With the expansion to 14 playoff teams the doors swing wide open for fresh faces in the NFL playoff picture. The first thought is "oh great bring on the 7-9 wildcard teams!" In reaity, that is far less likely than you might first think.
For example, this past season the Rams(9-7) and Steelers(8-8) would have seen their tickets punched for the post season. In 2018, the Vinkings(8-7-1) and Steeers(9-6-1) wouls have found their way in. And back in 2017 a combined 5 teams would have been in the running for a playoff birth at 9-7(Cowboys, Seahawks, Lions, Ravens and Chargers).
A side note worth consdirering- under this format the Steelers would have been in the running for 12 consecutive seasons with a playoff birth going back to 2007. So.. gripe if you want to terriblw towels, gripe like the wind!
So now that we have established the value and sactity of the NFL is safely intact, who are the sleepers for the (fingers crossed) upcoming season to find hope on wildcard weekend?
Chriss Mueller made his three team case recently for the Cardinals, Lions and Jets to find their way in. while I see Arizona as a potential candidate for success, the NFC West will make for stiff competition. With the Packers getting all the way to the NFC Chapionship on what felt like smoke and mirrors, I can see a healthy Srafford helping the Lions make some noise in the North. And while the AFC East suddenly seems wide open following TB12 taking his talents South, I would argue the Bills, Patriots and yes even the Dolphins will put significant roadblocks between the Jets and playoff dreams.
For me, a two team offering- one from each Conference. In the AFC the Raiders were 8th in passing yards and 14th in rushing yards on the year. The outlier? Points, 24th in the league averaging under 20 per game. Enter a trio of drafted wideouts and expectations will fall hard on Carr(or Marriota) to put more points on the score board.
CB Arnette will help to strengthen the the secondry that surrendered the 8th most pasing yards, while Tanner Muse can offer versatility out of the safety spot and support an already strong(8th fewest yards) rush defense.
For a team that finished 7-9 losing 5 of their last 6 games, reversing that record and celebrating their new Las Vegas home in the playoffs- just might validate that massive check they cut to coach Gruden.
Ok, I was sure to give a sound and developed case for the Raiders because my NFC seection is both a homer pick and grossly out of line. The New York Football Giants won 12 games.. over the last 3 seasons.
However, they do now have the next franchise QB in Daniel Jones who, beyond the fumbles, proved the Giants right in selecting him 6th overall- throwing for 3,000 yards and 24 TDs in 13 games(12 starts). A 2-1 TD/INT ratio and an 87.7 RTG is more than enough to build on in year two. With arguably the best running back in the league in Saquan Barkley, the missing piece has been for years now, the offensive line. Enter Andrew Thomas, rookie Left Tackle ready to protect Jones' blindside and set the edge for Barkley day 1.
The Giants also picked up an absolute steal at the 36th pick in the draft, selecting Safety Xavier McKinney. A player of his versatility immediately impacts all levels of the defense. Coupled with free agent signing CB Bradberry, the Giants can now allow second year corner Deandre Baker to continue to develop while creating flexibility for Love. Used at Safety following the injury to Jabrill Peppers, Love looked polished and poised immediately and may now find himself mixing and matching all over the secondary for Big Blue.
Depth. The thing the Giants have always lacked and now finally seem to be creating. Beyond Blake Martinez on the interior of the LB core, both Cam Brown and (especially) Carter Coughlin could prove to be late round steals on the Edge.
Brass tax- they were 4-12 and beat Washington twice, Miami and Tampa Bay on a missed field goal. So how can the find their way into the playoff picture?
It will take a season highlighted by a top 10 Offense, helmed by a free from fumble woes Daniel Jones, throwing north of 30 TDs. It will take a young and growing Defense that plays fast and creates turnovers, and ranks top 20 with McKinney as its anchor. And it will take first time head coach Joe Judge: communicating, developing and teaching this young team how to learn, grow and win as a unit.