Every football season, there's one team that defies expectations and makes the playoffs after missing it in prior years. The 2017 Eagles and 2019 49ers are perfect examples of teams that bounced back after previously watching the playoffs at home. With certain teams poised to breakthrough, here are the ones that will likely get over the hump.
1. Los Angeles Chargers
Last season was a big transition for the franchise. They moved on from longtime starter Philip Rivers and drafted Justin Herbert who started sooner than expected, after an injury to Tyrod Taylor. Herbert made the most of his opportunity setting records such as most touchdowns passes for a rookie quarterback. However, they finished 7-9 which prompted the team to hire Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. During the offseason, they upgraded Herbert's offensive line by signing all-pro center Corey Linsley in free agency. The Chargers are hoping he will have the same chemistry with Herbert as he had with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. They also drafted Rashawn Slater who played both left and right tackle in college. On defense, Staley will be overseeing a unit that's getting their two best players, Nick Bosa and Derwin James back from injury last season. They also drafted Asante Samuel Jr. who has already been turning heads in training camp and could provide an upgrade to the cornerback position.
2. Miami Dolphins
Despite missing last year's playoffs, the Dolphins had a much better season than expected, going 10-6. While they blew their chance to clinch losing 56-28 in the finale, there's hope for the future. Led by cornerback Xavien Howard, Miami finished first takeaways and sixth in points allowed. Their coach Brian Floras has clearly established a foundation as they built of last season's finish where they went 5-3 after starting 0-8. Many of their best defensive players such as Howard, Byron Jones, Jerome Baker, and Emmanuel Ogbah will be returning this season. As for the offense, they surrounded second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa by signing Will Fuller IV, and used their draft capital to trade down for Jaylen Waddle. Tagovailoa and Waddle already have great chemistry dating back Alabama, which will be essential for his development. For the Dolphins to make the playoffs, their hopes will likely depend on whether Tagovaila becomes more comfortable with his command of the offense,
3. Arizona Cardinals
With the acquisition of all-pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals sprinted out to a 6-3 start and appeared on their way toward a playoff birth. They then proceeded to lose five of their last seven games and missed the playoffs entirely. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury enters this year on the hot seat having failed so far to develop anyone besides Kyler Murray. To give him the tools to win, management has addressed some of the roster's flaws in free agency. They gave Murray an established no. 2 receiver in former pro bowler A.J. Green, along with one of the league's top centers, Rodney Hudson. But their most prized acquisition was on the defensive side where they signed former two time Defensive Player of the Year winner J.J. Watt. At 32 years old, Watt might not be the player he used to be, but he can still impact a game in many ways. However, this team is at the bottom of the list because their secondary, one of their weakest units, wasn't addressed this offseason and there's no reason to believe it will improve.
Football is a very unpredictable sport because there's that one team which surprises everyone and might even proceed to make a deep playoff run. While there are other teams who weren't mentioned, I believe the Chargers, Dolphins, and Cardinals are the three with the best chances of turning their fortunes around next season. They have the assets to make it happen and take that next step beyond the regular season into January.
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