After more than a decade of ineptitude -- 13 seasons, to be exact -- the Raiders finally journeyed into the playoffs last season, securing their first postseason berth since the 2002 season. It might've felt like forever (because it was), but winter finally ended in Oakland.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, the Raiders' rise to prominence meant we were forced to watch Connor Cook start a playoff game. It went something like this:
Moving on -- because no one deserves to relive that nightmare of a playoff game, which also featured Brock Osweiler -- the only reason I'm bringing up the 2016 Raiders is because they still did something awesome before Derek Carr broke his fibula. They snapped their lengthy playoff drought.
They weren't the only ones. The Dolphins, under Adam Gase's tutelage, ended their seven-season playoff-less streak. And, like the Raiders, they were forced to start their backup, Matt Moore, in a playoff game, which had us looking something like this:
So, because it's June and not much else is going on, it's time to figure out who might be next in ending their drought (and then promptly losing their quarterback to an injury). Eight teams currently have a playoff drought that has been going on for at least five seasons. Those teams are:
- Bills -- 17 seasons
- Browns -- 14 seasons
- Rams -- 12 seasons
- Jaguars -- 9 seasons
- Buccaneers -- 9 seasons
- Titans -- 8 seasons
- Jets -- 6 seasons
- Bears -- 6 seasons
Let's rank their chances to break their playoff droughts in 2017.
8. New York Jets
For a number of reasons -- perhaps too many to count -- the Jets are not going to be in the playoffs next winter. Essentially, it boils down to one simple fact: Their roster is completely devoid of talent.
I could go down the list, but we can stop at the first and most important position. Their quarterback is Josh McCown. Or Christian Hackenberg. Or Bryce Petty. It doesn't matter which one starts. They could start all three at once and it wouldn't matter.
Partly by design -- but mainly because their front office messed up a couple drafts -- the Jets are going to suck in 2017. That's not a bad thing. They need to commit to a rebuild. Losing games, earning a top draft pick and taking a new quarterback in a loaded class is the best thing that can happen to the Jets. That's probably why they cut David Harris this week while shopping Eric Decker after dumping Brandon Marshall, Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis earlier in the offseason. The purge came and went in New York -- with good reason.
This is a team that went 5-11 and got outscored by 134 points last year. They ranked last in DVOA. They didn't get better this offseason. They actually got worse.
Embrace the awful.
7. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams' decision to trade up to draft Jared Goff last year looked bad at the time. It looked worse when Goff stunk in the preseason. It looked even worse when he couldn't beat out Sean Mannion or Case Keenum. It looked awful when he actually took the field. With Goff under center, the Rams went 0-7 as he threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
To be fair to Goff, the Rams' current state of affairs (bad) isn't just on him. And that's precisely the problem. The Rams mortgaged their future for a quarterback without surrounding him with teammates that can aid him. And -- because of their trade to acquire him in the first place -- they didn't have the draft ammunition to improve his supporting cast.
Tavon Austin is his WR1. Robert Woods is his WR2. Maybe Todd Gurley is good -- that's still up in the air -- but he'll need much improved offensive line play if he's going to recapture the success he saw in his rookie season. Yes, the Rams' defensive line is talented -- hello, Aaron Donald -- but you can't win on defensive line strength alone, especially when you reside in the same division as the Seahawks and Cardinals.
This is a team that needs a revamped roster. And that can only come with time. The Rams ranked 30th in DVOA last season and they were outscored by 170 points.
Maybe Sean McVay will be enough of an addition to turn the tide. I'm skeptical. Bill Belichick likely wouldn't be able to overcome the Rams' roster.
6. Cleveland Browns
Congratulations, Cleveland. Not only did your basketball team earn a date with the indestructible Warriors, serving as a sacrificial lamb, but your football team is finally on the right path after nearly 15 years of ineptitude.
That's right. The Browns are in the beginning-ish stages of what looks like a successful rebuild. They revamped their offensive line. They got a top pass-rushing talent in Myles Garrett. Isaiah Crowell is a pretty darn elusive back. Corey Coleman has potential. David Njoku could give them an advantage over most teams at tight end. They didn't overpay for a quarterback, letting DeShone Kizer drop to them in the second round. The list goes on and on.
By stockpiling draft picks, the Browns have set themselves up for future success. Key word there: Future. They're still not ready to compete for a playoff spot. The quarterback situation still needs to sort itself out and, this is is the important part, they need their young, unproven players to cash in on their potential. Until that happens -- until Garrett looks like Von Miller, until Kizer looks like the future at quarterback -- the Browns can't be picked to earn a playoff berth.
I mean, they nearly went 0-16 last season, which would've resulted in an actual parade. It'll take another year or two (or three) for Cleveland to complete its transformation.
5. Chicago Bears
Before we begin, it's important to note that I'm a bigger fan of the Bears' current roster than most others -- so much so, that I even picked the Bears to finish as a wild-card team last season if they were able to stay healthy.
They did not stay healthy.
Their front seven -- including Pernell McPhee, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks, Willie Young, Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, etc. -- is a strength that many other teams lack. The interior of their offensive line -- Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair and Josh Sitton -- is one of the best interiors in all of football. Jordan Howard is as good as Ezekiel Elliott, evidenced by his 5.2 yards per carry.
But their roster still has glaring holes. Mike Glennon will get his first real chance to start at quarterback. He's a huge unknown. Mitchell Trubisky, who will sit behind Glennon, is an even bigger unknown and if he's thrust into the starting role, it'll only be because of Glennon's quality of play. The Bears' most reliable receiver is Cameron Meredith. Their secondary is relying on Prince Amukamara to stay healthy.
The Bears' long-term future almost entirely rides on Trubisky's potential. Considering Trubisky isn't supposed to play this year, it's safe to say the Bears aren't even betting on a playoff berth. It'll take a Glennon miracle for that to happen.
But don't expect the Bears to be an awful team. Their defense has some bright spots, and if they lean heavily on Howard, they can improve from their three-win season. For that to happen, they'll need to stay healthy, unlike a year ago. The Bears might be improving, but they're still lacking depth like most bad teams.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Did you hear the news out of Duval County? Blake Bortles, the Jaguars' consistently inconsistent quarterback, has supposedly fixed his throwing mechanics so that he no longer looks like this:
Bortles not even pretending that he's worked on his throwing motion this year: pic.twitter.com/RTGhlgoMt2— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) August 21, 2016
Meanwhile, newcomer Calais Campbell apparently believes the Jaguars have every piece of the puzzle.
"I truly believe this team has every piece to the puzzle," Campbell recently said, per the team's website. "We don't need anything else."
Most important, new man in charge Tom Coughlin got rid of the team's ping-pong table. Because that has been the problem all along.
Don't buy into the hype. The Jaguars might have a ton of nice pieces like Campbell, Malik Jackson, Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Dante Fowler, Leonard Fournette, A.J. Bouye, Cam Robinson, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, but as long as they continue to let Bortles lead the quarterback depth chart, they're likely not going to be a playoff team. In his career, he has completed 58.8 percent of his passes, averaged 6.6 yards per attempt and posted a 79.6 passer rating.
The alleged changes he made to his mechanics won't matter, because this is the story every offseason. Sure enough, Bortles always reverts back to his cruddy throwing motion in the regular season. At this point in his career, I would bet that Bortles has shown us who he is -- a quarterback with terrible mechanics, accuracy and decision making.
For the record, I would've placed the Bears above the Jaguars if they didn't reside in the NFC North. The only reason the Jaguars are situated in the top half of this list is because they live in the perpetually mediocre AFC South. If they can get to nine wins, they could take the division. If Fournette turns out to be the next Elliott and if the Jaguars' defense make the leap from promising to dominant, that wouldn't be the most far-fetched outcome of the season.
3. Buffalo Bills
Honestly, I really wanted to slot the Bills higher on this list. I'm a fan of the Mariners, so I know what it's like to own the longest active playoff drought in a sport. I have sympathy for them.
I'm also a fan of somewhat controversial quarterback Tyrod Taylor. I cannot fathom why the Bills continue to act as if they're saddled with a subpar quarterback. If I were the Bills, I would be building around Taylor and their running game and working to improve the defense.
I think the Bills have a slim chance at the playoffs. But they're positioned below the next two teams on the list because of their offseason. They messed up Mike Gillislee's tender situation, which allowed the Patriots to steal him. Gillislee is a backup, but he has been a productive one behind LeSean McCoy, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. They watched Stephon Gilmore leave for New England, though I can't blame the Bills for not overpaying him.
Not helping matters: They have to play the Patriots twice a year.
Also not helping: Sammy Watkins can't seem to stay healthy.
2. Tennessee Titans
Like the Jaguars, the Titans only need to get to nine wins to give themselves a shot at capturing the AFC South over General Andrew Luck:
Beth,— Andrew Luck (@FauxAndyLuck) April 29, 2017
There was a draft. New leader Ballard selected men to aid in our defenses; I hope these are the pieces needed to finally win this war pic.twitter.com/bWuapEHdrv
After the Colts and Luck, the Titans have the best quarterback in the division. If Marcus Mariota can stay healthy -- he has appeared in 27 of 32 games in his first two seasons -- and if Corey Davis is worth the first-round pick they used to draft him, the Titans can break their streak.
In large part, that's due to the Titans' ground game. We all laughed when Mike Mularkey introduced exotic smashmouth to Nashville, but the Titans went on to total the third-most rushing yards in the NFL last season. The Titans have their formula to nine or 10 wins: Pound the ball, keep Mariota healthy and hope for a weak division.
Of all the teams appearing on this list, the Titans finished with the highest DVOA (13th) last season. They went 9-7. Factor in Mariota's continued development, some better injury luck and this year's rookie class, and it's not insane to suggest that the Titans wind up winning the division.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It's no secret that I'm not Jameis Winston's biggest fan. I would rather have Mariota and truly do believe the Buccaneers need more from Winston if they're going to break their playoff drought. But I can't deny the team the Buccaneers have built around him.
Mike Evans is a top-five receiver. DeSean Jackson is the game's best home-run threat. O.J. Howard is one of the best tight end prospects in recent years. Noah Spence is primed for a breakout season. Gerald McCoy is Gerald McCoy. I could go on. A year ago, the Buccaneers went 9-7 and just missed the playoffs. They're close. And yes, I'll acknowledge that there's a chance that Winston will take the next step with an improved supporting cast.
The biggest hurdle is that the Buccaneers are forced to play in the same division as the past two Super Bowl runner-ups. Plus, there's the "Hard Knocks" curse. And, oh yeah, their second-round kicker can't put the ball through the uprights.
All jokes aside, the Buccaneers have a legit chance to contend for a playoff spot in 2017. Let's just hope that if they do make it into January, Winston won't suffer the same fate as Derek Carr and Ryan Tannehill, because if that were to happen, then this guy would be starting a playoff game: