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News » Forget chic sleeper picks, here are real dark horses

Forget chic sleeper picks, here are real dark horses

Forget chic sleeper picks, here are real dark horses
In politics, they're called darkhorse candidates. In football, they're known as sleepers. They're the teams that aren't supposed to do anything, only to emerge in the foreground as leaders of the pack.

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Late August is prime sleeper coronation season, not only for a guy like Sen. Joe Biden, but for the NFL as well. Around this time every year, talking heads and pundits anoint a few teams as the consensus sleeper picks for the season. Known as the chic or sexy sleeper picks, these selections are almost always destined to disappoint.

Without fail, it's the teams and players that absolutely nobody was talking about in late August that end up shocking the league come the winter months.

In 2006, the Rams and Dolphins were the sexy sleeper picks in late summer. Of course, it was the out-of-nowhere New Orleans Saints and the surprising New York Jets — each led by rookie coaches and rejuvenated quarterbacks — surging to the playoffs. Neither the Rams nor Dolphins finished better than .500.

Last season, the 49ers were such a hot pick out of the NFC in August that you couldn't help but jump on the bandwagon. It got so out of hand that pundits were even talking Super Bowl. Bill Williamson, then writing for the Denver Post, did just that — predicting the upstart Niners to take on the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Naturally, San Francisco managed to win just five games. "Hey, that's what I get for trying to be on the cutting edge," Williamson said. "I also liked Jolt, Right Said Fred and Howard Dean."

Last season's sleepers were the Cleveland Browns. Though they didn't qualify for the postseason, the Browns showed off a wide-open offense and won 10 games. I was as guilty as anyone for overlooking the Browns: I had Cleveland ranked 32nd out of 32 teams in my preseason power rankings.

Unlike any other American professional sports league, the NFL offers the opportunity for sleeper squads to emerge. Since 1996, 72 teams have made the playoffs after not qualifying the previous season, and 2007 marked the 12th consecutive season with at least five new playoff teams in the field of 12.

Analyzing the odds, it's safe to assume that of the 20 teams that did not make the playoffs last season, four are likely headed to the postseason in 2008. Which four?

Let's go through the process of elimination in determining those teams.

Eliminated right away

This week's campaign coverage:

  • Hench: Parcells vs. Cheney?
  • Schrager: Leaving office behind

Last week on the trail:

  • Marvez: No Spin zone
  • Czar: Liberals vs. conservatives
  • Schrager: Running mates
  • Hill: Party platforms/trends
  • Bleacher: Best fan bases


  • Is Eli Manning finally legit?
  • Will Pats suffer SB hangover?
  • Will Cowboys implode?
  • L.T. or Philip Rivers?
  • Will Pack regret trading Favre?

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: August 26, 2008

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