It seems easy to predict six teams to make the postseason in 2010 that didn't in 2009, but can you name six teams that will fall out of the playoff picture? That's a bit more difficult to predict.
There should be one team that jumps from last to first in its division, which has happened in each of the last four seasons. New Orleans and Philadelphia made the jump in 2006 after a last place finish the previous year, Tampa Bay did it in 2007, the Dolphins did it in 2008, and the Saints did it again last year.
Heck, the Saints went all the way from the division basement to Super Bowl champions.
Which brings me to our eight last-place finishers of 2009. Will Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Washington, Detroit, Tampa Bay or St. Louis go from worst to first in 2010?
The reality of the last five teams to go from bottom to top in their division is that none finished strong in their cellar-dwelling season. In fact, not one team had a winning record in their last five games. The best finish was New Orleans in 2008, when the Saints went 2-3 down the stretch. Every other team finished 1-4 or 0-5, so there's no history that a strong finish is a prerequisite to turning the tide.
Was it a coaching change that sparked the turnaround? Philly, Tampa, and the Saints (2009) all did it with the same coach; only Miami and the Saints (in 2006) did it with a new coach, so you can't say a new coach is a solid reason. I think it's a combination of a good quarterback and staying healthy.
Here's how I rank last year's last-place teams, from the most likely to make the flip:
3. Kansas City
6. Tampa Bay
8. St. Louis
Can I really see any of these eight completing a huge turnaround? Not really, but I know one of them is bound to make it happen.
As for six new teams in the playoffs, here's my prediction:
1. Atlanta -- In a quarterback driven league, Matt Ryan gives them a chance.
2. San Francisco -- Mike Singeltary has a very focused team and a group that beat Arizona twice last year.
5. Miami -- This is an interesting selection considering Chad Henne is in his second year as a starter.
Now the hard part: What playoff teams in 2009 are most likely to miss in 2010?
Here's a preliminary list of teams that could be on the outside looking in. I ran a poll with many of my Sirius Radio listeners, and here are the results with No. 1 being the team most likely out and No. 12 most likely to return to the postseason:
1. Arizona -- Multiple starters on defense are gone, and Kurt Warner retired.
2. New England -- Where is the pass rush, and how will the young secondary hold up?
3. Philadelphia -- Trading Donovan McNabb and turning the team over to Kevin Kolb sounds like what Green Bay did when Brett Favre left. It may take a year.
4. Cincinnati -- I think people are underestimating this team. Last year they built a solid running game and they added some real talent in the pass attack this offseason.
5. Baltimore -- A very good team with question marks in the secondary. But I thought they would've come in about No. 10 on this list.
6. New York Jets -- New Yorkers think they're headed to the Super Bowl, so this comes as a shock. Will Mark Sanchez take advantage of all the receiving weapons he has, and will the lost leadership of Alan Faneca and Thomas Jones be replaced?
7. Green Bay -- This is an emerging team that will make it, especially if Favre doesn't come back in Minnesota.
8. Minnesota -- Suspensions from the StarCaps case could leave the two defensive tackles, Pat and Kevin Williams, on the sidelines for four games. Favre isn't a lock to return, although I think he will. One thing is for sure: the fans still like this team to return to the playoffs.
9. Dallas -- The Cowboys are leaning on Doug Free as their new left tackle. They've got plenty of weapons on offense and a few questions in the secondary, but fans believe they are real candidates to make the Super Bowl.
10. San Diego -- The division hasn't caught up with them just yet, and they have the best QB in the AFC West in Phillip Rivers.
11. New Orleans -- It's hard to repeat, but with Drew Brees and that passing attack it's possible. They will miss Will Smith if he is suspended for four games (again, from the pending StarCaps decisions), and there still is an issue at strongside linebacker.
12. Indianapolis -- Peyton Manning is still there. Enough said! Not one contributor thought they would miss in 2010.