5 non-playoff teams likely to make the 2016 postseason

Which teams that missed the party in 2015 are best positioned to make a playoff appearance in 2016? Ben Stockwell identifies five.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

5 non-playoff teams likely to make the 2016 postseason


This season saw the lowest turnover of playoff teams in the last decade, joining 2012 as the only season in the last 10 years with fewer than five new playoff teams compared to the prior season. The NFC has been the more tumultuous conference year-to-year in the last decade, but with the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, and Russell Wilson at the helm of some of the conference’s powerhouse teams, we may start to see the kind of stability that has been the trademark of the AFC in the last decade. And with the likes of Peyton Manning reaching the end of his tenure and the Texans’ question mark at quarterback, this list of teams to shake up the playoff picture has more of an AFC slant to it than history might suggest it should.

Below are five teams with a good shot to make a playoff appearance next season after falling short in 2015.

1. Oakland Raiders

The biggest issue for the Raiders entering this offseason is how they fill a void in veteran leadership, created by the retirement of DE Justin Tuck and S Charles Woodson. There is no doubt that the Raiders were a team on the rise in 2015, and with Derek Carr among our most-improved players in the league this season, they have an ascending player at the most important position in the field.

Aiding Carr’s development are a trio of passing options that are sure to make the Raiders a genuine threat to the Broncos and the Chiefs for the AFC West crown next season, with Michal Crabtree, Amari Cooper, and Clive Walford all earning overall grades of 74.0 or higher this season (1–100 scale), with plenty of room to grow for Cooper (18 drops) and Walford (less than 500 snaps played) after solid rookie seasons.

On the defensive side, everything starts with Khalil Mack, who proved this year that he is capable of game-winning, season-defining opportunities, just as Von Miller produced in the Super Bowl on Sunday. The Raiders are trending up, and should be taking aim for a playoff berth next January.

2. New York Jets

If the Jets could have managed to beat their former head coach even once, they wouldn’t have been on this list; if they could have beaten him twice, they would have had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. As it is, they fell short against Rex Ryan both times, but with the core of their defensive line and receiving corps still together, the Jets are still in a good position to build on this season come September.

Keeping their own talented crop of free agents in house will be a tough balancing act that the Jets will have to master if they are to maintain their momentum. The Jets have 6,886 snaps worth of playing time hitting unrestricted free agency, and with the likes of Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, and Ryan Fitzpatrick expiring, it is not the bottom of their roster hitting the open market. If the Jets can manage to “keep the band together,” then with the likes of Brandon Marshall (85.9), Eric Decker (83.5), Sheldon Richardson (81.1), and Leonard Williams (88.8) still in place, the Jets are set to go one better in 2016.

3. Atlanta Falcons

The only NFC entrant on this list boasted one of the most improved teams in 2015, though the Falcons stumbled after their fast start. In spite of that, in a league driven by quarterback play and the ability of receivers to make plays down the field, Atlanta boasts two prime pieces to make a run at the 2016 postseason. Boosted by having no crucial pieces set to hit free agency, the Falcons are well set to build upon their progress from last season without the need to cover newly-created holes from lost talent. A strong second half of the season from Vic Beasley (74.2) will offer hope for defensive improvement in 2016, which paired with the offensive trio of Matt Ryan (82.5), Julio Jones (96.0), and Devonta Freeman (79.4), should make the Falcons a team to watch in 2016.

4. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts went all in for 2015 with a slew of veteran signings, but came away with a busted flush. Andrew Luck struggled with both health and form, while too many of their veteran signings failed to deliver as the Colts moved backwards in a subpar AFC South. The clock is ticking on the Colts’ ability to seriously invest around Luck before he gets the inevitable $100+ million standard NFL quarterback contract, but with a return to form from Luck in 2016, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be able to challenge, and ultimately depose, the Texans as AFC South kings once again. This is still a quarterback-driven league, and Luck’s ability to deliver the big plays to the likes of T.Y. Hilton (85.1) and Donte Moncrief (77.8) should make the Colts’ favorites in the AFC South once again, in spite of their down season.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Colts won’t be unchallenged in the AFC South, however, with the Texans on the rise this season, and also the Jaguars showing signs of life with big strides made by their passing game in 2015 with the likes of Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson (87.6) and Allen Hurns (84.6) making a huge leap forward. If that trajectory can be maintained by the offense, the Jags will be threatening enough with an impressive rookie season from T.J. Yeldon (83.2) adding balance to the offense, even though the offensive line was only just inside the league’s top 20.

The ceiling for Jacksonville next season will come from the strides that their defense can make. They were deprived of first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr. early in the offseason, and their pass-rush struggled all year as a result. Solid returns from the likes of Davon House (73.1) and Jared Odrick (73.7) must be built upon if the Jaguars are to move further forwards in 2016, but if the defense can match the strides the offense made in 2015, the Jaguars will be right in the mix in a wide open AFC South.

| Director of Analysis

Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I think the NFC East will be a wide open affair again next season so you probably could have listed several more teams.

    • Zachary Mills

      True, but outside of the NFC East where all 3 teams that missed the cut have a legit shot to make the playoffs I can’t think of too many other divisions that are setup that way. AFC North you could have the Ravens but they’re older and not necessarily trending upward. The AFC West is roughly the same outside of Denver with all the free agents and Oakland. AFC East could field a new playoff team. NFC North & West are probably pretty similar at the moment.

    • Dylan Ivar

      It amazes me the NFC East gets all the attention nationally but have continued to be one of the worst to watch year in and year out. If the media is bowing down to the Cowboys its the Patriots.

  • James Zoller

    1. Cowboys 2. Colts 3. Raiders 4. Falcons 5, Jets

    • Kason Edell

      Let me guess, ridiculous minded Cowboys fan?

      • Boneu

        It was a catch douchebag

        • Nikrizzi17

          Keep telling yourself that

        • Kurt

          Lol

      • NAJ

        To be fair, with Romo back and a division of very average 4 teams, it’s very possible. Giants & Eagles also have an equal chance though

        • Dylan Ivar

          the way that OLine protected Romo last year I’d say they are on the outside looking in but of course in that division anything can happen.

    • Dylan Ivar

      year after year I’ve heard nothing but “This is the Cowboys year” and repeatedly they’ve underwhelmed. I still put them behind NY, WAS, and PHI right now. Romo is a massive question for me and there running game fell apart when Murray left.

  • Zachary Mills

    Jacksonville has ridiculous cap space and after a few more cuts/re-structures they’ll have the most cap space of all time. I think they’ll move up the list, in a weak division, with Fowler coming back and I think they’re going to spend a ton of their cap because A. They have to B. Gus Bradley has to win now. They have enough money to add a quality LT and C as well as grab another TE and add a quality piece to every level of the defense. Watch out. They’ll probably only be 9-7 at best, but they’ll be rapidly improved.

    Oakland can be much better if they spend their $ but they have some holes. They definitely need to bolster the OL, cut dead weight, and add at least 2-3 quality players at CB/S. Need better LBs as well. I can see Weddle signing there to make big $ and to play SD 2x per year. They might also grab some Broncos FAs, especially defenders as Jack Del Rio is there and was the Broncos DC, Maybe they add Malik Jackson, Brandon Marshall or Danny Trevathan.

    The Jets are a big question. They need to replace Antonio Cromartie, figure out the DL, try to retain Harrison, add to the LB unit and get a legit pass rusher. They also need to bolster their OL and they might want to get a starting caliber TE which they’ve lacked for years (although Gailey’s offense does minimize the need for a TE). Still have to play in a tough division.

    Atlanta…hmmm. They have some glaring holes on defense and they need some help on offense as well. They need to bolster the OL moreso than the other teams on this list as well as cut Roddy White, get a legit #2 WR, get a legit TE, etc. On defense, they need more pass rushers, run stuffers, LBs, safeties, etc. They can do really well next year, but they play in a tougher division now.

    The Colts have some moves to make. They have a solid LT and LG but the rest of the line is mediocre to bad. They could definitely benefit from adding a quality G (J. Evans or G Schwartz for example) and they could stand to add a quality C and RT. They’ll need to try to retain Fleener and/or Allen. Gore is probably cut so they’ll probably want to add a RB. Defensively, where to begin. S, CB, LB, DL…

    • Tim Edell

      Jacksonville grab another TE?? I think one over paid TE is enough!

      • Zachary Mills

        I think Lewis will be cut and I don’t think Harbor will be retained either. Thomas might be ok, but do you want to rely on a non-blocking oft injured TE? They have the cap space to bring in a solid player like Zach Miller, Bennett from Chicago might be available as well, among others.

        • Jaguars28

          LT is such a de-valued position in today’s NFL, Joeckel is fine. C is definitely probably going to be upgraded in FA. And Julius Thomas is good, our offensive production sky-rocketed once he got into the lineup and started taking attention away from the Allens.

        • Todd Davenport

          They aren’t going to cut Lewis, but they will restructure and pay him less, and I think he’ll take it.

          • Ron Sheppard

            Lewis is a UFA. They don’t have to cut him.

    • Stephen Dykes

      The Raiders have the most cap space in the league right now, and with the addition of the state of the art fitness center and the stability at coaching staff they will make a serious push for a playoff birth and could very well be the dark horse in next years run at the SB.

      • Canthony

        No they do not the jags do

      • Dylan Ivar

        Jacksonville has a slight edge in the cap space dept. barring a few cuts it could be different but nevertheless both teams have similar needs could be interesting to see where both teams are at by May.

    • Refman

      Atlanta needs a new center but their guards are decent and tackles are excellent (Matthews & Schraeder having top grades this season). WR is a somewhat need but Justin Hardy can be effective if he improves. TE may need an upgrade but Tamme is more than serviceable. On Defense, DE & LB’s are the real needs but this draft is deep with defensive lineman.

  • Mike J.

    Really, not to be provincial (i.e., biased), but why aren’t the Bucs on this list?? Strange.

    • NAJ

      They’d probably be next after these 5. They’re not that far off and have a few of the best players in the whole league.

      • Mike J.

        Thanks for the encouraging words!!

        • 1,800

          They’re gonna be better than the Colts

    • Jaguars28

      I love what the Bucs are doing. Koetter and M. Smith are great coaches, and you have a lot of good players: Winston, Martin, Sims, Evans, McCoy, David, etc.

      • Dylan Ivar

        If I had to take a guess its probably because of the division. Carolina obviously the top team in the division but I think Atlanta is being overlooked but have serious questions concerning Matt Ryan. I think people are still on the fence with Winston but the bucs stock is definitely trending up with one of the best RB’s and a stout defense.

    • Johnny Rotten

      I’d put them on the list before the Jags.

  • Josh McSwain

    I also think the Jaguars could sneak into the playoffs next year because they lost so many games on correctable mistakes that could have swung it in their favor. But I think the Colts go back to the top of the AFC South leaving the Jags to fight for a wild card spot with another resurgent team, the Ravens, and many others. I think only three new teams make it from the AFC, not four. I could see Oakland getting in because I think Denver will fall off at least to some degree, Colts and either the Jags, Ravens, Jets, Bills, etc.
    In the NFC I wouldn’t sleep on the Lions, who finished the year 6-2. I also bet a different team from the East gets in.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    i feel like the jags could finish ahead of the colts in 2016, grigson’s a bum

    • Jaguars28

      Yep. 51-16.

  • Ben M

    I’m a Panthers’ fan and the Bucs scare me. Here’s why:

    1. Jameis Winstead improved throughout the year, he is a mini-Cam Newton. TB as a franchise is hungry and angry. Swagger.

    2. Atlanta always starts strong, then blows up in some fashion – either JJ gets injured, the defense dies, or Matt Ryan suddenly turns into the guy who can’t complete anything. Always scary early. But late season, playoffs you’re left wondering “what happened?” Swagger late season is always lacking.

    3. New Orleans – Drew Brees can throw for 10,000 yards in a season, yet the defense will allow 35 average opponent points and they’ll float between 7 and 9 wins. Plus Drew Brees is 37, a year or two behind Peyton/Brady.

    If Carolina keeps its defense mostly intact (Josh Norman), they should be hard to knock off.

  • Samuel Mazzini

    Very well putt,Hey the Los Angeles Rams are absolutely loaded and with some key additions via the draft and Free Agency I see this team making a monumental leap and not only becoming an entrant to the tournament but making a deep run which will ultimately result in a Championship game appearance, sounds ludicrous at this point but I see no major hindrance with the Rams and I’m not a fan I’m speaking from an objective perspective.

    • Dylan Ivar

      still think the Rams have way too many holes on the offensive side of the ball. Overloaded defensively and it showed last year. FA could be a factor for them but they still have major questions at QB in my opinion.

  • Nikrizzi17

    No Giants? Look I know it’s been a while but close to 60 million in cap space and a top 10 pick. Plus that offense has been stellar the past two years can’t wait to see what McAdoo has in store. Like the raiders and jags in here tho. And the colts will be back to owning that division with a healthy luck. Jags and raiders wildcard? A year ago you would have called me flipping crazy

  • Alfredo Cota

    Way too early predictions:
    AFC: 1. Steelers, 2.Patriots, 3.Raiders, 4.Colts, 5.Bengals, 6.Bills.
    NFC: 1.Seahawks, 2.Packers, 3.Panthers, 4.Cowboys, 5.Cardinals, 6.Vikings.

    • Kurt

      I feel it.

  • Dylan Ivar

    as a raider fan suffering the last 13 years, I’ve learned to take things in strides. Steady improvement last year, good young core, but need to add some real talent this offseason. The secondary on this team frightens me to death seeing as though we have 1 true safety on the entire roster who missed 12 games and a very raw CB group. That being said it’d be fantastic if they could bring us some playoff football.

    Lastly I think the jags have done a very solid job these last couple years drafting and adding talent. I was glad to see them stick it out with Bortles as I think he’s got the talent to be a great starter in this league but needs to refine the mental side. The likes of Robinson, Hurns, and Yeldon moving forward will aid Bortles tremendously. My only fear is that offensive line, I sat through quite a few Jags games this year and couldn’t help but notice it looked awfully similar to that of the Raiders in terms of the run blocking. Atrocious at times so I can definitely relate on that front, if they address that glaring need they could be that team coming out of the south, with the likes of Indy and there constant disregard for defense, Houston’s inability to find a semi-decent QB, and the Titans who have really just been a disaster since that crazy Kerry Collins led 2008 team.