Author Archives: kalenlumpkins

Which non-playoff NFL Teams Can Turn it Around, and When? 

Green Bay Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers leaves Lambeau after last loss of the season.

By Kalen Lumpkins

Kalen is a fourth year BGSU student from Toledo, Ohio. He is a sports management major with a minor in journalism. His primary sport interests include football and tennis, but he also has an interest in a wide variety in other sports, from baseball to hockey. His dream job outside of college is to be a sportswriter for an organization like ESPN or Sports Illustrated.

January 21, 2023

The NFL playoffs are upon us! They kicked off on Saturday, January 14th for ‘Super Wild Card’ weekend, and a trip to the Super Bowl has never been more uncertain. 

What is certain, however, is that not everyone will have the opportunity to reach the Super Bowl. 

As the dust settled in the last regular season games, the offseason for teams that missed the postseason began. Some teams ended the year with genuine optimism for the next season, while others ended with major concerns about the future. 

Here is where each of these 18 teams stands: 

COMING FOR THE CROWN

New York Jets 

Jets’ fans had to deal with plenty in their rollercoaster season. New York, led by Zach Wilson at the time, raced out to a 6-3 start, which included home wins against the Bills and Dolphins. 

All good, right? 

Well, yes, until Breece Hall tore his ACL in Denver. When he went down, the offensive flaws that the prolific rookie covered up were revealed, and they were ugly. After a 10-3 loss to the Pats, Jets’ coach Robert Saleh benched Wilson in favor of Mike White. Unfortunately, the points were still absent. The Jets would go without a TD in their last three games and end the season on a six-game losing streak. 

A disappointing end to a promising season, sure, but the Jets’ campaign proved that they are truly just a QB away from being contenders. With the potential offensive AND defensive rookie of the year on the same team, and the pending return of Breece Hall, New York has a plethora of weapons that will keep the QB of this team in a good position. Who that QB will be is the looming question this offseason, but if they get that question right, the Jets will be the last team you want to see on your favorite team’s schedule. 

Detroit Lions 

It is all coming together for Dan Campbell’s team. The start of the season was rough, as the Lions would lose 6 of their first 7 while allowing 31.7 (!!!) PPG. In the next ten games, however, Detroit went 8-2, allowing 20.2 PPG across that stretch while ending the year with the 5th highest-scoring offense. If the Lions did not take a stumble at Carolina, we would have seen Detroit in the playoffs, and they would have arguably been the best wild card team in the field. 

Despite the postseason miss, they jumped over plenty of hurdles like sweeping Green Bay and finishing with a +.500 record, among many others. There is also no need to look for another quarterback as Jared Goff has been ‘lights out.’ 

While this offense is fully capable of outscoring opponents in a shootout, the Lions should focus on their secondary to fully boost their Aidan Hutchinson-led defense. The fans can feel the atmosphere changing for their team, and Detroit is a quality 2023 draft away from being contenders. 

ALMOST THERE

Pittsburgh Steelers 

Just like last season, there was no reason that Pittsburgh should have been over .500 this season, but here we are. The Steelers started 2-6 in their first eight games and finished 7-2 in the final nine. Mike Tomlin and company found ways to win this year and the coach has yet to have a losing season in his 16-year tenure. 

Also, like last season, however, was the presence of the Steelers’ offense, or lack thereof. In Ben Roethlisberger’s last season, the Steelers scored 20.1 PPG. Replacing him with Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett has resulted in an offense that scored 18.1 points a game. It was hard to watch at times when the Steelers had possessions, but Pickett has shown massive improvement to close out the season. Along with Pickett, George Pickens has shown that the Pickett-Pickens connections will be a big part of Pittsburgh’s playbook. 

There is still work that needs to be done on both sides of the ball, but the Steelers are potentially a good draft or two away from returning to the franchise’s winning ways.  

Washington Commanders 

The Commanders sat in the last wild card spot for most of the final part of the season, and it seemed like their spot to lose. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened in Week 16.

If there is one thing that this season told the Washington organization, it is that the franchise QB may not be on their roster currently. Sam Howell showed out in the season finale, but that is a very small sample to go on when you are deciding who to hand the keys of the offense. 

At the same time, though, this may be their best option next season. The defense ranks in the top 10 of many categories while the offense has playmakers like Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson, so Howell will not be thrown to the wolves. The plan in D.C. should be to see if Howell progresses throughout the next season. If he does, great! If not, the 2024 QB class is expected to be stacked with talent. 

Things may look a little grim for the Commanders right now, but there are options in the future.  Choosing the right one will determine whether Washington competes soon or goes into a full rebuild. 

New England Patriots

We need to tell the situation here how it is. Mac Jones needs help. He has put the Pats in positions to win, especially in divisional play, but the receiving core has let him down countless times. 

Yes, Tom Brady was able to go 12-4 in his last year with New England with arguably less, but the Pats still seem to have a hard time realizing that TB12 is not under center anymore. 

Now, let it not be mistaken, the Pats do not have a bad receiver room, they just need an elite weapon. That could potentially be Jordan Addison in the draft, or someone in a trade (Deandre Hopkins?). Whoever it is, that elite receiver will free up the playbook and allow Mac Jones to be stellar. 

50-50

Los Angeles Rams  

Long story short, it was not supposed to go this way. The defending champs started at a decent 3-3 record, but it was pretty evident that this team was not the same as last year’s championship team. Add in Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp’s injuries, and the Rams would finish the season 5-12. 

The Rams still have the pieces that won them a championship, but can they be healthy long enough? Age is starting to play a factor in the roster as well, as retirement rumors have swirled around names like Stafford and Aaron Donald. 

Even if everyone comes back, will they be able to compete at the same level? We have seen how good and how bad this team can be, and it will be interesting to see which team shows up come the 2023-24 season. 

Green Bay Packers 

The Cheeseheads are in the 50-50 category for now because how next season will go depends entirely on Aaron Rodgers. Losing a receiver like Davante Adams would be a blow to any quarterback, even if you are the great Packers’ QB. The remaining receiving core dropped many passes and was not on the same page as #12 to start the year. 

Then came the emergence of Christian Watson, which helped Green Bay go on a four-game win streak to set up a win-and-in game at Lambeau Field. 

Instead of making the playoffs, though, the Detroit Lions would give the Packers a hard slap back to reality. This was just the second time the Lions swept the Pack since 1991, and the season finale was a true testament to where the teams currently stand. 

Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson have shown that they can be legit wideouts, but last year’s draftees could be too little too late to keep #12. If he stays, Green Bay can contend. If he leaves, it could be tough sledding for a few years in Wisconsin.

Cleveland Browns

Yes, the offense did not click in Deshaun Watson’s six games played this season. However, the Browns are in the 50-50 category because a full offseason with the team could build chemistry and help the former Texan to get back to his prime play. Cleveland has all the weapons, including some they do not fully utilize (Nick Chubb, cough, cough) to help with this task. 

However, when you hand someone $230 million guaranteed, you expect results immediately. The AFC North is not going to wait around either, as the Bengals, Ravens, and Steelers are all looking to be legit contenders for the division crown. 

The story in Cleveland next year will be Watson’s progression, and if there is not any, the Browns will have to fix what could be the biggest mistake in the team’s history. 

Tennessee Titans 

The injury bug hit the Titans the hardest this season, but they were still able to fight until the final game of the season for the division crown. This is just a further example that Mike Vrabel continues to find ways to win. 

Of course, Ryan Tannehill should be back next season, but will that make a difference? The Titans’ seven-game losing streak showed that this team has needs in more areas than expected. The Tennessee defense allowed 274.8 passing yards per game, the worst in the league. The Tennessee offense passed for only 171.4 YPG, 31st in the league, and the offense scored 20+ points just six times in the year.

Again, Coach Vrabel does a great job adjusting, but there is only so much he can do. With the Jaguars gaining momentum into next season, it is make or break for the Titans in 2023-24. 

Denver Broncos 

What seemed like a match made in heaven when Russell Wilson signed with the Broncos quickly turned into a nightmare. 

This offense should have been lights out, but instead, they ended up as the lowest-scoring unit in the league. Wilson lacked chemistry with his receivers, but the coaching decisions also played a part in this. Nathaniel Hackett put the Broncos in poor situations during games all year and constantly made questionable decisions.

Management made the right choice in parting ways with Hackett, and a new coach is exactly what this team needs. The next person in line should have an offensive mindset to help Wilson strive and find use in all the weapons he has. There are plenty of options, like Sean Payton or Eric Bieniemy, that should be able to accomplish this feat, and the correct hire will change the atmosphere in Denver. 

PATIENCE, FANS

Carolina Panthers 

The fact that the Panthers were positioned to win the division in Week 17 shows that this team can compete… within the NFC South. The division was a slugfest all season long, and the division winner, the Buccaneers, only managed to win eight games. 

The Christian McCaffrey trade turned out to not be the rebuild call that we expected it to be thanks to D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard, but it did show the problems that McCaffrey’s play was able to cover.

Carolina started three quarterbacks this year, and none of them was able to spark the offense. DJ Moore tried his best to help the QBs out, but he cannot do it himself. 

The defense, however, has shown that they can be a legit unit. The play of Jaycee Horn and Brian Burns helped the Panthers stay in most of their games. 

This will be an intriguing unit for whoever takes over as the Panthers’ head coach, but they should be prepared to take a few seasons to rebuild the offensive side of the ball. 

Indianapolis Colts 

If the Colts’ historic collapse against the Vikings told us anything, it is that the veteran QB angle is not working. Philip Rivers had a good run, but the Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan eras have fallen flat. Ranking in the bottom half of the league in most offensive stats, Indy is in desperate need of a new face of the franchise. 

Luckily for them, there should be a quality QB prospect when to Colts come on the clock in April’s draft. The team is young, so a rookie QB to build with the rest of the squad should pay dividends later. 

Let us not sugarcoat it, though, this team needs improvement everywhere. Opposing receivers had career games against this defense, while the offense could not respond to opposing teams’ runs if their lives depended on it. 

This team is a good 3+ good drafts away from relevancy but drafting a QB with the fourth pick this year will be a good start for a rebuild.

Atlanta Falcons 

Marcus Mariota was the guy for the Falcons to start, but Desmond Ridder is the better choice going forward. 

The Falcons were helpless through the air, but they ranked 3rd in the league in rushing yards per game. That does help take some burden off your QB, but it is not a good recipe when you are trying to contend for the playoffs. 

The same goes for the defense that allowed 370.8 YPG and 22.7 PPG.

Ridder should be the future and building around him should be the team’s focus for the next few seasons. 

Chicago Bears 

There are rumors that the Bears may trade their top pick instead of being on the clock first. Neither would be a bad idea, but Chicago may be on the top of the draft board this time next year if the defense is not addressed. The biggest problem is that the Bears’ defensive line failed to pressure the opposing quarterback or stop the run.

Ironically, the Bears ranked last in rushing defense and first in rushing offense. The offense is thanks to Justin Fields, but he is still learning to be a consistent passer. The receiving core is not giving him much help, so there might be a few drafts before the Bears are back. 

Chicago fans, though, should be excited about Fields’ play and should look forward to his next steps. 

New Orleans Saints 

The Saints find themselves in the weirdest spot out of the other non-playoff teams. They have a road win over the #1 seed in the NFC, the Eagles, but also a loss to the 4-13 Cardinals. 

That alone should show the ceiling and the floor of New Orleans right now. 

There is a large question mark at the quarterback position, and some offensive weapons, like Alvin Kamara and Juwan Johnson, have not been able to consistently produce under Dennis Allen’s system. 

One thing that has stayed true is the Marshon Lattimore-led secondary, which only allowed 184 passing yards per game. 

Maybe a quarterback in the upcoming draft will fix the Saints (C.J. Stroud x Chris Olave reunion?), but we will not know the state of NOLA until the draft concludes. 

UH OH….

Las Vegas Raiders 

In a hectic season that saw Las Vegas blow leads, play down to inferior competition, and lose playoff-potential games among other circumstances, one thing remains. 

Raiders’ fans are fed up. 

How does a team have the rushing yards leader, a receiver with 1500+ yards with 14 TDs, AND a defensive end with 12.5 sacks on the year finish 6-11? 

The Raiders organization would point the finger at Derek Carr, hence why he was benched the last two games of the year with the full intention of moving on from the veteran. This move, though, could lead to detrimental consequences for the team. 

Davante Adams stated that Carr was the reason he went to Vegas in free agency, while Josh Jacobs has stated multiple times that he is tired of how the team is run. 

Those are just two of the huge question marks right there, along with some others. Who will be Carr’s replacement? Are the Raiders going to lose their star WR and RB all in the same off-season? How will they be able to afford to have them stay? Will the defense ever be fixed? 

As usual, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the Raiders. If Jacobs, Adams, and Carr all leave, though, the 2023-24 Raiders could be an ugly sight to see.  

Houston Texans 

For a 3-13-1 team, the Texans found themselves tough to beat this season. That is a great sign for a rebuilding team, but Houston still has a long way to go. 

The Texans have the #2 pick in the draft (due to a heavily criticized win over the Colts to close the year) and they will probably use that on a quarterback. Houston needs work almost everywhere, however, and fans should be prepared for a 3+ year process. There were promising signs, though, like the play of rookie RB Dameon Pierce and rookie CB Derek Stingley Jr. 

The most important action the Texans’ front office can take is to be patient with the next coach. The situation here is not ideal and changing head coaches every year is going to keep them at the starting line. Whoever gets the keys to the team next must also be fully willing to coach through slow progress. 

If Houston finds that coach, it will be exciting to see the rookies of this team grow into NFL stars. 

Arizona Cardinals 

Watching Arizona fall into the position they are in now has been disappointing, to say the least. Just last season, the Cardinals were off to a 7-0 start and had plans to win a Super Bowl. Ever since that start, Arizona has gone 8-19. 

This run has resulted in Arizona parting ways with Kliff Kingsbury, and the Cardinals suddenly find themselves in a hole. The health of Kyler Murray also comes into question as the former Heisman winner recovers from an ACL tear. Deandre Hopkins coming back to Arizona is not a lock either, so the Cardinals could be coming into next year with even fewer weapons than what they had last year. 

The Cardinals are slated to pick 3rd in the upcoming draft, and whoever they choose will be coming into a mess. Fans will continue to look at that 7-0 start and wonder what could have been because it is going to be a while before the Cards get to that point again.