Buy or Sell: NFL Teams Looking to End Playoff Drought in 2022
One of the best parts of the NFL is the parity. No other league boasts the playoff turnover the NFL sees each season.
The only team to have won consecutive Super Bowls since 2000 was the 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots. We haven't seen a consecutive NFC East title winner since the Philadelphia Eagles won four straight crowns from 2001 to 2004. Every franchise has hit some sort of milestone over the course of the last two decades.
One key injury can completely change a divisional or wild-card race since the competition is so fierce. That doesn't mean there haven't been elongated stretches of futility, though.
Eight teams will enter the 2022 season with a playoff drought of at least four seasons. Here, we'll buy or sell the playoff odds of the five teams with the longest droughts.
Sell: New York Jets
Playoff drought: 11 seasons
The last time the New York Jets were in the playoffs, Rex Ryan was the hottest name in the NFL. He had amassed a 20-12 record with two playoff appearances with 2009 No. 5 overall pick Mark Sanchez just starting his career.
The arrow seemed to be pointing upward for the Jets, but the Ryan and Sanchez-era came crashing down within the next few years. They've had only one winning season since then.
Will the Jets get back into the playoff picture in 2022? We aren't buying it just yet.
They still have a young roster that is relying on key players on their rookie contracts, including three first-round picks in 2022 and second-year quarterback Zach Wilson. Head coach Robert Saleh also needs to show progress in his second season.
The bar is particularly high in the AFC and AFC East. Having the Super Bowl favorite Buffalo Bills within the division is a major roadblock, and the New England Patriots are no pushover as long as Bill Belichick is on the sidelines. The Jets aren't even the best young team in the AFC East right now, as the Miami Dolphins have more playmakers on both sides of the ball.
The Jets have yet to reach the "winning" part of their rebuilding process. Their next logical step is to become an annoyingly feisty team to play as their youth develops.
They'll have higher expectations and the possibility of a playoff appearance in 2023 if Wilson becomes at least a league-average quarterback between now and then.
Buy: Denver Broncos
Playoff drought: 6 seasons
Unlike the other teams featured here, the Denver Broncos' playoff drought is more of the result of misjudging their succession plans than having high-end talent on their roster.
For the last six years, the Broncos have been saddled with one of the most mediocre quarterback rotations in the NFL. Ever since Peyton Manning retired after winning the Super Bowl in 2015, the Broncos have enjoyed just one winning season over the past six years.
Denver has boasted some of the league's most fearsome defenses in that stretch, finishing in the top 10 in fewest points allowed three times. That includes finishing fourth in 2016 and third in 2021. The Broncos won 16 games across those two seasons.
Going all-in on Russell Wilson this offseason was a no-brainer. He cost a ton to acquire—the Broncos had to send two first-round picks, two second-round picks and a fifth-round pick along with quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant and defensive end Shelby Harris to the Seattle Seahawks for him—but they had no other way to land a franchise quarterback in the near future.
Wilson should thrive with new head coach Nathaniel Hackett and Denver's bevy of young playmakers. The Broncos have an excellent array of talent, led by receivers Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy and running backs Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III. This is a high-upside team that can win the Super Bowl.
The Broncos' path to the playoffs will be difficult because of the hyper competitive AFC West. It wouldn't be surprising if the West produces three playoff teams, and whichever team misses out might be better than the AFC South champion.
The Broncos should have a leg up on the Las Vegas Raiders because they have a better defense and deeper roster.
Sell: Detroit Lions
Playoff drought: 5 seasons
Could the Detroit Lions go from earning the No. 2 overall pick to making the playoffs in the span of one season?
We're excited to see Lions head coach Dan Campbell on HBO's Hard Knocks later this summer, as well as the collection of young talent they amassed this offseason. But Detroit is nowhere near ready to compete with the rest of the NFC for a playoff spot.
The NFC might be short on elite Super Bowl contenders, but it's deep with quality teams capable of reaching nine or 10 wins. None of last year's NFC playoff teams are considerably worse entering 2022, and the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings and Washington Commanders could all improve, too.
New Orleans is hoping to get a full season from quarterback Jameis Winston. Minnesota has a new coaching staff and brought the majority of its talent back after just missing the playoffs last year. Washington upgraded its quarterback situation with Carson Wentz.
Detroit has flashy new playmakers in Aidan Hutchinson, Jameson Williams and D.J. Chark. Its new regime appears to understand when to take risks and identify value deals.
However, the Lions' limitations at quarterback with Jared Goff and the uncertainty in their young secondary could hold them back for competing for a playoff spot. They should win more than three games in 2022, but this season is more about evaluating their core of talent than pushing for the postseason.
With luck, the Lions may be in a much better position to compete in 2023 or even 2024. They're still likely at least one great draft class away from ending their playoff drought.
Buy: Miami Dolphins
Playoff drought: 5 seasons
It's been quite the offseason of extremes for the Miami Dolphins.
From firing head coach Brian Flores and having a plan in place to land both Sean Payton and Tom Brady, to trading for Tyreek Hill and signing Terron Armstead, the Dolphins swung as hard as they could to improve their roster. They're now poised make the playoffs in 2022 even if their grandest dreams didn't come true.
New head coach Mike McDaniel should be able to build an efficient offense with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa under center. The Dolphins badly needed an injection of speed and blocking around Tagovailoa after seeing him struggle in 2021 with little help. They bolstered his supporting cast with the additions of Hill, Cedrick Wilson, Armstead and a bevy of tailbacks.
One of Miami's best decisions this offseason was to retain defensive coordinator Josh Boyer, who ran an effective defense over the last two seasons. Boyer already knows how to maximize a unit that returned all of its key personnel, so Miami shouldn't need extra time to install a new defensive scheme or adjust to new faces.
The Dolphins offense ranked 22nd last year in points despite struggling to run the ball and protect the quarterback. McDaniel has experience with Kyle Shanahan's run-based offense that utilizes misdirection for big plays. Tagovailoa is an accurate and mobile passer, and he should thrive in a scheme that gets the ball out quickly to speedy playmakers in space.
The key for Miami is hurdling the New England Patriots in the AFC East. The Dolphins won nine games last season despite struggling on offense for stretches. They're more explosive than New England, but they must prove to be as consistent.
If the Dolphins' offseason acquisitions are anywhere near as valuable as expected, they should be markedly better than New England's high-floor, low-ceiling roster. Even though the AFC is loaded, they should be in the mix for a wild-card berth.
Sell: New York Giants
Playoff drought: 5 seasons
New York Giants' hiring of Brian Daboll might have been the best decision any team made at head coach this offseason.
Daboll built an impressive offensive attack in Buffalo after developing quarterback Josh Allen into a superstar. Giants signal-caller Daniel Jones isn't as naturally gifted as Allen, but Daboll is the best man to put together a friendly scheme that maximizes Jones' accuracy and athleticism with a deep group of talented receivers.
The health of Jones and his surrounding cast will be a big factor in the Giants' success in 2020. They had a slew of injuries over the last few years and seemingly never had their full Week 1 lineup together for more than a week at a time. Having playmakers Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard and Saquon Barkley stay on the field together for at least one full month would be a huge boost for New York.
The Giants' young collection of talent is encouraging for their rebuild. However, it won't be enough to earn a playoff spot in 2022. This team still lacks offensive line depth and experience at key spots, and the defense doesn't have proven playmaking in the back seven.
Expecting first-round edge-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux to immediately change the way the unit operates isn't realistic despite his immense talent. The secondary has zero depth, and the starters besides Xavier McKinney and Adoree' Jackson are shaky. This is a promising but lacking defense.
The NFC East will be brutal this year. Dallas took a small step backward but is still a contender for the Super Bowl. The Philadelphia Eagles made major upgrades on both sides of the ball this offseason, and Washington will be improved after upgrading at quarterback.
The Giants aren't there yet, but they are in line to improve considerably if Jones can grow into a reliable passer.