Two days before kickoff weekend this year, Will Brinson of CBS Sports reviewed the 2015 Super Bowl odds for all 32 NFL teams. At the time, the Seahawks (6-1 odds), 49ers (8-1), Packers (9-1), Saints (9-1), Eagles (20-1) and Bears (22-1) were projected as the top NFC teams. With just two games left in the 2014 season, only three of those six teams would currently qualify for the playoffs - and only two of them would qualify with winning records.
It's a testament to the unpredictable nature of the NFL that perennial media darlings like the 49ers, Saints, and Bears don't even have winning records, and that even the much hyped speed demons from Philly took the fast lane in the wrong direction.
Instead, a new crop of teams has set out to once again confirm the old adage that the playoff field churns by about 50% from year to year: Since the league moved to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, an average of about six new teams made the NFL playoffs every year. Only once, in 1994, did that number dip to four teams.
If the season were to end today, the Cardinals, Lions and Cowboys would be the new NFC teams in the playoffs, while some of the more established teams would be busy planning their January holidays. Here's a look at the current playoff picture and how that compares to the preseason outlook:
|Seed||Team||W/L Record||Preseason Super Bowl Odds
|WC 2||Green Bay||10-4||9-1|
The same exercise for the AFC has the Steelers and Ravens as the new playoff participants, while the Broncos, Patriots, Bengals, and Colts would be repeat playoff participants. In total, if the playoffs were to start today, five new teams would make the playoffs, which is only slightly less than the six-team average of the last 24 years.
At the start of every new season, it always takes a while for us to reconfigure our mental landscape of the NFL. Going by the preseason odds, the Cowboys (66-1) had the longest odds of making the postseason of any team currently penciled in as a playoff participant. The Cowboys are followed by a trio of teams that entered the season with 40-1 odds: The Cardinals, Steelers, and Ravens.
The biggest underachievers relative to their preseason Super Bowl odds, in sequence: 49ers (8-1), Eagles (20-1), and Bears (22-1).
Anything can happen in the NFL. Every new NFL season is always a new chance for teams that fell short of the playoffs the season before. The NFL is intrinsically designed to be a parity-driven league; the draft, revenue sharing, the salary cap, compensatory draft picks, all the way through the schedule; everything about the NFL is designed so that every team from every market has a legitimate opportunity to compete year-in and year-out.
And this season is another prime example of the parity in the league: Through the first 15 weeks of 2014, only four postseason berths have been clinched. Denver, Indianapolis, and New England have each locked up their divisions in the AFC, while Arizona has secured a playoff berth in the NFC. With two weeks left, there are still a staggering 21 teams in contention for a trip to Super Bowl XLIX. Those 21 teams are competing for eight playoff spots, including five division titles.
This weekend in the NFC, Arizona could clinch the NFC West, a first-round bye and home-field advantage. Detroit could secure a playoff spot, the NFC North division and a first-round bye. Dallas has a chance to lock up a postseason berth and the NFC East title.
Not bad for a bunch of teams considered long shots at best at the start of the season. And while fans of those three teams are asking themselves how much space they need to clear from their calendars in January, fans of the 49ers, Bears, and Eagles are asking themselves some very different questions, like
- Have you given up on the Philadelphia Eagles season?
- What's next for Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers?
- Should the Chicago Bears pursue Jim Harbaugh?