NFL Dark Horses: Don’t Sleep On These Teams

Left to right: QB Jay Cutler, RB Michael Bush, WR Brandon Marshall

The weather is growing colder. The leaves are changing. The groggy voices of disgruntled children returning for another semester of school fill the cool autumn air. This can only mean one thing, football is back for another season! For 31 teams, the 2012 season is about avenging a disappointing season or building upon a positive one. The truly great thing about football is with each new year comes an opportunity to put the past aside and look at the seventeen weeks ahead.

These are the teams I’m looking to surprise people in the upcoming season.

Chicago Bears:

Left to right: QB Jay Cutler, RB Michael Bush, WR Brandon Marshall

Now the Bears got off to a hot start in 2011, as they started the season 7-3. However disaster struck and injuries claimed Matt Forte and Jay Cutler for the season and the Bears went 1-5 in their last 6 games. Brian Urlacher is healthy going into the season, and the acquisition of Brandon Marshall and Micheal Bush add much-needed weapons for the Bears. Whether or not you want to buy the hype surrounding the Cutler Marshall reunion doesn’t change the fact that Marshall is a giant upgrade over Johnny Knox whose size always makes him a serious red zone threat. Not to mention Devin Hester can stop pretending to be a number one receiver and can focus on contributing as a change of pace deep threat. The defense is always solid in Chicago, but for the first time in a long while it appears the Bears have all the makings of a high-octane offense. I seriously believe that a division title over the Packers is not out of the question. Look for the Jay Cutler to make the next step at quarterback and Chicago to make a deep playoff run.

Buffalo Bills:

New defensive end Mario Williams needs to step up for Buffalo to be a contender.

It appears everyone and their brother is aboard the hype train in Buffalo. Consider me at the station waiting to get aboard. The team shows great promise their defense is young and they added Mario Williams, the most coveted free agent in this year’s class. They also added Mark Anderson another solid defensive end who can give opposing quarterbacks night terrors and help a run defense who ranked 28th a season ago. First pick Stephon Gilmore can come in and immediately upgrade their secondary which also played poorly in 2011. The Bills are another team who started hot, but injuries and inconsistent play hindered a promising season. However, the combination of a healthy Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller (both of whom averaged over 5 yards a carry) will provide the Bills with one of the most fearsome ground games in the league. The Bills’ season will ultimately be decided on the play of Ryan Fitzpatrick who showed shades of a successful NFL quarterback. If Fitzpatrick can play with more consistency the Bills can possibly end the NFL’s longest playoff drought.

Seattle Seahawks:

Can rookie Russell Wilson lead the Seahawks to the top?

Do I buy the buzz around Russel Wilson’s preseason? Perhaps. Afterall, he did lead all passers in quarterback rating this preseason and displayed some serious running ability, which leaves me cautiously optimistic. He managed to beat out Matt Flynn who the Seahawks brought in (with competition) to be their guy. With that said a Cam Newton or even Joe Flacco like rookie year isn’t exactlly common. There are many more concreate reason to believe in the Hawks this year. Beast Mode played like…well Beast Mode in 2011. Not to mention rookie Robert Turbin possesses a tantalizing combination of size and speed which will give the Seahawks a great duo of their own. Seattle also has a surprisingly deep receiving corps lead by a healthy Sidney Rice, who has shown can be a huge big play threat. Braylon Edwards had a promising preseason and can be dangerous thanks to his size. If he can limit his drops Edwards would provide the Seahawks with a strong number two. Doug Baldwin looks to build on a promising rookie year and if Golden Tate can emerge into a serviceable receiver this group is crazy deep which can make up for their lack of star power. Their Defensive line was the strong suit of the unit last year and the addition of Jason Jones can only make the defense better at stopping the run, which they did  quite well last year. Their secondary is young, even green at times, however they have shown they are able to play well as a unit. With all of this said I don’t believe they can topple the Niners in the west, but a wildcard birth is not out of the question.

Philadelphia Eagles:

Can Vick lead Philly to their dream status?

The Eagles were the victims of their own hype last year. Dubbed infamously as the ‘Dream Team,’ they put together a very disappointing 8-8 season leaving many to abandon the Eagles’ band wagon. There are some positives to take out of their 2011 campaign, for instance LeSean McCoy played like the absolute stud he is. They have two great receiving choices in Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. Not to mention Brent Celek is a very solid option at tight end. Philly’s defense was a major culprit in the Eagles’ disappointing season, but they allowed only slightly over 11 points a game over their last four games which lead to four wins. During that span their offense seemed to be clicking on all cylinders. Their D added DeMeco Ryans to finally fix Philly’s problem at the middle of their linebacking corps. Michael Vick had another injury plagued season last year and his durability issues are a real liability in Philly. When he’s healthy the Eagles’ offense can be elite, however we know the history with Vick. If Vick can stay on the field this team can be scary, that being said it is a big if. Despite Vick’s risk of injury I still see the Eagles as the only playoff team in the deep NFC East, and maybe their divine quest to a Super Bowl was just a year off schedule.

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