Fringe NFL Playoff Contenders That Would Be Better Off Missing the Postseason

Alex KayContributor IDecember 20, 2022

Fringe NFL Playoff Contenders That Would Be Better Off Missing the Postseason

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 18: Zach Wilson #2 of the New York Jets throws the ball during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at MetLife Stadium on December 18, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    The NFL playoff bracket is starting to materialize after five teams clinched a spot this past weekend, but there are still eight berths up for grabs heading into the final three weeks of the 2022 regular season.

    With only five teams officially eliminated at this juncture, there are plenty of chances for even some rebuilding squads to slip into the postseason.

    While it would make for an intriguing storyline in the short term, certain playoff trips—mostly destined to be fruitless beyond a shocking Wild Card Round victory at best—could end up setting an organization back in the long run.

    With that in mind, let's look at five clubs that could benefit more from missing out on the playoffs and improving their draft position.


    Playoff chances courtesy of FiveThirtyEight.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Steelers QB Kenny Pickett
    Steelers QB Kenny PickettJoe Sargent/Getty Images

    Record: 6-8

    Playoff Chances: 0.3 Percent

    The Pittsburgh Steelers barely have a chance of making the playoffs this year, but they might want to start planning for the offseason over trying to keep their slim hopes alive.

    While the Steelers haven't had a losing season since 2003—the longest stretch in the league by a wide margin—their transition away from longtime quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn't gone smoothly.

    They opened the year with free-agent pickup Mitch Trubisky as their No. 1 signal-caller, but they handed the reins to first-round pick Kenny Pickett by early October. The rookie has shown flashes of talent in between predictable first-year struggles while going 4-5 as a starter.

    Pickett suffered a concussion early in Week 14, which thrust Trubisky back into the starting role. Pittsburgh rallied around him for a victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, but that win may end up costing the franchise more than it gained in the standings.

    The Steelers have too many holes to patch before they can reasonably compete for another Super Bowl title. Their quarterbacks have had to work behind an inconsistent offensive line and with a limited supporting cast of skill-position players, a group that lost one of its better talents in Chase Claypool at the trade deadline.

    With a bottom-seven offense and a defense that ranks below the league average in both points and yards allowed, the upside of a Pittsburgh playoff appearance caps out at a Wild Card Round loss this year.

    Rather than limp into the postseason with a deeply flawed roster that will quickly get eliminated, the Steelers should focus on keeping their top pieces healthy ahead of an important offseason and secure better draft position in the process.

    Using those picks to bolster the offensive line, add a playmaker or two and patch up some defensive holes could have Pittsburgh ready to contend again by 2023, especially if Pickett takes another step toward becoming a legitimate franchise quarterback.

New York Jets

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    Jets QB Mike White
    Jets QB Mike WhiteAP Photo/Adam Hunger, File

    Record: 7-7

    Playoff Chances: 20 Percent

    The New York Jets have been one of the NFL's most polarizing teams this season. Their retooled defense has the talent to compete with the league's best, but their offense isn't playing anywhere near the same level.

    Gang Green deserves accolades for orchestrating one of the more rapid defensive turnarounds in recent history. They went from conceding 397.6 yards and 29.6 points per game last year, both of which ranked last in the league, to an admirable 305.4 yards and 18.8 points allowed in 2022, which ranks No. 3 and No. 4 leaguewide, respectively.

    While New York's defense is now a unit to be feared, the offense likely won't be able to get the job done if the team does manage to sneak into the playoffs.

    Second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, the prized No. 2 overall pick in 2021, hasn't made the progress expected of him this season. The Jets are averaging only 336.9 yards and 20.1 points per game after averaging 306.4 yards and 18.2 points last season.

    Wilson did lead the Jets to a 5-1 record in his first six starts, but teams began exposing his limitations after star rookie running back Breece Hall suffered a torn ACL in Week 7. New York has mustered only two wins since Week 8 and is currently mired in a three-game losing streak.

    If the Jets decide to move on from Wilson this offseason—a plausible scenario since they benched him after his atrocious Week 11 performance and he only regained the starting job this past weekend due to backup Mike White's injury—they may benefit most from pushing that skid to six games rather than winning out.

    Whether team brass opts to trade for a proven veteran who can lead a team that is built to win now or tries its luck with another first-round signal-caller, the Jets would be best positioned to acquire their guy with better draft picks.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Seahawks QB Geno Smith
    Seahawks QB Geno SmithSteph Chambers/Getty Images

    Record: 7-7

    Playoff Chances: 30 Percent

    The Seattle Seahawks seemed to be giving up on the 2022 campaign before it even started when they traded away their perennial Pro Bowl quarterback. But sending Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos looks like a brilliant move in hindsight, especially since the Seahawks have defied the odds with Geno Smith at the helm.

    After the veteran journeyman beat out Drew Lock for the job during a tight training camp battle. Smith has had his best NFL season by a mile. He's completed a league-high 71.4 percent of his passes for 3,671 yards and 26 touchdowns against eight interceptions.

    Thanks to the resurgent play of Smith and the rapid development of some young pieces, Seattle has managed to stay afloat despite a handful of significant injuries. With standouts like safety Jamal Adams and running back Rashaad Penny on injured reserve, rookies such as Kenneth Walker III and Tariq Woolen have filled the void.

    However, it's hard to envision the Seahawks doing much in the playoffs even if they do secure a berth. They've lost four of their past five games and appear to be running out of gas.

    None of the Seahawks' seven victories in 2022 have come against great teams. Their best wins are against the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Giants, and they've lost to middling foes like the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.

    Although the 31-year-old Smith will likely win the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year Award, the Seahawks can't bank on sustained success with him under center. Luckily, they're in line for a potential top-five pick from the Broncos (via the Wilson trade) that they can use to address the quarterback position this offseason.

    While Seattle will have plenty of draft capital to iron out its most pressing roster issues, it could get itself in even better shape for the future with a few more losses this December.

Washington Commanders

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    Commanders QB Taylor Heinicke
    Commanders QB Taylor HeinickeRob Carr/Getty Images

    Record: 7-6-1

    Playoff Chances: 35 Percent

    As has become tradition over the past half-decade, the Washington Commanders entered the 2022 season with uncertainty at quarterback. They attempted to plug that hole by acquiring veteran stopgap Carson Wentz after he flamed out during his lone season with the Indianapolis Colts.

    That decision turned out to be a massive mistake. Wentz went just 2-4 as a starter before he suffered a thumb injury in Week 6 that landed him on injured reserve. With Wentz out of commission, the team turned to backup Taylor Heinicke and has gone 5-2-1 with him under center heading into Week 16.

    While Heinicke has fared decently well as a game manager, the 29-year-old has minimal upside. There's almost zero chance that he'll turn into a signal-caller whom Washington can build around.

    Given their low offensive ceiling, the Commanders would likely struggle to go on a deep playoff run this season. Their loss to the rival New York Giants on Sunday night was a huge blow to their postseason chances, but that might wind up being a blessing in disguise.

    With matchups remaining against the playoff-bound San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys along with a desperate Cleveland Browns squad, Washington could stumble down the stretch. That could put the team in position to draft the franchise quarterback it has sorely needed since Kirk Cousins' departure after the 2017 season.

    It's far from a guarantee that the Commanders will land a high enough pick to secure a blue-chip prospect. But at least there could be real hope in the nation's capital, which the Commanders have largely lacked in recent years due to a revolving door of mediocre signal-callers.

Detroit Lions

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    Lions QB Jared Goff
    Lions QB Jared GoffSarah Stier/Getty Images

    Record: 7-7

    Playoff Chances: 41 Percent

    The Detroit Lions have been one of the NFL's more exciting teams in recent weeks. They appeared to be well on their way to another lost season following a brutal 1-6 start, but they have since rallied to win six of their past seven games.

    While the Lions have overachieved with quarterback Jared Goff leading a high-octane aerial attack that's been well complemented by a potent ground game, they still have several question marks doting their roster, most notably on defense.

    Detroit ranks second-to-last in both yards and points allowed this year, which is a concern for any would-be contender. The 2011 New York Giants were arguably the worst defensive team ever to win a Super Bowl, but they still ranked No. 27 and No. 25, respectively, in total defense and points allowed.

    The Lions have made moves to shore up that side of the ball—most notably spending the No. 2 overall pick on pass-rusher Aidan Hutchinson—but they still have plenty of work to do after allowing opponents to hang 26 points and nearly 400 yards per game on them this year.

    Goff's long-term status in Detroit could be murky despite NFL.com's Ian Rapoport's recent report that the team doesn't view him as a bridge option.

    While the 28-year-old has performed better than he did during his first season in the Motor City, he's shown tendencies to be a streaky signal-caller.

    Goff had some great stretches during his stint with the Los Angeles Rams—including two Pro Bowl appearances and overseeing the No. 2 total and scoring offense on the way to a Super Bowl LII appearance in 2018—before he quickly devolved into a low-tier starter who failed to even get a talent-rich squad back into the playoffs in 2019.

    The team could save approximately $20 million against the cap by releasing Goff in the offseason.

    If Detroit changes its tune on Goff as a franchise cornerstone, getting an earlier first-round pick to either draft or package for a potential franchise QB would be a shrewd move.

    Should the team stick with Goff, landing a high-end defender could help overhaul a defense that needs more playmakers.

    Even if the Lions do get into the playoffs this year—and it seems inevitable after their incredible turnaround—it may be a short-lived, double-edged victory. If Goff regresses or their vulnerable defense fails to make the stops required to advance, it will cost them valuable draft position.

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