Each year on average, five teams that made the playoffs fail to do so the following year. Thus, five teams that didn't make the playoffs show up in the postseason. The NFL has touted its parity with such statistics, and this "five in, five out" average has held true since 2000. it's only natural to speculate on five teams that will fail to repeat their regular season success and five teams that will surpass expectations. Who's in?
With the pressure on, Jason Garrett gets his 'Boys to perform. Quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant will connect on a far more consistent basis. Last year, Romo boasted the NFL's fourth best quarterback rating, even with a young offensive line. If the offensive line gels this year, 32-year-old Romo will take advantage of having an injury-free Bryant in tip-top shape as Bryant admitted that his conditioning was sub-par last season.
A motivated, healthy Bryant will give Romo a reliable down-field target, and Miles Austin, if he can stay healthy, is an excellent number two option. Running back DeMarco Murray has the talent, if he can stay healthy to be a Pro Bowl running back.
His injury issues date back to his Oklahoma days, and in his rookie season last year, he suffered an ankle injury. His durability could be the difference between Dallas having a good season and a great season. The controversial move to move up in the draft for Morris Claiborne shows Dallas' commitment to strengthening a troubled secondary. If Claiborne makes an immediate impact as anticipated, Dallas will be more formidable on both offense and defense during the 2012 season. The Cowboys will enter the playoffs as a wild card, but will make a run for the Lombardi trophy.
Unlike Andy Dalton, Cam Newton will continue his dominant quarterback play. The difference between Dalton and Newton is that while teams will be able to plan for both based upon game tape, teams will not be able to plan against Newton's athleticism. Granted, the success of the Panthers depends somewhat on Steve Smith being able to live up to his 2011 resurgence (79 catches, 1,394 yards, 7 touchdowns.) At 33, it's possible Smith's production will drop off.
However, tight end Greg Olsen did not live up to his potential in a dismal campaign last season. He could pick up the slack if Smith can't match his 2011 stats. First round linebacker Luke Kuechly will upgrade a defense that simply couldn't hold on to leads last season. The Panthers were swept by division rivals Saints and Falcons last season. With trouble in New Orleans and an Atlanta team that won't get hot, Carolina should improve their division record and clinch a wild card.
Philadelphia certainly had the talent last year, and this year, they'll put it together. Big name additions fell short of expectations last year. While the NFL lockout had the greatest effect on rookies who missed off season training, it may also have played a part in the Eagle's disconnect between individual talent and team performance.
With a year under their belts, the "Dream Team" finally has an entire off-season together. Philadelphia had few holes to fill, and therefore could afford to go the "best player available" route in the draft. They notched Fletcher Cox, the top rated pass rusher in the 2012 draft class, and also added linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who should be able to step in as a rookie and contribute. If quarterback Michael Vick can stay healthy (which is no guarantee,) the Eagles will take the NFC East.
The Bills are the biggest question mark in this group. They have all the pieces, yet they don't inspire confidence. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick lit it up early in the 2011 season, and then cooled off significantly. Can he consistently perform at a high level? Has he figured out what went wrong? Running back Fred Jackson's exited in week 11 with a broken bone in his lower right leg.
Jackson will return, and if he can return to form, Fitzpatrick's job will be easier. Another question mark for the Bills and Fitzpatrick is second round draft pick Cordy Glenn. He was regarded as the second best "guard" available in the draft, and fell to the Bills as a gift at No. 41. The Bills major need on the O-line, however, is at left tackle. Glenn started 50 games of his college career, including his last 16, at left tackle.
After mini-camp, he appears to be the front runner for the position. Defensively, the team is prepared. While they had to overpay for Mario Williams, one of the best pass rushers in the league, the move will pay dividends. In the off-season, the Bills acquired former New England defensive end Mark Anderson. With offenses double teaming Williams, Anderson could have a breakout season as a starter. If the offense can answer some questions, the improved defense could push the Bills over the top. Look for Buffalo to score a wild card and make the playoffs for the first time in this millennium.
San Diego Chargers
A popular pick every year, the Chargers have a knack for failing to meet expectations. Norv Turner has miraculously kept his job (this past year, his players are credited for pushing his retention,) but he has yet to capitalize on a talented squad in a relatively weak division. Philip Rivers heroically refuses to make excuses for last season, but it is quite evident that he suffered a significant sternum injury in Week 2.
A healthy Rivers might be ready to step out of the ranks of "almost elite." The Chargers also have a rash of questions surrounding their talented offense. Left tackle Jared Gaither was released by the Baltimore Ravens after nagging back problems and questions over his work ethics.
Tight end Antonio Gates' abilities are indisputable, but his capacity to avoid injury is less certain. Running back Ryan Mathews seems set for a breakout season, but he has to first prove that he can last the season. On the defensive side, the Chargers have upgraded. They picked up another former Raven, Jarret Johnson, in free agency. Johnson, a SAM linebacker, was touted by Baltimore media as the most underrated defensive player on the Baltimore roster. San Diego also got lucky when pass rusher Melvin Ingram fell to them in the first round. The tandem of Johnson, who is stellar against the run, and Ingram might well take the defense to the next level. Look for the Chargers to finally meet expectations-- or at this point, post-season exposure would likely exceed expectations.
Five in, five out. There is no off season when it comes to the NFL, so who are your five in?