The NFL consists of a handful of teams such as the New England Patriots or Atlanta Falcons that have been flirting with Super Bowl contention. However, they typically have a small window where they must capitalize on their opportunity to win a Lombardi Trophy.

There are a series of reasons why a team could just drop off from the elite stack of the league and it usually happens to everyone. Just look at the Oakland Raiders who actually played in the 2002 Super Bowl and subsequently was one of the worst teams in the entire league.

That being said, here’s five teams that must win now or get knocked out of contention by 2015.

Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 08:  Quarterback Peyton  Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts looks on during warm ups against  the New York Jets during their 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at Lucas  Oil Stadium on January 8, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Ph
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts have been one of the more consistent teams in the NFL for one primary reason: quarterback Peyton Manning, who’s arguably the best in the business.

He’s a four-time MVP and has led the Colts to two Super Bowls, one of which they won and he earned the MVP honors for.

He’s had a miraculous career, and there’s no doubt Bill Polian made the wise decision taking him with the No. 1 overall pick back in the 1998 NFL Draft especially considering the other option was Ryan Leaf.

Of course, like most things in life, Manning’s career will come to an end. He’s currently 35 years old and even though he’s playing at top-flight level, he’s not going to play forever.

Once he’s gone, the Colts chances of being a .500 team, let alone competing for another title, virtually go right out the window.

San Diego Chargers

DENVER - JANUARY 02:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17  of the San Diego Chargers takes the field against the Denver Broncos at  INVESCO Field at Mile High on January 2, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The  Chargers defeated the Broncos 33-28.  (Photo by Doug Pensing
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The San Diego Chargers have been on the brink for the past few seasons and even made it to the AFC Championship Game in 2008, yet have been unable to get over the hump and into the big game.

Whether it’s been slow starts or injuries or problems on special teams, they’ve lacked something that can take them to the next level.

This could go one of two ways. At some point, they’ll either have their efforts pay off and win one, or completely collapse after too many failed attempts.

I think Phillip Rivers and how he leads his team out there is very impressive and they rank among the top of the league in virtually every category, but I feel that it’s just not in the cards for them.

Dallas Cowboys

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 9:  Linebacker DeMarcus Ware  #94 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates after forcing a fumble by the  Philadelphia Eagles during the 2010 NFC wild-card playoff game at  Cowboys Stadium on January 9, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most decorated franchises in football, but even they’ve suffered their fair share of slumps in the past.

For example, after winning Super Bowl XII, they lost the next one in 1978 and after that they could never get back. In fact, it got so bad at one point where they won a total of four games over a two-year period.

After that, they formed a dynasty in the 90′s when they won three titles but haven’t even gotten to the Conference Championship Game since.

Chicago Bears

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 16:  Julius Peppers #90 of the  Chicago Bears smiles in the first half against the Seattle Seahawks in  the 2011 NFC divisional playoff game at Soldier Field on January 16,  2011 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Ima
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears have had stints of dominance with their most notable coming in 1985 and they even went to the Super Bowl a few years ago. However, offense remains a problem. They’ve got no legitimate No. 1 receiving threat, and while their run game is solid it won’t be enough in a quarterback-driven league.

Frankly, I don’t believe Jay Cutler can be the guy. He’s too erratic and perhaps I’m being too judgmental but he seems to lack mental toughness.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a talented team, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

But I feel that the defense can only hold up for so long, and with many star players such as Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers getting up there in age, they better hope their offense can catch up fast.

Minnesota Vikings

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 28: Adrian Peterson #28  of the Minnesota Vikings runs against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln  Financial Field on December 28, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

As I referenced earlier, the NFL has transitioned into a league where you better hope you’ve got a quarterback or you’re in big trouble. The Minnesota Vikings may have gotten the memo, but it’s yet to be seen if they can adequately address their needs.

It’s weird because they’ve got everything in place to be a dominant ball club, but they’re missing the most essential ingredient.

They’ve experimented with Tavaris Jackson, Brett Favre, and even tested Gus Frerotte out. Now, they’ve drafted Christian Ponder or better put they reached for him with the No. 12-overall pick.

Apparently, they’re confident that he can be their guy but with the lockout hindering his transition to the pro game, it’s unrealistic to expect he can lead them right away. In fact, it may take him a while and if that’s the case then they probably won’t win a ton of games. By then the rest of the team may fall apart, and they’ll really be kicking themselves for that overtime NFC Championship Game against the Saints.


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