Movie quote of the day:
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
– Roger “Verbal” Kent, “The Usual Suspects” (1995)
I came out with the seven NFL playoff teams last year that might not make the postseason in 2017 earlier in the week. So now with my second installment of NFL preseason write-ups, let’s take a look at eight NFL teams that missed the playoffs last year but could clinch a spot in the postseason in 2017. Take a look:
2016 record: 7-8-1
Key additions: S Antoine Bethea, K Phil Dawson, LB Jarvis Jones
Key departures: DE Calais Campbell, S Tony Jefferson, CB Marcus Cooper, S D.J. Swearinger
2017 draft class: LB Haason Reddick (Round: 1 Pick: 13), S Budda Baker (Round: 2 Pick: 36), WR Chad Williams (Round: 3 Pick: 98), G Dorian Johnson (Round: 4 Pick: 120), T Will Holden (Round: 5 Pick: 157), RB T.J. Logan (Round: 5 Pick: 179), S Johnathan Ford (Round: 6 Pick: 208)
One big reason this team could sneak into the postseason in 2017: One of the most talented rosters in the league
Let’s not forget that less than two years ago, Arizona finished the season 13-3, won the NFC West division, and played in the NFC Championship. There’s still some key players that are in Arizona that played on that team (Carson Palmer, David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Iupati, Markus Golden, Deone Bucannon, Tyrann Mathieu, and Patrick Peterson). The Cardinals have also added playmakers like edge rusher Chandler Jones and safety Antoine Bethea, and they’ve drafted really well the last two years by getting Robert Nkemdiche, Haason Reddick, and Budda Baker. This team is full of talent, especially on the perimeter, and have one of the best offensive minds in the NFL as its head coach in Bruce Arians. There’s no reason to believe Arizona can’t get back to the postseason this year. Even though the Cardinals have to travel the third-most amount of miles this year (30,035) – which includes a trip to London – the opponents on their schedule aren’t that difficult. They play in a fairly weak division that includes the Rams and 49ers, they only play three teams that won 10 games or more last year, they only have to face eight Pro Bowl quarterbacks (just three on the road), and their overall strength of schedule is .467 – which puts them in the top 10 for easiest schedule. However, if Palmer has another season like he did last year (26 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and 87.2 passer rating), getting back to the postseason is going to be difficult. The Cardinals are only going to go as far as Palmer can take them, and it appears Father Time has caught up with him.
2016 record: 8-8
Key additions: S Tony Jefferson, CB Brandon Carr, WR Jeremy Maclin, RB Danny Woodhead
Key departures: T Ricky Wagner, FB Kyle Juszczyk, DL Lawrence Guy, OLB Elvis Dumervil
2017 draft class: CB Marlon Humphrey (Round: 1 Pick: 16), Edge Tyus Bowser (Round: 2 Pick: 47), DT Chris Wormley (Round: 3 Pick: 74), Edge Tim Williams (Round: 3 Pick: 78), G Nico Siragusa (Round: 4 Pick: 122), OL Jermaine Eluemunor (Round: 5 Pick: 159), S Chuck Clark (Round: 6 Pick: 186)
One big reason this team could sneak into the postseason in 2017: John Harbaugh is Baltimore’s head coach
Baltimore is too well coached to miss the postseason for a third consecutive year – which has never happened since Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2008. The odds are already stacked against them with Joe Flacco getting hurt and his week one status uncertain, losing tight end Crockett Gillmore for the season due to a knee injury, a revolving door of a running back rotation, a subpar offensive line, and below average weapons at wide receiver except for Jeremy Maclin. Outside of Harbaugh, part of the reason why I like Baltimore this year is its defense. The Ravens already had a top 10 scoring defense last year, and brought in veterans like safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Brandon Carr in the offseason. They also used their first four draft picks on defense. I feel like they could have the personnel to become a top five statistical defense, and that could help keep their offense in games. Baltimore’s schedule is pretty favorable too. The Ravens play in a division that is average to below average outside of Pittsburgh, they don’t have to travel too far (only two games west of the Mississippi River), they play just four teams that won 10 games or more last year, and have an overall strength of schedule of .461 – which is the ninth easiest in the league. The problem is that Baltimore does have to face seven Pro Bowl quarterbacks (and that’s not counting facing Marcus Mariota in Tennessee, or the second meeting with Ben Roethlisberger), and four of those games are on the road. That’s going to be difficult because I don’t think Baltimore has the offensive personnel to keep up on the scoreboard with some of those teams.
2016 record: 6-10
Key additions: T Matt Kalil, S Mike Adams, DE Julius Peppers
Key departures: T Mike Remmers, WR Ted Ginn Jr., FB Mike Tolbert
2017 draft class: RB Christian McCaffrey (Round: 1 Pick: 8), WR Curtis Samuel (Round: 2 Pick: 40), T Taylor Moton (Round: 2 Pick: 64), Edge Daeshon Hall (Round: 3 Pick: 77), CB Corn Elder (Round: 5 Pick: 152), FB Alexander Armah (Round: 6 Pick: 192), K Harrison Butker (Round: 7 Pick: 233)
One big reason this team could sneak into the postseason in 2017: New explosive offensive weapons should take pressure off Cam Newton
Similar to Arizona, let’s not forget that less than two years ago Carolina finished the year 15-1, won the NFC South division, and played in Super Bowl 50. They had a big setback last year mostly due to offensive injuries – which caused Cam Newton’s numbers to rapidly decline. The Panthers’ front office responded this offseason by getting Newton more help offensively, starting with signing Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Kalil – which was an excellent move considering Newton was sacked 36 times last year, and the franchise needs to keep him upright. Then, they drafted explosive, versatile playmakers Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel – who combined for 3,549 total yards and 31 touchdowns last season in college – with their first two picks. The defense had issues early last year due to some new faces in the secondary, but it played well down the stretch – giving up just 81 points in the final four games. Despite being in a tough division, Carolina’s schedule isn’t too bad. The Panthers don’t have to travel far this year (just one game west of the Mississippi River), they face just four teams that won 10 games or more last year. With the new additions to Carolina’s offense, I think Newton will bounce back to Pro Bowl form, which will give Carolina a good shot to get back to the playoffs.
2016 record: 8-8
Key additions: DT Johnathan Hankins, OLB Jabaal Sheard, LB Sean Spence, OLB Barkevious Mingo
Key departures: TE Dwayne Allen, S Mike Adams, OLB Erik Walden
2017 draft class: S Malik Hooker (Round: 1 Pick: 15), CB Quincy Wilson (Round: 2 Pick: 46), OLB Tarell Basham (Round: 3 Pick: 80), T Zach Banner (Round: 4 Pick: 137), RB Marlon Mack (Round: 4 Pick: 143), DT Grover Stewart (Round: 4 Pick: 144), CB Nate Hairston (Round: 5 Pick: 158), LB Anthony Walker (Round: 5 Pick: 161)
One big reason this team could sneak into the postseason in 2017: Andrew Luck
Even though Indianapolis has one of the worst rosters in the league, if Andrew Luck is healthy, he can lead this team to the playoffs. He did it in his first three years. The reason the Colts have missed the playoffs the last two years is because they can’t keep Luck upright. I sound like a broken record, but Luck has been sacked 156 times in just 70 career games, and he’s finally feeling the effect of taking a ton of hits from having a terrible offensive line, and therefore can’t stay healthy. Indianapolis didn’t make a ton of additions to the offensive line to try to improve the unit except for drafting Zach Banner in the fourth round – mostly because this past NFL draft had a very weak offensive line class, so I don’t have a huge problem with it. Where the Colts made some serious upgrades was on defense – which was also much needed – by bringing in veterans to beef up the front seven like Johnathan Hankins, Jabaal Sheard, Sean Spence, and Barkeviovs Mingo. They also drafted very well and made some upgrades in the secondary by drafting Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson with their first two picks. Indianapolis’ schedule isn’t too tough either. The Colts only play west of the Mississippi River twice (and neither game is scheduled after week four), they play two teams that won 10 games or more last year, they face just four Pro Bowl quarterbacks (none in their final six games), and have the easiest strength of schedule this year at .424. I wasn’t sure if I was going to pick the Colts to make the postseason this season, but their schedule is too easy to overlook.
Los Angeles Chargers
2016 record: 5-11
Key additions: T Russell Okung, RB Kenjon Barner
Key departures: T King Dunlap, G D.J. Fluker, LB Manti Te’o, CB Brandon Flowers, RB Danny Woodhead
2017 draft class: WR Mike Williams (Round: 1 Pick: 7), G Forrest Lamp (Round: 2 Pick: 38), G Dan Feeney (Round: 3 Pick: 71), S Rayshawn Jenkins (Round: 4 Pick: 113), S Desmond King (Round: 5 Pick: 151), T Sam Tevi (Round: 6 Pick: 190), Edge Isaac Rochell (Round: 7 Pick: 225)
One big reason this team could sneak into the postseason: Underrated defensive line
The pass-rushing duo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa is on its way to being one of the league’s best. Those two combined for 18.5 sacks last year, and Bosa was a rookie and will only improve. The Chargers also have Corey Liuget and Brandon Mebane in the interior of the defensive line, who are also solid players. However, outside of the defensive line and cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward, the rest of the Chargers’ defensive personnel is mediocre, and they didn’t do much in the offseason to improve the unit. Offensively, they still have future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers, and the Chargers got him some sufficient help in the offseason by signing Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung and drafted guards Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney to help bolster the offensive line – which was needed because Rivers has been sacked more than 36 times each of the last three seasons. The Chargers also have running back Melvin Gordon – who made the Pro Bowl last year – to help take the pressure off Rivers. However, the Chargers’ first round pick Mike Williams could miss the entire season, which will affect depth at wide receiver. Also, the schedule is extremely tough this year for the Chargers. They travel the fifth-most amount of miles (26,134), and have a strength of schedule of .568 – third-highest in the league. A lot of people like the Chargers to sneak into the playoffs this year, but with this team going through the move to Los Angeles and playing a tough schedule that has a lot of travel, I don’t see it happening.
2016 record: 8-8
Key additions: T Riley Reiff, T Mike Remmers, RB Latavius Murray, WR Michael Floyd, DE Datone Jones
Key departures: RB Adrian Peterson, T Matt Kalil, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, G Brandon Fusco
2017 draft class: RB Dalvin Cook (Round: 2 Pick: 41), C Pat Elflein (Round: 3 Pick: 70), DT Jaleel Johnson (Round: 4 Pick: 109), LB Ben Gedeon (Round: 4 Pick: 120), WR Rodney Adams (Round: 5 Pick: 170), G Danny Isidora (Round: 5 Pick: 180), TE Bucky Hodges (Round: 6 Pick: 201), WR Stacy Coley (Round: 7 Pick: 219), Edge Ifeadi Odenigbo (Round: 7 Pick: 220), LB Elijah Lee (Round: 7 Pick: 232), CB Jack Tocho (Round: 7 Pick: 245)
One big reason this team could sneak into the postseason in 2017: One of the best defenses in the league
One of the main reasons this team surprised people in 2015 and knocked off Green Bay as NFC North champions was because it had one of the best defenses in the league. Even last year, despite finishing the season 8-8, the unit still ranked No. 6 in scoring defense. The Vikings definitely have the best and deepest defensive personnel in their division, and maybe even the NFC. That defense has had very few departures since 2015, so the bulk of the corps (Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Harrison Smith) remains intact. Plus, they added more pieces on defense like veteran defensive lineman Datone Jones, and drafted Jaleel Johnson and Ben Gedeon to provide depth. Offensively, Minnesota is a bit of a mess though. The offensive line is still subpar and they really didn’t add anyone that is going to make a huge impact to try and change that – except for rookie center Pat Elflein, in my opinion. That’s not good considering the Vikings have Sam Bradford at quarterback – who has a history of being injury prone. I really like the Dalvin Cook pick though, and he should be able to take the pressure off Bradford, but it’s still uncertain if that line is going to open up any holes for him. Schedule wise, Minnesota doesn’t have to travel a lot this year, just 10,460 miles – which ranks in the bottom half of the league, and includes a trip to London. They also have to play just three teams that won 10 games or more last year. Barring any injuries, the Vikings’ defense should still be at the top of the league this year, and the schedule isn’t too tough. If Bradford stays healthy (which is a big if), I could see Minnesota getting back to the playoffs.
2016 record: 7-9
Key additions: WR Torrey Smith, WR Alshon Jeffery, G Chance Warmack, RB LeGarrette Blount, CB Ronald Darby
Key departures: CB Nolan Carroll, OLB Connor Barwin, DT Bennie Logan, WR Jordan Matthews
2017 draft class: Edge Derek Barnett (Round: 1 Pick: 14), CB Sidney Jones (Round: 2 Pick: 43), CB Rasul Douglas (Round: 3 Pick: 99), WR Mack Hollins (Round: 4 Pick: 118), RB Donnel Pumphrey (Round: 4 Pick: 132), WR Shelton Gibson (Round: 5 Pick: 166), LB Nathan Gerry (Round: 5 Pick: 184), DT Elijah Qualls (Round: 6 Pick: 214)
One big reason this team could sneak into the postseason in 2017: Lane Johnson is back
Part of the reason Philadelphia collapsed last year after a 3-1 start was because starting offensive tackle Lane Johnson got hit with a 10-game suspension for PED violations by the league. Johnson played six games last year, and when he played, the Eagles were 5-1 (three of those wins were against future playoff teams), and Carson Wentz’s numbers were solid – 64.7 completion percentage, 1,404 yards, 10 touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 96.7. When Johnson was serving his 10-game suspension, the Eagles were 2-8 and Wentz’s numbers drastically declined – 60.8 completion percentage, 2,378 yards, six touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a passer rating of 70.7. Johnson is now back for Philadelphia and, barring any injuries, should play for all 16 games and the Eagles clearly need him. The team wins and Wentz plays better when Johnson is starting on the offensive line. Another reason why I like the Eagles is that they went out and got Wentz some quality veteran receivers to throw to in Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery – and I wouldn’t sleep on rookies Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson. There’s depth at running back too with Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, LeGarrette Blount, and rookies Corey Clement and Donnel Pumphrey. Also, the Eagles’ defense was incredibly underrated last year. Philadelphia’s defense ranked in the top half of the league last year in yards allowed per game (No. 13), and in points allowed per game (No. 12), and the Eagles added even more depth to that defense by drafting Derek Barnett, Sidney Jones, and Rasul Douglas, and also by trading for quality cornerback Ronald Darby last week. Lastly, their schedule is pretty favorable. The Eagles don’t have to face a team coming off a bye week for the entire season, and they only have to face five teams that won 10 games or more last year. Philadelphia definitely has the best offensive and defensive line combination in the NFC East division. Plus, in my opinion, a future Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback in Wentz. I think this team could be dangerous this season because of that.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2016 record: 9-7
Key additions: WR DeSean Jackson, DT Chris Baker, S J.J. Wilcox, K Nick Folk
Key departures: DT Akeem Spence, CB Alterraun Verner
2017 draft class: TE O.J. Howard (Round: 1 Pick: 19), S Justin Evans (Round: 2 Pick: 50), WR Chris Godwin (Round: 3 Pick: 84), LB Kendall Beckwith (Round: 3 Pick: 107), RB Jeremy McNichols (Round: 5 Pick: 162), DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (Round: 7 Pick: 223)
One big reason this team could sneak into the postseason in 2017: A lot of offensive firepower
After Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater injured his knee during last year’s preseason training camp, I picked Tampa Bay to sneak into the playoffs. By God, the Buccaneers almost did it. However, they came up just short, but I like their chances again to get to the playoffs this year. The main reason being Tampa Bay’s offensive firepower. Jameis Winston is a future elite quarterback and has improved every year, he’s protected by a decent (but not great) offensive line, he has a good rotation of running backs (Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, and Jeremy McNichols), and has Mike Evans as his No. 1 wide receiver – who is a freak of nature. The Buccaneers added even more playmakers to the offense in the offseason by signing wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and drafting tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Chris Godwin. Tampa Bay’s defense can be hot and cold, but it’s decent. The strength of the defense is in the front seven with Gerald McCoy, Robert Ayers, Chris Baker, and Noah Spence on the defensive line, and Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander at linebacker. The secondary is the weak link, but the Buccaneers made upgrades by bringing in safeties J.J. Wilcox and Justin Evans. Schedule wise, it’s not too tough for Tampa Bay. The NFC South is a tough division, but the Buccaneers only travel west of the Mississippi River twice this season (both trips in the first six games), and face just four teams that won 10 games or more last year. In the last two seasons, the NFC South division title race has been all about which team can score the most points because the last two champions have led the league in points per game offensively (Carolina, 2015; Atlanta, 2016). With the additions Tampa Bay made this offseason, I feel like this team has the offensive personnel to lead the league in scoring this year.
2016 record: 9-7
Key additions: CB Logan Ryan, S Jonathan Cyprien, WR Eric Decker, DT Sylvester Williams, OLB Erik Walden
Key departures: CB Jason McCourty, TE Anthony Fasano, LB Sean Spence, WR Kendall Wright, G Chance Warmack
2017 draft class: WR Corey Davis (Round: 1 Pick: 5), CB Adoree’ Jackson (Round: 1 Pick: 18), WR Taywan Taylor (Round: 3 Pick: 72), TE Jonnu Smith (Round: 3 Pick: 100), LB Jayon Brown (Round: 5 Pick: 155), G Corey Levin (Round: 6 Pick: 217), Edge Josh Carroway (Round: 7 Pick: 227), T Brad Seaton (Round: 7 Pick: 236), RB Khalfani Muhammad (Round: 7 Pick: 241)
One big reason this team could sneak into the postseason in 2017: Filled needs along the perimeter
I think it’s safe to say that Tennessee surprised everyone last year. I mean, I expected the Titans to be an improved team, but I didn’t expect them to increase their win total by six games. One of the team’s weaknesses though last year was its perimeter. Tennessee had to have one of the worst wide receiver groups and secondaries in the NFL last season, and the front office sought to improve in those areas this offseason. First, by bringing in veterans like Logan Ryan, Jonathan Cyprien, and Eric Decker, and then drafting Corey Davis, Adoree’ Jackson, and Taywan Taylor. Now, this team looks dangerous. The Titans already have, in my opinion, a budding elite quarterback in Marcus Mariota (please stay healthy, Marcus), one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, a solid running back duo in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, and a pretty good front seven defensively. Now, they have a respectable perimeter. Tennessee’s schedule is more than manageable, in my opinion. The Titans play in one of the weaker divisions in the league (but I think it will be better this year), they play just two games west of the Mississippi River, they play four teams that won 10 games or more last year, and have one of the league’s easiest strength of schedules this year at .439 (tied for No. 30 in the league). Thanks to drafting Mariota two years ago, and making that trade with the Rams last year to acquire more picks, this team is set up for the future. I think the Titans are the early front runner to win the AFC South, and I really like their chances to clinch a spot in the postseason.
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