The NFL is, for the most part, unpredictable. At this point of the preseason, it’s pretty easy to point out one or two teams who will more than likely make the playoffs (Patriots, Packers). It’s even easier to name a few teams who won’t make the postseason, like the Jets or 49ers. But in the middle of the two extremes are a ton of teams whose 2017 season is tough to accurately predict until we see them on the field in the regular season. That’s without taking into account any unforeseen changes or injuries. I want to look at two teams who made the playoffs in 2016, but won’t return in 2017.
The Detroit Lions
The 9-7 Lions actually allowed more points (358) than they scored (346) in 2016, yet they still made the postseason. Per Pro Football Reference, the Lions ranked 20 and 21 in points scored and yards gained, respectively. The Giants, Texans and Dolphins and were the only other playoff teams that ranked outside of the top 20 in either category; the Giants and Texans had elite defenses, while the Dolphins caught fire against a light schedule to capture one of two AFC Wild Card spots (just to lose in a non-competitive game against the Steelers).
The Lions won eight of nine games by seven points or less in 2016. All of them came from miraculous come-from-behind wins. Sitting at 9-4 going into Week 15, it looked like the Lions may have been the real deal. They then lost four straight to end the season, including their 26-6 Wild Card loss to the Seahawks.
If not for the Minnesota Vikings’ disastrous season, the Lions likely miss the playoffs altogether in 2016. Nine wins likely doesn’t cut it for them in 2017; Vegas has their win/loss total at eight entering the season. I think Matthew Stafford has been unfairly treated and evaluated throughout his career, but his eight game-winning drives in 2016 is likely something that won’t be reciprocated in 2017. I think the Lions compete next season, but they’ll be on the outskirts looking in come season’s end.
The Houston Texans
The Texans made the playoffs for the second year straight in 2016. But like the Lions, they let up more points than scored. Fortunately for them, a really good defense helped mask the mess of their Brock-Osweiler-led offense. Despite contrary belief, I don’t think they’re going to be much better off without him at the helm. It’s unfair to assume Deshaun Watson will come in and make an immediate impact at the hardest position in the sport. It’s fair to assume this offense may struggle some like they did last year.
What’s different going into 2017, though, is the competition in the AFC South. They went 5-1 within their own division last season, failing to win any game by more than one score. I think those results change this season, and that’s my main argument against the Texans returning to the postseason for a third straight season for the first time in franchise history.
The new-look Colts under first-year General Manager Chris Ballard have had a promising offseason. I expect Andrew Luck to have a good season, while the defense should be improved with some much-needed additions to their ailing secondary and formerly-weak pass rush. The Titans are headed in the right direction, and they made some moves to help their weak secondary, too. The Jaguars are loaded with talent, and maybe the addition of Tom Coughlin to their front office turns things around in Jacksonville. Whichever way you slice it, the Texans aren’t going to go 5-1 in the division next season, and nine wins won’t be enough to win it. I think the Texans fail to return to the postseason in 2017.