First Four Out

Tomorrow the NFL playoffs continue with four divisional round match ups pitting the remaining eight teams against one another for a spot in one of the conference championship games. This time of year we are quick to forget the teams we lose along the way, but I want to take a moment to look at the four losing squads from last weekend because there are 20 other teams who would probably trade places with them.

Buffalo Bills

The Season

Based on preseason expectations I think you have to consider the season that first year head coach Coach McDermott and Bills put together to be a success. Most predictions had them winning 5-7 games and missing the playoffs for the 19th straight year, but the Bills bucked that trend and sealed up a playoff spot late on the last Sunday of the year with some help from the Cincinnati Bengals. The mid-season benching of Tyrod Taylor was a definite low point as Nathan Peterman flamed out big time, but the offense struggled all year anyway, finishing 22nd with just 18.9 points per game.

The Future

The Bills finished the regular season with a negative point differential which kinda indicates that they did it with smoke and mirrors this year. The Kelvin Benjamin acquisition didn’t pay off just yet, but I think he’s a nice piece to have going forward and they should be able to count on a healthy LeSean McCoy. Having said that, the Bills finished 6th in the league in rushing, but 31st in passing and their leading receiver, tight end Charles Clay, didn’t top 600 yards. Offense has to be the focus in the draft. Due in part to a three game stretch in the middle of the season where they allowed 135 points in 17 days to the Jets, Saints, and Chargers, the  defensive unit’s collective numbers weren’t great, but rookie DB Tre’davious White was a revelation.

Playoffs Next Year?

Sorry, but no.

Carolina Panthers

The Season 

Coming off a dreadful 2016 season in which they underachieved while nursing a wicked Super Bowl hangover, expectations for the 2017 season were cautiously on the uptick for Carolina and, by most accounts, they met or exceeded those expectations. Reaching 11 wins in a division that sent three teams to the playoffs is no small accomplishment, especially with a one-dimensional offense that was led in rushing by its QB. The defense was stout finishing 3rd against the rush and 7th overall (YPG allowed), but it couldn’t overcome 22 giveaways by its offense (17 by Cam Newton).

The Future 

The Panthers started addressing their offensive issues immediately, firing OC Mike Shula and hiring Norv Turner within days of their playoff elimination at the hands of the Saints. Rivera served as a linebacker coach and DC under Turner in San Diego before taking the head job in Carolina to start the 2011 season, but the connections don’t stop there. Norv will become the 4th Turner in the organization joining his son, brother, and nephew. I understand the sentiment: let’s get more out of our MVP quarterback. However, we have seven seasons of Cam to look at and the evidence is really piling up. He hasn’t gone over 4,000 yards since his rookie season, has never topped 100 in passer rating, and has only finished two seasons at 60% completions or better. Good luck with that though, Norval.

Playoffs Next Year?

Yes, barely.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Season 

A lot of teams would have been thrilled with 10 wins and a division title this season, but for KC it feels like a failure, especially when you consider the fashion in which they crashed out of the playoffs. Through five weeks, the Chiefs topped every power ranking out there and already had wins over New England and Philly. The blistering start is just another reason this season grades out as a disappointment though. The offense put up terrific numbers and finished in the top ten in most categories, but the defense was an enigma, posting an outstanding 26 takeaways, but surrendering yards like a bottom five unit.

The Future 

Andy Reid’s job is safe, but the city seems to be looking for a scapegoat and will likely chase Alex Smith out of town before too long. OC Matt Nagy accepted the Bears’ head coaching job so there will be a new voice there going forward. With all the talent on offense it wouldn’t be a shock to see this team retool defensively and take the next step, but that hasn’t traditionally been a strength of Reid’s teams. The Chiefs benefited from down years by division foes, but that could all change quickly as the Chargers gained momentum in the second half of the season, the Raiders are one year removed from 12 wins and just hired Gruden, and the Broncos often looked to be just a quarterback away from competing again.

Playoffs Next Year?

If Smith keeps his job, yes. If they turn it over to Mahomes, no.

Los Angeles Rams

The Season 

Despite being upset at home by the Falcons in the wild card round, this season was an absolutely a success for the Rams. They went from dead last in points per game in 2016 (14.0) to tops in the league this season (29.9). 31-year-old rookie coach Sean McVay got the most out of Jared Goff and the Rams made a huge leap from 4 wins to 11 wins and an NFC West title behind an MVP-caliber season from Todd Gurley. They did all this while playing at a temporary “home” field too. Their proudest moment among their six blowout wins was definitely a 42-7 slaughter at division bully Seattle, but home losses to that same Seattle team as well as the Redskins are quite forgettable.

The Future 

It’s hard to imagine the Rams can top this year as the 49ers are improved in the West and LA won’t be catching anyone by surprise next season, but the core is young and they have the Aaron Donald contract situation ironed out. I don’t necessarily see 11 wins in their future as the schedule will be much tougher next year, but they should compete for the division again.

Playoffs Next Year?

Yessir!

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