Of the major sports, no league provides fans with more hope than the NFL. Nearly every team's loyal fan base comes into the season with the hopethat with a few breaks, some good luck on the injury front, and some lucky bounces, that this could their year. And why not? There are only 16 regular season games and in the NFL, anything can truly happen. Unless you're Cleveland.
Look at last year's champs, the New York Giants. They finished up 9-7, snuck into the playoffs, and then caught fire and won their second Lombardi trophy in five years. It's that kind of run that makes people all over believe that their team is on the cusp of doing the same thing. Of course, it's rare and you have to actually get to the playoffs before you can start dreaming of confetti falling on the players' heads during the post game celebration.
Oddly enough, nearly half of the playoff teams in the NFL from one year don't make it the next. That's another reason every year could be your team's year. Except for a few teams who don't have 'their year' anywhere in the near future. So who won't make it this year? You're about to find out.
The New York Giants (9-7 last year, Super Bowl Champs)
Sorry, no repeat for you, Giants fans. As I said, last year's run was incredible and one for the ages. This year though, it's going to be back down to Earth for Eli and company. The NFC East is going to be one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, and the Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins have all improved. Fortunately for the Giants, their stadium-mates the Jets will take up most of the sports pages, so their fall won't be so noticeable in town.
The Giants also have a tough out of division schedule. They play at Carolina, at San Francisco and host Pittsburgh - all in the first 9 games. Not to mention games with all three division rivals in between.
New Orleans Saints (13-3 last year, lost in Divisional Round)
Hey, did anything happen to New Orleans this offseason? I can't remember. Drew Brees got his new deal and the Saints offense should be all right. Except that they don't have head coach Sean Payton guiding them. They also have an interim head coach for the interim head coach, who is suspended for the first six games. Their defense has also been hit by the bounty scandal and could struggle. On paper, the Saints look like they might be okay, but the disarray surrounding the offseason might be a black cloud all year long.
Carolina is going to be a better team, and the Falcons are poised to finally break through. It could be a hard year down in the Big Easy.
Detroit Lions (10-6 last year, lost in the Wild Card Round)
Detroit had a magical season last year, giving their fans hope that they were going to be a perennial force in the NFC going forward. Not yet. Yes, the Lions have the best receiver in the game with Calvin Johnson, and one of the best young quarterbacks in Matthew Stafford. No, they don't have a running game and their defense gave up 387 points. It's hard to keep winning by outscoring people every week. Oh, and the Packers are still the class of the division and the Bears are going to be much better than the .500 team they were last year.
The Lions' out of division schedule is crucial. It's loaded with games they should win, and they can't afford to blow any of them if they want to keep pace with Green Bay and Chicago.