When predicting playoff teams, the safest and easiest move is to take last year’s playoff teams and pencil them in for this year.
It’s also the dumbest move, as not every playoff team qualifies for the postseason the following year.
Each season, at least one low-level team takes advantage of a weak-ish schedule, a bunch of good breaks, and jumps out to a quick start.
At some point they’re 7-2 and they aren’t shocking anyone anymore. They’re just good.
Which teams might accomplish almost-worst to playoffs this season?
LIONS A SURPRISE?
In the NFC, how about the 3-13-1 Detroit Lions or the 7-10 Washington Commanders — two of the Eagles’ first three opponents.
The Lions are on the right track, if unlikely to make the playoffs. Under second-year coach Dan Campbell, the Lions are building on-field infrastructure and developing a toughness necessary to win.
For the Lions to surprise, they need production from former top overall pick Jared Goff. Goff, who was traded for Matthew Stafford in a swap of quarterbacks before the 2021 season, seems to be sliding.
Still, something about the Lions tells me they are going to turn it around this year. Maybe it’s watching those “Hard Knocks” episodes on HBO.
WATCH THOSE COMMANDERS
Washington won the NFC East just two seasons ago. In Philly, we like to dump on Carson Wentz. He deserves it.
This might be an unpopular opinion, but Wentz still has NFL-quality quarterback skills. Yes, he’s injury-prone, throws too many interceptions and there are valid questions about his leadership.
Wentz should be an upgrade over Taylor Heinicke, who started 15 games last year for the Commanders.
The NFL prides itself on parity. There isn’t a world of difference between a 7-10 team and a 10-7 (and playoff) team.
With a better quarterback in Wentz, a third-place schedule and a few breaks, the Commanders could be that surprise playoff team. Washington’s first-round pick, Jahan Dotson, should be an inviting target for Wentz.
NFC DIVISION WINNERS
The Birds are ready to surpass the Cowboys on top of the East. The Eagles helped Jalen Hurts by acquiring talented wide receiver A.J. Brown. Who doesn’t think DeVonta Smith will be better this season? This is the division’s strongest roster.
The defending Super Bowl champs didn’t get much help in the draft but they didn’t need much. The Rams can score points and their defense is solid enough to think there might be another Super Bowl trip.
Green Bay lost world-class receiver Davante Adams to Las Vegas but has high hopes for second-round pick Christian Watson from North Dakota State. When you have Aaron Rodgers, you are a playoff team.
South: Tampa Bay
With Tom Brady, the Bucs seem a lock to make the playoffs. The Bucs lost to the Rams, 30-27, in the divisional round last year. The Bucs have a strong and deep roster.
NFC WILD CARDS
Dallas is good enough to win the East. Dak Prescott needs more protection from his leaky offensive line. The Dallas defense might be good enough. Has the Cowboys’ window closed for a deep run in the playoffs? Feels so.
What? Wentz to lead Washington to the playoffs? Yep.
I’ve never been a Kirk Cousins fan but Minnesota moves the ball well on the ground. A stronger defense will put the Vikings right in the playoff picture.
The AFC is perceived as the stronger conference this year and that perception might be correct.
Look at the quarterbacks in the conference — Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs), Russell Wilson (Broncos), Justin Herbert (Chargers), Joe Burrow (Bengals), Josh Allen (Bills), Lamar Jackson (Ravens). These six could wind up in the Hall of Fame.
The Broncos, mired with the ineffective Drew Lock at quarterback, took a route with which they are familiar. They made a massive trade with Seattle to acquire 33-year-old Wilson.
The Broncos acquired 36-year-old Peyton Manning in 2012. With Manning, the Broncos were 45-12, won four division championships and won the Super Bowl in 2016.
AFC DIVISION WINNERS
Buffalo is my Super Bowl pick. Allen is a strong-armed, versatile quarterback and still improving. He’s not afraid to put his head down and gain crucial yards on the ground. Home-field advantage could be the determining factor in an AFC title game.
With Mahomes at quarterback and innovative Andy Reid on the sidelines, Kansas City has enough to squeak by the Chargers in the West.
Burrow carried the Bengals to the Super Bowl last year, often while running for his life. Cincinnati rebuilt the offensive line with three free-agency signings: tackle La’el Collins, guard Alex Cappa and center Ted Karras. Cincy is not a one-hit wonder.
I like Indy to knock off defending champion Tennessee. The Colts were a loss at Jacksonville in Week 18 away from making the playoffs last year. Matt Ryan is a rejuvenated new quarterback.
AFC WILD CARDS
If Lamar Jackson stays healthy, the Ravens will score enough points for their tremendous defense.
Who doesn’t like quarterback Justin Herbert? This year, the Chargers will win some of those games they usually lose.
Denver won seven games last year without Wilson at quarterback. Expect more, even in the rough AFC West.