Every year after football season, fans look back and reminisce about the season. They revisit countless plays and games as they look fondly on the memories, or try to figure out what went wrong. There’s always a popular question in the offseason- which teams could go worst to first? As I look at the list of bottom dwellers in their respective divisions, I realistically can’t see any team having even a remote chance of flipping the script of last season. Instead, I decided to focus on analyzing which teams who missed the playoffs this season have the best chance to make it next year. Here are my top 5 predictions for who will make a playoff push next season from those who came up just short this season:
- Cleveland Browns: It may be too early and require another season of building, but it’s definitely a major possibility. I believe the AFC North is a 3-way race next year, and only the Bengals don’t have a realistic chance. The Browns finally showed some life last season thanks to #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. I really like the dynamic combination of Mayfield and Nick Chubb. I think the Browns could benefit from another big wide receiver to compliment Jarvis Landry, but the Browns have made tremendous improvements on offense, defense, and within their coaching organization. It will be interesting to see if and how they implement Kareem Hunt, and if he is able to make a huge impact. I believe the Browns have an extremely good chance to emerge as victors of the AFC North provided they can secure key games against the Ravens and Steelers.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: I find it unfathomable that the Steelers may lose both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Despite possibly losing both these two huge stars, the Steelers have plenty of talent left over. James Conner shined this season and JuJu Smith-Schuster is still a talented WR1. I think Smith-Schuster’s play will suffer if Brown leaves, but how much remains to be seen. The Steelers need to rectify their situation with Brown and keep him in any way they can. Like I mentioned above, the division will be a close race, but the Steelers need to clean up their leadership and figure out their roster going forward before even considering the playoffs.
- Carolina Panthers: The Panthers looked like a sure lock for the playoffs until their monumental collapse. The Panthers went 1-7 in their last 8 games after starting the season 6-2. The main question surrounding the Panthers is the health of Cam Newton. If he can’t be at 100% next season and play the way he did on the way to their Super Bowl berth, the Panthers fall off this list. He is the heartbeat of this team and they need him elevating the team with the ability they know he has. Christian McCaffrey is the most underrated running back in the league and was the leading rusher and receiver for the team. If the Panthers add a talented deep threat wide receiver, get Newton healthy, and eliminate the mistakes that prolonged their losing streak, I see them stealing a wild card spot.
- Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons had an up and down season. After splitting their first two games, they lost 3 straight, followed by 3 wins, 5 losses, and then 3 wins. They were never consistent were plagued by injuries all season long. I believe Calvin Ridley is due for a huge season next year. The Falcons need to figure out how to get Julio Jones touchdowns, and the fact it took until the middle of the season for him to find the end zone is unacceptable. They need to clean up the red zone offense and find ways to consistently score touchdowns. If the Falcons can capitalize in the red zone, get their playmakers the ball efficiently and effectively, and focus their energy on boosting the evident holes in their defense, the Falcons I believe will be a fighting force for a wildcard spot.
- Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings should have made the playoffs. They have all the pieces of a playoff team; however, they collapsed and failed. The stifling defense that was suffocating during their NFC Championship run did not have the same effect. Kirk Cousins was not worth his contract money last season, and Dalvin Cook’s injuries hurt the Vikings ability to capitalize offensively. I believe the Vikings will be able to put the pieces together next season and find themselves in the playoff hunt. I see the Vikings, Falcons, and Panthers fighting for a wildcard spot.
The NFL draft will no doubt have a major impact on where these teams go next season, but there are also other major internal moves that must be made by each franchise. All 32 NFL teams will need to critically examine the season unbiasedly and assess the good and bad alike. While I offer the teams, who have the best chance of getting in, here are the teams that made the playoffs this season that I realistically don’t see making it again next season: The Cowboys. It’s a really expansive list I know, but I believe the Eagles will get healthy and bump them off the top of the NFC East and out of playoff contention. I see the Seattle Seahawks retaining their wild card spot, and the NFC teams on my list (numbers 3-5) will all be contending for that last spot vacated by the Cowboys. I can’t see any AFC team that made the playoffs this year, other than the Ravens, missing the playoffs , so I believe the Steelers and Browns only chance in is by a divisional crown.