Some of the stories of the 2010 season hinged on the improvement of certain teams, which led to playoff appearances for a couple of them. But if you look a bit deeper into each team, a lot had to do with schedule, so everything may not be as positive as it appears.
The question for 2011 - if there is a 2011 - is which way will they go?
The Chiefs were the surprise winner of the AFC West last season, but of their 10 wins, only one of them - against the Chargers in week one - came against a team with a winning record. The combined record of teams which Kansas City beat in 2010 was 61-99, good for a .381 winning percentage. And they were exposed in the playoffs, losing 30-7 at home to the Ravens.
Even more surprising than the Chiefs winning the AFC West was Seattle capturing the NFC West. Seattle finished the year 7-9, with only two wins over teams with a winning record. Seattle's seven wins came over teams with a combined 45-67 record, good for a .402 winning percentage. Each of their nine regular season losses came by more than 14 points. Seattle took out a shorthanded Saints team in the playoffs before getting blown out in Chicago by the Bears.
The team which led the NFC West entering the final week of the regular season beat only one team with a winning record all season. The Rams seven wins came over teams which went a combined 39-73, good for a .348 winning percentage. And in the two games against their two toughest opponents - Atlanta and New Orleans - lost by a combined score of 65-30.
It would seem among this group that the Lions may have the best chance at improvement. They won two games against winning teams, including a December win over eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay - in a game Aaron Rodgers was knocked out, and over Cinderella Tampa Bay during a four-game winning streak to end the season. Along the way there were also six losses by five points or fewer, including some in amazing fashion. But still, the teams Detroit beat combined to go 46-50 (.479)
The Bucs came out of nowhere to win 10 games, but only one came against a team with a winning record, that coming in the final game of the season against the Saints in a game which meant nothing to New Orleans. Five of their 10 wins came by a field goal or less and they were drilled earlier in the year by 25 to the Saints and Steelers in Tampa. The Bucs 10 wins came over teams with a combined winning percentage of .344 (55-105).
Even the NFC South Champion Falcons should be "on alert". Atlanta had a knack for winning close games, as seven of their 13 wins came by a touchdown or less. They also had the good fortune of playing the Cardinals, 49ers, Rams, Seahawks, Browns and Bengals in non-division games, as well as two divisional games against the 2-14 Panthers.