Detroit Lions one of three potential NFL playoff dark horses

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A surprise or two never seems far away during an NFL season, whether it be a stunning special teams touchdown or a comeback win.

Over the longer course of a season though, there are a few teams planning on being the shock package of 2014, with an unexpected trip to the playoffs their main goal.

With 12 spots available and only nine franchises priced up shorter than evens to make the off season, there’s certainly room for more than one side to be the playoff dark horses.

Here’s the three main contenders:

Detriot Lions – 6/4 to make the playoffs

Matthew Stafford has long been thought of as an elite quarterback, without ever really showing consistent proof he is one.

However, with a potent offense at his disposal and Jim Caldwell, who has coached two QBs to the Super Bowl, the 2009 number one pick can finally reach that level this season.

The Lions had the sixth-best pass blocking defense last season and, should Stafford step up to the plate with a raft of talented receivers, Detroit has all the weapons to be an off-season side this year.

San Diego Chargers – 11/4

An overall 9-7 record in 2013 doesn’t make The Bolts all that scary heading into the new season, but that overlooks the momentum they built at the back-end of the campaign.

They won five of their last six games in the regular season before upsetting the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round of the playoffs and scaring the eventual Super Bowl-losing Denver Broncos with a late-game comeback.

Strengthening their defensive secondary was a need in the off-season and they’ve addressed it well, so expect the Chargers to keep building on their 2013 finish early in 2014.

Chicago Bears – 11/8

The Bears’ defence leaked last year, ranking 30th out of the NFL’s 32 teams in points allowed during the regular season.

Recruitment this off season has obviously been about plugging those holes and with pass-rushers Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston arriving that should have been taken care of.

Should Jay Cutler snap out of his interception-throwing slumbers, then the Bears – who were second best scorers on offense last term – can be a shock side in the playoffs this year.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.