Which Surprise NFL Teams Will Be Mainstays in the Top 10?
It's easy to read too much into early results in the NFL, but sometimes, those early results are the start of a larger trend.
Last season, for example, the Chiefs got off to a hot start. Much ink, digital or otherwise, was spilled trying to anticipate the exact moment that the Chiefs' season was going to come crashing down.
Kansas City slowed down as the year progressed, but they ended up winning the division, something no one would have predicted before the season began.
Who are the Kansas City Chiefs of 2011?
That question is yet to be answered, of course, but there are already a few teams that have the look of surprise playoff contenders.
The following five teams will have surprising staying power at the top of the rankings on a week-to-week basis.
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After years of unfulfilled potential, the Houston Texans finally have the look of a team ready not only to make the playoffs, but to put together a deep run in the postseason.
Their success starts with the offense. Quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson are both at the top of their respective positions, the offensive line has been working together for a good long while now and the depth at running back should be the envy of teams all around the league.
The difference this year is the defense. Last season, the Texans defense couldn't have been much worse. This year, they have the look of squad that can be a top-10 defense. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and newcomers J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed, Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning have a lot to do with the improvement of that unit.
Their division, long one of the tougher divisions in the league, is now one of the weaker divisions. The Titans and Jaguars aren't anything special and the Colts without Peyton Manning might be one of the worst teams in the league.
It will be a huge disappointment if this Texans team doesn't make a long run into January.
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While the Houston Texans are more of a sleeping giant, the Bills are a true Cinderella story in the NFL.
Coming off a largely uninspiring 4-12 finish in 2010, few expect the Bills to be competitive. At first glance, they would seem to be lacking playmakers on both sides of the ball.
That has turned out to be far from the case.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has flourished now that he has been given the reins of the offense and wide receiver Stevie Johnson is quickly becoming an elite receiver.
The defense still has a lot to prove, but they will be better in 2011. Former Packers linebacker Nick Barnett was brought in to lead the defense on the field and his presence alone will be a huge boost.
I wouldn't expect every game to be a rousing success like their 41-7 opening-week win over Kansas City was, but those types of results will be much more frequent for the Bills in 2011.
St. Louis Rams
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Coming off a 2010 season that could be described as nothing short of a step in the right direction for the franchise, many had the Rams pegged as a young team working their way towards being a dark-horse contender.
After a great offseason that saw the team bring in several pieces of both the prospect and veteran variety, the timeline on the Rams being a real threat in the NFC has been shortened.
The Rams are ready to contend in 2011.
Quarterback Sam Bradford looks like the real deal. He will be more comfortable this season and he will find coordinator Josh McDaniels' offense to his liking.
Cadillac Williams, Mike Sims-Walker and rookies Greg Salas and Austin Pettis will bring depth to an offense that was already fairly dangerous.
They have just as much to crow about on the defensive side of the ball. Chris Long and James Laurinaitis form a solid young nucleus and veterans Al Harris and Quintin Mikell will address the team's biggest defensive need, the secondary.
Being in the NFC West makes them favorites to make the playoffs already, but they will be much more than just a team that sneaks into the postseason because they play in a weak division.
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The Detoit Lions have personified the typical NFL doormat team ever since the great Barry Sanders retired.
Things hit rock bottom after their 0-16 season several years ago, but they now have the franchise headed in the right direction.
If he could ever stay healthy, Matt Stafford has the feel of a good quarterback in this league and there's no doubt that Calvin Johnson is one of the more talented, physical receivers in the game today.
The defense is just as talented and young. Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley make up one of the younger defensive fronts in the NFL. If handled correctly, those two could be the backbone of some really good Lions defenses in the years to come.
It's a credit to the Lions front office post-Matt Millen that they are in this position today. When they hit rock bottom, it would have been easy to try to make splashy signings or take on aging veterans, but they didn't.
They have built through solid drafts and shrewd roster moves and now it finally looks to be paying off.
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I'm probably alone on this, but I'm bullish on Kevin Kolb's ability to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. He has not been nearly as bad as some would make it seem, and even if he had been bad, he has not had enough reps to really judge what kind of player he is.
It really only takes a few building blocks to get something started on a team and the Cardinals have two good ones already on the roster.
Kolb is one of them. The other is wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. He is among the more talented players in the league and he is under Cardinals control for a while thanks to his new eight-year contract.
The Cardinals probably aren't quite ready for prime time, but if you add a defensive piece or two to that team, they could be very dangerous.