The NFL fields the greatest turnover rate and the highest level of parity than any other sports league out there. Every year, there is potential for the worst team to suddenly become a contender, and for a Super Bowl champion to miss the postseason—or worse. This season is no exception, especially when we factor in a shortened training camp.
There are some teams that will surprise us with their greatly improved performance and others that will surprise us by seemingly under-performing. Here are five teams that will shock the league in one way or another...
It's the same hype every single season. The Houston Texans will finally make the postseason and edge the Indianapolis Colts for the division title. It has been hammered in to the point where few seem to take the notion seriously anymore.
However, this is the season when the Texans will come out and shock us all. With Johnathan Joseph to solidify the pass defense, the Texans can now keep games closer and allow their potent offense to win games for them.
With Arian Foster soon returning from injury to join the ranks of Steve Slaton and Derrick Ward, the Texans will boast a strong running game. Add in the deadly combination of Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson and a relatively weak AFC South (due to the absence of Peyton Manning), and this team is ready to soar into the postseason and shock critics and fans everywhere.
Recovering now from the effects of the JaMarcus Russell era, this Raiders team actually has a good amount of talent. They have a solid quarterback in Jason Campbell, an underrated receiving corps, a rising star in Darren McFadden, and an excellent pass rush—with great playmakers such as Kamerion Wimbley and Richard Seymour.
Add a new head coach Hue Jackson, and the Raiders may be regaining their swagger.
Last season, the Raiders went 6-0 against their divisional opponents but finished with only an 8-8 record. The divisional foes are key. If they can improve preparations against non-divisional foes, this team could sneak into the playoffs with a wild-card spot.
While many may expect the Colts to at least resemble a good team in 2011, I do not know if everyone realizes the impact that Peyton Manning truly has on this football team.
Now, we have an old quarterback who hardly knows the system leading the team, Kerry Collins.
With Gary Brackett, Robert Mathis, and Dwight Freeney still on the Colts defense, and Collins still having fine receivers in Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, all hope is not lost for the Colts.
But Manning made the team much better than it currently is. While not entirely devoid of talent, the Colts offensive line, other than center Jeff Saturday, is really not all that great. Manning's quick release and feel for the pocket did much to mask to mediocrity of the o-line.
Don't count on 38-year-old Collins being able to do the trick. The Colts are still an offensive team, not a defensive one. And even then, they still struggle on offense. Manning will eventually return, but he may be rusty. Even if he is 100 percent, it will likely be too late. Expect the Colts to end their nine-year consecutive playoff appearance streak.
Last season, the Chargers were edged by the Kansas City Chiefs and finished only 9-7, missing the postseason despite having the best offense and defense in the NFL.
This season, however, expect the Chargers to be extremely good.
Few noticed their dominance last season due to atrocious special teams play. But this season, the new kickoff rules will help them tremendously. This team is ready to return to its 12-13 wins self.
Not many picked the Chargers as a top contender to start the season, but with the new kickoff rules in place, they may be able to contend for the top seed in the AFC.
Few seem to remember that it was only a couple seasons ago when the Carolina Panthers boasted one of the best records in the NFL and were on the verge of making a deep playoff run.
Then began Jake Delhomme's collapse and unceremonious exit from Carolina. With a then-failed Jimmy Clausen experiment, the Panthers hired a new coach, Ron Rivera, and drafted Cam Newton first overall, placing their hopes in the young quarterback's hands.
So far, so good.
Yes, it has only been one game, but over 400 yards for a rookie is a tough accident to happen. Few doubted Newton's talent and—as he seemed to struggle in the preseason—some players show up on game day when it matters.
Yes, it was against the Cardinals defense, but regardless, it shows the incredible talent and potential of the young Cam Newton.
This Panthers team is greatly underrated; it is still incredibly talented in many ways. Their defense is solid all around, with the defensive line being perhaps the lone weakness. Their offense still boasts the duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. And Steve Smith and Jeremy Shockey are still very serviceable players. They also have a relatively solid offensive line.
Cam Newton is the real deal, and all doubters were proven wrong. Rivera was wise to pick him. This team is ready to make a lot of noise.