Six NFL teams unlikely to make playoff returns in ’08

In the first part of a three-part series, Mike Florio identifies six teams that aren’t likely to return to the playoffs this season after making it in 2007:

Of the 12 teams that qualify for the playoffs each year, roughly six of them don’t make it back the following season. Last year, for example, the Ravens, Chiefs, Jets, Bears, Saints and Eagles didn’t get back to the postseason after making it in 2006. (Taking their places were the Steelers, Jaguars, Titans, Redskins, Packers and Buccaneers.)

So the challenge for those of us who pretend we know more about how a given NFL season will turn out than the average fan is to try to identify the half-dozen teams from the 2007 postseason field that won’t return, and the half-dozen teams that will replace them.

And because the challenge for those of us who have to come up with two columns per week as part of a side gig with SportingNews.com includes doing so during the slow weeks of the NFL calendar, this idea has the makings of a trilogy.

In the first installment, I’ll try to nail down the six playoff teams that won’t get back to the postseason. Later in the week, I’ll predict (guess) six that won’t take their places. Finally, I’ll take a stab at identifying the six that will.

Without further ado, my six picks not to return to the playoffs.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers The Steelers of the free-agency era have developed a trend of exceeding low expectations and failing to meet high ones. In 2006, the Super Bowl champs didn’t make it back to play in January. A year ago, with no one expecting much from a team breaking in only its third head coach in nearly 40 years, the Steelers won the division.

This year, expectations are high again — especially with the Bengals imploding, the Ravens rebuilding, and the Browns generally regarded as overrated. In other words, the stage is set for the Steelers to fail.

If they do, it will happen because of an offensive line that got much worse after the departure of left guard Alan Faneca. Although the team used its first two draft picks on high-profile skill-position players (Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed), these rookies won’t make much of an impact with no one to block for them. The defensive line received no real upgrade despite the team’s desire to do so, and the linebackers and defensive backs are getting older but not necessarily better.

In all, six of 11 starters on defense will be 30 or older by the end of September. That’s not a good sign for a team that will need strong performances from the traditional strength of the franchise to prop up an offense that might not score points in bunches.

sportingnews.com
5/20/08