Nobody thought the San Francisco 49ers would be a fumble away from the Super Bowl last season.
The Cincinnati Bengals were suppose to finish towards the bottom of the AFC in 2011. They shocked everyone and made the playoffs with one of the best rookie quarterback/wide receiver combos in NFL history.
The Detroit Lions and Houston Texans finally lived up to expectations and made it to the postseason.
The Denver Broncos' prayers got answered and Jes... I mean Tim Tebow helped get them their first playoff win since 2005. (I promise, no more Tebow talk after this, just turn it to ESPN for that.)
Over the last decade there have been at least five teams make the postseason that missed it the previous season.
Will the Philadelphia Eagles live up to the hype this year? Can the San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys finally play up to their talent? These are just some of the teams that have a chance at making the playoffs in 2012.
Before you head down to Vegas to get your bets in, make sure you keep these five teams in consideration.
The Eagles have one of the most talented teams in the NFL. They didn't live up to expectations last season, but that will motivate them this season. They ended the season on a strong note winning their final four games by an average of 19.8 points/game to finish 8-8.
They are rallying around each other this season after head coach, Andy Reid, was delivered news no father ever wants to hear.
His son, Garrett Reid, was found dead at age 29. The Eagles are going to do everything possible to win it this year for the Reid family.
Philadelphia has a ton of skilled players on offense. They finished fourth in the NFL in total offense last season.
LeSean McCoy was a huge reason why. He finished first in the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns. He was fourth in rushing with 1,309 yards and had more 20+ yard carries than any other back in 2011.
He should be even better this year as he is just entering his prime. The fourth year back from the University of Pittsburgh has the potential to be the best running back in the game.
The Eagles success in 2012 all starts with Michael Vick. When he is healthy he is one of the most exciting players in the NFL.
Philadelphia is hoping for the 2010 version and not last year's version. He has been getting beat up in the preseason in their first two games. The Eagles will need their quarterback to stay healthy this year to lead the way.
Luckily, both injuries so far have turned out negative and he should be fine by the start of the season.
In 2010, he threw for 3,018 yards and 21 touchdowns. More importantly, he only turned the ball over 10 times (6 INT / 4 fumbles.)
In 2011, Vick turned the football over 21 times (14 INT / 7 fumbles.)
DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin form one of the best young tandems at wide receiver. Jackson finally got paid and Maclin is healthy, so expect Philadelphia to be one of the best offenses in the NFL again this year.
Their defense is the big question mark heading into the season. They added DeMeco Ryans to help their poor run defense. Philadelphia finished 16th in the NFL in rushing defense, but if Ryans can stay healthy, their run defense will be much improved.
Philadelphia has some talented guys on defense. Jason Babin and Trent Cole are the kings on the defensive line. Ryans adds depth to the linebacking corp. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha are two of the most talented defensive backs in the NFL.
Three things need to happen for the Eagles to live up to their expectations. Vick needs to play like he did in 2010. Their defense needs to improve on stopping the run. Most importantly, they need to cut down on turnovers. Their -14 turnover differential was third worst in the NFL in 2011. Expect Philadelphia to make the playoffs if Vick can stay healthy.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
The Chargers have failed to live up to their potential the last two seasons. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Phillip Rivers has thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns four years straight. Expect him to do it again in 2012.
Despite losing Vincent Jackson in free agency, the Chargers still have a ton of talented receivers. They acquired Robert Meachem from New Orleans who has a good chance to have a breakout season.
San Diego brought in Eddie Royal and Roscoe Parish to go along with Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown to form one of the best young receiving corps in the NFL. Floyd is one of the best deep targets in the NFL. His 19.9 yards/reception were tops in the league in 2011.
Brown is out for two months after suffering a broken ankle in their second preseason game. The Chargers offense should be fine without him during the first part of the season.
If Antonio Gates can stay healthy, Rivers could have his best season in 2012.
The Chargers defense could be among the best this season. They have a ton of depth at linebacker. Shaun Phillips leads the way and he has a ton of help this season.
Their first-round selection in the 2012 NFL draft, Melvin Ingram out of South Carolina, has looked outstanding in the preseason. Ingram has the talent to contend for the "2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year" this season.
Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason form one of the better tandems at corner. Eric Weddle and newly acquired Atari Bigby make the Chargers one of the better secondaries in the NFL.
Shareece Wright is a guy to pay attention to this season. The second year pro from USC is healthy entering this season, and he will see a lot of playing time on Sunday.
There are two big question marks for San Diego that will play a huge part in their success. Their offensive line was a huge issue last year. Their line was banged up all season. If the O-line stays healthy this year, Rivers could have an MVP-type of year.
Their defensive line is the weak spot on defense. Corey Liuget, Antonio Garay, and Vaughn Martin need to step up this year if the Chargers want to contend in the AFC in 2012.
I am not going to be betting my San Diego Charger buddies (Daniel Lubach) on them not making the playoffs this year. They have one of the most talented teams in the NFL and Rivers will lead them back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
The Cowboys are loaded with talent. Tony Romo needs to take that next step to join the elite quarterbacks. He has all of the talent, but he needs to become more of a leader. Dallas has missed the postseason the last two years, but this year will be different for the Cowboys.
Dallas has a ton of highly skilled players on offense. DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones help form one of the better backfields in the NFL.
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are two of the most talented receivers in the NFL. Expect Bryant to be one of the best wide receivers in 2012.
The Cowboys are hoping Austin's hamstring injury won't keep him out too long, but it looks like he won't be ready for the season opener against the New York Giants.
Jason Witten suffered a lacerated spleen in the preseason opener against the Raiders. It is up in the air whether or not he will be ready for the season opener. It will be crucial for the Cowboys to have their seven-time Pro Bowler back soon.
Dallas is loaded on defense. DeMarcus Ware is one of the best defensive players in the NFL. His 19.5 sacks last year were second most. He's had at least 11.5 sacks in each of the last six seasons.
Sean Lee was one of the better middle linebackers in the NFL last year. His 105 tackles and four interceptions were tops on the team. He finished tied with David Harris (New York Jets) among all linebackers for the most interceptions last season.
The Cowboys traded up in the 2012 NFL Draft and selected Morris Claiborne from LSU fifth overall. He has a bigger upside than his former college teammate, Patrick Peterson, who is coming off a good rookie campaign with the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cowboys also signed Brandon Carr. The former Kansas City Chief is one of the best young defensive backs in the NFL.
Dallas has the talent to make a run at contending for the Super Bowl, but they have been a disappointing team the last two seasons. Tony Romo will have his best season as a pro and the Cowboys will be one of the better teams in the NFL. Their defense is a lot more familiar with Rob Ryan's defense entering this season.
Expect big things in Dallas, a Super Bowl might be asking for too much, but making the postseason looks like a reality for the Cowboys.
The Bears finally acquired a number one receiver for Jay Cutler. To make Bear fans even happier, it is someone Cutler is very familiar with. Brandon Marshall and Cutler both had two of their best seasons together in Denver.
During the 2007-08 season Cutler threw for 3,497 yards and 20 touchdowns. Brandon Marshall had 102 receptions for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns.
The next year Cutler threw for a career high 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns. Marshall had 104 receptions 1,265 yards and six touchdowns.
Expect big numbers for these two as they reunite in Chicago.
The Bears finally made the right decision and made Matt Forte a happy man. They gave Forte a four-year deal worth $32 million.
He has been one of the best running backs since the Bears selected him in the second round in the 2008 NFL Draft. He has had at least 1,400 total yards in every season as a pro. He does it all. He can run, catch, and block just as good as any back in the game.
Chicago signed Michael Bush in the off-season. Bush had a career year for Oakland last season. He had 1,415 total yards and eight touchdowns. He is one of the most underrated running backs in the NFL.
The Bears backfield will rank among the best this year.
They still have one of the best defenses. Julius Peppers anchors the defensive line and has recorded 44 sacks over the last four seasons.
Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs help form one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL. Urlacher is one of the best all-around linebackers. He is one of the best leaders on the defensive side of the ball and will play a huge part in the teams success this year.
The Bears play in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. It will be tough for Chicago having to play Green Bay and Detroit twice.
However, with the addition of Brandon Marshall on offense, this will allow Chicago to open up their offense. Chicago was on pace to make the postseason in 2011, but injuries to Cutler and Forte blew their chances.
The Bears added depth at both positions during the off-season. Jason Campbell is the new backup quarterback and Bush is one of the best backup running backs in the league.
Expect good things in the "Windy City" in 2012.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Nobody saw Kansas City going 10-6 and winning the AFC West two years ago.
The Chiefs are my sleeper pick this season.
Injuries cost Kansas City a chance to contend last season.
In week one their Pro-Bowl safety, Eric Berry, tore his ACL and was done for the season.
The following week against Detroit, Jamaal Charles tore his ACL that put him on the shelf for the year.
Charles was a "First Team All-Pro" selection in 2010. They are both ready to roll entering this season.
I am not sold on Matt Cassel, but the Chiefs will depend heavily on the run game this year. They signed Peyton Hillis to help solidify the backfield. They also acquired one of the best tackles in the game and signed Eric Winston.
Winston was one of the main reasons why Arian Foster and Ben Tate had so much success last year in Houston. Expect Winston to open up some lanes for Charles and Hillis to run through.
Cassel will be Alex Smith 2.0 this year and be a game-manager.
In 2010, Charles was second in the league in rushing. He averaged a ridiculous 6.4 yards/carry, which was best in the NFL among running backs. He also had 45 receptions for 468 yards. He is one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL and can take it to the house at anytime.
Kansas City has some very talented young receivers. Jon Baldwin has all of the talent to be a good receiver in this league. Maturity is the biggest issue for him. He got into a fight with Thomas Jones in the locker room before last season and broke his thumb.
The injury cost him a chance at significant playing time and he missed the first five games of the season. He was behind in developing chemistry with quarterback Matt Cassel.
Things have changed this season as him and Cassel have developed a nice chemistry in training camp and preseason.
Dwayne Bowe is one of the better receivers in the NFL. Over the last two seasons Bowe has 153 receptions for 2,321 yards and 20 touchdowns. He signed his franchise tender last week and will be practicing with the Chiefs this week.
Their was one benefit from him not being at camp. It allowed Cassel to develop a nice chemistry with some of the younger receivers. Steve Breaston, Dexter McCluster, Devon Wylie, and Baldwin have all got quality work with Cassel to improve a mediocre passing attack.
Kansas City has some very talented young guys on defense. It all starts with Eric Berry.
He is one of the best young safeties in the game. He had 92 tackles and four interceptions in his rookie season. Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed are getting up in age, and Berry will be the guy to take the throne from them in the near future.
The Chiefs replaced Brandon Carr with former Raider Stanford Routt. Him and Brandon Flowers form a nice 1-2 punch at corner to go with Berry at safety.
Derrick Johnson is one of the best kept secrets in the NFL. Over the last two seasons he has recorded 252 tackles and is one of the best all-around linebackers in the NFL.
Tamba Hali is one of the best rushing linebackers in the game. He has 35 sacks and 12 forced fumbles over the last three seasons. He is suspended for the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons but will be ready to go week two against the Buffalo Bills.
Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, and their first round selection Dontari Poe will be crucial for the Chiefs this season.
Dorsey and Jackson were former teammates at LSU who played a huge part in their 2007 BCS National Championship. The Chiefs are hoping they can step up and help the Kansas City Chiefs get back to the postseason in 2012.
Their defense is young but if they step up they will be one of the better defenses in 2012.
Romeo Crennel was promoted from interim coach to the permanent head coach. Smart move for Kansas City. The Chiefs went 2-1 under Crennel to end the 2011 season and his first win was against the undefeated Green Bay Packers.
Crennel coached defense to be ranked 11th overall and had the sixth best passing defense without Eric Berry. Their defense should be even better this season with a healthy Berry.
Watch out for Kansas City in 2012.114108