NFL Teams On The Rise: Power Ranking Which Teams Will Make The Playoffs in 2011

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistNovember 8, 2010

NFL Teams On The Rise: Power Ranking Which Teams Will Make The Playoffs in 2011

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    OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 31:  Jason Campbell #8 of the Oakland Raiders claps his hands after the Raiders scored their last touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on October 31, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra S
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Occupying the spotlight is nothing new for the Dallas Cowboys, but if you can somehow look past Jerry Jones' coaching questions, and take a look at the NFL's other more important storylines, I promise you it will be worth your while.

    On the topic of hogging the spotlight, it isn't rare to see fans and the media surround themselves on the division leaders.  Once again we see a year that features the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants heavily, and as exciting as this always is, many up-and-coming teams are left unnoticed.

    I guess what I'm trying to say, is that the NFL is not an easy league anymore.  Never again will we see teams roll over for their opponents, and although Week 9 has provided us with upsets galore, the leagues "weaker" teams are no longer a sudden cakewalk.

    So which teams are on the rise to playoff glory for the 2011 season?

    Maybe it's a little early to judge just yet.  But while we're at least thinking about it, here's a quick peak on the 10 NFL teams you can expect to make a playoff push next season, even if 2010 falls in a burning heap.

10. Carolina Panthers

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 24:  Matt Moore #3 of the Carolina Panthers against the San Francisco 49ers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on October 24, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Thrown around like a rag doll recently, the Carolina Panthers are still one of the leagues most struggling teams, with some surefire signs for the future.

    To start off with the problems, Carolina's main issues have been on the offensive front.  As if a 1-7 record doesn't say enough, the Panthers inconsistent quarterback woes have cost John Fox's team dearly, especially in the win column.

    Away from the quarterback position, injuries have begun to play a factor.  DeAngelo Williams sat out of Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints, while linebacker Dan Connor and tackle Jeff Otah have also been missing in action.

    But what about the positives?

    Realistically, there aren't that many.  Still, Carolina's former No. 4 defense has been the shining point for the blue and black, and has somehow managed to cope with the loss of defensive end Julius Peppers throughout this season.

    Going forward, the NFC South may play against the Panthers immensely.  Atlanta is currently controlling the division, the Saints are still a threat, and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking stellar, who knows when the time will come for the Panthers.

    2011 anything can happen, so now it becomes a waiting game that relies heavily on the NFL Draft.

9. Seattle Seahawks

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    MINNEAPOLIS - AUGUST 28:  Charlie Whitehurst #6 of the Seattle Seahawks looks to hand off against the Minnesota Vikings during a preseason NFL game at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on August 28, 2010  in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    Blown out of the water by the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants in consecutive weeks, the Seattle Seahawks are perhaps the last team anyone expects to make a playoff push heading into next year.

    While this does seem like logical thinking however, Seattle's talent on paper certainly does justify a potential postseason spot in 2011.

    First and foremost, Pete Carroll's 2010 season hasn't been all that bad.  Yes, the Raiders and Giants have managed to pile on close to 100 points in the past two weeks, but aside from these two losses, Seattle's 4-4 record still stands in tact.

    And why is that?

    Because the Seahawks have managed to utilize their young talent well. 

    2010 NFL Draft pick Earl Thomas has already accumulated four interceptions on the year, and by providing the Seahawks with a strong defensive presence, the very next season should be yet another strong point for the former Texas Longhorn.

    Secondly, Seattle's run game has slowly but surely picked up.  Since acquiring running back Marshawn Lynch from the Buffalo Bills, both Lynch and second string player Justin Forstett look to transform the Seahawk rush game into a two headed attack—that has worked brilliantly for many teams.

    Last but not least, Pete Carroll also has many stars that are looking to break out.  Wide receiver Golden Tate is still waiting for some serious game time, and at the same time offensive tackle Russell Okung will act as a force on the offensive line- even though Seattle are missing a decent quarterback.

    Barring some kind of comeback in the NFC West this year, Seattle a poised for playoff contention in 2011—if all things go according to plan.

8. San Francisco 49ers

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 31:  Frank Gore #21 of San Francisco 49ers runs with the ball during the NFL International Series match between Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers at Wembley Stadium on October 31, 2010 in London, England. This is the fourth
    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    Week 9 saw a much needed bye week come the San Francisco 49ers way, following one of the most tormenting seasons in all of the teams sixty plus year history.

    It appears that if the quarterback play hasn't been the biggest issue in San Francisco, the defense has been just a torturous.  Ranked 20th in pass yards and 10th in rush, Mike Singletary's impressive looking defense has failed to show up in 2010, has left the entire bay area with a hole in their hearts the size of the Grand Canyon.

    So why will this 2-6 team possibly make the playoffs in 2011?

    Personally, the 49ers are like the Dallas Cowboys.  They were cracked up to be a legit contender this year, only to stall from Week 1, and endure a tough record, and even tougher play on and off the field.

    But what still stands true for the 49ers is their talented roster.  Yes, a serious quarterback is needed, however we all know that running back Frank Gore can light up opposing defenders, while at the same time San Francisco's young offensive line occupied by Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis will be as good as gold in the near future. 

    Other than the offense, the 49er defense doesn't justify a 2-6 record this year.  Linebacker Patrick Willis is as much a standout as Frank Gore, and with safety Taylor Mays rising to the ranks. San Francisco should have two big hitters in no time.

    Aside from on the field though, the 49ers are in such a weak division.  Currently the St. Louis Rams sit on top, followed by the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals.  It's fair to say that either of these teams could collapse next year—paving the way for a 49er comeback.

    It's a long way off just yet, but it is doable.  Most fans still feel that Mike Singletary is the best option for the 49ers, and if they stick to what they know, everything may just fall into place, if luck plays a minor factor.

7. Denver Broncos

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 31:  Kyle Orton #8 of Denver Broncos looks despondent during the NFL International Series match between Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers at Wembley Stadium on October 31, 2010 in London, England. This is the fourth occasion
    Warren Little/Getty Images

    For all of Denver's concerning ways this season, two players have taken on the role of Mile High heroes, even though Bronco faithfuls might not see it that way.

    If you are unaware who I am talking about, meet the new look Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd—two of the leagues top offensive players in the year of 2010.

    Already this season, both No. 8 and No. 84 have been brilliant.  On the year Kyle Orton has thrown for 2,509 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Brandon Lloyd has caught for 878 yards and four overall scores. 

    Looking back at the Broncos 2009 season, no one saw this coming.  Heading into September the Broncos weren't exactly AFC favorites, but they were listed as one of the many contenders to surprise a few people, especially after the team looked confident in training camp.

    Funnily enough though, the Broncos preseason woes spilled over into the regular season.  With a 2-6 record on the year, the Broncos sit dead last in the AFC West, behind two teams that nobody expected to topple Denver—the Raiders and Chiefs.

    So now the Broncos have more or less subtly told fans that they are building for 2011.  And to be quite frank, this unspoken statement looks the least bit promising, considering Denver have two of the best offensive stars this year.

    With all of this in mind though the Broncos have issues to iron out.  Head coach Josh McDaniels could be fired sometime this season, and the Broncos also need to establish a run game, after the acquisition of Laurence Maroney has fallen flat on its face.

    Maybe the Broncos will get it right in 2011.

6. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 03:  Quarterback David Garrard #9 of the Jacksonville Jaguars celebrates the go ahead touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Field on October 3, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Although the AFC South is the toughest division in football right now, somehow one of the most scrutinized and depicted offseason teams has provided us all with a major insight into their future.

    Yes, I'm talking about the Jacksonville Jagaurs, the team who happens to feature a quarterback who was near perfect in Week 8 against the Dallas Cowboys, after a 35-17 win saw Jacksonville maintain pace in such a competitive division.

    Now that Week 9 is nearly over, the Jaguars sit in third place ahead of the Houston Texans.  A 4-4 record in hand, Jacksonville are surprisingly still wildcard contenders for this season, even though a case could be made for years ahead.

    To tell the truth, there are a few nitpicks one could make about the Jaguars, but to stick with the positives, Jacksonville have a very well rounded season.

    The first point of good news comes from the coaching front.  Prior to 2010  Jack Del Rio was on a major hotseat, only to see his career saved by some stellar performances, one of which include a win against the Indianapolis Colts.

    Secondly, the Jaguars offense is hot.  Quarterback David Garrard is hitting targets, and even though running back Maurice Jones-Drew has been a mild letdown, receivers Marcedes Lewis and Mike Sims-Walker have helped add to the Jaguars offensive chemistry.

    There is still a lot to play for this season for Jacksonville, at the same time though 2011 can certainly become a focus.  If Jack Del Rio's side remains injury free and on the right track, the Jaguars could easily be atop this list in three months time.

5. Buffalo Bills

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    ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Roscoe Parrish #11 and Lee Evans #83 of the Buffalo Bills celebrate Parrish's touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the NFL season opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 12, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. Miami
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Disregard Buffalo's 0-8 record for the moment, because this unimpressive display on the stat sheet doesn't do the Bills any justice at all.

    It feels like not a day goes by that I am not left recognizing the Bills' talent, so here we are once again giving praise to the Bills players, even though no wins have been noted just yet.

    If a team ever looked great on paper, the Bills are certainly amongst the favorites.  Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a shining beacon of light for this franchise, and even though talent is hard to come by for the Bills these days, the fact that the team has been so close to several wins tells the entire story.

    Away from the quarterback position, the man in the photo to the left, Lee Evans, has been one of the prime factors for the Bills.  With 374 yards and four touchdowns on the season, Evans' speed has complimented Ryan Fitzpatrick nicely, and continues to post points on the board.

    Finally, the other piece of good news comes from the defense.  Currently the Bills are ranked No. 6 in defensive pass yards, much of which is due to Buffalo's team effort, rather than statistically concerned players.

    2010 is more than just lost for the Bills at 0-8, but if we take a look at the St. Louis Rams of this year, 2011 holds in store a whirlwind of promise.

    Chances are Ryan Fitzpatrick will be under center, and like many other teams mentioned, a handful of solid draft picks should solidify those areas that still cause concern for Chan Gailey and his team.  If things continue along this "close but no cigar" path though, the Bills won't be the roll over team in the AFC East like they have been in the past ten years.

4. Houston Texans

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    HOUSTON - NOVEMBER 07:  Quarterback Matt Schaub walks off the field after throwing an interception to San Diego Charger Paul Oliver at Reliant Stadium on November 7, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Believe it or not, the Houston Texans are still a team on the rise in the NFL, considering that Gary Kubiak's team is yet to reach the playoffs in its entire history.

    Starting the season this year, the Texans looked fantastic.  Week 1 saw Houston convincingly beat the Indianapolis Colts, and for the next several weeks the Texans enjoyed the top spot in the AFC South, while competition plagued on beneath them.

    And where do the Texans stand now?

    Easy, the bottom of the pack.  A loss on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers cemented the Texans 4th place ranking in the South, and now Houston must rally against some of the leagues top dogs to at least get into wildcard contention this year.

    But what if this doesn't happen, and the Texans fail to get the job done yet again?

    Well, this is also easy, because the Texans will experience the familiar feeling of "maybe next year" in hope for the 2011 season.

    I guess at the end of the day the Texans don't have too much to be discouraged about.  Houston has one of the best quarterbacks, one of the best wide receivers, and until this season, one of the best running backs in Arian Foster to rely on in years to come.

    Still, until that final hurdle is jumped and properly cleared, the Texans will never win any arguments in terms of who is the best AFC South team.  2011 is a season the Texans probably aren't thinking about just yet, but if the Colts, Titans and Jaguars play against them, it may become reality very shortly.

3. Detroit Lions

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 17: Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions catches the ball on an 87-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against the New York Giants at New Meadowlands Stadium on October 17, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Gian
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    Rookie Ndamukong Suh lined up for an extra point in Week 9 but missed.  However this isn't the only wacky thing that the Lions have experienced this season.

    No, the Detroit Lions are now one of the most recognized teams in all of football.  Promising?  That would be an understatement, because Jim Schwartz's turnaround job in The Motor City has restored faith in a struggling franchise, and belief for every Detroit sports fan.

    What has gotten the job done for the Lions is pure hard work and skill.  Drafting has played a major role, and it has become painfully clear that Detroit's recruiting skills are perfect, simply by looking at Ndamukong Suh's and Jahvid Best's stats this year.

    Better than the rookies though, quarterback play has also picked up—a rarity for many struggling sides.  When starter Matt Stafford was injured in Week 1, things looked grim for the winless Lions, only to see replacement Shaun Hill step in and strive under center.

    Nowadays, Stafford is back in the starting role and excelling at a steady pace.  Unfortunately, just like the Buffalo Bills, 2010 looks to be another lost year in the NFC North, even though Detroit could easily finish in the third spot if the Vikings collapse again.

    Heading toward 2011, the Lions are the No. 1 team to keep an eye on.  A cornerback is one of the most outstanding concerns for Jim Schwartz, however another wide receiver to compliment Calvin Johnson's 551 yards and eight touchdowns this year would be exceptional as well.

    Big things are to come, and don't blink, because this Detroit team led by so many young guns, is going places very, very soon.

2. Cleveland Browns

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    CLEVELAND - NOVEMBER 07:  Quarterback Colt McCoy #12 of the Cleveland Browns throws to a receiver against the New England Patriots at Cleveland Browns Stadium on November 7, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    Forget Derek Anderson, forget Seneca Wallace, because Colt McCoy is the man in the Dawg Pound, and it's going to stay that way for a very long time.

    If you've missed the Cleveland Browns in action this year, you've missed Eric Mangini's upset factor.  Already the Browns have managed to topple both the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots on the year, and with a 3-5 record, Cleveland are still a major chance to at least make the .500 mark.

    Perhaps if you're a Browns fan though, .500 is the lest of your concerns.  No, what is more concerning is how dominant your team appears to be over the leagues top dogs, and how unimpressive they seem to be against some of the leagues weaker opponents.

    To give the Browns credit though, they are in the thick of a rebuilding stage.  Former Texas Longhorn Colt McCoy only stepped into the starting role a month ago, while several other young players are still developing, including Josh Cribbs and cornerback Joe Haden.

    Looking past the young guns for a moment however, it is time for everyone to recognize the unheard of stars in Cleveland, who have rose to the ranks in the span of nine weeks to add an impact factor to the entire team.

    The perfect example of this is running back Peyton Hillis.  In Week 9 against New England Hillis ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns, and has finally given the Browns the run game that they have so desired for several years.

    I hate to be a party pooper though, but 2011 may not be as kind to the Browns as we all hope.  It is important to keep in mind that the Browns are a part of the AFC North, one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL, and must remain perfect if they are to stand a chance against the Steelers, Bengals or Ravens.

    Stranger things have happened, but the odds are more than just against Eric Mangini and Mike Holmgren's team.

1. Oakland Raiders

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    OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jason Campbell #8 hands the ball off to Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders against the Kansas City Chiefs during an NFL game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on November 7, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    "Just win baby" -Al Davis.

    If it's excitement and anticipation you want, I suggest you tune into the new look Raider football, that sees Oakland occupy the second spot in the AFC West, behind the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Before we begin with how great the Raiders have looked lately, let me begin by saying, who here predicted a 5-4 record nine weeks into the season?  I know I didn't.

    But yes, here we are past the midway point in the year, and The Black Hole is in prime territory to take over the Chiefs' top spot in the AFC West, and perhaps make a playoff appearance that hasn't been seen in several years.

    Back to how great the Raiders have looked though, Oakland have simply been relying on their key players.  Running back Darren McFadden has rushed for 757 yards and four touchdowns on the year, while quarterback Jason Campbell has redeemed himself a second time over, passing for 1,252 yards and seven touchdowns.

    For those Raider fans reading this, chances are you aren't even thinking about 2011 just yet.  The playoffs are in clear sight for this season, and even if a mere wildcard slot is attained, that is a huge standing point for a team that clocked in at only 5-11 last year.

    Still, if we are to look toward 2011, the Raiders are the best possible fit to make the postseason.  One more draft?  Forget that, because Oakland has finally found a winning gene good enough to boost them over top tier opponents, including division rivals.

    Barring some kind of total team collapse, the Raiders may get it done this year.  If that doesn't happen however, no worries, because 2011 is on the horizon.  Al Davis may have been a questioned man prior to this year along with head coach Tom Cable, but now the two seem a little intelligent after making the right team moves, especially with a 5-4 record to play with.

    2011 holds potential for the Raiders, and if you're an AFC West team, you'd better be aware of the black and silver force that is about to hit you somewhere down the track.

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