A day before the 2017 NFL season kicked off this year, Kevin Skiver of CBS Sports reviewed the 2017 Super Bowl odds for all 32 NFL teams. At the time, the Seahawks (8/1), Packers (10/1), Falcons (12/1), Cowboys (12/1) and Giants (12/1) were the five NFC teams with the best Super Bowl odds. Less than a month later, only two of those five teams (Atlanta & Dallas) 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 teams like Seahawks and Packers would not repeat their playoff appearance from last year if the playoffs were to start today, and the Giants are out of playoff contention completely after just three games: Since realignment in 2002, 73 teams started the season with three consecutive losses and not a single one of the 73 made the playoffs.
In place of last year's playoff teams, 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.
Per Week 3 the Eagles, Vikings, and Rams 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 and Lions get the two wildcard spots because they have the best conference records among the five non-division leaders with a 2-1 overall record.
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.
For example, the Cowboys' first three opponents this year were the three top-ranked defenses in the league in 2016, according to Football Outsiders. The Broncos had the No. 1 defense as measured by DVOA, the Giants were ranked No. 2, and the Cardinals No. 3.
As Cowboys fans, we like to think that the Cowboys' 2-1 record was achieved against some of the toughest defenses in the league. But are those three teams still the best defenses this year?
Hard to tell after just three games, but odds are they won't repeat as the top three teams this year.
And the same is true for last year's playoff teams. 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.
Over the course of a season, most football fans construct a mental map of the NFL teams. After last season for example, most football fans would have agreed that the Giants would be contenders this year. Yet after just three weeks, the Giants are already done.
Like every season, the NFL landscape is changing, and with it fans have to readjust their mental map of NFL teams. The reality of the 2017 season is taking shape right before our eyes, and that reality doesn't necessarily have much to do with with the 2016 season.
It's still very early in the season, but through three weeks it looks like the Cowboys are on track for the playoffs. And if history repeats itself, they will be one of three playoff teams from 2016 to make the playoffs again this year. Which means there will also be three new playoff teams in 2017. After week three, those teams look to be the Eagles, Vikings, and Rams, but will they be able to maintain their early momentum?
Who do you think the three new playoff teams could be this year?