The St. Louis Rams stand out among ascending teams that finished last season with losing records.
They made a six-game jump to 7-9 and came within one victory of a postseason berth.
Are they more likely than the Dallas Cowboys and other 2010 also-rans to break through with a postseason berth in 2011?
ESPN's John Clayton and I considered the matter in our recent Hot Button discussion. He took the Cowboys. I took the Rams. We both painted reasonable pictures, I thought.
The Seattle Seahawks missed the cut because they won the division and won a playoff game, putting them in position to fall off even if they remain on their intended track from a long-term planning perspective.
And what about the San Francisco 49ers? They've won plenty of offseason championships over the past few years. Perhaps a break from inflated expectations will do them good.
From a perception standpoint, drafting Colin Kaepernick 36th overall gave the 49ers a long-range outlook that didn't exist when the team was making shorter-term bets on Alex Smith. It's also plausible to think an extended lockout might hurt the 49ers in particular as they implement new schemes on offense, defense and special teams.
The 49ers did join the Rams in getting support during a recent "NFL Live."