relevant again until the defense is revitalized and Christian Ponder establishes himself.
The Houston Texans are the annual worst-to-first team but this year they actually look like making adjustment to become a contender.
Wade Philips' influence on the defense may take some time to hit home, but Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning should instantly improve the team's fatal flaw from last year in the secondary. Arian Foster's injury may not be major but the team can handle his loss with their talented offense should they need to.
The fact that Peyton Manning's season may be in doubt now also means that the Texans look set to be big players not only in the AFC South but also in the playoffs.
Turnover in the AFC North generally means either the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers are reclaiming the crown from one another but this year there is something brewing in Cleveland with the Browns.
The Browns won't be winning a Super Bowl this year but a playoff cameo could be on the cards after a new head coach was installed. Pat Shurmur is a former offensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams and brings an offensive inclined mind that will look to get the best out of the Browns' young quarterback Colt McCoy.
McCoy may not have many weapons but his accuracy in the West Coast Offense could see them knock off both the Steelers and Ravens whose secondaries are not the strong point of their respective teams.
Defensively the Browns have a lot more talent than you would think as they will be looking to rookies Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard to aid second year players TJ Ward and Joe Haden. Sheard and Taylor should be disruptive on the defensive line while Haden and Ward will be looking to get their hands on the football.
The NFL is a constantly changing league from season to season. Since 1997, at least five teams have been out of the playoffs one season and in them the next.
As the NFL season is about to begin, we must wonder where those five will come from this year.
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