You figure if your team is good enough to make it in last year, with some upgrades through the draft, free agency and trades you’d be able to return the following year. But every season roughly half of the teams fall by the wayside. Out with the old, in with the new. So if form holds this coming season, about seven of the 14 qualifiers from last winter will be on the outs, replaced by . . . who knows?
Here are the betting odds, with the three teams who didn’t qualify last season mostly likely to crash the party this time; and the three longest shots among 2020-21’s non-qualifiers.
Shortest odds for getting in:
San Francisco 49ers (-175) – It’s all about the quarterback, isn’t it? But no one knows right now who SF likes at the position. Always-injured Jimmy Garoppolo somehow remains on the roster, even as first-round draft pick Trey Lance waits his turn. The NFC West sent two teams (Rams, Seahawks) to the playoffs last season, and with seven teams in the post-season mix it’s possible that three teams could make it. The Niners would have to flip a 6-10 record to 10-7 to have a shot, and oddsmakers like their chances of doing just that.
Dallas Cowboys (-150) – The Boys are another 6-10 team starving for a playoff berth, Jerry Jones figuring that a 26-year Super Bowl drought is long enough. The good news is that QB Dak Prescott has signed that long-sought contract extension and appears recovered from that ankle injury that shortened his 2020 season. The better news is that the Cowboys play in the NFC East, where Mediocrity is king and 10-7 is likely to be good enough to win it.
Miami Dolphins (+130) – That 30-point loss to Buffalo in the season finale last year notwithstanding, the Dolphins feel like the arrow is pointing up. With New England on the skids, it doesn’t appear that the AFC East is a locked door these days. Miami is all in on QB Tua Tagovailoa, after rumors that the Fins would seek to upgrade the position. Speaking of upgrades, Miami has nibbled at the margins, notable wide receiver, but it’s basically the same cast as last season’s.
Teams with longest odds to crack the playoff party:
Cincinnati Bengals (+450) – In a nutshell, here’s the Bengals’ problem: The other three teams in the AFC North – Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cleveland – had a combined record of 34-14 last season, and all three made the playoffs. At least one of those three will have to have serious engine trouble to open the door for Cincinnati. There are a few encouraging signs, however. QB Joe Burrow appears to be recovered nicely from last year’s season-ending knee injury, and the Bengals uncharacteristically signed 10 free agents.
New York Jets (+500) – See you later, Sam Darnold. Hello, Zach Wilson. Welcome to a team that had one of the worst offenses in the NFL last season. Even if Wilson is the real deal, it’s hard to see how he makes the offense considerably better, considering the talent gap at so many spots. Job One for new coach Robert Saleh is making sure that the offensive line is good enough to keep Wilson upright and healthy for the best part of 17 games. Even then, getting to double digits in wins looks like a pipedream.
Houston Texans (+750) – Was it all that long ago that Houston had the Defensive Player of the Year (J.J. Watt), one of the best quarterbacks in the league (Deshaun Watson) and one of the NFL’s best wideouts (DeAndre Hopkins)? With Watt and Hopkins in Arizona, and Watson plotting ways to stay out of jail, the cupboard is pretty bare in south Texas. For the record, 30-something Tyrod Taylor will be the fill-in at QB while the front office spends most of the season scouting college signal-callers.