After suffering losing seasons in 2017, these teams will find themselves back in the playoff picture in 2018.
The 2017 NFL season demonstrated the league’s parity, as we ended with a playoff picture full of surprises. A season laden with injuries to key players resulted in surprise contenders like Buffalo, Jacksonville, and the LA Rams making the playoffs, while preseason favorites like Dallas, Oakland, and the New York Giants failed to make the cut.
Here are five teams that you will see back in the playoff picture this upcoming season after disappointing 2017 campaigns:
After a promising 2016 season which saw the Oakland Raiders land a playoff spot, the team finished with an unimpressive 6-10 record in 2017.
Looking around the AFC West, Oakland is in perfect position to strike. Denver has been in a free fall the past two seasons. Kansas City will be playing with a first-year starter at quarterback in Patrick Mahomes II. The L.A. Chargers have skill position talent and veteran leadership but have consistently failed to get over the hump, unable to win more than nine games in a season since 2009.
The Silver and Black made a huge splash as their 2017 season came to an end, pulling Head Coach John Gruden out of retirement with a $100 million contract. Gruden is one of the best offensive minds in the NFL and made the postseason five times as an NFL head coach during his first run from 1998-2008.
The Raiders enter 2018 equipped with the best quarterback in the division in Derek Carr, along with two-star receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and a new head coach who will bring out the best in the team’s play-makers.
Green Bay Packers
The latest NFC playoff bracket looked very unfamiliar with Green Bay out of the mix. The Packers are coming off of their worst season in nine years, finishing 7-9 in 2017. Future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in week six, virtually sealing Green Bay’s fate for the 2017 season. Rodgers’ value to the franchise was illuminated in the nine games that he missed. The team went 3-6 with backup Brett Hundley starting under center.
2017 Green Bay Starting Quarterback Stats
|Aaron Rodgers (4-3)||154||238||64.7%||1,675||16||6||97.2|
|Brett Hundley (3-6)||192||316||60.8%||1,853||9||12||70.6|
Rodgers’ absence was the biggest factor in the Pack’s sub-par season. A full season with Rodgers will give Green Bay a shot to take the NFC North title back from Minnesota.
Like Green Bay, Houston played the majority of last season without their starting quarterback. Rookie sensation Deshaun Watson‘s injury completely deflated the Texans offense and extinguished the team’s playoff hopes.
Having one of the NFL’s best dual-threat quarterbacks put Houston in a position to potentially win the AFC South last season. Watson went 3-3 as a starter, leading the Houston offense to 33 points or more in five of his starts, including a 57-14 showcase against Tennessee.
Experienced Head Coach Bill O’Brien has been a quarterback away from postseason success his entire tenure in Houston. Bringing Watson back healthy gives his team a bright outlook for 2018.
Indianapolis, like Green Bay and Houston, also had to make do without its star quarterback in 2017, but for the entire season. Indy went 4-12 in 2017, but lost six of its games by a touchdown or less. With Andrew Luck hopefully back in action after shoulder surgery and rehab, the Colts will have a shot to take the division title from Jacksonville.
New England Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels threw Indy a curve-ball earlier this month, backing out of a head coaching acceptance with the Colts to return to the Patriots. The Colts have since given the job to Frank Reich, who kept Philadelphia’s offense afloat to win the Super Bowl last season, even after the loss of star quarterback Carson Wentz. An offensive-minded head coach handling Andrew Luck will be a refreshing change of pace.
Given the overall weakness of the AFC, we could see both Houston and Indianapolis make the playoffs out of the AFC South in 2018, even with Tennessee and Jacksonville in the division.
San Francisco 49ers
After starting 15 different quarterbacks in the last 15 seasons, the 49ers seem to have identified a franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. They have certainly committed to building the team around Garoppolo, granting him the largest contract in NFL history this offseason: $137.5 million over five years. Garoppolo has yet to lose an NFL game as a starter, holding a 7-0 record in his career, including a 5-0 run down the stretch of the 49ers 2017 season.
NFL Quarterback Salary Rankings
|Quarterback (Team)||Average Year Salary|
|Jimmy Garoppolo (SF)||$27.5 Million|
|Matthew Stafford (DET)||$27 Million|
|Derek Carr (OAK)||$25 Million|
|Andrew Luck (IND)||$24.6 Million|
|Drew Brees (NO)||$24.3 Million|
San Francisco also showcased some promising rookies drafted by new General Manager John Lynch. Up-and-coming defensive players like linebacker Reuben Foster and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon stood out in 2017 and will play impact roles for the team in the near future.
The momentum that San Francisco has going into this season absolutely puts them in position to contend with the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West. San Fran finished last season on fire, winning its final five games. The team also lost five of its games by a touchdown or less. Out of all the teams on this list, the 49ers are coming into the 2018 season the hottest.
These five teams are each coming off of losing seasons, but each has the coaching and players necessary to perform a quick turnaround. An already eventful NFL offseason is giving shape to a thrilling year for the league.
The NFL Draft in April will influence preseason power rankings, especially with a wealth of potential in this year’s rookie quarterback class. Free agency, coaching changes, players coming back from injury, and the overall unpredictability of the NFL landscape will work to ensure that we see another shuffle of teams in the playoffs next season.
Edited by Brian Kang.
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