A bit over a week ago I touched on teams that are ready to rise and fall in season 2016. Today’s article though breaks down which teams who missed out on playoff action last year are ready to rise back to their rightful place in the postseason. Why am I so confident that some of the teams won’t repeat? Of the last 120 teams to qualify for the playoffs only 54 of them have repeated the feat the following year. Mathematically that means that almost half the playoff places are up for grabs from new teams.
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I want to give a shout out and honourable mention to a few times like the AFC West’s LA Chargers and Denver Broncos and the likes of Indianapolis Colts/Minnesota Vikings as well. I just can’t see the Broncos and Chargers upseeding the Raiders and the Chiefs to claim a playoff berth, while the Vikings and Colts may scrape their way over .500, but I feel like they won’t be good enough to win a wild card spot and/or claim their division over the rivals in front of them.
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A 9-7 team a season ago the Titans wouldn’t feature on this list if Marcus Mariota had have remained healthy. Their offense is their main weapon with added weapons in Eric Decker and first-round pick Corey Davis giving Mariota targets, while their ‘smashmouth’ running looking as good as ever. Some are worried that DeMarco Murray won’t be able to sustain a huge workload, but with Derrick Henry behind him on the depth chart their running game should be just as good as last season, if not better. There’s no doubt their defense will be better two with cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson the main additions that should see the Titans claim the lacklustre AFC South.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ANOTHER team on the rise that many expected to feature in the playoffs last year are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Once again lead by illustrious QB prodigy Jameis Winston, the Bucs seemed like they were destined for success riding a five game winning streak into the final three games of the season. But, after a pair of losses to Dallas and New Orleans, the Bucs missed out via a tiebreak with the Detroit Lions. With more talent for Winston to throw at Tampa Bay are hoping that translates to more consistency with the team. Their front seven on defense possess potential Pro-Bowl talent as well, both of which should translate to the Bucs breaking a nine-year playoff drought.
IN 2015 there was no defense better than the Panthers, which helped Carolina ride their success all the way to the SuperBowl against the Broncos. After a tough loss and the departure of Josh Norman on the eve of the season, their hope of recurring playoff appearances for the third straight year was in taters. As illustrated in My Top Sportsbook’s must read piece “Potent Offenses Make 2017 NFC South a Tight Battle” a revival for the Panthers is highly likely, despite their lack of offseason movement. Health will dictate the amount of success that Carolina experiences with their offensive and defensive MVP’ Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly battling to stay on the field last year. A few new rooks in Curtis Samuel and Christian McCaffrey allowing the Panthers to get faster and more ‘nimble’ on the offensive side of the ball, while the Pro-Bowl talent up front should ensure they rebound from a down season.
THE Panthers opponents in the 2015 NFC Championship game also well off a cliff last year, again with regression at quarterback a main cause for the slide down the standings. Carson Palmer wasn’t the only reason for the Cards watching the playoffs from the couch, with injuries, defensive drop in play, a struggling O-line and plenty of other storylines plaguing Arizona’s season. With a pair of rookies (Buddah Baker and Haason Reddick) ready to impact the game from day one and playmakers aplenty on the defensive side of the ball they should find ‘bouncing back’ an easier feat than others on this list. Besides, any team that has David Johnson in uniform though is bound to compete for success, with Johnson arguably the best back in the league accumulating over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Pair him with future HOFer Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals have one of the best WR/RB combos in the league. If Palmer can remain upright and find them with regularity things will be peachy in the Grand Canyon State
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THE AFC North isn’t as ruthless as they were for a period of time just a few seasons ago. Many are expecting the Bengals to take a step back, the Steelers are unsure whether Ben Roethlisberger can play out an entire season and the Cleveland Browns are, well, the Cleveland Browns. That opens the door for the Ravens to rise into the playoffs. Even though they had a .500 season last year a lot of the team was banged up and yet, Baltimore still managed to rank inside the top ten for most defensive stats while tying for the most interceptions and forcing teams to punt 90 times (second most in the league). There are still questions over their offense with Joe Flacco hurt and a lack of star power on the roster. Still, if things fall in place and the Ravens are able to remain competent on both sides of the ball, upsetting a few teams along the way don’t rule them out.
FINALLY, the Philadelphia Eagles remain the final team on the list who could be a 2017 postseason contender. A large part of the Eagles playoff hopes once again hinges on QB success, with sophomore Carson Wentz’s growth from year one to two crucial. The team did the right thing by giving him a primary threat in Alshon Jeffery to target before going all in on drafting defensive talent to help on defense. Their first three picks DE Derek Barnett, CB Sidney Jones and CB Rasul Douglas will all help Philadelphia remain a threat to opponents offense coupled with the likes of Jordan Hicks, Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins. The Eagles offense will need to make the biggest step forward after they held the team back last season, but if they can grow alongside Wentz and the rest of the NFC East struggles to compete, Philly should find a spot in the NFC playoff race.
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