By now you all know the mantra about the NFL being a league of parity and opportunity and all. You know the drill -- every year about a half-dozen new teams make the postseason, and a half-dozen or so fail to return. With an expanded playoff field now, the chances of turnover remain quite high.
Might as well get cracking on how that turnover might take place as we start to kick off some OTAs around the league. Of course, it's always debatable just how much gets accomplished in these sessions except for the most neophyte of player, and this year veterans are vowing to stay away in droves, but it is another benchmark in the NFL calendar and an indication that we are inching close to the start of training camps this summer.
I have to be honest, there were not a ton of teams screaming out to me as being suddenly playoff-bound, and some of the more obvious candidates (i.e. teams that just missed out a year ago) like Miami for instance, have me wondering if a step back is more likely than a leap ahead. And sometimes, you just can't overthink it -- when a team is getting a top 10 starting quarterback on its roster after playing most of last season without him, well, that team is clearly a candidate to at least sneak into a watered-down playoff field in 2021.
I found myself having, in general, an easier time coming up with 2020 playoff teams I would fade than I did coming up with five teams I thought would certainly make a jump up. And in the end, we all know a few injuries and some bad luck, and a season could unwind in any number of ways. But here are some teams I believe are primed for a fall from a playoff perch, and five I am at least somewhat bullish on to leap forward.
Pick Six Newsletter
Crafted By The Best NFL Experts
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
Five 2020 playoff teams on the outs
Titans: They seem to be preordained to win nine games or so a year and get into the big dance. But that run ends now. Too many questions about that defense -- which was already poor a year ago -- and too much brain drain from recent coordinator defections and too many departures and injury questions on offense. This ain't the same group up front or on the outside that helped Ryan Tannehill revive his career, and the loss of Arthur Smith drawing things up will prove massive. Will struggle to defend the big play, and also struggle to produce as many of them as they once did. Derrick Henry's workload will catch up to them at some point, too.
Steelers: Every bit of empirical data and every hour of film review painted a very bleak picture of where this offense was headed with Ben Roethlisberger hanging on by a thread. Hard to see this ending well, and the offensive line is a shell of what it once was, too. This franchise has staved off a losing season in ways most could only dream of, but this league will eventually pull everyone down, and this roster is not good enough to overcome the shortcomings moving the ball downfield. I'm getting worried about all the tread on the defensive line as well.
Saints: Similar to the Steelers, only their aging QB opted to retire. Sean Payton will have some tricks up his sleeve, but this feels like a transition year for the team after it went so all in, for good reason, from a cash and cap standpoint in recent years. It ain't easy to keep it going when a first-ballot HOF QB moves on. Ask Bill Belichick.
Bears: OK, so they barely made it last year. But a wild card is a wild card, even if it seemed kind of hollow at the time. Too many people clinging to jobs, too many people with a short-term future there (including Allen Robinson), and too many reasons to think this defense is not quite as dominant as it was a few years ago. Not much depth on the roster and handling how and when to integrate Justin Fields could be a challenge for this group, too.
Packers: So this comes with a caveat. If the powers that be in Green Bay can somehow make nice with Aaron Rodgers, then this is clearly the best team in the NFC North ... But it is also a four-win team if Rodgers stays away or forces a trade and the Packers go with a combination of Jordan Love/Blake Bortles under center. As it stands now, Rodgers is stuck in and intent on making their lives difficult and their season truly is in the balance depending on whether or not No. 12 is back at Lambeau. For the purposes of this exercise, they made the most sense to me as a candidate to drop.
Craving even more NFL coverage focusing on previews, recaps, news and analysis? Listen below and follow the Pick Six podcast for a daily dose of everything you need to follow pro football.
Five 2020 non-playoff teams making the leap
Chargers: Justin Herbert is already a top eight QB for my money, and those dudes tend to end up playing into January. Too much talent on that defense to keep flailing around, and that will change. At some point injuries won't torpedo them (right?). I know I have fallen for this one before, but this roster is legit and I believe in the rebuilt offensive line and I like this team to no longer come undone in critical situations under new game-day management. Bolt up!
49ers: Their injury luck has to improve, too, I figure, The Bosa boys will eventually stay healthy. If San Fran gets back its beastly front four, it will make life a lot easier for the offense. We know they are going to run the hell out of the football, and perhaps Trey Lance can impact the team in special situations along the way. Just a few years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, I think they can be one of three playoff teams from the NFC West.
Cowboys: I don't really fancy Dallas as any sort of real contender, and I think the defense will still prove to be a major cause of concern and Mike McCarthy will face plenty of tough questions along the way. But Dak Prescott is good for several wins above what the QB position provided a year ago, this division is still pretty weak and while I expect WFT to win another NFC East crown, there is enough money and resources invested in this roster to think the Cowboys can be the seventh-best team in a suspect NFC. I think.
Patriots: I don't think Belichick bought himself a Super Bowl contender with their wild and wooly offseason. But he did buy himself sufficient talent to finish second in the AFC East and win about nine games and get a wild card spot. Josh McDaniels finally has a modicum of talent to work with on offense, they will be more balanced in their attack and there is too much pride and know-how on that staff not to bounce back.
Vikings: Well, if the Packers are falling off due to A-Rod drama, somehow has to fill that void. Might as well be Minnesota, because, well, there isn't much else to go with. Kirk Cousins will respond to having a new understudy, they should be a little better in the trenches, and the Bears and Lions are basically rebuilding (though only one of them admits it). They have an MVP candidate in the backfield at RB and are loaded at WR and Mike Zimmer will get the defense to play at least a little better than a year ago.