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Four teams can complete historic turnarounds to make the NFL playoffs this weekend after their seasons looked lost.

The Jaguars were 2-6 without much hope of a Trevor Lawrence Year 2 leap in sight. Jacksonville showed flashes early in the year with a 28-point win at the Chargers, but still more closely resembled a team that had back-to-back No. 1 overall picks than a playoff team.

The Packers were 4-8 and off to the worst start in Aaron Rodgers' career. It didn't even look like Rodgers, who had run the table before, could dig them out of this hole. There was also plenty of speculation Jordan Love would replace the banged-up veteran quarterback for the rest of the season.

The Steelers were 4-8 and Mike Tomlin's first losing season was all but assured. Pittsburgh could not get into a rhythm after an injury to T.J. Watt coupled with the transition from Ben Roethlisberger to rookie Kenny Pickett.

The Lions were 1-6 and completely written off. At that juncture they were 4-19-1 during Dan Campbell's tenure. The only silver lining was a high draft pick from the struggling Rams, courtesy of the Matthew Stafford-Jared Goff trade, which would be used to replace Goff.

Miraculously, all four teams find themselves either a win away from the postseason, or a win and some help away. It's possible that as many as three could make the postseason: the Jaguars, Steelers and either the Packers or Lions. There's never been a season in NFL history where multiple teams made the playoffs after being four-plus games under .500.

In 42 seasons since the 1970 NFL-AFL Merger, only seven teams have rebounded from being four-plus games below .500 to make the playoffs. It happens once every seven years. There's been 557 teams during that span to be four below at some point, so 1.2 percent of teams have made it. 

Teams four games below .500 at any point and made playoffs in NFL historyStarted

2020 Washington


2018 Colts


2015 Chiefs


2014 Panthers


2008 Chargers


1992 Chargers


1970 Bengals


Of the four teams still alive in Week 18, only the Jaguars are playing for a seed higher than seven. So if you want to say this is only the product of the expanded postseason, you wouldn't be wrong. 

I still think it's spectacular and entertaining that four franchises can climb out of those holes and in Super Bowl contention.

Time to dive into the specifics on each team's playoff quest and how they've turned it around:

All playoff chance percentages via the SportsLine Projection Model.

Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)

Playoff chances: Low point: 4% | Now: 75%

Clinching scenario: Win/tie vs. Titans OR losses by Dolphins, Patriots and Steelers

How it happened: Trevor Lawrence made the Year 2 leap. Plain and simple. Mostly. He has the largest improvement in passer rating of any qualified QB from last season, and the largest jump from Year 1-2 by a No. 1 overall pick QB since Terry Bradshaw from 1970-71.

It all started after the Jaguars' 2-6 start. Since that point, Lawrence has the highest passer rating in the NFL among QBs with 200+ pass attempts. He also ranks fourth in EPA per dropback during that span. 

Lawrence finally started consistently showcasing the arm talent, which made him one of the best quarterback prospects of all time. One of the toughest throws for anyone to make is in tight coverage to the outside of the field. Those throws, especially to the intermediate portions, could be considered a measuring stick of sorts. Well, Lawrence has mastered those passes in the last two months, completing over 70 percent of his passes with only one interception. I can't point to one reason he flipped the switch, but I'll speculate it's for a combination of reasons. The culture shift from Urban Meyer to Doug Pederson is the obvious one. Chemistry with new teammates is another. Jacksonville's top three receivers (Zay Jones, Christian Kirk, Evan Engram) were not on the team last season. 

Trevor Lawrence Passing Outside the NumbersFirst 25 GamesLast 8 Games

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Trevor Lawrence's comeback against the Ravens was his signature moment so far in the NFL, and this throw to Marvin Jones on fourth down of the game-winning drive says it all. He has the arm talent, anticipation and trust to release the ball before Jones' break and put it in the perfect spot:

Of course, I can't not mention the Titans' six-game losing streak as a big reason Jacksonville is also knocking on the door of postseason contention.

Green Bay Packers (8-8)

Playoff chances: Low point: 1% | Now: 66%

Clinching scenario: Win vs. Lions

How it happened: I wrote about this last week after a deep dive on Rodgers' knack for turning around Packers' seasons. His play actually hasn't improved statistically during the team's four-game win streak; instead the defense has made a dramatic turnaround. The defensive unit is forcing three turnovers per game during the streak after forcing one per game over the team's 4-8 start. A majority of the takeaways have come from good reads by defenders or tipped balls, leading me to believe Green Bay's switch to blitz less and play more zone coverage has made a major impact. It was no small change either. The Packers went from blitzing at the second-lowest rate in the league to the second-highest during their win streak. They also went from playing zone coverage at a league average rate, to the highest in the NFL over that span. 

Packers Defense This SeasonFirst 12 GamesLast 4 Games













Early in last week's win over the Vikings, Rasul Douglas made a nice read in zone coverage and was able to deflect the pass into the waiting arms of Darnell Savage, who returned it 75 yards for a TD:

Green Bay can also thank the Commanders, losers of three straight, for leaving the door open for the final NFC playoff spot.

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)

Playoff chances: Low point: 0.2% | Now: 20%

Clinching scenario: Win vs. Browns AND losses by Dolphins & Patriots

How it happened: The Steelers' rebound is the one I'm most impressed by. They've had to win four straight games to even be in position to make the postseason. They still need help, but just getting here with a rookie quarterback stepping up -- especially how he did it in the last two games -- is remarkable. Pickett is the first rookie QB in NFL history with a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute of the fourth quarter in back-to-back games. That's just bonkers.

They've gotten here by regaining their identity. With any smash-mouth team it starts in the trenches. T.J. Watt's return from a torn pectoral has coincided with the return of the Steel Curtain. Pittsburgh has the No. 1 total defense in the NFL since Watt's return from injury after ranking 29th prior. The offensive line might be the unsung hero of this team, though, after they were the biggest weakness in 2021. They ranked 31st in ESPN's pass block win rate metric last year and have improved all the way to fifth this year. 

Continuity has gone a long way; they are the only team to start the same five offensive lineman in every game this season. Najee Harris has also been running like a man possessed, especially in Pittsburgh's Week 17 win in Baltimore. The last element, though, is a quarterback who protects the football, which is where Kenny Pickett's maturation comes in. He went from committing turnovers at the highest rate in the league through the Steelers' 2-6 start (once every 30 snaps), to the second-lowest rate since (one in 424 snaps). 

Everything Pittsburgh can't control has also gone its way as most of its competition for the final AFC playoff card spot (Titans, Patriots, Jets and Dolphins) have collapsed. If that wasn't enough assistance, the Steelers still need to win and get losses from the Patriots and Dolphins to make the dance. They also got a miracle last year to make the playoffs as the Colts opened the door after losing to the Jaguars as a 14-point favorite. It'd be incredible to see Pittsburgh make the playoffs in back-to-back years needing to win and get help in Week 18.

Detroit Lions (8-8)

Playoff chances: Low point: 0.3% | Now: 11%

Clinching scenario: Win at Packers AND Seahawks loss vs. Rams

How it happened: A few weeks ago I wrote about how Jared Goff has looked like 2018 Rams' Goff and has used play-action passing to recapture that form. Not much has changed. He leads the NFL in EPA per dropback and has 17 touchdown passes to one interception since the Lions' 1-6 start. Detroit has ramped up its play-action usage over that span and Goff has been the most efficient quarterback by a mile on those plays.

Jared Goff NFL Ranks on Play Action With LionsFirst 21 GamesLast 9 Games

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EPA per dropback



The Lions' pass rush has also led to an improvement on the defensive end, headlined by rookies Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston. Detroit has the sixth-highest pressure rate in the last nine games after ranking 26th through its 1-6 start. The emergence of Houston, a sixth-rounder, has been a nice surprise. He has 8.0 sacks on just 79 pass rushes in six games since being called up from the practice squad. That's 1.0 sack every 10 times he rushes the passer. He's featured a nice speed move to the outside complete with a unique stutter step. This one on a sack of Trevor Lawrence was really pronounced:   

His teammates recognized this unique move, too (via "My first 'Houston, we have a problem' moment had to be one-on-one reps in practice," defensive tackle Alim McNeill said. "I can't remember the week, but Houston wasn't up yet, wasn't playing yet. And he hit some outside move, like one of those stutter moves that he's been hitting lately, and he hit it. I was like, 'Oh, OK.'"

Whether these four teams get to the postseason or not, I think we can all be thankful they've set the stage for a memorable regular-season finale.