Even though the NFL season is over and the threat of an impending lockout looms over the offseason, it’s never too early to start dreaming of the next season. To that end, here are five teams that are poised to make some noise in the upcoming football year.
San Francisco 49ers (6-11 last season)
I like the 49ers to rebound from a horrible 2010 season simply because of the talent they bring to the field each week. They have premier players at the skill positions and are only a decent quarterback away from being one of the top teams in the NFC. With new coach Jim Harbaugh fresh off the college scene, expect the 49ers to draft the most NFL ready quarterback available. It also helps that San Fran plays in the pathetic NFC West, where 9 wins should get you the division next season.
Detroit Lions (6-10 last season)
The Lions have been the laughing stock of the NFL for nearly a decade but some savvy drafting over the past few years has them poised to break out of the gutter of the NFC. The key to this is the health of Matt Stafford. There is no denying that Stafford is an excellent quarterback but he has been far to brittle in his young career. If the Lions are going to make some noise next season, he needs to be under center for all 16 to 18 games. The only downside to the Lions potentially making the playoffs, besides their own health, is that they play in arguably the toughest division in the NFC with the Reigning SuperBowl champs, the Green Bay Packers, along with the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings.
Dallas Cowboys (6-10 last season)
Losing isn’t taken lightly in Dallas so don’t expect another season like the last out of the Cowboys. With Wade Phillips out and a healthy Tony Romo, expect a more focused Dallas team headed into the 2011 season. The talent is there for the Cowboys to be a contender and with the more rigid leadership of new coach Jason Garrett, an 11 win season is theirs for the taking. The only potential downfall for the Cowboys is that they will be fighting the Eagles and Giants for possession of the NFC East Crown.
Cleveland Browns (5-11 last season)
OK, I’m not going to sit here and say that the Browns will be a playoff team next season because frankly, the AFC is too deep for them to crack at the moment, but the Browns do have the potential to make things interesting next season. With a new head coach and a front office dedicated to winning, the Browns are only a few years off from being contenders in the AFC North. If Cleveland can find some gems in this years draft to fill some holes and if Colt McCoy can live up to the promise he showed last season, then I believe some upsets are in order in the coming season. An 8-8 year is not out of the question for the Browns and considering their recent history, that would be a good year for the squad.
Minnesota Vikings (6-10 last season)
The Brett Favre era in Minnesota is officially over and that’s a plus for the Vikings as all the distractions that came with Favre will be gone as well. Minnesota is a vastly talented team on both sides of the ball and are realistically only a quarterback away from being elite again. With a win-now mentality, the smart money is on Minnesota drafting a quarterback in the first two rounds while pursuing a proven veteran to helm the team for a couple of seasons while that QB develops. Donovan McNabb seems like the best fit for this team and would be motivated to succeed after a disappointing stint in Washington. Also, don’t rule out the Vikings pursuing Philadelphia Eagles back-up Kevin Kolb, who would fit the bill under the experienced column as well as the youth one.