By: Adam Martin (Twitter: @thereggambler1)
This season is starting to come to an end as we enter the Championship games and other teams are looking at next year. There have been plenty of GM and head coach appointments already and lots of talk about trades and free agency moves. With that in mind it’s time to make some predictions and decide who my five new playoff teams will be next year.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers had a bad year finishing last in the NFC West with a 6-10 record. They suffered an unprecedented number of injuries this season and it was to some big players. Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, Raheem Mostert, and Deebo Samuel all missed significant time. That’s just on the offense, the defense also lost Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas in the first couple of weeks. Despite all of these injuries they still won six games and five out of the ten games they lost were one-score games.
You have to remember it was only last season that the 49ers made it to the Superbowl, showing how good the team is. The biggest negative was the QB play from Jimmy Garoppolo and there have been rumors about a change for some time. They could go for a trade or draft a QB and they are in a good position to as they pick at number 12. They also have $12m in cap space going into the offseason so they could make some free agency moves. They are in a tough division but they are more than capable of coming back strong next year.
The Dallas Cowboys were another team that finished 6-10 for the season but their season could have been very different. Star QB Dak Prescott was badly injured in week six dislocating and fracturing his ankle leaving him out for the season. Dak is the star man in Dallas and to lose him so early in the season was always going to be the end for the Cowboys season. It goes to show how poor the NFC East is that the Cowboys nearly made the playoffs so with Dak back you would expect another run.
The Cowboys do have room to move this offseason as they have a nice amount of cap space and good draft picks. They can pick some high-end talent in the draft as they get to pick at number ten and have $17m in cap space. They also have a really good offense that will do well when Dak is back from injury. At the same time, the Defense did improve as the season went on and the change at Defensive Co-Ordinator will be positive. The defensive players in Dallas did not like the Mike Nolan set up and Dan Quinn will be a much better fit for them.
The Miami Dolphins were very close to the playoffs and just missed out despite a 10-6 record. The Dolphins started with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB but turned to new draftee Tua Tagovailoa. Tua looked ok at times but also looked like a QB that had missed his last season of college. Having a full off-season will be massive for Tua but there is also plenty of rumors about the Dolphins trading Tua. This would seem harsh on a kid that has just played half a season but Miami does have a lot of draft capital to use for a trade if they wanted to.
Four out of the Dolphins six losses were only one-score games and if they turned a couple of them around, they would have made the playoffs. They have a really good young defense and a strong head coach who will push this team even more. The Dolphins have a decent amount of cap space as well with $25m available so they can get a high-end wide receiver. If they can find that good wide receiver and maybe change the QB or develop him then they can make the playoffs next year.
The Arizona Cardinals had a disappointing finish to the season-ending up at 8-8. Hopes were high for a playoff place as the Cardinals entered their second year with Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray. They were not far off though as the Chicago Bears made it with an 8-8 record in the NFC. In the eight games that Arizona lost five of them were one-score games and so that could easily turn to wins. Another year with Kyler Murray as the starting QB will only see improvement in the system as well.
The Cardinals will be drafting at pick 16 this year so will be able to get some high-end talent. They also have a small amount of cap space which could help them in free agency. They also have a strong team with one of the best wide receivers around in DeAndre Hopkins. The defense finished as a top ten side for the season and that will be a strong basis to push them that step further. The Cardinals were close to making it this year and they should be expecting to reach the playoffs next year.
The LA Chargers had a transitional season last year with the emergence of new QB Justin Herbert. The young rookie took the Chargers to a 7-9 season but the season could have ended very differently. Out of the nine losses, seven of them were one-score games and so could easily have been a winning season. Head coach Anthony Lynn has been moved on and been replaced by Brandon Staley. Staley is considered a player’s coach and has been spoken highly of during his time with the LA Rams. Herbert will cope with the coaching change fine as he has had five different coaches in his six years through college and the NFL.
This team is strong on both sides of the ball but a fresh approach is what the Chargers need. Hopefully, for them, this is exactly what Brandon Staley will be able to achieve. On the offense they have got quality players like Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen signed up. Also, the defense has been underperforming and a strong defensive-minded head coach can change that. They are in a good position when it comes to replenishment with $23m of cap space and the thirteenth draft pick. The Chargers are not as far away from the playoffs as the 7-9 record makes it look and Staley could be the guy to push them to the playoffs.