Believe it or not, 29 of the 32 NFL teams have been to the playoffs since 2016, further evidence of the league’s push for parity. Now though, the bar has been lowered, with an additional two teams making the dance. Teams that were on the cusp will now find themselves the right side of the line. Let’s look at the teams that have an active playoff drought of four years or more and see what their chances are.
Dead in the water
New York Jets (9 seasons)
The Jets are a team two years into a journey with Adam Gase that has yielded little more than disappointment. More worryingly, there are more questions than answers around slam dunk prospect Sam Darnold. The Jets are the only team without a win so far this season but with six teams with one win, the first overall pick is no guarantee.
New York haven’t yet hit rock bottom but hopefully it is close.
A year away
Cincinnati Bengals (4 seasons)
Joe Burrow has looked exciting and has the third most passing yards of anyone. However, the Bengals need to be very close not to break him. The LSU alum has taken more sacks than anyone bar Carson Wentz (28 each). If the Bengals do not fix the offensive line, they risk not reaping the benefits of their rookie phenom in years to come. That imbalance has led to just a win and a tie so far this term.
Despite major defensive additions in free agency, Cincinnati are still allowing 395 yards a game (24th). They are slightly better in terms of points allowed but not much. The plus side is they have a good core of young skill position players to build around. Expect a few years of unsexy draft picks for the Bengals to plug the holes as they build in an admittedly crowded AFC North.
Washington Football Team (4 seasons)
This is a tough judgement. On paper, Washington are a year away in the first under Ron Rivera. However, they may make the playoffs anyway in 2020, solely because the NFC East’s record is 7-20-1. It’s also worth noting that four of those wins were in the division. At 2-5, the Football Team has shown more grit in 2020, if not out and out ability Either way, Washington rank 11th in points allowed and allow fourth fewest yards/game.
The big question is who the long-term option under centre is. Haskins was benched, Allen got injured, Smith was ineffective. Either Ron Rivera has taken Dwayne Haskins out of the spotlight or he has given up on him already. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Washington take a QB in the draft if the board falls to them but there are lots of holes on the roster. Right now, it is a tough choice between targeting six wins and a division championship or an early draft pick in a crowded field.
Denver Broncos (4 seasons)
Winning the division was always a tough ask for the Broncos. Unfortunately, it looks like a wildcard will be a tall order for Denver, who haven’t played a playoff game since Super Bowl 50. The Broncos are 10th in conference, two games behind the seventh seed Colts.
Denver set out to perform on offence in the draft, taking four skill position players and six offensive players. That hasn’t worked, with fifth fewest yards and points/game. Part of that is relying on backup QBs through injury but equally Drew Lock has struggled in his sophomore year with under 170 yards/game (down from 204 in 2019) and under 56% completions (down from 64%). A season of promise for the Broncos is offering more questions than answers.
On the cusp
Arizona Cardinals (4 seasons)
After a disappointing two game slide against the Lions and Panthers, the Cardinals have won three straight. Now they have their signature win too, beating the previously-unbeaten Seattle in a full overtime game. The Cardinals held Seahawks to just a TD after halftime, scoring 20 points of their own. Kyler Murray has been great in spurts this season. The relationship between Murray and DeAndre Hopkins still needs fine tuning but Hopkins still has 700 yards already.
The Cardinals are currently the NFC’s fifth seed, only one game behind Seattle in division but they are only in the playoffs by half a game as it stands. This team is talented, but it will be tight to make the playoffs in a tough pack this season.
They can’t blow it, surely?
Cleveland Browns (17 seasons)
Hold the press! The Browns are in the playoff hunt. At 5-2, Cleveland currently hold the sixth seed in the AFC. The Browns win percentage is .714, considerably above the .500 Raiders (8th in conference) having played a game more. After 17 years of pain, no one would begrudge fans of doubting the team’s credentials until it is sealed. The Browns have a 79% chance of making the playoffs according to 538, despite being in a talented AFC North.
Baker Mayfield has been far from perfect but ultimately, he is getting the job done. He had his best performance of the season on Sunday against the Bengals, with 5 TDs and 297 yards at 78.6%, without Odell Beckham. The team is 3-0 out of the division and have swept the Bengals. Now they must take on the Steelers and Ravens in preparation for tougher contests if they are to be playoff bound.
The time is now
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12 seasons)
The Bucs hold a half game lead in the NFC South as they bid to end the NFL’s second longest playoff drought. Tampa Bay have an 87% chance of making the playoffs, according to 538 but they have been one of the most impressive teams so far this season. There is a chance that Tom Brady’s arm tales off, though this is likely to happen to division rival Drew Brees too. But the defence is playing lights out too, allowing the third fewest yards/game, led by Lavonte David among other star performers.
Since week one, the Buccaneers have only lost to the Bears, who smothered the offence well. With a 5-2 record, fans can start to dream. If one element of the team struggles, another steps up. As a result, they are very tough to beat.
All in all, with Cleveland motoring along too, we could and should see the two longest droughts ended, leaving the Jets as the only team not to make the playoffs since 2016. They have a long road ahead to end that stat.