By Jerry Sullivan
Over the last 10 years, 61 of the 120 NFL playoff teams have been teams that did not qualify for the postseason the year before. My math tells me that's a shade over half. So on average, there are six new teams in the playoffs every season.
That makes it even more astonishing that the Bills have gone 13 years in a row without making the postseason. Think about it: Half the teams every year make the leap and they have managed to miss ever year since 1999. I hate to say this, but I don't see it happening this year, either. There's a better chance of the Bills finishing in the bottom five in the league than being among the dozen who advance.
Here are six teams I could see making the move this season:
1. New York Giants: They faded down the stretch a year ago, but outscored their opponents by 85 points on the season and should bounce back in a soft NFC East. Peyton Manning is still an elite quarterback. He has a strong receiving tandem in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. David Wilson is poised for a breakout year at running back. The defense is suspect, but that hasn't stopped teams from playing into January lately.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs' secondary is much improved with the addition of Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis. Running back Doug Martin is emerging as an elite player. Underrated Josh Freeman has solid WR targets in Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson. They play in a rugged division, but get to play the Bills and Jets, which will help.
3. St. Louis Rams: It's hard to see three teams from the NFC West making it, but the Rams are heading in the right direction. They went 4-1-1 in the division last year and gave up only 16 points a game in those six. The defense is on the rise. Quarterback Sam Bradford needs to take the next step. He needs to get instant production from rookie wideout Tavon Austin and second-year running back Daryl Richardson.
4. Cleveland Browns: Another team with a strong, rising defense and a dubious offense. The Browns have a fairly easy schedule, with home games against the Bills, Jacksonville and Detroit, and a roadie at the Jets. Like the Bills, they made upgrades at the coordinator spots with Ray Horton (defense) and Norv Turner. Turner is back to his proper level, and if he helps QB Brandon Weeden to be average, they can make a run.
5. Miami Dolphins. Hey, four games against the Bills and Jets are enough to make you a playoff contender. The offensive line is suspect, yes. Ryan Tannehill was a notch below Ryan Fitzpatrick last year. But the Dolphins are getting better, and the defense will win them games. The additions of linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (late of the Ravens) and rookie Dion Jordan upgraded the pass rush.
6. Kansas City Chiefs. A chic pick. This makes four teams that play the Bills on my list. I sense a pattern. The Chiefs had six Pro Bowlers last season. They have a proven winner in new coach Andy Reid. Alex Smith is an upgrade at quarterback over the last stiff. Anthony Fasano will be a frequent target for his short throws. Jamaal Charles could go for 2,000 total yards if he's healthy and rookie tackle Eric Fisher is the real deal.