So… are you saying there’s a chance?
As we recently explored, the NFL playoff field changes significantly annually – at least four different teams joining the bracket each season since 1990. fanbases.
► In 17 of the last 19 seasons, at least one team won their division after finishing in last place the year before.
► In 18 of the last 19 seasons, at least two the teams were crowned division winners after failing to qualify for the postseason the previous year.
► With the exception of the 1982 nine-game season, when divisional play was suspended, at least one team won a division title after failing to qualify for the postseason the previous year in every season through 1977.
► Since the NFL expanded to a 14-team playoff field in 2020, seven new teams have arrived on the field in both seasons.
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So if you support an underdog team in the 2022 season, now is the time for optimism. Here is my ranking, from least likely to most, of the 2021 non-playoff qualifiers and their chances of breaking the postseason. (Projected record – following Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension – noted in parentheses, asterisks signaling anticipated playoff spot):
18. Houston Texans (3-14)
They’re almost certainly heading in a better direction… after rebounding off rock bottom following the Watson saga. This does not mean that they will reap many results in the win column, even if the list is incrementally improving.
17. Atlanta Falcons (2-15)
Heading into his sophomore season, Arthur Smith appears to be that rare coach who can routinely maximize his talent and regularly steal games from seemingly superior opponents, as has often happened in 2021. be outplayed on both sides of the ball virtually every Sunday for the foreseeable future. .
16. Chicago Bears (4-13)
Rookie HC Matt Eberflus takes the reins with an excellent reputation as a motivator, but a coach that players take to the mat. Perhaps, like Smith, he can extract more from a list that doesn’t seem to have much strength. Playing in what is probably the least competitive division in the NFC isn’t going to hurt…especially if Eberflus and his team can find ways to develop QB Justin Fields in year two, even if it looks like the organization hasn’t invested much in the team’s offensive side. . the ball this offseason.
14th New York Jets (5-12) and 14b. New York Giants (5-12)
Apples not too big. Notably, the NYJ and NYG are up 22-59 since the start of the 2017 season – tying for the NFL’s worst record in the past five seasons, while also combining for seven bottom places in the division during that time. . Coming off a widely acclaimed 2022 draft, the Jets appear to have the most talented roster, but they need second QB Zach Wilson to take a significant step forward once his surgically repaired knee allows him to return to the field. Playing in the weaker NFC might give the Giants a better chance of getting a playoff spot, but they’ll need the injured RB Saquon Barkley to get back into Pro Bowl form as they wait for first-year coach Brian Daboll to get QB Daniel. Jones to present himself as the franchise player he was meant to be.
13. Cleveland Browns (6-11)
The resolution of Watson’s disciplinary case provides a measure of clarity – especially as the five games included in his original suspension were against the Ravens, Bengals, Dolphins, Bills and Buccaneers. There are too many talented players here to drop the Browns outright… but it will take a Herculean effort to stay relevant when Watson is scheduled to return in Week 13.
12. Seattle Seahawks (5-12)
It is certain that a team coached by Pete Carroll will play hard and with an advantage. And this offense could score points in groups according to their aces. But a leadership vacuum created by the departures of QB Russell Wilson and MLB Bobby Wagner and a big question over how much production that team will get from Wilson’s replacement suggest Seattle will miss the playoffs in successive seasons for the first time since 2008-09.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-11)
Their last two drafts should be plentiful, and they continue to add established veterans of free agency… even if they’re paying too much to lure them to Duval County. But more importantly, the vibe is much better post-Urb, and respected QB Trevor Lawrence should begin to fulfill his vast potential in collaboration with a Super Bowl-caliber coach in Doug Pederson. And it’s not like the Jags lost sight of their AFC South lead on Halloween, as they have the past two seasons, both 1-6 starters.
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10. Denver Broncos (8-9)
A little confusing that an organization that incorporated a new coaching staff while onboard Wilson chose not to make significant preseason snaps. Time will tell if that’s the right approach, but either way, it’s pretty hard to imagine the Broncos overtaking the other three thoroughbreds in the AFC West… and they might even need two of those teams to break to play in the middle. of January.
9. Carolina Panthers (7-10)
Newly named QB1 Baker Mayfield performed this summer as the mature, tight voice he didn’t get many times in Cleveland. If he can also stabilize things in the center – and have RB Christian McCaffrey lined up alongside or behind him most weeks – then this team has a legitimate chance to stick around and maybe even save HC Matt Rhule’s job.
8. Washington Commanders (7-10)
Perhaps their best player, DE Chase Young, will be out for at least the first month of the regular season as his recovery from ACL reconstruction continues. Arguably their most important player, QB Carson Wentz, has run the gamut in showing off first-round form this summer… and alternately serving up reminders of why he’s on his third team in three years. All may come together for a team that won the NFC East, where the bizarre is the norm, in 2020 (despite a 7-9 record), but it could easily turn to disaster.
7. Detroit Lions (8-9)
If you didn’t start falling in love with them after they put in the effort, despite not winning any of their first 11 games last season, then maybe you started falling in love with Dan Campbell’s team after seeing some courage during “Hard Beat.” Are they ready to win their first playoff game in 31 years? Probably not. But they could at least get their first break since 2016.
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6. Minnesota Vikings (8-9)
They won a playoff game after the 2019 campaign, but otherwise were decidedly middling — that is, underperforming — during QB Kirk Cousins’ four years. He probably doesn’t get enough credit for his personal display during this time, but he and new HC Kevin O’Connell need to find a way to turn the potential into broader results. A pass rush that must be anchored by edge rushers Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith could be a suitable microcosm of Minnesota’s rise or fall potential.
5. Miami Dolphins (9-8)
Perhaps the AFC’s version of the Vikes, they hope to move from the fringes of the playoffs to the playoff field under new on-field management. First-year head coach Mike McDaniel and his Tua Tagovailoa-Tyreek Hill connection should be ready for a September challenge that includes Patriots, Ravens, Bills and Bengals.
*4. Indianapolis Colts (9-8)
Frank Reich is heading into his fifth season with his fifth different starting quarterback, Matt Ryan this year. The former MVP appears to be galvanizing a locker room that predecessor Wentz was unable to muster last year. “Matt Ryan was everything we hoped and dreamed of. I know how happy the entire organization is, having their leadership come into the season,” owner Jim Irsay said recently. “We’re very, very excited. I think we have a reason to be.” The additions of DE Yannick Ngakoue and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore also don’t hurt, nor will they compete in what will likely be the poorest division in the league.
*3. New Orleans Saints (9-8)
They have the chance to field the best defense in the league, one of the top five units in 2021, which added security Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye to the back row. WR Michael Thomas is finally back but won’t need to catch more than 100 balls with first round Chris Olave and vet Jarvis Landry now in the mix. If QB Jameis Winston can do what he did in seven games in 2021 — limit turnovers while delivering the ball efficiently — the Saints could regain the throne of NFC South from Tampa Bay.
*two. Baltimore Ravens (11-6)
They should recover a number of stars from injuries, even if not all are ready for Week 1. Former MVP Lamar Jackson, who was among those injured in 2021, will be playing for a mega-contract or trying to justify one — and could get help. substantial by WR Rashod Bateman and newcomer TE Isaiah Likely. And a team that got bitten by a snake in 2021 is already seeing the pendulum swinging. Baltimore was initially slated to face Watson in his Browns debut in Week 7, but will instead draw him in for his home debut in Cleveland… in Week 15.
*1. Los Angeles Chargers (11-6)
From one to 53, it’s easy to argue that they have the best roster in a loaded AFC West. No quarterback has had a more prolific two-year opening than Justin Herbert, whose style of play is reminiscent of a young Aaron Rodgers. If Herbert can protect the ball a little better — and head coach Brandon Staley can beef up his defense and game management — the Bolts have the assets to end Kansas City’s divisional reign.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared in USA TODAY: The New NFL Playoff Teams? Ranking 18 options from least to most likely