Former Philadelphia rocker Robert Hazard was right. We're riding on the escalator of life, and nowhere are the rides more active than the NFL where there have been five new playoff teams each year for the past 15 seasons.
Somebody's always going up, someone's always going down. We just have to figure out who's going where, only I'm going to limit this year's roll call to five teams per stair. Five going up; five going down. Got it? Let's begin.
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Potential land mine: The schedule. "Look at their first seven games," Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald told me. "It's brutal." He's right. Five of their first seven opponents had winning records, including Philadelphia, New Orleans and Green Bay, and a 2-5 start is not inconceivable.
Potential land mine: It's not the running game. Heck, the Cards ranked last in rushing in 2008 and reached the Super Bowl. Nope, it's the offensive line. It must protect Kolb. Without him, we're back to 2010.
Potential land mine: Turnovers. They crippled the Chargers the first half of 2010, with the club committing more (19) than it did the previous season (17). Fumbles were most common, with the Bolts losing 12 through their first seven games. They lost seven in 2009. "The more we have the ball in our hands and the more we take care of it," running back Ryan Mathews said, "the more we win." Smart man.
|League MVP Peyton Manning gives the Colts hope, but they'll take a step backward this season. (Getty Images)|
Where there's hope: Manning. He led the team to nine consecutive victories down the stretch in the aforementioned 2008 season. Plus, he was the league MVP.
Where there's hope: It's all about San Diego in the AFC West, and if the Chargers get off to one of their tortoise-like starts, there's an opening for someone. The Chiefs will play San Diego twice in the first seven games -- including the third weekend -- which means they can make the first move ... just as they did a year ago.
Where there's hope: Hey, it's the NFC West, where you can go to the playoffs with a 7-9 record. Anything is possible. Seattle proved it last season.
Where there's hope: They're the defending division champions; not Green Bay. Which means Cutler finally put together a winning season. Not only that, he went to the conference championship game. That's a start. Where he ... and the Bears ... go from here depends more on Green Bay, and, yes, the Packers look that good.
Where there's hope: There's only one speed bump in the division, and it's Baltimore, and last time I checked, the Ravens had issues on the offensive line and only two wide receivers with experience. Plus, the Steelers won six of the past eight times the two met -- including twice in the playoffs. Meaning? Meaning if you believe in psychological advantages, you believe in the Steelers.