The NFL playoffs see roughly 50 percent turnover from year to year, and the 2012 season should be no different. Twelve teams made the playoffs last year, and more than likely five to seven of those teams won't return to the postseason this year. The NFL's parity is part of what makes the game so great -- before the season every team in the league can legitimately make a case as a playoff contender.
SB Nation's NFL roundtable took on the task of identifying the teams who won't be back to the playoffs and those who will crash the party. Representing the roundtable are SB Nation NFL bloggers Alfie Crow (Big Cat Country), Ryan Van Bibber (Turf Show Times) and NFL editor Joel Thorman.
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This team made the playoffs in 2011 but they'll miss out in 2012
Ryan Van Bibber, Turf Show Times: What a terrible year for the New Orleans Saints, huh? All the luster and good will from that fantastic 2009 season is gone. I think the Saints' have one more indignity to endure and that's watching the playoffs unfold without them. First of all, I'm not entirely convinced that Drew Brees will play this season. It could just be the unusual level of bad feelings being expressed publicly in the contract dispute, but if there's one player in the league that could get away with sitting out an entire season, it's Brees. Brees or not, the Saints' defense is pretty thin. Will Smith's suspension hurts an already suspect defensive front. The NFC South will be a tough division this season. Atlanta is their biggest threat to winning the division, and Carolina and Tampa Bay should be more than speed bumps this year.
Alfie Crow, Big Cat Country: Last season the Cincinnati Bengals snuck into the playoffs as a Wild Card team with a 9-7 record. With solid play from rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, the Bengals were able to play just well enough to win nine games, but then were bounced out of the playoffs in a 31-10 loss to the Houston Texans. Dalton was exposed a bit by the Texans, being forced to make tough throws and turning the ball over three times. The Bengals lost their second-leading receiver in the offseason, will be bringing in a new running back and still have some big concerns at the cornerback position on defense. I'm sure not sure Andy Dalton can be much better than he was his rookie year and without better quarterback play it's going to be tough for the Bengals to make the playoffs.
Joel Thorman, SB Nation NFL: This will probably qualify as a surprise but it shouldn't: the Giants. Yes, the Super Bowl champs will miss the playoffs next year. That sounds like blasphemy considering they've run the table twice in the playoffs in the last five years but when you step back and look at the big picture you have to remember that this was just a 9-7 team. Sure, they got hot in the playoffs but they were hardly world-beaters last season. It took a Week 17 win to even get into the playoffs. The Eagles and Cowboys both got a lot better this offseason, as well as the Redskins. The Giants are playing in an even tougher division this year and they will not be able to win the NFC East again.
These teams didn't make the playoffs in 2011 but they will in 2012
Ryan Van Bibber, Turf Show Times: There are a few safe bets for teams who didn't make the playoffs last year but should this year. The Chiefs are an easy bet, but I'm going to go with the Cowboys for this discussion. Dallas nearly made it last season before turning belly up in the season finale against the Giants. It's hard not to look at the offseason moves they made and see something better than 8-8. The duo of Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr in the secondary should provide matchup nightmares for the incumbent Giants. If Dallas stays healthy, I could see them unseating New York on top of the NFC East this year.
Alfie Crow, Big Cat Country: There are a few teams you could make the argument for making the playoffs in 2012 that missed out in 2011, but in my opinion the team with the best chance is the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders have been on the verge of making the playoffs for a few years but haven't had a stable quarterback situation, or a stable situation in the organization really, for years. Even with the wacky trade to get quarterback Carson Palmer last year, Palmer is the player who can make all the difference for Oakland. The Raiders are an explosive offensive team when everyone is healthy and Palmer didn't look that bad after being essentially thrown into a situation in 2011. If Palmer can settle in, Oakland's new stable coaching staff and direction should allow the Raiders to make a push for at least a Wild Card spot in 2012.
Joel Thorman, SB Nation NFL: The Eagles. Last year was a screwed up year for a lot of reasons but the key to how they'll do in 2012 is to look at the final month of 2011. In their final four games last season, the Eagles straight dominated, winning games by 16, 26, 13 and 24 points. That's a potential indicator of what we'll see out of them in 2012, where they will make a return to the playoffs, taking the Giants spot as the NFC East champs.