Most-Likely NFL Playoff Rebound Teams
Something very strange has been happening in the NFL: Every year since the league adopted the 12-team playoff format in 1990, at least four teams have made the playoffs after missing out the previous year. Sure, the NFL is a high-variance crapshoot where even the New England Patriots miss the playoffs now and then, but every year since 1990? That’s ridonkulous. So who will be this year’s Freshman Four? A lot of people are betting on the Cleveland Browns, even after they went 0-16 last year, and while the Browns may get there, we’ve got four other candidates in mind – starting with a team that won the Super Bowl not that long ago.
Green Bay Packers
This one’s so obvious, it almost feels like cheating. The Packers went 7-9 SU and ATS last year at the best sports betting sites and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 – which happened to be their first year with Aaron Rodgers as their starting quarterback. Rodgers broke his collarbone last October; Brett Hundley started nine games in his place and was not very good at all, leading the Packers to a 3-6 record before Rodgers’ return. A full season from the two-time league MVP should be enough to put Green Bay back into the playoffs.
The Ravens – another recent Super Bowl winner – missed the playoffs by the slimmest of margins last year, finishing with the same 9-7 record (8-7-1 ATS) as the two AFC Wild Card teams. It was hardly fair; both the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills played much weaker schedules than Baltimore. QB Joe Flacco had arguably the worst season of his 10 years in the NFL, but if he stumbles this year the Ravens have 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson waiting in the wings. Their most recent first-round pick looked very good during the preseason, which Baltimore swept 4-0 (2-2 ATS). That ought to light a fire under Flacco’s toches.
Believe it or not, the Texans (4-12 SU, 7-9 ATS last year) made the playoffs in 2016 with Brock Osweiler as their starting quarterback. They doubled down by opening the 2017 campaign with Tom Savage under center, but it wasn’t long before rookie Deshaun Watson took over – and sweet baby corn, was he good. Too bad he tore his ACL in early November. Knee injuries can be tricky, and Houston’s offensive line is dubious at best, but Watson appears to be healthy now, and the Texans have one of the most fearsome defenses in the league. It’ll be even more fearsome if J.J. Watt manages to play the full 16 games.
Playing in the same AFC South Division as Houston won’t help their chances, but all the Colts (4-12 SU, 8-8 ATS) really need is Luck on their side. That’s QB Andrew Luck, of course. He missed the entire 2017 campaign after offseason surgery on his balky right shoulder; Luck finally appears ready for combat, and while Indianapolis only has an over/under of 6.5 wins on the NFL odds board, the Colts took advantage of last year’s poor record by loading up at the draft, picking five players in the first two rounds – led by OG Quenton Nelson, who was selected sixth overall out of Notre Dame. So much upside here.
Of course, if there have been at least four new teams in the playoffs every year since 1990, that means at least four playoff teams have come crashing down. Who are this year’s most likely candidates for an early trip to the golf course? We’ll start with the aforementioned Bills and Titans, with an extra dose of side-eye for Buffalo after they got rid of QB Tyrod Taylor for being merely adequate. And we’ll toss in the Kansas City Chiefs for doing the same to QB Alex Smith, who’s even more adequate than most fans would care to admit.
That leaves one more ... let’s make it a clean sweep for the AFC by putting the Jacksonville Jaguars on the list. QB Blake Bortles was surprisingly adequate last year, but the regression monsters are coming, and they’re very hungry indeed.