Every year, a bundle of teams underachieve for one reason or another. Whether it's injuries, dysfunction, or bad luck, a certain set of talented clubs fail to realize their potential, and miss out on the postseason as a result. A new season gives hope to these underachievers, as they are granted a fresh slate to pursue their Super Bowl dreams. Here are four teams that could turn it around and make the playoffs in 2018 after missing the cut last season:
Los Angeles Chargers
After an abysmal 0-4 start, it was a miracle that the Chargers even sniffed the playoff picture by season's end. Anthony Lynn’s team scratched and clawed their way into contention, and ended the year as one of the hottest clubs in the league. They fell short in a divisional match-up against the Chiefs, which ultimately sealed their fate.
LA enters 2018 with mostly the same roster, and will likely come out of the gates stronger. Their schedule already looks favorable, as the other No. 2 seeds around the AFC (Bills, Ravens, and Titans) aren’t exactly the toughest batch of squads. Philip Rivers knows how to win games, and he’ll have his full assortment of skill positions available (including a healthy Mike Williams). Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram anchor a deadly pass rush, and are flanked by an elite corner duo of Jason Verrett and Casey Heyward. All signs are pointing up for the Bolts.
Staying in the AFC West, the Oakland Raiders have plenty to be excited about heading into 2018. For starters, new head coach Jon Gruden looks to inject some life into a team that slogged their way through a 6-10 season. He’ll work closely with young quarterback Derek Carr, who looks to bounce back from an off year after signing a mega deal this past summer.
They have plenty of weapons on both sides of the ball, including a franchise defender in Khalil Mack. Reggie McKenzie will get another chance to bolster the roster with the 10th overall pick in the draft. If they can get some more athletes on the defensive side, and Carr returns to his MVP-form, the Raiders will be a legitimate threat once again.
The Cardinals lost David Johnson and Carson Palmer for nearly the entire season last year, and still found a way to win eight games. Arizona has flown under the radar the past couple of years, but that doesn’t mean it’s fair to undersell their talent. This team is just two years removed from an NFC Championship appearance. Most of that roster remains on the team, and with a few adjustments here and there, the Cards could return to prominence.
It appears Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks will be replacing former head coach Bruce Arians. His background in coaching secondaries will be welcomed by star defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Once Johnson is healthy, and the team pegs their next quarterback, the Cardinals will become a major player in the rugged NFC West.
New York Giants
Entering the year, the G-Men looked poised for a deep playoff run thanks to an explosive offense and a stingy (and expensive) defense. The premature crowning turned out to be a mistake, as New York looked like one of the worst teams in the league last season.
It took until Week 6 to get their first victory, and they failed to score 30+ points in a single game this season. Their offense was downright miserable – even when Odell Beckham Jr. was healthy. Eli Manning looked more like a statue than ever, and the rushing attack failed to produce with any sort of consistency.
Defensively is where the Giants were pegged to thrive, but the group as a whole took a massive step back. So why is it that they’ll turn it around in 2018? For starters, the team has high hopes for recent coaching hire Pat Shurmur. The offensice guru was revered for his work with quarterbacks during his time in Minnesota.
As of now, it’s unclear who the Giants' starting QB in Week 1 will be. With Shurmur now at the helm, signing Case Keenum to reunite the two makes plenty of sense. However, Manning is still under contract, and the Giants currently hold the No. 2 overall pick in a quarterback-rich draft class. Regardless of who starts Week 1 though, New York has the skill position players in place to form an explosive offense. Add in the fact that the Giants will be motivated to prove 2017 was a crazy fluke, and they are destined for a huge bounce-back season.
Sources: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports, Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports, Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports