With NFL training camps and the preseason schedule kicking off, optimism is bubbling for football fans everywhere. Recent history suggests that five of the twelve teams that make the playoffs in 2012 will be teams that didn’t appear in the postseason last year. San Francisco was a prime example, going from 6-10 to 13-3 en route to the NFC Championship Game.
What teams have a chance to surprise in 2012 and exceed expectations? Let’s take a look at a few teams who may be flying under the radar.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills were off to a hot start last season, going 5-2 in their first seven games, including a win over the Patriots, but injuries took their toll in the second half. Buffalo dropped eight of their final nine games to finish 6-10 and out of the playoffs for the 12th straight year. The Bills refused to sit on their hands during the offseason, as they signed Mario Williams, the top free agent who agreed to a six year deal worth $100 million, half of which is guaranteed.
Adding to the pass rush is Mark Anderson, who inked a deal worth $19.5 million over four years. He had 10 sacks a year ago for New England. The two pass rushing ends will help Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus form one of the league’s top defensive lines. Buffalo added cornerback Stephon Gilmore via the draft and have bolstered their defense immensely. If Ryan Fitzpatrick can guide the offense successfully, the Bills could make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks finished 7-9 in 2011, the same mark as in 2010, but there was no fluke playoff appearance for the team. Tarvaris Jackson proved to not be the answer at quarterback last season as Seattle tossed only 15 touchdown passes for the year. Rookie Doug Baldwin led the team with 51 catches for 788 yards, both anemic totals to lead a team with. Marshawn Lynch ran for 1,204 yards and 12 scores last year but has to duck a suspension for his recent DUI.
Jackson likely won’t start this year under center, as Seattle signed former Green Bay backup Matt Flynn to a three year deal worth $19.5 million. It’s unlikely that the Seahawks ponied up that kind of cash to have him sit on the bench. Mike Williams is gone from the receiver corps but Seattle did add Braylon Edwards this week and T.O. The defense is young and solid, allowing the sixth fewest points in the league last season. With a couple breaks, Seattle could be a sleeper.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: No one is projecting the Bucs will make the postseason, but after a dismal 4-12 season, where Tampa Bay dropped their final 10 games and saw coach Raheem Morris fired, there is room for optimism. The Bucs were extremely aggressive in free agency, signing wide receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Jason Wright. The team then added tight end Dallas Clark after moving Kellen Winslow Jr. to Seattle.
Greg Schiano was successful at Rutgers and has the ability to turn the Buccaneers in the right direction. They more than likely won’t be a playoff team in 2012 but who knows about the future. It can’t be worse than a year ago.
Who do you think might be better than expected in 2012?