NFL Teams Primed for a Return to the Playoffs Next Season
Super Bowl 53 odds come courtesy of TopBet and are accurate as of Thursday, March 16. Though offseason championship lines don’t tend to move too much, the NFL is in the thick of its free-agency period, so make sure you’re checking and rechecking these numbers before deciding on or placing a wager.
Please also note that these five teams are not the only possible candidates for a postseason revival. They’re just the ones most likely to sneak back into the show.
Dallas Cowboys (+2500)
The Dallas Mavericks are low-hanging fruit in this discussion. They finished above .500 last season, at 9-7, while posting dominant records on the road (6-2) and when facing teams from the NFC East division (5-1). Leave the roster untouched, and they’re a prime candidates for a return to the postseason.
Good thing, too. Because that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Dallas hasn’t made any substantive free-agent additions or trades this offseason—not thus far anyway. It’s looking more and more like management will turn to the draft for the team’s primary mode of improvement. That’s fine.
After all, having running back Ezekiel Elliott available for the entire season will act like an addition unto itself. And while the Cowboys’ receiving corps, headlined by Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, is far from the youngest around, they still roll out one of the most dominant offensive lines in football.
It almost doesn’t even matter if their defense doesn’t recapture its mojo from 2016. This latest iteration of the Cowboys should, at full strength, have the juice to reach the playoffs again.
Denver Broncos (3500)
Though the Denver Broncos’ defense was wildly overrated last year, checking in at 22nd in points allowed per game, they have the incumbent tools to elevate their profile. They also made solid additions in free agency with linebacker Todd Davis and cornerback Tramaine Brock. They’re going to be fine on the less glamorous side of the ball.
It’s their offense that gives way to the most concern. They finished 27th in points scored per game during the 2017 regular and have remained in perpetual limbo at the quarterback position since before Peyton Manning retired.
That is, until now.
The Broncos signed Case Keenum away from the Minnesota Vikings. This is, in no uncertain teams, a huge get for them. Keenum played like a souped-up Alex Smith last year. He made big plays when it counted, prided himself on not turning the ball over and had no problem allowing the run game to do its job when clock management became the top priority.
Denver needs just about everything he brings to the table—right down to his Conference Championship experience. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares outside of Pat Shurmur’s offense, but the Broncos run a conservative enough scheme that shouldn’t take too much time to master.
With the AFC West firmly up for grabs, the Broncos’ willingness to pay Keenum should wind up spearheading their return to the playoffs—on the back of their defense, but also while having the luxury of leaning upon an average to above-average offense for the first time in a quite some time.
Green Bay Packers (+1100)
To be completely honest, the Green Bay Packers are not the safest inclusion. They just released All-Pro wide receiver Jordy Nelson, and there are many who believe his partner in crime, Randall Cobb, could be next.
Taking away two of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite targets is a patented risk. And yet, at the same time, the Packers have Aaron freaking Rodgers. He’s one of the two best quarterbacks in the league when he’s healthy. And he’s expected to be healthy to start the year.
That’s all the Packers need. They still have Davante Adams, and they also signed tight end Jimmy Graham, who went under utilized with the Seattle Seahawks for the past couple years. Rodgers is also an expert at spreading the ball around when he needs to. He’s led less talented offenses to the playoffs in previous seasons. Carrying this group into the postseason shouldn’t be too much trouble at all.
New York Giants (+5000)
Everything about the New York Giants was overrated last season. The offense, the defense, their star power—everything.
Sure, they dealt with more than their fair share of injuries. And they’re still dealing with them. No one quite knows what to expect from Odell Beckham Jr. out of the gate following his recovery from a broken ankle, and quarterback Eli Manning isn’t getting any younger.
Still, there’s reason for optimism in New York.
The Giants’ defense underachieved last season. They have the talent necessary to be better than 27th in points allowed per game—especially after signing linebackers Alec Ogletree and Kareem Martin. Bringing back linebacker Mark Herzlich and getting cornerback Teddy Williams are sneaky-good transactions as well.
More importantly, they’ve addressed some of their biggest downfalls on the offensive line by signing tackle Nate Solder and guard Patrick Omameh. Eli Manning will now have time to make more efficient decisions in the pocket, and the addition of Jonathan Stewart makes for a nice backfield combination with Shane Vereen—particularly given the upgrades made on the offensive line.
Contending for a playoff berth in the NFC East is no easy task. The Giants will be jockeying for position with the Cowboys and reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. And again: Beckham’s recovery will be absolutely crucial to their livelihood.
But this was a team that was supposed to chase 11 or 12 wins last year before imploding. And not only have they retained some of their most talented pieces, they’ve plugged many of their most damning holes. Keep an eye on them.
San Francisco 49ers (+2500)
Jimmy Garoppolo remains undefeated when starting under center. The San Francisco 49ers are going back to the playoffs. Case closed.
Okay, fine. It’s not that simple. But Garoppolo’s meteoric development, including what we saw from him at the end of last season, is a big part of the 49ers’ appeal. So, too, is their addition of running back Jeremy McKinnon. Bake in their array of weapons at the receiving spots, and you get one of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses.
On top of that, the 49ers have seriously bolstered their bottom-seven defense. They signed cornerback Richard Sherman, who still has something left to give in the secondary. They picked up linebackers Brock Coyle and Jeremiah Attachou. It suddenly looks like they have the tools to deploy a half-competent, if slightly above-average, defensive machine.
Marry this to what should be a highly potent offense, and the 49ers have the potential to make an enormous dent in next season’s playoff discussion—infinitely so when you consider we haven’t even accounted for the new prospects they’ll eventually welcome in after the draft.
*All stats come courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.
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