In 2017, four first-place teams from the previous season did not earn postseason berths. Those clubs — the Texans, Cowboys, Packers, and Seahawks — all missed the playoffs for different reasons. Injuries, poor luck, off-field issues, and plain old regression to the mean all contributed in certain instances, and 2018 doesn’t figure to be any different for the 2017 first-place teams.
We’ve already asked PFR readers which 2017 last place team is likeliest to make the postseason in 2018 (the 49ers were the top choice, with the Texans following closely behind). Today, we’ll flip that question: which 2017 first place club is going to miss the playoffs during the upcoming campaign?
Let’s take an overview of the teams:
New England Patriots
With Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in tow, the Patriots have won at least 12 games for eight consecutive seasons, and earned playoff berths in 14 of the past 15 years. Despite some roster turnover, that streak doesn’t figure to end in 2018. Not only is the AFC weak overall, but the AFC East in particular isn’t going to offer much competition for New England. New faces such as running back Sony Michel, offensive tackles Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown, defensive lineman Danny Shelton and Adrian Clayborn, and cornerback Jason McCourty should help keep the Patriots’ postseason streak alive.
The Steelers are rolling it back, as the club won’t have many changes on either offense or defense. The only new factor on the offensive side of the ball figures to be rookie wideout James Washington, who will replace Martavis Bryant as Pittsburgh’s deep threat. On defense, linebacker Jon Bostic takes over for the injured Ryan Shazier, while Morgan Burnett and Terrell Edmunds will form an all-new safety tandem. Competition from within the AFC North might be improved, especially if the Browns don’t play like a winless team again in 2018.
Over the course of the 2017 season, the Jaguars posted the second-highest DVOA variance of any NFL club, meaning their performance wasn’t consistent from week-to-week. Now that they’ve brought back quarterback Blake Bortles, that doesn’t figure to change. In a passing league, Jacksonville will commit to winning via the run game and defensive dominance, and those two areas of the game aren’t nearly as correlated to win as passing offense.
Kansas City Chiefs
For what it’s worth, the Chiefs finished with the worst DVOA of any first-place team in 2017, and DVOA — Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric — is better at predicting future records than a team’s actual win-loss record. Kansas City is now deploying a new quarterback in 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes, and as Warren Sharp detailed on Thursday, the Chiefs and Mahomes will need to limit their turnovers in order to have success in 2018. Everyone’s favorite sleeper — the Chargers — also reside in the AFC West, while Denver and Oakland also have legitimate postseason hopes.
Unlike a postmortem, which helps explain why things happened after the fact, a premortem examines potential crises before they actually occur. Let’s take a premortem approach to a hypothetically-flawed 2018 Eagles roster: Carson Wentz doesn’t recover quickly from his ACL tear and his replacement, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, looks more like the Rams version of himself. Philadelphia’s defensive line ages quickly and can’t match its 2017 dominance, and the Eagles’ defensive back depth chart — which is relying on young players like Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas — can’t hold up. And head coach Doug Pederson‘s aggressiveness, which led him to go for it on fourth downs a league-leading 29 times in 2017, backfires.
Two words: Aaron Rodgers. Sure, the Vikings were among the most complete teams in the league last season, and have since added both Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson to an already-stacked roster. But the return of Rodgers from injury surely strikes fear in the hearts of Minnesota fans, and we haven’t even mentioned the improvements made by the NFC North’s other two clubs, the Bears and Lions.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints undoubtedly have a lot going for them in 2018: a future Hall of Famer in quarterback Drew Brees, dynamic rushing and receiving weapons, and an up-and-coming defense that will add veterans Kurt Coleman and Demario Davis in addition to rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport. The real problem for New Orleans is the strength of the NFC South. Both the Falcons and Panthers made the playoffs in 2017 and figure to be in contention again, so there’s always a chance the Saints slip out of the postseason picture due to their intra-division competition.
Los Angeles Rams
For all the offseason hype regarding the Rams, there are still quite a few questions about the club’s roster construction? Will LA’s offensive line — fronted by aging veterans Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan — hold up? How long will All-World defender Aaron Donald continue his holdout? Can Brandin Cooks improve upon Sammy Watkins‘ performance as the Rams’ X receiver? And who exactly will be rushing the passer from outside linebacker in Wade Phillips‘ 3-4 scheme?
So, what do you think? Which 2017 first place team is likeliest to miss the playoffs in 2018? Vote below!