So you say there is a possibility?
As we recently explored, the NFL’s playoff field changes significantly on a yearly basis – at least four different teams have made the team every season since 1990. But the upheaval goes deeper than that, while providing more than a glimmer of hope for successful foundations. fans.
► In 17 of the last 19 seasons, at least one team won its division after finishing in last place the previous year.
► In 18 of the last 19 seasons, at least two the teams were crowned division champions after failing to qualify for the postseason the previous year.
► With the exception of the 1982 nine-game strike season when divisional play was suspended, at least one team has won a division title after failing to make the postseason the previous year in every season dating back to 1977.
► Since the NFL expanded to a 14-team playoff field in 2020, seven new teams have reached the field in both seasons.
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So if you’re rooting for an underdog heading into the 2022 season, now is the time to be optimistic. Here’s my ranking, from least likely to most, of the 2021 non-playoff qualifiers and their chances of cracking the postseason this year. (Projected record – after Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension – is in parentheses):
18. Houston Texans (3-14)
They’re almost certainly headed in a better direction… after bottoming out in the wake of the Watson saga. That doesn’t mean there will be many results in the win column this year even if the roster is gradually improving.
17. Atlanta Falcons (2-15)
Heading into his second season, Arthur Smith looks to be that rare manager who can regularly maximize his talent and regularly steal games away from seemingly superior opponents, as was often the case in 2021. But while it would be unwise to sleep on them the Falcons, it looks like they will suit up on both sides of the ball almost every Sunday for the foreseeable future.
16. Chicago Bears (4-13)
Rookie HC Matt Eberflus takes the reins with a stellar reputation as motivation, but the coach’s players are taking to the mat. Maybe, like Smith, he’ll be able to get more out of a roster that doesn’t seem to have much juice. Playing in what is probably the NFC’s least competitive division won’t hurt … especially if Eberflus and his staff can find ways to develop second-year QB Justin Fields, even though the organization didn’t seem to invest much on his offensive side of the ball this offseason.
14a. New York Jets (5-12) and 14b. New York Giants (5-12)
Not too big apples. Notably, NYJ and NYG are both 22-59 since the start of the 2017 season – tied for the worst record in the NFL over the past five seasons, while also combining for seven last-place finishes in that span. Coming off a widely hailed 2022 draft pick, the Jets appear to have the most talented roster, but they need second-year QB Zach Wilson to make a big step once his surgically repaired knee allows him to return to the field. Playing in the weaker NFC might give the Giants a better shot at a playoff spot, but they’ll need oft-injured RB Saquon Barkley to return to Pro Bowl form while hoping head coach Brian Daboll can get the lame QB Daniel. Jones to perform like the franchise player he was supposed to be.
13. Cleveland Browns (6-11)
The resolution of Watson’s disciplinary case provides a measure of clarity — especially since the five games included in his original suspension come against the Ravens, Bengals, Dolphins, Bills and Buccaneers. There are too many talented players here to throw the Browns off the books … but it will take a herculean effort for them to stay relevant by the time Watson is scheduled to return in Week 13.
12. Seattle Seahawks (5-12)
It’s a given that a team coached by Pete Carroll will play hard and with an edge. And this offense could earns points in groups of data of its players. But a leadership void created by the departures of QB Russell Wilson and MLB Bobby Wagner and a major question about how much production this team will get from Wilson’s replacement suggest Seattle will miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time. time since 2008-09.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-11)
Their last two drafts should prove rich, and they continue to add established veterans in free agency … even if they overpay to lure them to Duval County. But more importantly, the atmosphere is much better post-Urb, and highly touted QB Trevor Lawrence should begin to fulfill his immense potential with a Super Bowl-caliber coach in Doug Pederson. And it’s not like the Jags should lose sight of the AFC South lead by Halloween, as they have the past two seasons, both of which have had 1-6 starts.
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10. Denver Broncos (8-9)
Kind of baffling that an organization that went into a new coaching staff incorporating Wilson chose to avoid important preseason snaps. Time will tell if that’s the right approach, but regardless, it’s pretty hard to imagine the Broncos getting past the other three thoroughbreds in the AFC West… and it might even take two of those teams to fall to play in the middle of January.
9. Carolina Panthers (7-10)
Newly anointed QB1 Baker Mayfield presented this summer as the mature, steady voice that Cleveland didn’t get to be around often enough. If he can also stabilize things under center – and have RB Christian McCaffrey lining up next to or behind him most weeks – then this team has a legitimate shot to stick around and maybe save HC Matt Rhule’s job .
8. Washington Commanders (7-10)
Perhaps their best player, DE Chase Young, is out for at least the first month of the regular season as his recovery from an ACL reconstruction continues. Arguably their most important player, QB Carson Wentz, has run the gamut by flashing first-round form this summer … and alternately reminding himself why he’s on his third team in three years. It could all come together for a team that won the NFC East, where weirdness is the norm, in 2020 (despite a 7-9 record), but it could just as easily turn into a disaster.
7. Detroit Lions (8-9)
If you hadn’t grown to love them after they got off their feet despite failing to win any of their first 11 games last season, then you might have started to crush on Dan Campbell’s crew after seeing some grit during the ‘Hard Hits.” Are they poised to win their first playoff game in 31 years? Probably not. But they could at least get their first crack since 2016.
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6. Minnesota Vikings (8-9)
They won one playoff game following the 2019 campaign, but were otherwise decidedly mediocre — meaning underachieving — during QB Kirk Cousins’ four-year run. He probably doesn’t get enough credit for his individual performances during this period, but he and new HC Kevin O’Connell must find a way to turn potential into wider results. A rush expected to be anchored by forwards Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith could be a fitting microcosm of Minnesota’s potential to boom or bust.
5. Miami Dolphins (9-8)
Perhaps the AFC’s version of the Vikes, they hope to go from the playoff fringes to the playoffs under new on-field management. Head coach Mike McDaniel and his Tua Tagovailoa-Tyreek Hill connection better be ready given the September gauntlet that includes the Patriots, Ravens, Bills and Bengals.
4. Indianapolis Colts (9-8)
Frank Reich enters his fifth season with his fifth different starting quarterback, Matt Ryan this year. The former MVP seems to galvanize the locker room that Wentz’s predecessor failed to do last year. “Matt Ryan was everything we hoped and dreamed of. I know how happy the entire organization is as their leadership begins the season,” owner Jim Irsay said recently. “We’re really, really excited. I think we have a reason to be.” The additions of DE Yannick Ngakoue and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore don’t hurt, nor does competing in what will likely be the league’s poorest division.
3. New Orleans Saints (9-8)
They have a chance to field the league’s best defense, a top-five unit in 2021 that adds safety to Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye on the back line. WR Michael Thomas is finally back, but he won’t have to catch 100+ balls with first rounder Chris Olave and vet Jarvis Landry now in the mix. If QB Jameis Winston can do what he did for seven games in 2021 – limit turnovers while distributing the ball effectively – the Saints could reclaim the NFC South throne from Tampa Bay.
2. Baltimore Ravens (11-6)
They should get several stars back from injury, even if not all of them are ready for Week 1. Former MVP Lamar Jackson, who was among the injured walking in 2021, will either play for a mega-contract or will try to justify it – and could get substantial help from WR Rashod Bateman and rookie TE Isaiah Likely. And one team bitten by the snake in 2021 is already seeing the pendulum of fortunes swing. Baltimore was originally slated to face Watson in his debut against the Browns in Week 7, but will instead draft him for his loaded home debut in Cleveland … in Week 15.
1. Los Angeles Chargers (11-6)
One-for-53, it’s easy to argue that they have the best roster in a loaded AFC West. No quarterback has had a more productive opening two years than Justin Herbert, whose playing style is reminiscent of a young Aaron Rodgers. If Herbert can protect the ball a little better – and coach Brandon Staley can shore up his defense and game management – the Bolts have the goods to end Kansas City’s partial dominance.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The NFL’s new playoff teams? Rank 18 options from least to most likely