The schedule is set, the draft will fall next, and soon we’ll be ready to spend the summer forecasting exactly how the 2017 NFL season will play out, only to be terribly wrong anyways. No matter what happens in the offseason, there’s usually a reluctance from forecasters to greatly alter the playoff picture from the previous season. Sure, the numbers say 42.5-percent of Super Bowl participants over the past 20 years miss the playoffs entirely next season, but there’s no way that would happen this year!
Shakeups are a huge part of the NFL; that’s why almost every fanbase enters each season with a newfound hope. Over the past 10 years, there’s been an average of 5.4 new playoff teams each year. Like the Dolphins and Raiders learned last year, wait long enough and eventually your number will come up too.
So which teams that missed out on the dance will get back their next season? Let’s look at the odds.
The Texans’ failure to upgrade the quarterback position means the AFC South should be up for grabs, after Houston clinched the division over Tennessee on a tiebreaker last year. The Titans seem best equipped to leapfrog them, with a strong young offense built around the run game, and a defense that is getting better over the offseason, especially with Tennessee holding two first-round picks this year.
Jacksonville will also be a sexy pick (again) after another impactful spring of roster moves. The real question is: could this division actually send more than one team to the playoffs? The North is weakening, and belief in non-New England teams from the East is always difficult to muster. The AFC West looks very strong again, but with the Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers all beating up on each other, it could lead to a lot of underwhelming win totals, and perhaps only one Wild Card team as a result.
Overall, there will likely be at least two new participants in the AFC playoffs next year. Whether it will be the usual resurgence from Baltimore and Denver or some fresh blood remains to be seen.
Turnover is more popular in NFC, where they average over three new teams a season. That means, if the Buccaneers can’t make the jump this season, their fans are allowed to march on Raymond James. In Jameis Winston’s third year, he’ll be surrounded by all the tools necessary to end Tampa’s near decade-long playoff drought. Coupled with a defense that is rounding into very good territory, this team should grab at least a Wild Card.
Division mates Carolina should also be close to a playoff return, after a misguided parting of ways with almost their entire secondary last offseason. Atlanta’s still poised to run the South, but its collapse in the Super Bowl could have lasting effects on the team’s psyche. Plus, they won’t have Kyle Shanahan running their record setting offense.
Elsewhere, the NFC East hasn’t had a repeat champion since 2004: the division has more turnover at the top than the Cleveland Browns. Sure, New York and Dallas both looked great last year, but there’s reason for optimism in both Philly and D.C., as each team boasts strength on at least one side of the ball. A big step forward from the Eagle offense and Washington defense would have them right on the Cowboys’ and Giants’ heels.
In the West, Seattle looks ripe for the picking. However, the Rams and 49ers are in such disarray that an old Arizona team is the only one capable of taking advantage. As for the North, don’t even bother questioning if Green Bay will repeat. The Vikings, Lions and Bears (I guess?) will have to eye a Wild Card.
Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
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