Each year, 12 of the 32 teams in the NFL qualify for the playoffs. Unlike many other professional sports leagues, there tends to be a strong turnover each year in teams that make the playoffs. With surprise teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears making the playoffs in 2018, you can expect more teams that missed the playoffs last season to make it in 2019.
Here’s a look at the five most likely teams to reach the playoffs after missing out this past season.
Nobody has made more noise this offseason than the Cleveland Browns. After drafting Baker Mayfield first overall last season, the Browns finally landed their franchise quarterback and gave him the keys after Tyrod Taylor suffered a concussion in Week 3. Mayfield started the remainder of the year and the Browns finished with a 7-8-1 record. Mayfield posted one of the best statistical rookie quarterback seasons in recent memory, finishing the year with 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. With former offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens now running the show, the Browns look to make a jump in 2019.
This past offseason, the Browns acquired one of the most prolific players in the entire league in Odell Beckham Jr. They also traded for edge rusher Olivier Vernon and signed Sheldon Richardson, while adding Kareem Hunt, who will miss the first eight games of the year due to suspension. With Mayfield at quarterback, Nick Chubb and Hunt at running back and both OBJ And Jarvis Landry at the receiver position, the Browns have one of the most stacked offenses on paper. Defensively, they pair rising third-year stud Myles Garrett with Vernon and Richardson, while adding to their impressive young secondary, pairing new cornerback Greedy Williams with the No. 4 overall pick in 2018, Denzel Ward. With a stacked roster in an AFC North division that’s up for grabs, it’s playoffs or bust for the 2019 Cleveland Browns.
Green Bay Packers
After not missing the playoffs since Aaron Rodgers’ first year as a starter in 2008, the Green Bay Packers have missed the playoffs for consecutive years. Although the Packers finished the 2018 season with a 6-9-1 record, Rodgers continued his dominance as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Rodgers finished the 2018 season with 4,442 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and two interceptions. Even with Rodgers having a strong statistical season, the Packers struggled in almost every other facet. After years of success with the team, former Packers GM Ted Thompson failed to surround Rodgers with adequate talent before stepping down at the end of the 2017 season. With rumors of disagreement between coach Mike McCarthy and Rodgers, McCarthy was fired in December after the Packers fell to 4-7-1.
In the wake of Thompson and McCarthy’s departures, the Packers have hired Brian Gutekunst as GM and Matt LaFleur as head coach. LaFleur is just four years older than Rodgers, and the Packers are hopeful he can provide a similar effect to what Sean McVay produced with the Los Angeles Rams. With the Packers now going young with their GM and coaching hires, they hope these fresh perspectives will restore the franchise to the promised land once again. Although Rodgers is 35, he has shown no signs of slowing down and has fewer miles on his legs than most players at 35 in the NFL. As long as he’s still at the helm as quarterback, the Packers will be playoff contenders year in and year out.
In 2017, the Jacksonville Jaguars were less than a quarter away from going to the Super Bowl. Following arguably the greatest season in franchise history, the Jaguars’ fall from grace in 2018 was quite shocking. After thinking quarterback Blake Bortles had turned the corner, the Jaguars signed him to a three-year extension in the 2017 offseason, then cut him after Jacksonville finished the 2018 season 5-11.
To fix their problems under center, the Jaguars signed Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles to a four-year deal. They also improved their roster through the draft, adding highly touted prospects Josh Allen and Jawaan Taylor in the first two rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft. After having a record-setting defensive year in 2017, the Jaguars naturally regressed on that side of the ball in 2018, but were still one of the stronger units in the league. They were top-five in the league in a variety of defensive categories, including points per game, passing yards per game, and total yards per game. With star cornerback Jalen Ramsey approaching his contract year and the majority of the defense returning, expect Jacksonville to be another top-tier unit in 2019. Although Foles has struggled in his career as a starter, he is already a significant upgrade over Bortles. With Foles under center and the Jaguars defense still in its prime, Jacksonville looks to be a playoff contender this upcoming season.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are one of the most intriguing teams entering the 2019 NFL season. They have a strong young core of players, yet have failed to remain healthy over the past few seasons. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is regarded as one of the brightest offensive minds in the game but has not had an opportunity to work with all of the team’s weapons at his disposal. After tearing his ACL in Week 3 and missing the remainder of the season, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will be fully healthy entering this year. Although he’s touted as an up-and-coming quarterback in the league, Garoppolo has played in 26 career games and appeared in just nine with the 49ers over the past two years. Garoppolo has a lot to prove this upcoming season and if he struggles, don’t be surprised to see the 49ers roll with backup quarterback Nick Mullens, who was efficient in his 2018 rookie campaign.
Outside of Garoppolo, the 49ers will see Jerrick McKinnon for the first time since tearing his ACL prior to the 2018 season, pairing him with young running back Matt Breida and free-agent signee Telvin Coleman. They will also return a plethora of young talent, including the likes of George Kittle, DeForest Buckner and Fred Warner. Adding Nick Bosa with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and linebacker Dee Ford via trade, the 49ers will boast one of the brightest young defenses in the entire league. In an NFC West dominated by the Rams, second place in the division is up for grabs and don’t be surprised to see the 49ers fill that opening and secure a wild card spot in 2019.
Just two years seasons removed from blowing a 28-3 lead against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons didn’t become the annual contenders we all thought they’d be. In 2018, the Falcons posted a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2015, but Matt Ryan posted his best statistical season since winning the MVP Award in 2016. Ryan threw for 4,924 yards, 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Offensively, the Falcons still struggled to protect Ryan, who was sacked 42 times, resulting in a career-high nine fumbles. These issues were due in large part to injuries, with both starting guards Brandon Fusco and Andy Levitre suffering season-ending injuries. Even with the Falcons offensive line problems, the team ranked in the top-ten in points, offensive yards and passing yards per game. They weren’t great in the run game, ranking 27th in the league, which is no surprise after Devonta Freeman appeared in only two games.
Paired with their inconsistent offense, the Falcons’ injury-riddled defensive unit stood no chance in 2018. Just four games into the season, the Falcons lost both starting safeties and linebacker Deion Jones due to injury. As a result, the Falcons defense was ranked in the bottom half of the league. Atlanta expects to bounce back with a healthy squad in 2019. With the New Orleans Saints as the likely favorites to win the NFC South again, expect the Falcons to make a push for a Wild Card spot next season.