The last two seasons have seen a whopping seven new playoff teams each year, which means -- for those less inclined to indulge in basic math -- seven playoff teams ended up missing the postseason the following year.
Even with the pandemic year creating extreme circumstances (Washington and Cleveland both made the playoffs, if you don't believe me) and the league expanding the bracket by one team per side, that's a wild amount of variance. For years it's been an average north of four teams per year. It'll be fun to see whether or not the small sample size becomes the norm.
We previously broke down NFL fanbases in the offseason months.into the playoffs. Naturally we've got to come back on the other side. This should create a lot more consternation, considering the lack of pessimism prevalent with
A lot can happen between now and August and whatever happens is generally going to be negative for NFL teams. It's just the nature of the league. Lamar Jackson signing his contract is the rare exception -- the Ravens were an obvious choice for this list before locking up their quarterback.
This is not an indictment of any team on this list, it's more a reminder there's a path to failure for every single NFL team every single season. Let's see if we can find some of those paths. If your team is on here and you're mad about it, yell at me on Twitter or Instagram (@WillBrinson on both).
The fine folks over at the TuAnon corporate offices will have a field day with this one, no doubt. But even the most optimistic Dolphins beat writer can't control the biggest X-factor for Miami's season: Tua Tagovailoa's health. This isn't Tua coming out of Alabama with a nebulous hip injury. This is Tua dealing with a lengthy history of concussions, to the point he's still being discussed as "fully cleared" just a few months out from the season. The Dolphins offensive line is a cause for concern in a vacuum; it's a major red flag because of the trickle-down effect it could have on the quarterback's health. Tua's play last year -- his first in Mike McDaniel's system -- is absolutely reason for optimism. He could be great! He's also never played more than 13 games in an NFL season and even Tua supporters have to realize some statistical regression could occur. Only 13 quarterbacks have averaged 8.5 yards per pass attempt and recorded a touchdown rate of six percent or higher with 400 pass attempts or more in the last 20 years. Plenty of HOF signal callers -- Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers -- made the list and it's exclusively elite names on there. But it's notable that not ONE of those quarterbacks repeated the feat. Hoping Tua backs up those numbers in 2023 is a tough ask. Mix in a really difficult AFC, Rodgers' defection to the Dolphins' division and a tougher schedule (they travel to the Chargers, Pats, Bills, Eagles and Chiefs in the first nine weeks of the season) and the Dolphins could take a step back even with a largely loaded roster.
No sports league is more "what have you done for me lately" than the NFL and the Jags are a perfect example. Jacksonville was sitting at 3-7 after a double-digit Week 10 loss to the Chiefs last year -- they closed the year 6-1 (while going 3-0 in one score games during that stretch), stormed back in historical fashion against the Chargers in a miraculous playoff victory and are now viewed as the sleeper darlings of the AFC. Guilty as charged here too, by the way -- I projected them to win the division, think Trevor Lawrence is an MVP sleeper (don't bet him at 15-1 though, what a ridiculous number) and generally believe in what Doug Pederson's building down there. That being said, the AFC South is almost certainly a one-bid division with how the conference stacks out this season and all three of the other teams have pathways to upsetting a Jacksonville team without, ahem, a lengthy history of success. Indy, Houston and Tennessee all have rookie quarterbacks, making them substantial wild cards. Left tackle Cam Robinson is ... but the length somehow still isn't known? Reports peg it between two and six games. Given the timing of the report and the use of a first-round pick on tackle Anton Harrison, it feels safe to assume the suspension could end up being on the higher side. Expectations are sky high for Jacksonville and it's not unreasonable they don't meet them.
Los Angeles Chargers
After going 10-7, the Chargers looked poised for a postseason breakthrough and promptly pulled off a Full Chargering, coughing up a 27-0 road playoff lead against the Jags in an epic collapse that would lead to a massive change at offensive coordinator, as Kellen Moore replaced Joe Lombardi behind the wheel of an offense that almost can't fail, thanks to the presence of Justin Herbert. And yet ... the Chargers found a way to fail at the end of the day. Los Angeles went 7-5 in one-score games last year and profiled as an 8.7 win team based on their point differential. Those are reasonably "normal" numbers for how the Chargers played and how the season ended up. And there's reason to expect Herbert to take a step forward, but yet another change at offensive coordinator isn't exactly healthy for a young quarterback. There's a massive group of talented teams in the AFC and the AFC West could be a real problem with Kansas City and a possibly resurgent Denver team, and the as a whole. There's not much room for error.
This is not me saying the Giants WON'T make the playoffs, this is simply me saying the Giants have enough questions surrounding the roster and with the team where it would be insane not to include them. Daniel Jones was on the way out in New York before Brian Daboll's arrival changed the trajectory of his career. Saquon Barkley remains after receiving the franchise tag; it's not likely a huge problem but it's not nothing given how important the running back is to this offense. The Giants have one of the hardest schedules in the NFL just a year after having one of the easiest; they're also heavily featured in primetime matchups and draw the 49ers on the road for their Thursday matchup. New York went 7-3-1 in one-score games last year. The NFC is certainly wide open and with seven available spots, the Giants taking one of them wouldn't be surprising at all given the culture being built by Daboll and the new regime. But the division is tough and any sort of regression from Danny Dimes could cause the Giants' ascension to wobble.
The Vikings, despite winning the NFC North last season, are a surprising +300 to repeat as division champions, trailing the Lions by a large margin. The largest reason for that has to be Minnesota's historical performance in one-score games last year, with the Vikings going a staggering 11-0 in the regular season in one-score games. One-score games typically regress to the mean for NFL teams and the Vikings suffered some of that luck regression in the playoffs with a loss to the Giants. They're almost certainly due for a step back in performance in close games this season; it's not about "knowing how to win" it's just simply the nature of football. Za'Darius Smith was traded this offseason, weakening the Vikings pass rush, and they're likely to lose Dalvin Cook, either in a trade or as a post-June 1 release in the coming days/weeks. Adam Thielen left in the offseason as well. There's still plenty of talent on offense, but if Cook is gone and something happens to Justin Jefferson/Alexander Mattison, there's a lot of fragility with the skill position players in Minnesota. Rookie Jordan Addison would be the new No. 1, ahead of K.J. Osborn and Jalen Reagor. Defensively, Minnesota upgraded at coordinator from Ed Donatell to Brian Flores, which is big, but that side of the ball lacks elite playmakers. The Vikings and are helped by Aaron Rodgers leaving the division. But the start could be rough: the Eagles, Chargers, Chiefs and 49ers are all on the schedule in the first seven weeks of the season, including a Week 2 trip to Philly.
Two words: Tom Brady. The GOAT is gone in Tampa and even if you thought his 2022 season wasn't a success and he looked like he needed to walk away (both reasonable arguments), it's a clear downgrade for the Bucs to move to Baker Mayfield. Tampa has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball for the short term as they figure out life after Brady. There are major questions about the offensive line and how the offense as a whole will look with Todd Bowles coaching; the loss of Bruce Arians was dramatically understated before last season. All three of the other teams in the division have dramatically improved this offseason. but it's a much harder schedule than the rest of the division. I think the Buccaneers are a sneaky team to "compete" for a top pick in the draft and chase one of Caleb Williams or Drake Maye.
The Seahawks did a really nice job this offseason of shoring up a roster than helped them push for the postseason last year, inking Geno Smith to a contract and scooping up Devon Witherspoon and Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the first round of the draft. But to make another playoff run, they need Geno to be the guy again after an out-of-nowhere Pro Bowl season that saw him morph into a top-10 quarterback in the NFL. Losing Rashaad Penny is a bigger blow than people realize. Even if adding Zach Charbonnet in the second round is a nice boost, this rush attack would be in trouble if Kenneth Walker missed time again. The passing game has weapons for days, but it will require Geno to play at a high level again or could stagnate. The struggles down the stretch for the Seahawks to close the season in 2022 have to be considered somewhat of a concern. The pass rush for Seattle remains a concern as well, although Jamal Adams coming back from injury could help that. Seattle was below .500 in one-score games last year so might be due for some positive regression there. Seattle which features both the AFC North and the NFC East, two potentially deep divisions to match up against.