Since the postseason field expanded to 12 teams in 1990, there have been at least four new playoff teams every year. With Week 1 of the NFL season kicking off tonight (Packers at Seahawks, 8:30 p.m., NBC), here are five teams that are ready to bounce back and make the playoffs after missing out in 2013.
1. Chicago Bears
2013 record: 8-8
Did you know the Bears led the NFC in points per game last season? With the league’s top receiving corps (Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery) and a reliable rusher (Matt Forte), expect another big year from the Bears’ offense. But Chicago’s playoff hopes fall on its defense. In 2013, they allowed an NFL-worst 161.4 rushing yards a game.
2. Baltimore Ravens
2013 record: 8-8
After winning the Super Bowl two seasons ago, the Ravens didn’t even make the playoffs last year. But they’re blessed with one of the easiest schedules in the league in 2014. Baltimore’s last four games are against Miami, Jacksonville, Houston and Cleveland. The Ravens had the top-ranked defense in the preseason. Look for Joe Flacco to rebound.
3. Atlanta Falcons
2013 record: 4-12
The NFC’s top seed in 2012 managed to win just four games last year. With Matt Ryan leading a talented offense that includes a healthy Julio Jones, the Falcons should have no problems putting up points — which they’ll need to do to cover up defensive flaws. Osi Umenyiora and the front seven need to get more pressure on QBs after just 32 sacks in 2013.
4. Tennessee Titans
2013 record: 7-9
Jake Locker had a 119.9 passer rating this preseason, but can the quarterback who has started just 18 games in his three-year career stay healthy? Tennessee has a young and talented offense with rookie running back Bishop Sankey, preseason standout Justin Hunter and 24-year-old stud wideout Kendall Wright.
5. Arizona Cardinals
2013 record: 10-6
Arizona finished strong in 2013, winning seven of its last nine games, but missed the playoffs after losing to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals are a balanced team, with one of the most talented defenses in the league, led by cornerback Patrick Peterson. Last year, they had the top run defense, allowing 84.4 yards a game.
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