By now we all know the one about six new teams making the NFL playoffs every year. Parity in its most celebrated form. The stuff that dreams are made of over at the league office.
And there is every reason to expect that phenomenon to continue in 2022. Although, after this wild and wacky start to the offseason, trying to identify which teams will be making those moves is anything but easy. The major wave of NFL free agency is over, and the biggest trades have already been completed (Baker Mayfield and Jimmy G ain't going to reshape the balance of power at this point). The draft will most certainly have a direct impact on what rosters look like this summer, of course, but this strikes me as an interesting time as any to take a way-too-early look at which teams that missed the postseason a year ago might be poised to get there this winter.
There is a case to be made for oh so many, which also then begs the question as to which teams that reached a year ago will find themselves on the outside looking in. But that's a question for another day. We are choosing to focus on the positive and the bevy of clubs that have thrust themselves into possible contention after failing to take advantage of the expanded playoff field in 2021. And as with all things NFL these days, the dynamic between the two conferences will loom large in this exercise as well, as clearly there are far fewer power teams with top quarterbacks in the NFC as there are in the AFC.
So, with that in mind, here are a few teams I would put a few extra coins on to reach the playoffs if one was so inclined to spend their additional resources in such a manner:
These guys had no business getting as close to the playoffs as they did a year ago. The defense remains legit, and I don't see the loss of top free safety Marcus Williams as enough to hold them back. Jameis Winston will pick up where he left off with this offense, the Taysom Hill experiment is over, and they get to feast on the spiraling Panthers and Falcons twice. Legit home field advantage. Quality roster. Dennis Allen is in position to succeed right away.
I am buying what Kevin O'Connell is selling. Big time. This may be the fourth-best team in the conference right now. Very balanced on offense. Ascending offensive linemen. No shortage of capable skill players. Bookend pass rushers. New esprit de corps with Mike Zimmer finally gone. They can feast on the Bears and Lions in the division (sound familiar?). Are they going to contend for a Super Bowl? No? Will they catch the Packers? Probably not. But I'll take them over any team in the NFC East, the Cardinals may have plateaued, is Trey Lance ready in San Francisco? See where I am going with this?
I don't expect Matt Ryan to be an MVP candidate and his best ball is behind him. And there are issues with mobility … But this team should have been in the playoffs a year ago, Carson Wentz got run out of town by the owner because of it and they get the benefit of playing the Jags and Texans twice. The defense has enough pieces. The offensive line is among the best in football at a time when line play is largely poor. And the Titans may have gone as far as they are going to go with Ryan Tannehill. Colts play them tough. I think Indy takes the AFC South crown this year.
Of all the power moves any team made this offseason, none is bigger than the Broncos landing Russell Wilson. Yes, the AFC is loaded, but so was the NFC West back in the day and Russ was good for cookin' up a playoff berth pretty much every season regardless of the supporting cast around him. I like the defense. I like the run game. I like the weapons on offense. Add an offensive lineman of some ability in the draft, keep building from the inside out. Mile High just got really difficult to win in once again.
When you have a QB as talented as Justin Herbert, you should be thinking playoffs. But I suspect Brandon Staley figures a few more things out entering his second season as head coach and how can you not love what GM Tom Telesco did this offseason? If Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa can stay relatively healthy, then a division title is hardly out of the question. Wouldn't mind seeing them continuing to fortify the line of scrimmage even more in the draft. But at some point their luck will turn. Could they be this year's Bengals? Wouldn't shock me.
This may be the second-best team in the AFC East, which is why they get the nod in this spot. They tended to give the Pats fits even when New England was elite and Miami was sputtering. This will be a ball-control monster on offense – which can also score quickly when need be – and the defense is already stout. They finished with a flurry a year ago, if you recall. If Deshaun Watson was not starting out a potentially lengthy suspension I would have slotted the Browns here, but I am giving the Fish the nod.