I did the same exercise for those teams that finished bottom of the NFC divisions. Now I’m looking at their AFC counterparts and examining which one has the best opportunity to make the playoffs in 2018. The teams in question are the NY Jets, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and the Houston Texans.
The Jets went into the 2017 season with many expecting them to struggle to get any results given that the front office had sent many an experienced player packing. If anything with a 5-11 record, the Jets overachieved according to many. If it weren’t for an injury that ended Josh McCowan’s season they may have even ended up with more wins. The downside to that was that they were lower in the draft then they thought necessary to pick up a franchise quarterback. Because of that a bit of wheeling and dealing with the Colts saw them move up from the sixth to the third selection and take Sam Darnold. Per a previous article I think he’ll start off sitting behind McCowan before taking over the starting role mid-way through the season. Whilst there are some positive shoots of expectation for the season I think 2018 will be another developmental year. I expect to see a better record at the end of the year but will be surprised if they make the post season. Chances of making the playoffs: 25%
The Denver Broncos addressed the issue they had at quarterback by bringing in Case Keenum from the Vikings and giving him a $36m a year, two-year contract. It’s a lot for a quarterback that’s had one good season and a lot of very average seasons as mainly a backup. The Broncos also let the veteran cornerback Aqib Talib leave for LA so will need Bradley Roby to really step up in 2018. The big opportunity is for the pass rush in Denver to get really good with Bradley Chubb being paired with all-pro pass rusher Von Miller. The difficulty for Denver will likely be getting past the LA Chargers who, on paper, have a good-looking roster. Both the Chiefs and Raiders are going to be going through periods of development after changes at QB for the Chiefs and a new coaching staff in Oakland. That’s not to say neither will pose a threat but I expect the battle for the top spot in the division to be between the Broncos and the Chargers. Chances of making the playoffs: 60%
Bottom of the entire barrel in 2017 (and 2016!) was the 0-16 Cleveland Browns. Whilst head coach Hue Jackson has miraculously maintained his position, the rest of the front office has changed a lot and I really like the changes they made. John Dorsey who was responsible for building a strong team in Kansas comes in as GM and Eliot Wolf has come in as assistant GM from the Packers, a team his famous father Ron Wolf built back to prominence in the 1990s. The moves that they’ve made have been interesting. In a frenzied night of trades the Browns bought in Jarvis Landry from Miami, Tyrod Taylor from Buffalo and Damarious Randall from Green Bay. Carlos Hyde was snapped from free agency after he left San Francisco. With two top 5 picks in the first round, the Browns then acquired a new quarterback in Baker Mayfield and top cornerback Denzel Ward. Couple all that with the talent that was acquired last year and I think there is genuine hope that this might be the start of something better for the Browns! They’re in a tough division though, the Steelers are still strong, the Bengals were poor last year but are looking for a bounceback season and the Ravens have one of the best defensive units in the NFL. Like the Jets, I expect the Browns to do better than last year (though that can’t be hard) but don’t expect them to make the post-season. If they end the year with six or seven wins that that’s a good result but chances of making the playoffs? 25%.
Incidentally, if you haven’t already – the Building the Browns series available on YouTube is worth a watch:
Finally, the Houston Texans. They were looking good at the start of the year with rookie Deshaun Watson setting the league a light with a string of scintillating performances. Even without star pass rusher and all round good guy JJ Watt, the Texans were getting results. That all fell to pieces when Watson tore his ACL during a practice session and that was that. If Watson comes back fully fit and plays as well as he did last season then the Texans have a great chance of getting to the playoffs next year. There are some dependencies though. Everyone is waiting to see if Andrew Luck can make a similar comeback and in Tennessee, new head coach Mike Vrabel is looking to make an immediate impact and guide the Titans back to the playoffs. The big hurdle though must be the Jaguars. Topping the division last year, I think they’ve only improved through the offseason and have kept the core of their awesome defence together. I think whoever wins the two matches between the Texans and Jaguars will likely top the division in 2018. Even so, out of this group of four teams I expect the Texans to have the best chance of making the playoffs, expressed as a percentage; 75%