Six Teams that will Make the NFL Playoffs in '10

Mike Florio - SportingNews.com

Headline Goes HereOperating under the assumption -- which may or may not apply in 2010 -- that half of the teams that made it to the playoffs in 2009 won't return at the end of the coming season, I've identified the six teams most likely to get back and the six most likely to fail.

The last step? Picking the six teams most likely to get in if, indeed, six teams get tossed.

If the assumption applies, these six have the best chances of the 20 non-playoff teams from 2009 to qualify again.

Miami Dolphins

If the Patriots and the Jets fall out of the postseason mix, someone has to win the AFC East. So it'll be the Dolphins or the Bills.

The Bills have done little to improve their team since the 2009 season ended. Though running back C.J. Spiller could make an immediate impact, the Bills need more help than one ball-carrier can provide -- especially if they don't have a quarterback who can take advantage of all the attention Spiller will receive, and if they don't have the linemen to block for him.

So the Dolphins would be the team to reclaim the division, thanks to the development of quarterback Chad Henne, the arrival of receiver Brandon Marshall and the jolt to the defense provided by new coordinator Mike Nolan.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Over the past decade or so, the Steelers have demonstrated an unusual trend. When expectations are high, they fail to meet them. When expectations are low, they surpass them.

This year, expectations have fallen, thanks to an extremely disappointing 2009 season that made them one of the three AFC teams that failed to get back after qualifying for the postseason in 2008. Coupled with the Ben Roethlisberger fiasco, Pittsburgh fans have prepared themselves even more thoroughly for a disappointing season.

But if the Steelers can weather the first four games of the season (or six if Roethsliberger's suspension isn't reduced), re-commit to the running game and keep safety Troy Polamalu healthy, they can get back to the postseason.

Houston Texans

The Texans celebrated their eighth season in the league with their first winning record in franchise history. This year, the next obvious step will be a trip to the postseason.

With the Jaguars and the Titans sliding and four games against the teams of the AFC West, the Texans could fatten up their record for wild-card purposes. The challenge will come from four games against the teams of the NFC East and potentially tough challenges against the Ravens and the Jets.

But with an elite offense and an improving defense, the Texans can get it done. So maybe Year 9 will be the year when it finally happens in Houston.

New York Giants

Three years ago, coach Tom Coughlin found himself on a very hot seat. He delivered in a big way, leading the Giants to a Super Bowl win.

Now, he finds himself again perched over the flames of a near-certain firing if he fails to return to the postseason a year after a 5-0 start disintegrated into a lost season, which triggered an out-of-character eruption from co-owner John Mara.

Coughlin, who'll turn 64 later this year, has two seasons left on his contract as the Giants try to avoid being overtaken by the other team with which they share a stadium. After 2010, the Giants will have to decide whether to extend Coughlin's contract or move on.

The Giants have the talent on offense, if the line can stay healthy. Defensively, they need to find a way to replace middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, pump up a deflated pass rush and get safety Kenny Phillips back onto the field.

With some luck and the same kind of urgency that prompted Coughlin to save his job in 2007, the Giants could get back to the playoffs again.

Atlanta Falcons

For the first time in franchise history, the Falcons have put together winning records in consecutive seasons. They've got a franchise quarterback, a Hall of Fame tight end and a mission -- overcome the Saints.

So with the Saints on an extended victory lap after winning the Super Bowl and the Falcons motivated to continue to climb out of one of the deepest holes into which any franchise ever landed, the NFC South may not continue the trend of the last-place team taking over the division crown, but a repeat division winner is unlikely.

If, again, the recent trend of 50-percent turnover holds.

San Francisco 49ers

The Cardinals have lost Kurt Warner, and they've replaced him with Matt Leinart and/or Derek Anderson. The Rams have won six games in three years. The Seahawks seem to have a long way to go to get back to the form that took them to five straight playoff appearances from 2003 through 2008.

And so the 49ers become the most likely team to take over the division. If they could get consistent quarterback play, they could be the next NFC West team to put together five straight playoff appearances.

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