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Five NFL playoff teams that may miss out in 2010

FOX Sports Hunter Ansley, FOX Sports Southwest
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The NFL postseason is a fickle entity. The turnover rate has flirted with 50 percent throughout the league’s history, with around six teams failing to make a return trip to the playoffs each season. Carolina, Atlanta, Miami, Tennessee, Pittsburgh and the New York Giants can all attest.

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But at a time when it’s hard enough to figure out who will make the playoffs, picking the teams that won’t feels a little easier with the math backing it up. So although the following franchises could get the last laugh, there’s an equal chance that they’ll be laughing from their couches as victims of probability.

Here are five teams that won’t be inviting me to any mid-January parties, even if they have nothing else going on.

1. Arizona Cardinals

Not exactly going out on a limb here. No team in the NFL lost more talent this offseason than the Cardinals. From Kurt Warner’s retirement to Anquan Boldin’s bolt to Baltimore to Karlos Dansby’s quieter relocation of his talents to South Beach, the Cardinals were gutted by competitors.

Luckily, Warner’s assisted-living team isn’t on the schedule, and neither the Ravens nor Dolphins play in a watered down NFC West. This is the NFL’s weakest division. So calling for the Cards to kick it at home during the postseason may not be as smart as it seems. The 49ers look good, but the Seahawks and certainly the Rams are beatable teams.

Larry Fitzgerald was the headlining act out wide, not Boldin. Dansby won’t easily be replaced, but drafting the best nose tackle available in Dan Williams will ease the load on the new group of inside ‘backers. And Kerry Rhodes, who still gets to play next to Adrian Wilson, may be a better fit for this defense than Antrel Rolle.

But you won’t find many sleepless secondaries the night before a game against Matt Leinart. You can probably tuck opposing defensive ends in right next to them considering that Levi Brown is sliding over to left tackle after three sloppy seasons on the right. And although Chris Wells showed some serious flashes as a rookie, this team is far from being able to hide their QB behind a powerful ground game.

Then there’s the schedule that includes San Fran twice and traveling to Seattle once which is never an easy task. Only two of their eight road games are against playoff teams from a year ago (San Diego and Minnesota), but they host two of the NFC’s true elite, New Orleans and Dallas. There are also home dates against possible upstarts Denver and Oakland and a trip to Atlanta thrown in. That was doable with a Hall of Fame passer and a double dose of untouchable wideouts, but again that’s no longer the case in Arizona.

It comes down to the fact that Leinart doesn’t have the timing, experience or full arsenal that Warner enjoyed and needed while playing behind a patchwork line. Brown’s shift to the blindside comes after a subpar career on the right, which seems transparently forced. And even if the running game steps up, a dicey prediction for Cards teams in the past, a weakened defense that gave up 90 points in two playoff losses might have trouble holding a lead long enough for the coaches to call anything other than pass plays.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

For years Marvin Lewis has been telling us that the Bengals don’t lure character risk players; they just like guys with chips on their shoulders. Then they went out and bought Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant and Matt Jones and drafted Carlos Dunlap.

Jones could have a hard time making the team and Bryant is historically lethargic when not playing for a contract. He put up 1,248 yards in 2008, but followed that up with just 600 in a season that showcased his ability to pout and get hurt after the Buccaneers gave him nearly $10 million and a franchise tag that he apparently didn’t want. And Dunlap managed to earn a DUI just in time to miss Florida’s biggest game of the year.

Carson Palmer turns 31 in December, and he’s already undergone surgery for tears in his ACL and MCL as well as turning down a Tommy John procedure for torn ligaments and tendons in his elbow -- an injury that caused him to miss all but four games in 2008. Last year he posted career lows across the board for seasons in which he played all 16 games, and it didn’t take a medical degree to notice that something was off.

The team had only two real offensive weapons last year, and they’ve both done their best to lose focus this offseason. Chad Ochocinco danced with the stars, then tried to become a bigger one himself by following in T.O.’s footsteps (always a good decision) and starring in an E! reality show. Benson went low budget. All he did was get arrested on assault charges outside an Austin, Texas which could lead to a suspension. That’s a lot of discord for one team to digest, and with so many moving parts moving in so many controversial directions, it’s hard to see this offense finding the same page.

The defense, however, should be nasty again, but such is the case for every team in the AFC North. That’s the division Cincy swept on their way to a 10-6 record. With Baltimore beefing up and Pittsburgh being Pittsburgh, what’s the chance that happens again? If you do nothing more than substitute two losses for two road wins over those teams, the Bengals slide to 8-8 and are suddenly watching the postseason from home. At least they won’t have to watch Dancing with the Stars.

3. Philadelphia Eagles

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The Eagles didn’t really act like a team that wanted to be in the playoffs once the postseason started last season. Armed with a veteran quarterback, a scintillating array of young offensive playmakers and a puncher’s chance against a team known to wilt in the playoffs, the Eagles choked. Hard.

Dallas had already beaten them twice that season, so motivation was available in spades. Of course, the whole “it’s impossible to beat a team three times in one season” argument is a myth. Since the merger, there have been 20 instances of a team heading into the playoffs with a chance to complete a three-game sweep. Those teams are 13-7. But Philadelphia had owned the Cowboys during late-season games in recent years, entering last season with a 6-0 record against Dallas during December/January since 2000. That sounds like a great stat until you realize Donovan McNabb was the starter in every one.

With McNabb now under center in DC, Washington just became slightly harder for Dallas and New York to beat. They’ll be a lot harder for Philly. That’s not to say they can’t go 4-0 against the Redskins and Giants again this year, but it definitely can’t be counted on, and that may make all the difference. Without a sweep of the Giants, the Eagles are just 9-7 last season. Without an additional sweep of the ‘Skins, they could have been 8-8.

This year Dallas is gunning for a backyard Super Bowl, Washington owns the Eagles’ quarterback and New York is still a team with more teeth than they showed in 2009. The NFC East is historically tough, and Philadelphia will enter 2010 with a fourth-year quarterback who has never played in more than six games in a season and has never taken a playoff snap. It’s tough to judge Kolb solely on a loss to New Orleans and a win over Kansas City, but he did become the first NFL quarterback to throw for over 300 yards in each of his first two starts. Still, for all the talk about how good Kolb will be, and there’s a chance he could be great, he holds just a 68.9 career passer rating.

Young quarterbacks need two things above all else – a ground game and time in the pocket. Kolb will be the first Philadelphia QB to start a season without Brian Westbrook since 2002 and his blindside protector is the highly-overrated Jason Peters. Considering Andy Reid’s penchant for placing the onus on his passer, even a revamped defense may not be enough to keep the Eagles afloat it 2010.

Losing the leadership that guys like McNabb, Westbrook, and Brian Dawkins provide, over a span of just two offseasons, will take a toll on any team. With no offensive stars with more than three years of experience, it’s a toll Philadelphia may be too young to pay.

4. New England Patriots

The Patriots have been postseason poster boys since Tom Brady picked up the broken pieces of Drew Bledsoe in a 2001 game against the Jets, but that reign could be coming to an end. We’ve all seen what can happen when Brady goes down, even with a capable backup. The Patriots missed the playoffs after that very scenario played out in 2008. That season the Jets went 9-7 and the Dolphins won a surprise division title with a shocking wildcat offense.

But while the Jets didn’t improve upon their record last season, they’re without a doubt a better team now than they were in 2008. The Dolphins made two of the biggest offseason moves in the NFL when they added Karlos Dansby and Brandon Marshall -- and now look to be legitimate playoff contenders. Even Buffalo has found a way to at least keep things interesting against the Pats, losing by just 7.75 points per game in their last four tries. If New England is susceptible to losing the crown to one of those guys then, they can lose it again.

This is not a bad team by any means, but the edges are starting to fray. Even a healthy Brady might not guarantee success. The defense can’t seem to find a pass rush, finishing 23rd in sacks. The defensive line is still adjusting to losing Richard Seymour, and his key backup, Jarvis Green, is now playing in Denver. Kevin Faulk does a lot of little things well for this team, but at 34 his contributions are bound to drop off at some point. Randy Moss is only a year younger. Wes Welker tore his ACL and MCL in a Week 17 loss, and although the Patriots say he’ll be ready for camp, no one knows how the injury will affect him. Laurence Maroney won’t leave.

Despite an underwhelming playoff loss to Baltimore, the Patriots are still the Patriots and they’re still dangerous with Belichick and Brady at the helm. But the shine from that undefeated regular season in 2007 dulled quickly with a Super Bowl loss to the Giants, and while they’ve been successful enough through some bad luck, they don’t scare people like they once did.

5. Minnesota Vikings

There might not be a bigger boom or bust team in the NFL.

There are so many ways the Vikings’ season can go, it’s hard to keep track. If Brett Favre doesn’t come back, it’s Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson or bust. Ouch. If Brett Favre does come back but injures his soon-to-be 41-year-old body, see above. Of course, if Favre comes back, stays healthy, cures cancer and glues Brad Childress’ beard to his head in the greatest Wooly Willy ever, Minnesota will explode with enough party boats to ensure an entire generation of kids named Wrangler.

Still, Favre has to break down at some point. I know how many people say that every year, but he won’t play at this level forever, right? Then there’s the offensive line, which spent a lot of energy keeping Favre clean last year and didn’t seem to have enough left over to do any real run blocking in a zone scheme that doesn’t fit. As good as Adrian Peterson is, if he suddenly had to carry this team, he might not be able to do it behind these guys. Especially in the NFC North. Green Bay is surging, Chicago has some big pieces jammed in place and Detroit looks poised to ascend from the division’s cellar.

Sidney Rice enjoyed a fantastic breakout season last year, but followed it up with news of a lingering hip injury. Even though he says he won’t need surgery, it’s not ideal that he’s still recovering after this much time, especially with his banged-up history. Cedric Griffin looks like a guy who could become a great corner for them, but he underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL and is a long shot to return by Week 1. The same goes for E.J. Henderson after breaking his leg in December. And the Vikings' newest toy, Percy Harvin, suffers from migraines and the short shelf life they can cause.

There’s a reason Minnesota is last on this list, however. They’ll likely employ the services of the Williams Wall all season thanks to Uncle Sam and a lengthy appeals process. Jared Allen isn’t suddenly going to stop terrorizing quarterbacks, and they have some great linebackers around and behind Henderson. But with so many injuries and so many ifs, in this division, the Vikings’ window could shut sooner than it would seem.

Tagged: Bills, Bengals, Broncos, Dolphins, Vikings, Patriots, Giants, Eagles, Redskins, Ravens, Cardinals, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Karlos Dansby, Wes Welker, Matt Jones, Matt Leinart, Dan Williams

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