Since 1990, at least four teams every year that missed the playoffs the previous season made it the next. So which team is being undervalued on Bovada NFL futures odds for the coming season?
Newcomers In 2014
Just for a sake of recapping, last year the teams that made the playoffs and didn't in 2013 were:
Arizona Cardinals: The Cards just missed in 2013 with a 10-6 record and were 11-5 last season, leading the NFC West nearly all season but finishing as a wild card. The season-ending injury to Carson Palmer torpedoed their season and the Cards lost in the wild-card round at Carolina.
Dallas Cowboys: Dallas was 8-8 for the third straight year in 2013 but won the NFC East at 12-4 in '14. The Cowboys beat the Lions -- thanks to the refs -- in the wild-card round but lost in Green Bay -- thanks to the refs -- in the divisional round.
Detroit Lions: Detroit faded down the stretch to a 7-9 mark in 2013 and fired coach Jim Schwartz. Under Jim Caldwell last year, the Lions were 11-5 and lost the wild-card game in Dallas.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers were 8-8 two years ago and some were questioning the job security of Coach Mike Tomlin. They won the AFC North last year but were upset at home in the first playoff game by Baltimore.
Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore missed the playoffs for the first time under John Harbaugh with an 8-8 record in 2013 but finished 10-6 last year, upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the playoff opener and nearly did the same in New England in the divisional round.
And This Year's Pick Is ...
The overhauled Saints. Wait a minute, you might be saying. Didn't New Orleans trade arguably the NFL's best tight end in Jimmy Graham, an emerging star receiver in Kenny Stills and a solid guard in Ben Grubbs? They did. But I like New Orleans to bounce back from last season's 7-9 mark and host a playoff game for three reasons.
1) The NFC South division they play in is putrid. Carolina last season became the second team in league history to win its division with a below-.500 record. I don't think the Carolina Panthers have gotten better at all this offseason. They still don't have any receivers other than Kelvin Benjamin and the offensive line is a worry. Do you really trust Jonathan Stewart to stay healthy all year at tailback? Me neither. Atlanta is still a major question mark on the offensive line, running back and entire defense. The Falcons also are breaking in a new coaching staff, led by head coach Dan Quinn, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator. The Bucs were the NFL's worst team last season and will be starting a rookie quarterback from Day 1. This division can be had. The Saints NFL odds are +225 third-favorites.
2) New Orleans will return to being a dominant team at home. The Superdome used to be one of the toughest places in the league for an opponent to win, but the Saints were only 3-5 there and were blown out three times. This year's home slate is really easy, with the three division games along with Dallas, the NY Giants, Tennessee, Detroit and Jacksonville. No reason the Saints can't run the table or at worst finish 7-1. Simply go 4-4 on the road and that will be enough for the NFC South title and perhaps for the No. 2 seed in the conference.
3) The Saints seem to be going away from their pass-heavy team to basing more of the offense on the running game. They added center Max Unger to bolster the offensive line in the Graham trade and took Stanford tackle Andrus Peat with the first of their two first-round picks this year. The team also re-signed running back Mark Ingram, who is coming off his best season, and added multi-dimensional talent C.J. Spiller as well. I think he could be a better Darren Sproles in this offense. No doubt Drew Brees still has a few great years left and Sean Payton remains one of the NFL's best offensive head coaches. The defense also should be better with the free-agent additions of end Anthony Spencer, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Brandon Browner, as well as linebackers Stephone Anthony (first round) and Hau'oli Kikaha (second round) in the draft. The offense controlling the ball with the running game also will benefit Rob Ryan's defense.
NFL Free Picks: The Saints are +2200 to win the NFC and +4000 to win the Super Bowl. Bovada has longer odds on those and NFC South than 5Dimes does, but use 5Dimes for a wins total of 8 as it's 8.5 at Bovada. Go 'over' and I do believe New Orleans wins the South.