Every season in the past fifteen years, at least five teams have made the playoffs that were not in them the year before. In 2010, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Atlanta and Chicago made the playoffs, taking spots that had been held by Cincinnati, San Diego, Minnesota, Dallas and Arizona in 2009. Now that the media is catching on to the playoff churn phenomenon, its become de rigeur each offseason to predict which teams will fall from the ranks of the elite and which are most likely join that estimable bunch.
This week, ESPN's "hot button" topic addresses this very issue. The worldwide leader asks fans to vote on which team--from among the Cowboys, Lions, Rams and Texans--is most likely to return to what Bill Parcells called "the tournament." In addition, John Clayton and Mike Sando each makes a case for his team (Clayton takes the Cowboys; Sando the Rams). being the more likely playoff squad in 2011. In arguing his case, "the professor" offers up some compelling evidence:
Read what Clayton has to say after the jump.
-scheduling draw: in 2011, the NFC East plays the NFC West. This is likely to benefit the Cowboys, who went 1-3 against the tough NFC North last season. That, combined with a third-place schedule (giving them games against Detroit and Tampa Bay), will give them more and better opportunities for conference wins. Clayton points out that, last year, the division that faced the NFC West, the NFC South, finished 13-3 against them and, as a result, placed three teams in the playoffs.
-there's no way Dallas will be as bad on defense as they were last season. Clayton believes Rob Ryan will be able to come in and reduce 2010's alarming points per game tally of 27.3. Even if he brings the defense back only to the middle of the statistical pack, that will shave four points per game, which should be enough to garner a couple of wins.
-most important: Tony Romo will be back at the helm. Although Jon Kitna played marvelously in Romo's absence, when he was in the game, the offense was limited in what it could do, primarily because there are throws that he can no longer make. Romo will allow Jason Garrett to run his entire offense and, because his presence threatens more deep passes, it will be more likely to open up running lanes.
One point to add to this: last season, the Cowboys went 2-2 against the AFC South. In 2011, they face off against the tough AFC East. They'll have to hold serve if Clayton's prediction is going to come true.
Because the Cowboys are thought to have so much talent--Clayton notes that the "team is still loaded"--Dallas has become the fashionable choice to be one of the playoff risers. What do you think, BTB nation? Why will the Cowboys make the tournament in 2011? What will keep them out? Go to the comments section and let 'er rip!