NFL Teams Most Likely to End Playoff Droughts This Season

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJune 3, 2014

NFL Teams Most Likely to End Playoff Droughts This Season

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    It is a fairly well-known fact that not every team can make it into the NFL playoffs each season. However, some NFL franchises have spent so much time away from the postseason that their annual absence has become a nearly foregone conclusion.

    We are, of course, talking about those teams currently in the midst of a playoff drought.

    Over the next few pages, we will examine and rank the five teams most likely to put an end to their playoff droughts in 2014. 

    To qualify for our list, a team cannot have appeared in the postseason within the last five years (following the 2009-10 season). Rankings will be based on offseason additions, quality of division and ease of schedule

Honorable Mention: Oakland Raiders

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Last Postseason Appearance: 2002-03

    2013 Record: 4-12

    2014 Strength of Schedule: .578


    I really like some of the moves the Oakland Raiders made during the offseason, including the addition of veteran quarterback Matt Schaub.

    The Raiders also had what I believe to be a fairly strong draft, so I do see Oakland fielding a much-improved team in 2014.

    However, the simple fact that the Raiders face the toughest schedule of any team in the NFL makes it hard to include them on our list. In addition to playing six AFC West games against 2013 playoff teams (the Raiders were the only team in the division to miss the postseason), the Raiders also have to battle the tough NFC West.

    Ultimately, I see this as a transition year for Oakland with brighter seasons to come, but it is important to remember that the San Diego Chargers slipped into the postseason with a 9-7 record a year ago. Strange things can happen in this division and it is hard to completely rule the Raiders out as a surprise team. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Last Postseason Appearance: 2007-08

    2013 Record: 4-12

    2014 Strength of Schedule: .453


    While the Jacksonville Jaguars do face an easier schedule than some of the teams ahead of them on this list, I believe the team spent the offseason building for the future more than a 2014 run.

    However, I do believe the Jaguars have an outside chance of ending their playoff drought if some of the rookies manage to make a quick transition to the pro game. 

    The Jaguars have already made it clear that the plan is to sit rookie quarterback Blake Bortles for a season and allow him to learn under journeyman Chad Henne. General manager David Caldwell told ESPN Radio show Mike and Mike that that was indeed the plan. However, that doesn't mean rookie wideouts Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson can't be immediate contributors.

    Rookie running back Storm Johnson can also have an impact alongside free-agent acquisition Toby Gerhart. 

    Jacksonville probably has a better chance of ending its postseason woes in 2015 than this season, but a Wild Card spot isn't completely out of the question. Facing the league's fourth-easiest schedule should give the Jaguars plenty of winnable games, and strange things seem to happen every year in the NFL.

St. Louis Rams

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Last Postseason Appearance: 2004-05

    2013 Record: 7-9

    2014 Strength of Schedule: .564


    The St. Louis Rams face the league's third-toughest schedule and reside in arguably the NFL's toughest division.

    However, I still believe the Rams have a fighting chance of pushing for a playoff spot in 2014. The team fell just a couple games short in 2013, despite missing starting quarterback Sam Bradford for nine games. 

    The tricky part will be for St. Louis to find greater success within the NFC West (the Rams were 6-4 outside the division last season). Having Bradford at 100 percent for the season should be a major boon, as should the Rams' impressive draft class.

    St. Louis nabbed a potentially elite offensive lineman in Auburn's Greg Robinson. The team also added a starting-caliber defensive tackle and cornerback in Aaron Donald and Lamarcus Joyner, respectively. Rookie running back Tre Mason should he a valuable complement to second-year runner Zac Stacy, as well.

    St. Louis already fielded an impressive scoring defense last season (ranked 13th, allowing 22.8 points per game). If the Rams can make some offensive improvements and post even a slightly better divisional record, I see little reason why the team cannot be battling for a playoff spot late in the regular season. 

Buffalo Bills

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Last Postseason Appearance: 1999-2000

    2013 Record: 6-10

    2014 Strength of Schedule: .500


    The Buffalo Bills are in the midst of the league's longest active playoff drought, but that could well come to an end this season.

    If second-year quarterback EJ Manuel can take a few positive steps this season (and remain healthy), I believe the Bills will have a good chance to compete for a playoff berth.

    While the New England Patriots still have the inside track to the division title, the rest of the AFC East and AFC has been somewhat inconsistent. A three-win improvement could be good enough for Buffalo to earn a Wild Card spot, especially if an AFC team like the Kansas City Chiefs takes a step back this season.

    Manuel's development should be made easier by the addition of first-round draft pick Sammy Watkins, who has the potential to be the best receiver in the division right out of the gate.

    The real question is whether Buffalo's defense can maintain its high level of play after the loss of coordinator Mike Pettine. Buffalo's defense ranked 10th overall (333.4 yards per game allowed) and second in interceptions (23), but Pettine defected during the offseason to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns. 

Cleveland Browns

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Last Postseason Appearance: 2002-03

    2013 Record: 4-12

    2014 Strength of Schedule: .465


    With new general manager Ray Farmer and new head coach Mike Pettine building the team, the Cleveland Browns aggressively approached the offseason and are set up to be a contender if the right pieces fall into place.

    On paper, the Browns defense should be even better than the ninth-ranked unit (332.4 yards per game allowed) the team fielded last season. Free-agent additions like Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby should help bring leadership, while young players like rookie first-round selection Justin Gilbert should add talent.

    Of course, Cleveland will still have to find a way to play efficiently on offense, especially with star receiver Josh Gordon facing a potential year-long ban. Adding free-agent running back Ben Tate and rookie runner Terrance West should help bring balance to the unit, but Cleveland's fate likely hinges on the team's ability to get solid quarterback play.

    Fortunately, the Browns shouldn't be forced to start rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel before he is ready due to the presence of journeyman Brian Hoyer. 

    The AFC North sent just one team (the Cincinnati Bengals) to the playoffs a year ago. If the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens again stumble, I believe the Browns will have a decent chance of slipping into the playoffs, especially with the league's seventh-easiest schedule. 

Tennessee Titans

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Last Postseason Appearance: 2008-09

    2013 Record: 7-9

    2014 Strength of Schedule: .438


    Believe it or not, the Tennessee Titans were actually fairly close to earning a postseason berth last year. Had starting quarterback Jake Locker not missed nine games due to injury (he was 4-3 as a starter last season), the Titans' playoff drought may have already ended.

    The return of a presumably healthy Locker should give Tennessee a fairly good chance of making a playoff run in 2014. With the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans each trying to rebuild after disappointing 2013 campaigns, the Titans might even be able to challenge the Indianapolis Colts for an AFC South title.

    Having the league's second-easiest schedule certainly won't hurt Tennessee's cause.

    The Titans didn't make a ton of significant offseason moves, but did retool the offensive line. Free-agent addition Michael Oher and first-round pick Taylor Lewan should each make an impact in the pass-protection department, which is good news for Locker.

    The level of success the Titans manage to find this season may hinge on Locker's performance and Tennessee's ability to take pressure off their quarterback via the run game. With Chris Johnson now a New York Jet, the latter task falls to second-round draft pick Bishop Sankey.