You know that parity problem we have in the NBA? You know, the one that has resulted in the same Finals for four straight years? Well that is not a problem for the NFL which sees a handful of new teams in the playoffs and at least one new team in the Super Bowl every year. There has been at least four new teams in the NFL playoffs every year since the 2011 season. Last season, we actually saw a total of eight new teams in the playoffs, with five of the six NFC playoff teams having not made it the year before. That being said, which non-playoff team from last season will rise to the occasion this year?
Last Year’s Playoff Teams:
AFC East Division Winner: New England Patriots 13-3
AFC North Division Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers 13-3
AFC South Division Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars 10-6
AFC West Division Winner: Kansas City Chiefs 10-6
AFC Wild Card Winners: Tennessee Titans 9-7 & Buffalo Bills 9-7
This Year’s Predictions:
AFC East Division Winner: New England Patriots 12-4
AFC North Division Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4
AFC South Division Winner: Tennessee Titans 10-6
AFC West Division Winner: Oakland Raiders* 10-6
AFC Wild Card Winners: Kansas City Chiefs 10-6 & Houston Texans* 9-7
Oakland Raiders – The Raiders are primed to make the playoffs this season. They made it in 2016 and were favorites to not only make the playoffs again, but be a contender for the AFC Championship in 2017. Obviously things didn’t work out that way, but this year will be different. It will be the first of 10 seasons under new Head Coach, Jon Gruden, who will have to make the playoffs in at least half of those seasons in order to earn that $100 million contract. Also, the team is replacing problematic Wide Receiver Michael Crabtree with one of the NFL’s best pass-catchers in Jordy Nelson. The Chiefs will have a Quarterback who will be in his first season as full time starter this season so we can expect them to experience some issues that the Raiders will be able to benefit from. Also, last year’s Wild Card Winner, Buffalo Bills certainly will not make the playoffs two years in a row so that opens things up for a team like Oakland.
Houston Texans – Everybody say it with me – Deshaun Watson. The man is just plain electrifying. Before he got hurt last year he was the catalyst to the Texans’ high powered offense. If they can do a better job of protecting him this year, he will lead them to the playoffs. Their competition in the AFC South won’t be unbearable. I’m completely writing last year’s division winning Jaguars, who have a young core on defense and a promising young runningback in Leonard Fournette that I’m aware of, but I just can’t put my faith in that team. I’m also just predicting that Houston wins one of the Wild Cards where the competition will be even more slim.
Last year’s Playoff teams:
NFC East Division Winner: Philadelphia Eagles 13-3
NFC North Division Winner: Minnesota Vikings 13-3
NFC South Division Winner: New Orleans Saints 11-5
NFC West Division Winner: Los Angeles Rams 11-5
NFC Wild Card Winners: Carolina Panthers 11-5 & Atlanta Falcons 10-6
This year’s Predictions:
NFC East Division Winner: New York Giants* 11-5
NFC North Division Winner: Minnesota Vikings 11-5
NFC South Division Winner: Carolina Panthers 12-4
NFC West Division Winner: Los Angeles Rams 13-3
NFC Wild Card Winners: Green Bay Packers* 10-6 & Dallas Cowboys* 10-6
New York Giants – What? How could one say that a three win team could overtake the Super Bowl Champions in their division? Well, the Eagles actually finished in last place of the NFC East in 2016, then leap frogged over both the Giants and the Cowboys to win the division this year. Also, the NFC East has seen a different division winner every year since 2005. Even so, I’ll admit that this is a very tough choice. I watched the Eagles offense run all over my Patriots in the Super Bowl a few months ago, and that was without their star Quarterback Carson Wentz. We must pay attention to schedule though. The Giants finished in last place last season. That means they will be facing three last place teams this season. They added a stud to their backfield in Saquon Barkley, and they will have one of the NFL’s best players Odell Beckham Jr healthy again.
Green Bay Packers – Come on, we aren’t going to write off the Packers as long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy. They did lose Jordy Nelson, but replaced him with Jimmy Graham which I think will be a really good fit for them. Last season was the first time they’ve missed the playoffs since 2008. They haven’t missed the playoffs in back to back seasons since 2005-06. I do not expect that trend to all of the sudden stop while they still have their MVP and Head Coach Mike McCarthy.
Dallas Cowboys – I know what you’re thinking. You can understand me picking one team to overtake the Eagles in the NFC East… but two?! Hear me out. The Cowboys were 13-3 in 2016 with arguably the NFL’s best offense. They nearly made the playoffs last season after losing the leader of that offense, runningback Ezekiel Elliot to a six-game suspension. This season, Zeke won’t be suspended (hopefully) and the offense will be completely centered around him now that Dez Bryant won’t be demanding more balls be thrown his way. Also, the Cowboys are still primed to trade for Free Safety Earl Thomas, which would give their defense the playmaker they need. Oh, and let’s not forget about schedule. The Eagles will be playing three first place teams next season. That’s a challenge that the Cowboys will not have to deal with.