Six teams that will return to NFL playoffs in ’10

Every year at this time, the so-called experts begin to map out their predictions for the playoffs. Typically, we pencil in the teams that made it the prior year, nudging out a couple of teams that have lost several key players and penciling in a couple of teams perceived to be on the rise.

Can Philip Rivers finally get the Chargers to the Super Bowl this year?
Can Philip Rivers finally get the Chargers to the Super Bowl this year?

Reality paints a far different picture. Historically, the turnover rate hovers in the neighborhood of 50 percent, with half of the 12-team field getting bounced in favor of teams that didn’t make it to the most recent tournament.

The challenge comes from trying to figure out the six of the dozen that won’t make it back — and the six of the 20 non-playoff teams who’ll crash the party.

So in Part 1 of what has become an annual slow-period series, let’s consider the six 2009 playoff teams most likely to get back next year, if we assume that six of them won’t. Part 2: Six teams that won’t return to the playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens

Quietly, the Ravens have built a solid contender in only two years of the John Harbaugh regime. This year, they’ve beefed up the roster with the addition of receiver Anquan Boldin, linebacker Sergio Kindle, and defensive tackle Terrence Cody. Meanwhile, quarterback Joe Flacco continues to develop, and running back Ray Rice has his sights set on a 2,000-yard rushing-and-receiving season.

With plenty of talented veterans still patrolling the defensive side of the ball and one of the best young offensive lines in the game, the Ravens have laid the foundation for a perennial powerhouse.

The key to the Ravens winning a Super Bowl will be winning their division. In 2008 and 2009, the Ravens went 0-5 against teams that captured the AFC North crown. If they can take care of business against the Steelers, Bengals, and Browns, the Ravens could finally play a playoff game or two at home, and maybe earn a bye.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts will be projected to make it to the playoffs for as long as quarterback Peyton Manning remains at the helm of the offense. Though last year’s change at the head-coaching position required a major adjustment, the dramatically reduced role of Tom Moore, the only offensive coordinator Manning has known, will raise the challenge to a new level this year.

Manning will, as always, be up to it.

And with a defense that can stifle ball carriers even with Bob Sanders in street clothes, the Colts will be poised to once again capture the AFC South, and to play deep into January.

San Diego Chargers

Despite contract disputes with left tackle Marcus McNeill, receiver Vincent Jackson, and linebacker Shawne Merriman, the Chargers continue to occupy the mantle of a contender, primarily since they have charter membership in one of the weakest divisions in football.

Though quarterback Philip Rivers has yet to add postseason success to his regular-season prowess, he gives the Chargers an annual chance to contend.

So while it’s hardly automatic that they’ll win in January, they should do enough from September to December to get them back to games that matter most, especially with the Broncos, Chiefs, and Raiders serving as their primary competition.

Dallas Cowboys

The NFC East has a quartet of evenly-matched teams. Last year, for example, the Cowboys won the division even though the Giants, who didn’t qualify for the playoffs, swept them.

This year, each franchise has question marks. Of the four, the Cowboys have the fewest.

Then there’s the fact the Cowboys host the Super Bowl. That may not be enough of a carrot to get them to the game, but it should at least get them past the first major cut.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings land on this list based on one major assumption: that quarterback Brett Favre will return. If he doesn’t, the Vikings don’t have the horses to get to the postseason with Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels, and/or Joe Webb at quarterback.

If Favre returns — and stays as healthy as he has been during 19 prior seasons — the Vikings will have a great shot at getting back into the postseason.

The defense continues to be strong, though not as dominant as in recent years, and the offensive line has enough pop left to keep Favre in one piece and to open holes for Adrian Peterson and an underrated group of understudies.

Though they could be setting themselves and their fans up for another postseason disappointment, look for the Vikings to be in the mix once again for a chance to change that 0-4 record in the game that counts second-most to 1-4.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers have become a trendy pick to make it to the Super Bowl and win it in the third year of life without Favre. Though it’s way too early to project the Pack for a trip to Dallas in February, they’ve got a great chance at getting back into the playoffs, either as a wild-card or by taking the division title away from the Vikings.

Like each of the other five teams on this list, the Packers enjoy solid and consistent quarterback play. The receivers make Aaron Rodgers look even better, and the offensive line would look better if Rodgers improves on getting rid of the ball.

The defense will need to remain strong in the second season of the 3-4 under Dom Capers, and a more effective running game could come in handy. But it all should add up to get the Packers’ ticket punched for another playoff appearance.

And, yes, Who Dat nation, I’ve arrived at the end of my list and omitted the Saints. This means that they’ll be on the list of the six teams most likely to get bounced.

Again, this process presumes that six teams who made it last year won’t make it back. The trend could be bucked in 2010, and more than three of the 2009 NFC playoff teams could return. Or it could be like 2008, when only one of the five NFC playoff teams from the prior year (the Giants) made it back again.

Either way, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series will make it back again soon.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

Every year at this time, the so-called experts begin to map out their predictions for the playoffs. Typically, we pencil in the teams that made it the prior year, nudging out a couple of teams that have lost several key players and penciling in a couple of teams perceived to be on the rise.

Can Philip Rivers finally get the Chargers to the Super Bowl this year?
Can Philip Rivers finally get the Chargers to the Super Bowl this year?

Reality paints a far different picture. Historically, the turnover rate hovers in the neighborhood of 50 percent, with half of the 12-team field getting bounced in favor of teams that didn’t make it to the most recent tournament.

The challenge comes from trying to figure out the six of the dozen that won’t make it back — and the six of the 20 non-playoff teams who’ll crash the party.

So in Part 1 of what has become an annual slow-period series, let’s consider the six 2009 playoff teams most likely to get back next year, if we assume that six of them won’t. Part 2: Six teams that won’t return to the playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens

Quietly, the Ravens have built a solid contender in only two years of the John Harbaugh regime. This year, they’ve beefed up the roster with the addition of receiver Anquan Boldin, linebacker Sergio Kindle, and defensive tackle Terrence Cody. Meanwhile, quarterback Joe Flacco continues to develop, and running back Ray Rice has his sights set on a 2,000-yard rushing-and-receiving season.

With plenty of talented veterans still patrolling the defensive side of the ball and one of the best young offensive lines in the game, the Ravens have laid the foundation for a perennial powerhouse.

The key to the Ravens winning a Super Bowl will be winning their division. In 2008 and 2009, the Ravens went 0-5 against teams that captured the AFC North crown. If they can take care of business against the Steelers, Bengals, and Browns, the Ravens could finally play a playoff game or two at home, and maybe earn a bye.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts will be projected to make it to the playoffs for as long as quarterback Peyton Manning remains at the helm of the offense. Though last year’s change at the head-coaching position required a major adjustment, the dramatically reduced role of Tom Moore, the only offensive coordinator Manning has known, will raise the challenge to a new level this year.

Manning will, as always, be up to it.

And with a defense that can stifle ball carriers even with Bob Sanders in street clothes, the Colts will be poised to once again capture the AFC South, and to play deep into January.

San Diego Chargers

Despite contract disputes with left tackle Marcus McNeill, receiver Vincent Jackson, and linebacker Shawne Merriman, the Chargers continue to occupy the mantle of a contender, primarily since they have charter membership in one of the weakest divisions in football.

Though quarterback Philip Rivers has yet to add postseason success to his regular-season prowess, he gives the Chargers an annual chance to contend.

So while it’s hardly automatic that they’ll win in January, they should do enough from September to December to get them back to games that matter most, especially with the Broncos, Chiefs, and Raiders serving as their primary competition.

Dallas Cowboys

The NFC East has a quartet of evenly-matched teams. Last year, for example, the Cowboys won the division even though the Giants, who didn’t qualify for the playoffs, swept them.

This year, each franchise has question marks. Of the four, the Cowboys have the fewest.

Then there’s the fact the Cowboys host the Super Bowl. That may not be enough of a carrot to get them to the game, but it should at least get them past the first major cut.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings land on this list based on one major assumption: that quarterback Brett Favre will return. If he doesn’t, the Vikings don’t have the horses to get to the postseason with Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels, and/or Joe Webb at quarterback.

If Favre returns — and stays as healthy as he has been during 19 prior seasons — the Vikings will have a great shot at getting back into the postseason.

The defense continues to be strong, though not as dominant as in recent years, and the offensive line has enough pop left to keep Favre in one piece and to open holes for Adrian Peterson and an underrated group of understudies.

Though they could be setting themselves and their fans up for another postseason disappointment, look for the Vikings to be in the mix once again for a chance to change that 0-4 record in the game that counts second-most to 1-4.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers have become a trendy pick to make it to the Super Bowl and win it in the third year of life without Favre. Though it’s way too early to project the Pack for a trip to Dallas in February, they’ve got a great chance at getting back into the playoffs, either as a wild-card or by taking the division title away from the Vikings.

Like each of the other five teams on this list, the Packers enjoy solid and consistent quarterback play. The receivers make Aaron Rodgers look even better, and the offensive line would look better if Rodgers improves on getting rid of the ball.

The defense will need to remain strong in the second season of the 3-4 under Dom Capers, and a more effective running game could come in handy. But it all should add up to get the Packers’ ticket punched for another playoff appearance.

And, yes, Who Dat nation, I’ve arrived at the end of my list and omitted the Saints. This means that they’ll be on the list of the six teams most likely to get bounced.

Again, this process presumes that six teams who made it last year won’t make it back. The trend could be bucked in 2010, and more than three of the 2009 NFC playoff teams could return. Or it could be like 2008, when only one of the five NFC playoff teams from the prior year (the Giants) made it back again.

Either way, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series will make it back again soon.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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