Lions will surprise
Coach Jim Schwartz has methodically improved the Lions his first two seasons. As long as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and quarterback Matthew Stafford stay healthy, Detroit should take another step forward this year.
As for the most disappointing team, I suspect the Eagles are treading on dangerous ground. Anything short of a Super Bowl victory will be disappointing after the Eagles made major upgrades in free agency. Andy Reid may not be able to control the expectation level inside and outside the locker room.
Steelers look old
The Browns are making some big adjustments on a short timetable, but so far, so good.
Quarterback Colt McCoy seems to be coming into his own in his second NFL season, and if new defensive coordinator Dick Jauron can hide a few deficiencies, the Browns could be one of the surprise teams.
One of the most difficult things to do in the NFL, meanwhile, is to come back from losing the Super Bowl. Eight of the last 16 Super Bowl losers didn't even make the playoffs. The Steelers, who lost the Super Bowl in February, don't look shabby at all on paper. But their starting defense averages 31.5 years per man. That might be enough to believe the Steelers could disappoint in 2011.
Dolphins aren't that bad
It's a sad day in Miami when the Dolphins are picked to finish behind the hapless Bills. Prognosticators are picking Miami to finish last in the AFC East and the Dolphins also sit in the bottom third in many power rankings.
Miami may not have the weapons to topple the Patriots, but they've upgraded last year's Top 10 defense and could give the Jets some headaches. Chad Henne has the weapons on offense, but he will perform behind a shaky offensive line.
The Texans seem to disappoint every year. Let's see if they can perform as advertised. In the NFC, the Eagles have been dubbed the "Dream Team," but it's hard to see them meshing in time to make a Super Bowl run.
Eagles could crash
Los Angeles Times
But the out-of-the-blue team that could be headed for a fall is the Eagles. The compressed offseason, coupled with the reshuffling of coaches, will make it very tough for the Eagles to gel as a team and meet (or exceed) expectations, despite the addition of all those big-name players.
As for the franchise that will surprise in a good way, the Texans are in position to do that. This will be the season the Texans finally make the playoffs, and when Wade Phillips — back in his ideal role as a coordinator and not head coach — turns around that defense.