Training camp hasn’t even started yet but that doesn’t mean that it’s too soon to be thinking about which teams will be making a playoff run. There are a few squads like New England and Seattle that we can safely assume will be playing in January. It would take collapses of epic proportions for either of those teams to miss out. Stranger things have happened before though. There are also a few teams like the 49ers, Rams, Bears, and Browns that are destined to be spectators come playoff time.
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Last year saw New England, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Houston earn AFC playoff berths as division winners while Oakland and Miami got in as wild card teams. In the NFC, we had Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, and Green Bay win their divisions while the New York Giants and Detroit Lions were the wild cards. So, what will happen this year? Here are three of last year’s playoff teams that won’t make the post-season this year and the three teams that will replace them.
Miami Dolphins Won’t Make it
One of last year’s AFC wild cards, Miami surprised a few people by going 10-6 despite starting the season with a 1-4 record. They went an impressive 9-2 the rest of the way. Even though the schedule was rather soft, they managed to win the games they needed to as well as getting a big upset win over the Steelers. It won’t be quite as easy this year as the Dolphins are faced with the 6th toughest strength of schedule. On top of their regular pair of games against the Pats, Miami will also be facing the Falcons, Raiders, Panthers, and Chiefs. They will be challenged against San Diego, Tennessee, Baltimore, and Denver too. They could conceivably rack up a 9-7 record but 8-8 is a far more likely scenario. Either way, it will not be good enough to secure a post-season wild card spot.
Tennessee Titan Will Make it
The Tennessee Titans are on the rise and look to improve on last year’s 9-7 finish. Their season was pretty much over in week 16 when they not only lost to the lowly Jags but they lost their star quarterback for the year. This team is maturing and they made a couple of good moves this offseason. They have a favorable schedule in 2017 although it’s going to be a tough start with Oakland on deck in week 1 and Seattle in week 3 along with a crucial game in Houston in week 4. They will need to do better than 2-4 inside their division and then capitalize against teams like Cleveland, Arizona, San Francisco, and the Rams. A win in Miami in week 5 will go a long way to helping their cause. Have faith. They’re ready.
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Houston Texans Won’t Make it
The Houston Texans edged out the aforementioned Titans to win the AFC South last season. They dominated their division posting a 5-1 record against division rivals. Brock Osweiler didn’t exactly light it up prompting the Texans to get rid of him leaving Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson to battle it out for the number one spot. Not too inspiring. Houston’s defense, which was pretty solid last year, should be strong again but they don’t appear to have the horses to keep up with higher scoring teams that they will be facing this year. It’s not that Houston is going to be terrible; it’s just that they are taking a step back while some other bubble teams are improving.
Indianapolis Colts Will Make it
That’s right! The Colts have the easiest strength of schedule and they have made some adjustments to their offensive line and, more importantly to their defense which has been their Achilles heel for ages. Injuries played a role in Indy’s 2017 campaign and they must keep healthy if they are going to win enough games.
There are a lot of winnable games on their schedule which starts in week one when they visit the Rams. After home games against the Cardinals and Browns, they will have their biggest challenge of the year in Seattle. If they can just split their divisional games then they look good to rack up 9 or even 10 wins which will put them into the postseason as either the AFC South winner or a wild card.
Detroit Lions Won’t Make it
The Lions found themselves in the second wild card spot last year after finishing 9-7. They were promptly ousted in a 26-6 loss to the Seahawks. Matt Stafford had a fabulous season which helped offset the poor running game. One area that hurt the Lions was their poor pass rush and inability to stop opponents on third down. There have been a few changes made on the defensive side of the ball and they will need to show how improved they are when they face the Giants, Falcons, Panthers, Steelers, Ravens, and, of course, the Packers.
The Lions were so close to winning the NFC North last year and they will fall short again. This time they won’t be able to secure a wild card spot because…
Carolina Panthers Will Make it
This team had a very disappointing 2016 season and they are looking to turn it around dramatically. A slow start, key injuries, and a 1-5 record against their divisional opponents conspired to make the season an absolute failure. Things will be much different this year as they have a pretty favorable schedule, they’re healthy, and they have a few new faces that should make their porous defense a little better. Not to mention their running game should be better with rookie running back Christian McCaffrey.
The Panthers should be able to go at least 3-3 within the division this year which will be a victory in itself. Taking advantage of San Francisco, Buffalo, Chicago, Miami, and the Jets will help the cause as will tougher wins against Philly and the Vikings. This team might not be able to top Atlanta in the division but a 10-6 record will earn them a spot in the post-season.
2017’s Projected NFL Playoff Picture
New England and Pittsburgh will win their divisions while Oakland and Kansas City will compete for the AFC West title with the loser getting the first wild card. In the AFC South, we will see Indianapolis and Tennessee duke it out with the loser getting the second wild card. Seattle, Green Bay, and Dallas seem poised to win their divisions. Carolina will battle with the Falcons for the NFC South title with the loser getting a wild card spot along with the New York Giants.
Miami, Baltimore, Houston, Denver, Detroit, and Tampa Bay might make it interesting but they will all be on the outside looking in when January rolls around.