The NFL is the hardest to predict of any major sport. The season is short, careers are short, decline happens without warning and injury is impossible to predict. The league is progressing ever more towards pass-first, run to keep the defense honest. The best teams have the firepower to run up the score and the lethal edge rushers to punish the trailing team. And so, if you were attempting to create a quick and dirty estimate for a team’s playoff potential, you could probably just look at their quarterback and best pass rusher.â†µ
Looking through last season’s most successful teams, Indy had Manning and Freeney. New Orleans had Brees and Smith. San Diego had Rivers and Philips, though they spread the rush around. Minnesota had Favre and Allen. Dallas had Romo and Ware. Arizona had Warner, Campbell and Dockett. Cincinnati had Palmer and eight sacks from Odom in just six games. They also spread it around a bit. Philly had McNabb and Cole. The Packers had Rodgers and Matthews. That covers the ten-win teams. Once you are nine wins, you’re really just a bad break from mediocrity, whatever your success in the postseason.â†µ
Using that measure, you might expect the Bears to rebound. You can see how the Texans are on the verge. Denver needs a quarterback. Ditto Buffalo. Atlanta needs a pass rusher. And everyone else is probably SOL.â†µ
Seattle, oh my. Matt Hasselbeck is either cooked or nearing a Warner-like revival. The pass rush looks scary bad. The best single talent from last season was unloaded for scraps and replaced by a situational player. By this simple measure, Seattle will need some surprises to compete. It’s not perfect of course, but in a passing league, a team that doesn’t know if it can pass or defend the pass doesn’t have much hope of contention.