Originally posted by OnTheClock:
There are five teams in particular that I firmly believe could make a surprising run if the chips fall correctly for them. These teams are Buffalo, Houston, Tampa Bay, Miami and Carolina.
Houston has a developing defense, and an explosive offense featuring a Pro Bowl QB, WR, and TE, along with a strong running attack that will feature Steve Slaton paired with Arian Foster and rookie Ben Tate. This is a playoff team that was only kept out of the playoffs due to failure under pressure by their Kicker.
Buffalo has a nice budding, young defense as well, and the switch to a 3-4 will help utilize the talent of players like 2nd year player Aaron Maybin. The Bills have a strong special teams unit, especially in their return game with guys like McKelvin, Spiller, and Parrish. Jairus Byrd might be their best man in the secondary, another strong unit for Buffalo. If someone can step up at QB, this team would be hard to beat.
With Miami, it's the same story. Henne has to play well and with Marshall on the team now, he can't use the lack of weapons as an excuse. Ronnie Brown and Ricky take the heat off, but their passing game is what needs to be better if they want to make the playoffs.
I'm excited to see how the Bucs do this year. They brought in a great deal of defensive talent. However, time will tell how quickly these rookies (McCoy, Brian Price, Arrelious Benn) will adjust to the NFL level. It was a good thing Josh Freeman got to sit and watch for a while before being named the starter. It seemed to help him grow towards the end of last season. As expected, he played awful early on, but he got better. He needs to build on that, and if he can, and if the defense can be better, they'll be in the hunt for a spot.
Carolina may have the best shot of taking one of the wildcard spots. They have arguably the best two-headed monster at running back with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Tyrell Sutton isn't bad either for a 3rd. Matt Moore looked great in the 2nd half of last year. But can he repeat that success? Or was it just a fluke? Their defense improved dramatically over the last half of the season and one has to think that if this team can stay healthy (Steve Smith had a tough break), they could feasibly even take the division. However, if the team has to start Clausen or Pike, they're in trouble.
All but Houston have their success hedging on an unknown at the QB position. If these teams QB's play even just above average, they'll have a shot -- especially Carolina.
Teams that some might think are under the radar, but will still likely stink:
Bears - their defense is very simply.. not good.
Browns - see Chicago, but add in offense as well.
Seahawks - a great deal of distractions, and a coach that won't take them anywhere early on.
Jaguars - They did little to improve their pass rush, and their special teams are mediocre.
Steelers - Big Ben is a talented player, but their line is probably not going to play well enough for them to make a push.
Like two of your picks - Houston and Carolina. Houston is THIS close to becoming a perennial playoff contender if their defense can survive their division opponents only half of the time. Carolina is intriguing because of their run game, o line and 2 solid young QB prospects in Clausen and Moore. Then again, who will their QB's throw to besides Steve Smith and who will fill the major gap in production on the d line now that Peppers is gone.