For each of the past 16 years, at least five teams that made the playoffs the prior year, have missed the postseason.
Last year, there was actually a turnover of six teams, three in each conference.
2010 PLAYOFF TEAMS
- New England
- Kansas City
- New York Jets
- New Orleans
- Green Bay
2011 PLAYOFF TEAMS
*New playoff teams in bold
- New England
- Green Bay
- San Francisco
- New Orleans
- New York Giants
So which 2011 playoff teams will miss the cut this season?
In the AFC, one of the teams will fail to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007, while another will fail to live up to enormous expectations.
And in the NFC, the defending Super Bowl champion will not be around to defend its title when the first round of the playoffs begins.
For a team that won 12 games each of the past two seasons – and were a dropped TD pass short of earning a trip to the Super Bowl a year ago – missing the playoffs would be a severe disappointment.
The Ravens, minus one of their key defensive players, will feel that disappointment this year. Terrell Suggs, the 2011 Defensive POY, is presumably out for the year (or at least a good portion of it) with a knee injury and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are certainly not getting any younger.
Those defensive issues, plus the continued inconsistencies from quarterback Joe Flacco will not be enough to overcome another splendid season from running back Ray Rice.
While head coach John Harbaugh came oh-so-close to an All Harbaugh Brothers Super Bowl meeting with brother Jim and San Francisco in 2011, he’ll be able to watch his brother’s team compete in person in the playoffs this year.
Baltimore fails to retain the AFC Division title crown, and misses the playoffs for the first time since 2007 (a 5-11 season that led to a coaching change) – ending Harbaugh’s run of four consecutive playoff berths.
It’s hard to believe head coach Marvin Lewis will begin his 10th season in the Queen City, despite just three winning seasons and two division titles (2005 & 2009). Lewis is still in search of his first playoff win (he’s 0-3), and the franchise still has not won a postseason game since the Houston Oilers were in existence (Jan. 6, 1991, against the Oilers, to be precise).
Lewis and the Bengals will have to continue to wait.
The rookie tandem of quarterback Andy Dalton and wideout A.J. Green were exciting to watch last season, but it’s not as if Dalton lit up the league. He ranked 20th in quarterback rating (just below Carson Palmer), 21st in completion percentage and 24th in Y/A.
Expect Dalton to have some rough patches this season, as he tries to adjust to the new wrinkles defenses throw at him.
Attempting to reach the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1981-82, the Bengals stumble in the second half (with games against Denver, the New York Giants, Oakland and San Diego, Philadelphia and a finale of Pittsburgh and Baltimore) and fall short of their goal.
In all the excitement of Peyton Manning’s arrival, I haven’t heard nearly enough people acknowledge that he’s a 36-year old quarterback who hasn’t played a down since Jan. 8, 2011. Or that he’ll be playing most of his games outdoors, which is a drastic departure from his time in a cozy dome in Indianapolis.
In addition to the eight games in the Mile High air of Denver, the Broncos will also play at New England, Kansas City, San Diego, Oakland and Baltimore.
Manning is 2-8 in his career at Foxborough and a combined 8-5 at KC, Baltimore and San Diego. On the plus side, he’s 3-0 in his career playing in Denver.
While the AFC West should be wide open once again, it appears as if every one of the four teams improved during the offseason.
A reasonable case could be made for any of the four teams to win the division (which has had a different winner each of the past three seasons), and the Broncos’ chances rest entirely on Manning’s health and welfare through a grueling 16-game season.
Manning and the Broncos win 8 or 9 games, but it’s not enough for a playoff berth (so Broncos fans occupy themselves during wild-card weekend by re-watching last year’s stunning playoff win over Pittsburgh).
- NEW YORK GIANTS
For the past two years, a low-seeded NFC team that had to scrape and claw just to reach the playoffs, wound up winning the Super Bowl. In 2011, the Green Bay Packers followed up their Super Bowl win by going 15-1 in the regular season.
Eli Manning and the Giants will not win 15 games this year as the defending champs; in fact, they won’t even qualify for the playoffs at all (marking the first Manning-less postseason since 2001, when Peyton’s Colts were 6-10 and Eli was a sophomore at Ole Miss).
Eli Manning will toss 20 INTs for the third time in his career and the defense will struggle again (in the past three seasons, the Giants have allowed an average of 391.3 points per year).
And if Giants fans are counting on another late-season run to qualify for the playoffs, remember that Weeks 15 & 16 are road games at Atlanta and Baltimore, with a regular-season finale at home game against division rival Philadelphia.
The trend continues: no repeat champion since the 2003-04 Patriots. Manning throws for 4,000 yards again, and New York gets off to a good start, but the Giants can’t repeat their performance in close games (7-1 in games decided by 4 points or less in 2011) and fail down the stretch.
- NEW ORLEANS
This wasn’t an easy call, despite an incredible off-season of turmoil for the Saints. They’re without their head coach for the entire season. They’re without interim coach Joe Vitt for six games. They’ll be without defensive leader Jonathan Vilma.
But still… they have all-world quarterback Drew Brees, and that might just be enough. Brees set the all-time single-season record for passing yards and completions in 2011.
He enters 2012 just four games shy of tying Johnny Unitas’ record of 47 consecutive games with a TD pass. Even if he continues to put up absurd numbers, can the Saints put all of the controversy and turmoil aside and play football?
And which defense will show up? The 2010 defense that ranked 4th in the league in fewest yards allowed per game at 306.2 (a spot ahead of Super Bowl champ Green Bay and two spots below Super Bowl loser Pittsburgh) or the 2011 defense that was 24th in league at 368.4 YPG and then allowed 64 points in two playoff games?
There are just too many obstacles to overcome, despite another great year (and more NFL records) from Brees. The New Orleans miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and head into 2013 with BountyGate firmly behind them.
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