NFL: Pre-Training Camp Dark Horse Playoff Teams

The underdog. The overlooked. The longshot. Season after season, new playoff teams emerge from the dungeon and surprise the masses. This past season, the Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions all made the playoffs after having .500 or worst seasons in 2015. We’re at the point of the offseason where many teams are re-focusing for the 2017 season and there are some teams who have reconstructed their teams enough to make a possible postseason push. Let’s look at possible playoff teams who missed the dance last season but have enough to navigate their way on the road to the Super Bowl.


Tennessee Titans (2016 record: 9-7) – We saw maturation and progression from franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota last season with 3,426 yards and 26 TDs. Now he is expected to take another step forward in 2017 and he has the help of a physical one-two punch at RB with Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry, who combined for 2,291 yards from scrimmage and 17 TDs. Rookie WR Corey Davis is expected to come in and contribute in year one and his talent can make things a little easier for the Titans on offense. The defense is not great but they held their last seven opponents to 21 points or less, going 5-2 during that stretch. A tweak here and a little polish there and the Titans could be playoff-bound this season.

Washington Redskins (8-7-1) – Much of the attention is on QB Kirk Cousins and his second straight season with a lucrative franchise tag. However, they also have the necessary pieces to make a push. The defense must take a considerable step but there were key additions (DL Jon Allen, OLB Ryan Anderson, LB Zach Brown, S DJ Swearinger) to allow the unit to improve. Having WR Terrelle Pryor in the fold helps things positively, not to mention a manageable schedule with the 49ers, Rams, Saints, and Chargers on the slate.

Cincinnati Bengals (6-9-1) – The talent on the roster made their 2016 season weird. Injuries and inconsistencies truly tackled the team altogether. A healthy AJ Green is a tremendous boost, same goes for oft-injured Tyler Eifert. Much is expected from the defense as well, especially the pass rush but rookies Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson gives the team two young pass rushers that can create a little havoc. There’s a lot of talent on the team and head coach Marvin Lewis must guide the team down the straight and narrow, something that is definitely possible.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7) – The Buccaneers grabbed the attention this offseason with the free agency signing of WR DeSean Jackson and the drafting of TE OJ Howard. The defense is active and is plagued by inconsistencies. However, when reliable, they have made the necessary plays that an improving defense must make. LBs Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander are two athletic defenders that combined for 175 tackles and eight sacks last season. There is a stalwart at defensive line with DT Gerald McCoy coming off his fifth straight Pro Bowl season. This is a team that is filled with youth and it is as simple as putting the formula together.

Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1) – The Cardinals may be the most talented group from top to bottom on this list. On defense, CB Patrick Peterson, LB Chandler Jones, S/LB Deone Bucannon, and S Tyrann Mathieu are all key pieces to what was the 2nd ranked defense last season. A dangerous threat at RB with David Johnson is a possible big play with the ball in his hands. The offensive line must improve in order for QB Carson Palmer to be the reliable passer he is. Veteran WR Larry Fitzgerald is the leader of the WR group in Arizona and there is plenty of speed around him in J.J. Nelson and John Brown. The Cardinals experienced a weird 2016 season given the talent on the roster. Improved play is expected for this veteran-led team.





Eric Robinson