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Seven non-playoff teams from 2023 that could make jump this season: Bears, Jets primed to snap long droughts

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Parity has been the theme of the NFL over the last several decades, as the league typically has a fair share of new playoff teams from one season to the next. Roughly half of the teams from the 2023 playoff field will be back in 2024, as new division winners and tougher schedules play a role in teams returning. 

Six new teams entered the postseason from 2023 that didn’t make the field in 2022. The year prior (2022) saw seven new teams that made the postseason that didn’t make it in 2021. The 14-team playoff format has opened the floodgates for even more parity in the league.

What seven teams have a shot at entering the postseason picture and competing for a Super Bowl in 2024? There are quite a few candidates that could turn the corner and give their franchise meaningful football in January. 

The Falcons were certainly aggressive this offseason in their pursuit of the NFC South title, starting with signing Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 million deal. They signed Darnell Mooney and traded for Rondale Moore, adding to an offensive room that already has Bijan Robinson, Drake London and Kyle Pitts — and one of the best offensive lines in football. 

While the offense should score points with Zac Robinson calling the plays, Raheem Morris and Jimmy Lake will be in charge of the defense that improved in points allowed per possession from 29th in the NFL (2.27) to 15th (1.86).

The Falcons offense is banking on Cousins rebounding from that Achilles injury and being the quarterback that carried the Vikings offense for six years. The end result is hopefully snapping a seven-year playoff drought. 

Chicago had to keep pace with its counterparts in the NFC North, with the Detroit Lions being a Super Bowl contender and the Green Bay Packers trending that way. The Bears scored big in their 2023 trade with the Carolina Panthers, securing the rights to draft Caleb Williams at No. 1 overall while securing Rome Odunze with their own pick at No. 9. 

The Bears also traded for Keenan Allen, having him join Odunze and D.J. Moore at wide receiver. D’Andre Swift was signed to be Chicago’s No. 1 running back, while Gerald Everett was brought in at tight end. The offense also has a new play-caller in Shane Waldron, who significantly helped Russell Wilson and Geno Smith over the last five years.

Jaylon Johnson being re-signed and Montez Sweat on the edge significantly helps a Chicago defense that allowed just 15.5 points per game in the final six games. The Bears appear primed to make a run at a playoff spot, no matter how difficult the NFC North is. 

Minnesota Vikings (7-10)

The Vikings are another team from the NFC North that can make a run at the playoffs based on the talent they currently have on the roster. The quarterback situation is murky, but the skill position players resemble a playoff roster. Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison are etching their way into one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL, while Aaron Jones was added at running back and will run behind an improving offensive line. T.J. Hockenson will also be back at tight end.

The Vikings added Jonathan Greenard and Dallas Turner for the pass rush, while Andrew Van Ginkel and Blake Cashman were brought in at linebacker. Brian Flores improved Minnesota’s defense from 27th in points allowed per possession (2.09) to 18th (1.91). 

If J.J. McCarthy can settle in, seize the job from Sam Darnold and take care of the football in his rookie season — the Vikings have a shot at a playoff berth. 

The Seahawks weren’t one of the active teams in free agency, but they did have a change of leadership with Pete Carroll retiring and Mike Macdonald getting the head coaching job. Macdonald tinkered with the 29th-ranked defense in points allowed per possession (2.20) by adding linebackers Jerome Baker and Tyrel Dodson and re-signing Leonard Williams. They also added Byron Murphy II in the first round of the draft to pair with Williams.

The offense wasn’t changed much, as Kenneth Walker, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Noah Fant return as Geno Smith’s playmakers. Ryan Grubb will have a motion-based offense as the offensive coordinator, so the system will look significantly different in 2024.

Seattle just missed the playoffs last season. An improved defense may be the ticket toward sneaking into the playoffs in 2024. 

This appears to be the prime candidate to make the playoffs in 2024, if Aaron Rodgers is healthy that is. A healthy Rodgers changes the entire fortune for the Jets, who went “all-in” with their offseason moves for the second straight year. 

Mike Williams was added at wide receiver to pair with Garrett Wilson, and the Jets drafted Malachi Corley in the third round to give Rodgers a presence as a WR3. The Jets arguably have one of the best running back rooms in football with Breece HallIsrael Abanikanda and rookie Braelon Allen. They also improved the offensive line by signing Tyron Smith and John Simpson in free agency and selecting Olu Fashanu in the first round. This unit also has Alijah Vera-Tucker holding down the fort at right guard. 

Haason Reddick was added to help out Jermaine Johnson II on the edge, while the defensive interior now has Javon Kinlaw and Leki Fotu to help out Quinnen Williams. Don’t forget Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed are in the secondary. 

Despite all the drama, the Jets are talented. If Rodgers is healthy, this team should snap a 14-year playoff drought. 

The Bengals are contenders to make a deep playoff run if Joe Burrow is healthy, When Burrow plays 11-plus games in a season, the Bengals make at least the AFC Championship Game. 

Cincinnati didn’t have any eye-popping moves, but some good signings in free agency. Geno Stone was signed away from the Baltimore Ravens and Vonn Bell was brought back after one year with the Carolina Panthers. Mike Gesicki was brought in at tight end to tandem with Drew Sample, significantly improving the pass-catchers at the position. Chase Brown should man running back, but will split the carries with free agent signing Zack Moss

The Bengals are still trying to fix the offensive tackle position, adding Trent Brown in free agency and Amarius Mims in the first round of the draft. They also added Jermaine Burton in the third round as another outside wide receiver option. 

Like Rodgers and the Jets, the Bengals’ success comes down to Burrow’s health. Even in the loaded AFC North, this is a talented roster that’s a postseason contender. 

Let’s not forget the Jaguars were 8-3 and competing for the top seed in the AFC in late November before losing five-of-six and missing the playoffs. Injuries and turnovers doomed Jacksonville, who revamped the roster in an effort to avoid a repeat of last season’s collapse. 

The core of the offense is still Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, but Jacksonville changed things up at wide receiver by signing Gabe Davis in free agency and drafting Brian Thomas Jr. in the first round. Evan Engram is back at tight end as Lawrence’s most reliable target. 

The offensive line added Mitch Morse to shore up the interior, while the defense saw quite a few changes — starting with Ryan Nielsen as the new defensive coordinator. The defense will go from a four-man front to three-man, signing defensive tackle Arik Armstead and drafting defensive tackles Maason Smith (second round) and Jordan Jefferson (fourth round). The secondary is also revamped with Ronald Darby starting at cornerback and Darnell Savage at safety. 

Jacksonville is going to look significantly different in 2024. If Lawrence cuts down on the turnovers, a return trip to the playoffs is on the table. 

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Author: Jeff Kerr
June 13, 2024 | 12:05 pm

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