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Carolina Panthers - Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez

Teams Most Likely To Go From Last Place To The Playoffs In 2017

Football is great because every game matters. Unlike other sports, you can’t afford to lose focus for even one play, or it could make all the difference for the entire season. A few plays might be the difference between 12-4 and 9-7, or 10-6 and 7-9. It’s foolish for teams to look ahead instead of taking one week at a time.


Because the NFL has such parity, teams that were bad one year can turn around and make the playoffs the next year. Going through the four last-place finishers from 2016, these teams are ranked by the best chance to make the playoffs this season.


1. Philadelphia Eagles

The NFC East brings more parity than any other division perhaps in any sport. Over the last 12 years, there has not been a repeat NFC East winner. The Eagles were the last team to win back-to-back division titles, when they won four straight from 2001-2004. For 2017, Carson Wentz’s play will likely be the biggest determining factor in Philadelphia’s success. Team success doesn’t come down to just one player, but there are a lot of good players around Wentz, who is regarded by many as someone with elite potential like an Andrew Luck-type. It’s time for him to show it.


2. Carolina Panthers

The 2015 NFC Champions struggled both offensively and defensively last season. Some considered it a “Super Bowl hangover” but while that might not have been it, something was up with the team. Cam Newton regressed as a passer after his MVP campaign and was even benched to start a December game for violating the team’s dress code. If Newton matured, as he said he did, it’d help the Panthers bounce back from any adversity they face this season and get back into the playoffs. New weapons like Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel won’t hurt, either.


3. San Diego Chargers

Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Henry, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams, and more—the Chargers have a lot of talent to help them bounce back this season. Just as important, the offensive line should be improved after some offseason additions. With the emerging defense led by Joey Bosa, the Chargers could surprise a lot of people as the afterthought in the AFC West.


4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville went for it in free agency, signing Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, and Barry Church to all bolster the defense. On offense, the Jags will attempt to control line of scrimmage with the offensive line and Leonard Fournette. Quarterback Blake Bortles will be better now that he’s healthy and able to utilize more play-action with a stronger running game.


5. Cleveland Browns

While the Browns had the second-fewest points scored and gave up the third-most points last season, they added talent to the team and are in the second year under head coach Hue Jackson. With a strong offensive line, Cleveland can pound the ball and try to keep games close. They should very much improve on their 1-15 record from 2016.


6. Chicago Bears

Similarly, the Bears have a solid offensive line and should try to ride Jordan Howard to some W’s. It’s hard to tell what’s real news and what’s fake news today with “anonymous sources” and reporters trying to make a name for themselves, but if John Fox was truly in the dark about the trade-up for Mitchell Trubisky, that’s not a good sign. But Fox has been a good coach for a long time and his team shouldn’t be counted out.


7. San Francisco 49ers

Also like Cleveland, the 49ers have a huge upgrade in talent over last season’s roster. If Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas make an early impact, the young cornerbacks improve, and NaVorro Bowman and others stay healthy, the Niners could shock some people on defense. Meanwhile, Brian Hoyer shouldn’t make big mistakes on offense.


8. New York Jets

It doesn’t help they are in New England’s division, but it’s not likely the Jets make a run for a playoff spot in a very good AFC. Second-year quarterback Christian Hackenberg will be a player to watch, along with these young receivers. Some of the young players need to emerge for the Jets to compete in 2017.

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