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|Mark Sanchez and the Jets have been to two straight AFC title games. Will the streak end this year?|
The NFL proudly trumpets its playoff parity, with an average of five new teams making the postseason annually since 2000. Last season, four teams made the playoffs that didn't in 2009 -- Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, and Kansas City. With that in mind, which four or five 2010 playoff teams will have a hard time getting back this time around?
Parity ends in 2011I think this is a season in which there might only be two or three new teams in the playoffs. Without the spring and early summer to prepare because of the lockout, many teams in the developing stages can't make up the ground on the 2010 playoff teams. Last year was Pete Carroll's first year in Seattle, but he had a chance to work his players all spring and summer, and get his offense and defense installed. This year, new coaches such as Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco and Ron Rivera in Carolina didn't get that opportunity. Right now, I like the Rams and Chargers to make the playoffs with the Seahawks, and either the Jets or Chiefs struggling to return.
Jets won't be back in playoffsEverybody is likely in agreement that the Seahawks are not going to repeat as NFC West champs this season. The Bears are in serious trouble, too, as are the Colts. The Steelers have not reached the playoffs in the seasons after their two previous Super Bowl appearances (though, both of those were wins, mind you).
There will be one shock, though. And this season, the New York Jets will not make the playoffs. You can only mask the deficiencies of your quarterback for so long before it finally comes back to burn you.
But look on the bright side, Jets fans: Mark Sanchez does take a handsome picture.
Colts could be in troubleThe Chiefs, Bears and Colts will fail to return to the playoffs this season. Though all three are positioned to be contenders within their divisions, they will take a step back due to their failure to address their biggest issues. If I had to choose one of the three that could make it back, I'd say the Colts, but only if Peyton Manning returns to health. He has the ability to carry the team to 10 wins on the strength of his right arm. Otherwise, don't look for any of these reigning division champs to repeat this season.
Bad news, BearsSeattle, Kansas City, Chicago and Indy. The Seahawks got there with seven wins last season, but their quarterback situations and unsteadiness along the offensive line could land them in the bottom half of the NFC West. The Chiefs might simply get caught in an improved division. I like what they're doing with their roster -- although the offense hasn't looked great in preseason -- but the Raiders and Chargers might simply be too tough to overcome.
The sustained success might finally catch up to the Colts, but it's hard to count them out if Peyton Manning will be on the field. The Texans, however, finally seem poised for a breakthrough. As for the Bears, I actually think they could be just as good as they were in 2010 but, like the Chiefs, they could get caught by an improved division and get lost in a deep NFC wild-card chase.
Woes will be out WestI tend to think the teams out West will have a hard time duplicating their division titles. The road will get tougher for the Seahawks and Chiefs, and I think teams that have had more sustained success in those divisions will return to glory.
I like the Chargers and Cards to win out West. Otherwise, I suspect the AFC North and AFC East will still provide two playoff teams, as will the NFC South.
I expect a fair amount of the usual suspects to be nabbing playoff spots when all is said and done.