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SIX TEAMS THAT DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS LAST YEAR BUT MIGHT THIS YEAR.

ON AVERAGE, ONLY ABOUT HALF OF LAST YEAR’s PLAYOFF TEAMS WILL RETURN THIS YEAR. 

WHICH OF THESE SIX THAT MISSED LAST YEAR WILL MAKE IT?    

The league increased the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams to feature seven teams per conference. There will still be four division winners. However, an extra wild-card team has been added in the NFC and AFC. 

From the 1991 postseason through 2018, the average number of returning teams is nearly 6.4 per season. Just over half.

Can these theses that were close in 2020 get into the playoffs this year; replacing six from last year?

Dallas

Now, heading into this season, there’s at least some good news. One, Dak Prescott is expected to make a full recovery and the O-line is healthy as well. Two, they added players such as first-round pick Micah Parsons and fourth-round pick Jabril Cox to light a fire under Smith and LVE. Three, they have the second easiest schedule according to ESPN.

Miami

In 2021, not only will he be more comfortable but the Dolphins also added Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle to help him improve. Their defense should also continue to shine as an already strong unit just added Jaelan Phillips and Jevon Holland in the draft. Head coach Brian Flores has done a great job re-tooling that defense and they just became even more dangerous with those two potential starters.

Arizona

Now looking ahead to 2021, they could be a team to watch. Not only are Murray and Hopkins going to have a full year together, but Arizona also added A.J. Green on offense. As for their defense, Chandler Jones should return after missing 11 games in 2020 and he will have some help in J.J. Watt and Zaven Collins. All that should be enough to finally give them a winning season, helping them to secure a spot in the playoffs.

Minnesota 

Expect the defensive-minded coach to get their defenders playing well again and the offense should be even better in 2021. Not only has Kirk Cousins been underappreciated but he and running back Dalvin Cook have even more help with Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis joining an offensive line that really needed an infusion of talent.

Don’t be surprised to see a bounce-back from this team as they get back to the playoffs in 2021.

LA Chargers

As far as their defense goes, Joey Bosa is still the leader on that side of the ball and another year of experience for Kenneth Murray should help him improve. There’s also Asante Samuel, Jr. who could end up being a star at cornerback for them. The Chargers have everything needed in order to be a playoff contender this coming season. While it will be hard for them to knock off the Chiefs in the AFC West, it wouldn’t be a shock at all to find them as one of the top seven in the AFC.

NY Giants

Add to that the growth of quarterback Daniel Jones, who is entering year four in the NFL, and the return of running back Saquon Barkley from a torn ACL suffered in 2020, and New York should be back in the mix for the NFC East title with a Wild Card spot as their fall-back option.

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NFC WEST PREVIEW

Los Angeles Rams, Win total: 10.5

The Rams made a huge splash early in the offseason when they traded Jared Goff and draft picks to the Lions for Matthew Stafford. This is an upgrade over Goff, but the Rams salary cap situation resulted in them having to part ways with the likes of defensive end Michael Brockers, linebacker Sam Ebukam, cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson. Aaron Donald keeps that defense competitive, but they took a big hit on depth. Injuries can be tricky to factor into projections, but the Rams seem like the team that will get pumped up this offseason only to fall flat.

Coach Sean McVay

QB Matthew Stafford.

RB Darrell Henderson, Xavier Jones

Defense: Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd 

The Los Angeles Rams had a dominating defense under Brandon Staley last season, but their offensive luck with Jared Goff at the helm finally ran out. Head coach Sean McVay seemed to lose all trust in Goff at the end of last year and they ended up trading him and draft picks for the Lions Matthew Stafford. The fit should be a good one, but we’ll still need to see results. The most notable move this offseason was trading Goff plus two first round draft picks to the Lions for Stafford. They also re-signed edge rusher Leonard Floyd and brought in wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

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San Francisco 49ers, Win total: 10.5

The 49ers also made a huge splash this year, trading two future first round picks to move from No. 12 to No. 3 in the 2021 NFL Draft. They’re going to draft a quarterback with the pick, but continue to insist Jimmy Garoppolo is their guy for the coming season. The 49ers did a great job retaining key talent, re-signing Trent Williams, Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams, and Kyle Juszczyk among others, but betting this comes down to the QB situation. Are you comfortable taking either the over or under with Jimmy G?

Coach Kyle Shanahan 

QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance

RB Raheem Mostert, Tray Sermon

Defense: Nick Boza, Jimmy Ward, 

DJ Jones

The 49ers had the worst injury luck in the league in 2020 and it was impossible to overcome as they ended up finishing last in the NFC West at 6-10. The injuries are too numerous to list them all, but Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Dee Ford, Ezekiel Ansah, Richard Sherman, and Soloman Thomas all missed big chunks of time. They’ll hope for better injury luck and a strong start to rookie QB Trey Lance’s career in 2021. The 49ers re-signed left tackle Trent Williams and brought in center Alex Mack. They also re-signing cornerbacks Jason Verrett, Dontae Johnson and Emmanuel Moseley and they’ll likely lose CB Richard Sherman. But the biggest move was trading up to pick QB Trey Lance third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.

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Seattle Seahawks, Win total: 9.5

The Russell Wilson drama has overshadowed the offseason for Seattle. It seems highly unlikely he’s going anywhere, and the additions of center Ethan Pocic guard Gabe Jackson should assuage some of his concerns. The team also added tight end Gerald Everett and re-signed running back Chris Carson. Losing Shaquil Griffin is a big blow to the defense and is one reason I’m hesitant on this. That being said, Wilson consistently gives this team a puncher’s chance and ten wins is very possible.

Coach Pete Carroll

QB Russell Wilson. Geno Smith.

RB Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny

Defense: Brian Mone, Bobby Wagner,

Jamal Adams

The Seattle Seahawks put together another solid season under Pete Carroll, but their postseason run was short with a Wild Card round loss to the Los Angeles Rams. It was a bit of a rough offseason as Russell Wilson showed his frustration with the franchise, but both sides seem ready to move on and contend for another NFC West title in 2021. The Seahawks re-signed edge rusher Carlos Dunlap and brought in Kenny Hyder and Aldon Smith in free agency to help their pass rush in 2021. Seattle brought back running back Chris Carson and signed tight end Gerald Everett. The Seahawks traded for guard Gabe Jackson to help protect Russell Wilson.

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Arizona Cardinals, Win total: 8

I wouldn’t put money on long term futures beyond 2021, but the Cardinals have loaded up this offseason to make an immediate move up the standings. The team added a ton of talent, signing defensive end JJ Watt, wide receiver A.J. Green, guard Brian Winters, and cornerback Malcolm Butler, while also trading for center Rodney Hudson. They’re all great additions for 2021, but not much beyond that. They added over 30 talent that could put them over the top in 2021, but is not a recipe for long-term success. Injuries and general skill break-down is a concern and Kliff Kingsbury’s coaching acumen remains questionable, but for 2021 win totals, I’m willing to bet on them taking a least a small step forward.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury

QB Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy

RB Chase Edmonds, James Conner

Defense: JJ Watt, Shawn Williams and Malcolm Butler

The Cardinals were the most active team in free agency this offseason. They were able to land J.J. Watt and A.J. Green, two veterans that will immediately pay dividends toward a young roster. They acquired Rodney Hudson and signed Brian Winters to improve the offensive line and altered the secondary by signing safety Shawn Williams and cornerback Malcolm Butler — better fits for the man-coverage scheme defensive coordinator Vance Joseph likes to run. 

Arizona is the wild card in this division. The Cardinals are good enough to steal the division title and will be a problem all year long. If the defense doesn’t improve, they could be staring at another 8-8 record.