According to NFL Media research, at least four new teams have made the playoffs every year since the NFL adopted the 12-team format back in 1990. Over the past 10 campaigns, that average has climbed to more than five teams per season.
We expect nothing different in 2015, especially with so many big names changing zip codes in free agency. The draft will alter the picture, too, but most teams have a basic idea of what their rosters will look like heading into training camp.
It's barely April, but let's do this thing:
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Four years running, NFL fans have been forced to endure an annual January stink bomb from the Bengals. There's talent on this roster, but Cincinnati remains anchored to Andy Dalton as a middle-of-the-pack quarterback whose ceiling was discovered autumns ago. With Pittsburgh growing more powerful on offense and Baltimore still a threat inside the dog-eat-dog AFC North, the Bengals will pay for standing pat at the most important position in sports.
2. Dallas Cowboys: Everything clicked for Dallas last season, pounding away at opponents with DeMarco Murray behind the league's grittiest offensive line. Murray is gone -- to Philly, of all places -- leaving the Cowboys to talk up a declining Darren McFadden as a secret weapon. We still see the 'Boys as a dark horse to trade for Adrian Peterson, but reality suggests the team will be forced to lean on a rookie runner. Dallas -- no fluke last season -- will compete into December, but Chip Kelly's revamped Eagles will own the last laugh.
3. Carolina Panthers: Coming off a 7-8-1 campaign, the Panthers have more work to do than any of last year's NFC playoff teams. Bouncing them has more to do with the Saints, though, who certainly don't feel like a team ready to give up on their Super Bowl dreams. Unlike Orr, I don't see two teams coming out of the South, and New Orleans offers the better quarterback and a dangerous combination of runners in Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller. The Falcons are also bound to be better, making Carolina an outlier for the playoffs.
4. Detroit Lions: Green Bay remains the best team in the division and possibly the entire conference. Meanwhile, Detroit lost their top difference-maker on defense in Ndamukong Suh along with Nick Fairley. We're not calling for the Lions to tumble off a cliff -- not with Matthew Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate -- but in the past four seasons with Stafford under center, Detroit has won 10, four, seven and 11 games. They'll pivot back to earth in 2015, leaving the door open for another conference heavy to nab a wild-card spot.
5. Denver Broncos: Denver's fortunes hinge entirely on what version of Peyton Manning we get come September. There's also the question of how he fits into Gary Kubiak's boot-heavy scheme minus pass-catching tight end Julius Thomas. While we don't expect the Broncos to force Manning into an attack that doesn't make the most of his gifts, changing up the regime midway through Peyton's Super Bowl-or-bust run in Denver was risky. It's a hunch, but the Broncos feel snakebit.