Sure, the NFL season is months away, but it's not too early to talk playoffs. More specifically, what teams will be in the postseason after being absentees last year?
Since 2002, when the NFL went to eight divisions, there has been nearly a 50-percent turnover of division champions from year to year. (That would be much higher if you extract New England.) In addition, there is always a changing of the guard in the playoffs, where from season to season there are three to five postseason participants who didn't qualify the year before.
What teams that missed last season's playoffs should we be looking at to join the postseason party in January 2019?
Watch Out for Ravens, Chargers in AFC
The Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers each went 9-7 in 2017 but missed the playoffs because of tiebreakers. That will not happen this season. A few factors stand out as to why these clubs will be in the postseason.
Every NFL season is different, but it is impossible to ignore that last season the Ravens and Chargers underachieved based on their point differential. Baltimore was fourth in the AFC at +92, and the Bolts were fifth at +83.
Baltimore would have been in the playoffs but they gagged in the season finale and somehow lost to Cincinnati 31-27 -- at home, no less. After blowing a perfect opportunity in 2017, look for the Ravens to be more focused on finishing games.
The Chargers were laughingstocks after the first quarter of the season. Playing in a 27,000-seat soccer stadium and regularly outdrawn by opposing teams' fans, the Bolts started 0-4. However, the offense started to click and the defense dominated, allowing 14.3 points per game over their last nine contests.
How a team finishes after a slow start is usually a precursor of positive results for NFL picks the next season. The Ravens were 6-3 in their final nine games last year, and the Chargers were 6-1 in their final seven.
NFC More Complicated
In the NFC, the picture is less clear because some teams played better than they should have based on the numbers, while others came up short. Check out these teams' point differentials compared to their record.
Carolina: 11-5, +36 (made playoffs)
Atlanta: 10-6, +38 (made playoffs)
Seattle: 9-7, +34
Detroit: 9-7, +34
Dallas: 9-7, +22
Seattle seems a lot like Green Bay (7-9 in 2017), with a top-flight quarterback but holes in many areas. That is why Detroit and Dallas look like safer choices, and they were not that far off from being playoff teams anyway.
AFC: Oakland (6-10 in 2017)
NFC: San Francisco (6-10 in 2017)