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. Less than a month later, only two of those six teams would qualify for the playoffs - if the season were to end today.
Nothing illustrates the fickle nature of the NFL more than the fact that the perennial media darlings 49ers, Packers and Saints would not repeat their playoff appearance from last year if the playoffs were to start today.
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.
Per Week 4 the Cardinals, Lions and Cowboys would be the new NFC teams in the playoffs, while some of the more established teams can start clearing their calendars in January. If the season were to end today, here's who the NFC playoff participants would be:
|Seed||Team||W/L Record||Divisional Record||Conference Record|
Quick update on the tiebreakers for playoff participants: Division leaders are determined by the best overall division record, the seeding would normally be determined by head-to-head record, but absent head-to-head matchups so far, the seeding is determined by the conference record. Wilcard berths are also determined by best overall record. The Cowboys get the first wildcard spot as the only non-division leader with a 3-1 overall record. Next to Dallas, the Seahawks get the second wildcard spot as the only other non-division leader with a winning record.
The same exercise for the AFC has the Bengals, Chargers, Texans, and Patriots as division winners after Week 4. Of the four, only the Texans failed (spectacularly) to make the playoffs last year. Baltimore and Denver would be the wildcard teams with Denver being a repeat playoff participant.
In total, if the playoffs were to begin 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 hierarchy, as last year's favorites falter and last year's underachievers suddenly flourish.
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.
Every year a team that nobody was thinking of as a contender suddenly strings together a couple of wins early in the year, starts playing like a good football team in the middle of the season and actually becomes a good football team as it clinches a playoff spot late in the season.
There's no reason why the Cowboys couldn't be that team in 2014.