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NFL playoffs could be historically similar to a year ago

The only thing predictable about the NFL is its unpredictability. Until 2012. Never before has one season looked so much like the year before.

Seven division champions from a year ago are in line to repeat. This is unprecedented stability. Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, there never have been more than five repeat division winners. Since the NFL went to 32 teams in eight divisions 10 years ago, there never have been more than four repeat division winners in a season.

For perspective: Consider that *only *the New England Patriots repeated last season.

If the season ended today, just three new teams would make the playoffs: the Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks. That would mark the first time in 16 seasons when at least five new teams didn't make the playoffs. It's possible that just two new teams could make it, if the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals both pass the Colts in the AFC.

So what does it all mean?

Let's not draw huge conclusions unless it's this trend keeps repeating. Quarterback play is more important than ever, and most playoff teams have good play at that position. But it's probably a one-year blip in the long run.

In hindsight, we probably should have seen this coming. The only true surprise the NFL standings can throw at us is a whole lot of stability.

That's what we'll remember this 2012 season for: The best teams from a season ago almost all continued to be quality squads.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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