NFL Playoff Predictions 2011: 8 Teams with Winning Records Who'll Miss Playoffs
With so many divisions in the NFL currently bunched in a cluster at the top of the standings, it is rather difficult to predict which teams will win their respective divisions. Likewise, it is also difficult to predict which current teams with a winning record will fall short of their goal to reach the playoffs. But that is the task at hand: Determine which winning teams fail to make the playoffs.
Now, I realize there are at least three teams in the AFC West with a 4-4 record, but one of them (or who knows, maybe Denver at 3-5) will have to emerge as the division winner. So, in the spirit of those 4-4 teams that are technically not losing, but not winning either, we will include all the .500 teams in our presentation as well.
For the fans of those teams that I don't select for the playoffs, I don't have anything personal against those teams. For what it is worth, I was asked to write about which players will blow up in the playoffs, and since that story was just published this week, you can see which teams I predicted would make the playoffs by clicking on the link here.
I will keep things consistent by sticking to those same teams in this article and will therefore give you my rationale for why I passed on the other teams. You can agree or disagree with my selections, but if you decide to comment, I would request that you state your reasons for why you believe your team will advance.
Since I am one of the Featured Columnists for the Buffalo Bills on Bleacher Report, it pains me greatly to include the Bills in this article, but after their loss to the New York Jets, I feel that this is the right call.
The Bills' rebuilding phase under Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix has made great strides in one-and-a-half years. The Bills now can compete with anybody in the league and have proven that they will fight you for all four quarters.
However, every team in the NFL has one team that it simply doesn't match up that well with, and for the Bills, that team is the New York Jets. The Jets don't respect Buffalo, and you can see it in their play and hear it in their comments.
Until the Bills are able to beat the Jets consistently, they will fall out of the playoff picture because the Jets will hold the tiebreaker over them. The good news is that the Bills are now able to identify their core players to build the team around. The additions of Nick Barnett, Brad Smith and the 2011 draft class helped to make the Bills a more competitive team. The maturation of Ryan Fitzpatrick and the offensive line will keep the Bills relevant for the immediate future.
The Bills could still surprise and make the playoffs, but they have to win at least half their games on the road, and they are 1-2 on the road so far. The upcoming three-game road streak will be their make-or-break push for the playoffs. Of bigger concern are upcoming contract extensions for Fred Jackson, Steve Johnson and the offensive linemen.
Bills fans, don't fret; the playoff drought will be ending sooner than later.
The Chicago Bears are a quality team, and sitting there at 5-3 they are in a position to make a run at the playoffs. However, recent history tells us that not every deserving quality team automatically gets into the second season.
In 2010, the New York Giants finished at 10-6 but failed to go based on tiebreakers. If the Bears duplicate their first half and finish at 10-6, that doesn't guarantee them a playoff berth.
The Bears might actually not even finish at 10-6. They have at least four games remaining on their 2010 schedule that are potential losses. Those would be Detroit (who they play this weekend but already lost to once), Green Bay, Oakland and San Diego.
Part of the problem is that the Bears are running into a numbers problem. I have one wild-card team coming out of the NFC North and the other wild card coming out of the NFC South. The NFC North wild card will be Detroit, while I see both New Orleans and Atlanta making the playoffs. That leaves no spot available for the Bears, and they are therefore left out in the cold.
The Bears have improved their offensive line, as there were grave doubts that Jay Cutler would even be able to finish out the year. The mysterious treatment of Matt Forte's contract situation has to be an ongoing issue for the team behind closed doors. The Bears have a talented team, and they will undoubtedly be poised to make another playoff run in 2012. I just don't see it happening in 2011.
The two biggest surprises in the AFC this year are the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals have been able to piece together a strong defense paired with the hot hand of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton to form a winning combination.
Although I think the Bengals organization has made tremendous strides this year, I think they will wind up falling just short of the playoff picture. The second half of the Bengals schedule is brutal, and the fact that they have to face Baltimore twice, Pittsburgh twice and the Houston Texans means that the losses will pile up and they wind up with either a 9-7 or a 10-6 record.
As well as the Bengals have played this year, their fans should be giddy about the future. The defense is well poised to repeat as a strong unit in 2012. They have added key draft picks in the Carson Palmer trade, and a full offseason's worth of activities for Dalton and A.J. Green can only help to speed up their development.
The Bengals are a team on the rise, and their future looks bright. That future just doesn't include a trip to the playoffs in 2011.
The Dallas Cowboys look like they found gold in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft when they selected Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray with the pick at No. 71.
Murray has brought a bolt of life and energy to the Cowboys offense that was struggling due to the lack of solid production by Felix Jones and the second-half meltdowns of Tony Romo.
The Cowboys are looking to regroup in the second half of the season, and sitting there at 4-4 they would have to put up a long winning streak to give themselves a chance to land a playoff spot. However, what are the chances that the Cowboys are good enough to pull off a long winning streak?
One factor is the difficult schedule the Cowboys must endure in the final eight games. The Cowboys face the New York Giants twice and the Philadelphia Eagles again, who already buried them 34-7. They also have to play the Buffalo Bills and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bills own victories over both New England and Philadelphia, two teams the Cowboys have already lost to.
The Cowboys have been dealing with some key injuries to Miles Austin and Jones, as well as to Sean Lee. This appears on the surface to be another lost year for the Cowboys where things did not align properly. They made a number of changes on the offensive line and attempted to rework contracts to fit under the salary cap.
How well are the Cowboys set up for success in 2012? It appears that Romo is still the key to the Cowboys' success, and they live and die by how he performs every week.
Until the Cowboys can string together games where they play solid football for all four quarters, and do it consistently week in and week out, they will not be headed to the playoffs.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs took the 2010 AFC by storm, as they were clearly one of the surprise stories of the season. But they found out the hard way that repeating in the playoffs can be a tough thing to do.
The Chiefs had the unfortunate locker room fight where Thomas Jones needed to educate rookie Jonathan Baldwin on how to show proper respect to the veterans. Then the season began, and key stars started dropping like flies.
First it was safety Eric Berry and then All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles that were lost for the year. It is one thing to lose a key player, but it is another thing to have the whole team embarrassed in consecutive games. Chiefs fans were seen leaving the stadium early against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 and then against the Miami Dolphins in Week 9.
In between, the Chiefs ran off a four-game winning steak, which was a testament to the rest of the team rallying together. But the loss to the Dolphins brought the Chiefs back to reality. This is a team with some problems.
There is still some talent in Tamba Hali and Dwayne Bowe. Berry and Charles will return next year, and the Chiefs will hope to add some more talent to the mix. But as far as the 2011 playoffs go, I just don't think they have the weapons to win the AFC West, which is the only way they could qualify.
When I watched the Oakland Raiders play the Buffalo Bills in Week 2, I was convinced the Raiders had the talent to win the AFC West. Then they lost Jason Campbell to injury, and Darren McFadden followed him to the sidelines.
Now as we enter Week 10 with the Raiders squaring off against the San Diego Chargers to kick off the season debut of Thursday Night Football on the NFL Network, it appears that this is a much different team.
With Carson Palmer calling the shots, the Raiders will need to show some level of patience for him to learn the rest of the playbook, develop some chemistry with his receivers and knock off the rust. It is also possible that his arm could develop some problems in the next two to three weeks, which would be what typically happens in training camp, when quarterbacks usually experience a dead arm phase.
All in all, the Raiders are a team very much like the Philadelphia Eagles with a number of gifted, physically skilled athletes up and down the roster. They had to endure the passing of owner Al Davis and can use that as a rallying point. The problem for the Raiders is that there are too many teams ahead of them in the AFC North and AFC East, so the wild card seems improbable.
The only way to get into the playoffs is to win the AFC West outright, and that quest starts tonight. I wish them well, but I think that without McFadden and given the other issues we detailed, their work is cut out for them.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What is going on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? I watched some of the highlights of their key division rivalry game against the New Orleans Saints, and the Buccaneers looked like they weren't mentally prepared to play that game.
You saw Josh Freeman yelling at his teammates. One player was grabbing another one by the jersey and yanking him off the field towards the sidelines. Then I saw LeGarrette Blount punching a Saints player's face mask, resulting in an unsportsmanlike penalty.
Raheem Morris either has lost a certain degree of control with this team or it was having a terribly bad game. Bad games happen, but when you are in a tight division race and playing for your playoff lives, good teams will rise above the pressure and play a better brand of football. The Buccaneers just don't look like they are ready to take that next step up yet.
Their three remaining tough games are Houston, Green Bay and Atlanta. They could go 5-3 the rest of the way, but a 9-7 record probably isn't good enough to get into the playoffs. If the Bucs can go something like 7-1 in the second half, then they would probably make it in, but how realistic is a 7-1 run?
This is a young team that is still maturing and learning some valuable lessons. Its day will come, but I just don't think it is going to be this year.
The Tennessee Titans are the final team of the presentation. Sitting there at 4-4, they had the chance to take advantage of the Peyton Manning injury to step up and take control of the AFC South division, but Chris Johnson felt it was necessary to stage another holdout to make sure that he got his big payday.
Johnson accomplished his personal mission, but the team suffered as a result. The reality is that the Titans don't know if Johnson will be able to come back this year and flash the type of running game that they have been accustomed to seeing in the past. He seems slow and somewhat soft, in that he looks for the easy way out on runs or a softer landing spot.
Matt Hasselbeck has by all accounts played well for the Titans and has kept them competitive. It really set the Titans back to lose wide receiver Kenny Britt, and unfortunately they just don't have enough other weapons to turn to that can pick up the slack.
The Titans will look back at the 2011 season as one of those "coulda, woulda, shoulda" type of years. They had the chance to take advantage of the Colts' demise but let the opportunity slip right by them. There is always next year.