Tom Curran: 10 teams who will rebound in 2009
Who are this year's Dolphins?
For 13 straight years, the NFL playoffs have featured at least five teams that failed to qualify for the postseason the year before. So if things hold they way they've held since 1995, we're going to see some new faces in the postseason this January. These are the best bets to elbow their way in this season, like Chad Pennington and Miami did in '08.
1. New England Patriots
They finished 11-5 last year and didn't get in. Now, with Tom Brady back, they go from outside the playoffs looking in to the Vegas favorite to win the Super Bowl. How will the D respond to a Seymour-less front, though?
2. New Orleans Saints
The Saints finished 8-8 last year. Nine of their games were decided by five points or fewer and the Saints record in those games was 3-6. In addition they lost a home game with the London game so, between October 12 and November 24, they didn't play at the Superdome. Fluky season. Reggie Bush and the Saints get to the postseason this year.
3. Green Bay Packers
No team looked more the juggernaut this preseason that the Packers. Aaron Rodgers is looking like a quarterback about to come of age and - without the Great Favre Circus looming over their training camp this year, the Pack should hit the ground running.
4. Chicago Bears
He may be the poster boy for pout but Jay Cutler can sling it. And that fact alone makes the Bears a daunting team. If the aging Bears defense can stay reasonably healthy and the Chicago offensive line can be as effective as Denver's was for Cutler last year, Sweet Baby Jay may elevate the level of play on that offense that already has a stud running back in Matt Forte.
5. San Francisco 49ers
First off, the NFC West is about the weakest division in football. If Mike Singletary can get all his players reading from the same script - and it seems he's well on his way to doing that given the team's 5-3 finish to last season with him as coach - Frank Gore the 49ers will surprise.
6. Dallas Cowboys
The circus left town when Dallas ditched Terrell Owens. Left in his wake is a team that still has a fair amount of talent littered around its roster, like defensive end DeMarcus Ware. This team hasn't shown a lot of heart in the past three Decembers. If they can turn around their late-season performances, they'll be playing in January.
7. Houston Texans
The Texans are ripe for a rise. They went 8-8 the past two seasons and now have their young core of players on both sides of the ball entering the prime of their careers, like running back Steve Slaton. In addition, the Titans and Colts are going through some changes in the AFC South so the door could swing open even more.
8. New York Jets
This team was 8-and-freakin-3 last year coming off a road win at 10-0 Tennessee. And they missed the playoffs? That's self-immolation, ladies and gentleman. There's plenty of talent on the offensive line and especially on the defense. If rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez can be at least average and Rex Ryan can resist the urge to talk all ... the ... time ... the Jets can do some things.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
Kind of a vogue pick to make a little noise. Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco are great players on a bad team and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer seems to be getting through to this Bengals defense. If they catch a break and the Steelers and Ravens fall back to them, hey, one never knows.
10. Seattle Seahawks
Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawks are either in full-on decline or last season was a blip. Either way, in the moribund NFC West, you can't count anyone out before the season begins. Except St. Louis. Which is 25 percent of the division.