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Lions and Jets are the two teams at the top of my rankings for the NFL team most likely to end a long playoff drought in 2023


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    Published: Jun 28, 2023 at 04:39 PM

    The classic line from Dumb and Dumber could actually serve as the NFL's slogan. It's what makes this league king of the American sports spectrum: There's always a chance. Even the most downtrodden franchises can swiftly right the ship with the right coaching hire, the right draft pick and/or an especially inspired offseason makeover. Thanks to the NFL's definitive parity, a quick turnaround is perpetually possible.

    Now, for fans of the Jets, Broncos, Lions, Falcons and Panthers, the old adage of "Wait till next year" has been tested quite often in recent seasons. Gang Green has gone 12 years without a playoff appearance -- the longest postseason drought of any team in America's four major professional sports leagues. Meanwhile, Denver hasn't hit the playoffs since winning the whole damn thing eight seasons ago. Detroit is sitting on a six-year postseason drought, while Atlanta and Carolina have gone the past five seasons without making the tournament.

    But remember: There's always a chance.

    So, for the five teams that haven't made the playoffs in at least half a decade, who has the best chance to end the dry spell in the 2023 season? Here's how I rank them, from most to least likely.

    New York Jets

    Last playoff season: 2010

    New York hasn't reached the postseason since Barack Obama's first term as president. Yup, it's been quite a dry spell. But now, with a highly decorated pilot in the cockpit, these Jets are ready for takeoff.

    Back in May, I had a wonderful conversation with Aaron Rodgers on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports." It's pretty clear the Jets quarterback understands his assignment. New York has been to only one Super Bowl -- back in January of 1969, when Joe Namath famously delivered on his guarantee to beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts -- but that hasn't stopped the new guy from visualizing reaching the mountaintop in the Big Apple. In fact, Rodgers told me he had just watched ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary on the 1986 Mets, marveling over how special it would be to win a championship in New York, particularly with one of the city's underdog teams. I believe this Jets bunch has that kind of upside. The AFC looks like an absolute beast, but New York has the roster to compete.

    At 39 years old, Rodgers is no spring chicken. But don't mistake his age for an expiration date. Rodgers is rejuvenated, with a chip on his shoulder to prove he can win outside of Green Bay. He can still spin it, and, most importantly, he's a gargantuan upgrade over what the Jets had at the position last season. Furthermore, Rodgers has a fine supporting cast in New York. He raved to me about wide receiver Garrett Wilson, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year whom Rodgers compared to Davante Adams. New York has quality depth in the receiving corps, too. If RB Breece Hall's recovery from last October's ACL tear goes swimmingly, the Jets boast explosive potential through the air and on the ground.

    Defensively, New York finished last season ranked fourth in scoring defense and total D. Assuming the Jets are able to work things out with All-Pro game wrecker Quinnen Williams, the unit should be even better in 2023. Sauce Gardner, the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, might already be the best cornerback in football. And while trade acquisition Chuck Clark's ACL tear is a hit to the safety position, Robert Saleh has assembled a bevy of talented players on all three levels who fit his scheme.

    The interminable playoff drought will come to an end in the coming season. I guarantee it. And don't be surprised if the Jets ultimately hit the Super Bowl for the first time in 55 years.

    • State of the 2023 Detroit Lions: Can Dan Campbell's offseason darlings live up to unprecedented hype?
    • State of the 2023 Atlanta Falcons: Is Desmond Ridder ready to help lead a playoff push?
    • State of the 2023 Carolina Panthers: Frank Reich and Bryce Young guide franchise into new era
    • 2023 NFL season: Which NFL fan base most deserves a Super Bowl title?
    • Projecting the 2023 NFL Offensive All-Rookie Team: Seahawks' draft class provides instant impact (again)
    • Projecting the 2023 NFL Defensive/Special Teams All-Rookie Team: 14 instant-impact newcomers
    Detroit Lions

    Last playoff season: 2016

    Winning eight of its final 10 games last season, Detroit fell just short of the playoffs. Now the Lions head into the 2023 campaign carrying the kind of buzz that is completely foreign to football fans in the Motor City. Shoot, Detroit is currently the favorite to win the division -- something this team hasn't done since 1993, back in the NFC Central days. It makes sense, though, especially considering the present makeup of the NFC North.

    The Packers are now living in a post-Aaron Rodgers world. The Vikings, who won the division by four games last season, have since parted ways with Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, Za'Darius Smith and Patrick Peterson, among other starters. The Bears can be frisky if Justin Fields makes the leap, but they're still fresh off an NFL-worst 3-14 season. Long story short: It's the Lions' time to shine!

    I love Dan Campbell and his top-flight assistants in offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. These guys, along with savvy general manager Brad Holmes, have completely changed the culture in Detroit. And the roster quality is legit. Jared Goff was the second-best quarterback in the NFC last season -- behind only Jalen Hurts -- and should be even better in 2023. Contrary to popular opinion, I absolutely loved the first-round selection of running back Jahmyr Gibbs. What a fun new toy for Goff to play with -- an explosive playmaker who can burn you as a runner and receiver. In the second round of April's draft, Holmes filled a roster hole by selecting tight end Sam LaPorta, who gives this offense a potent middle-of-the-field weapon. Once speedy WR Jameson Williams returns from his six-game suspension, Johnson will really be cooking with gas. Did I mention that Detroit has one of the best offensive lines in football?

    The defense finished last season ranked dead last in yards allowed, but Glenn's unit actually showed promise during the team's hot second half. Aidan Hutchinson is an animal up front, and draft steal James Houston racked up eight sacks in seven games. Jack Campbell, another polarizing first-round pick from April that I loved, can make an instant impact at the second level. But the Lions' most significant overhaul took place in the secondary. Adding Cameron Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Emmanuel Moseley in free agency, and then selecting Brian Branch in Round 2 of the draft, Holmes brilliantly addressed a huge problem area from 2022.

    Like everyone else, I can't remember the last time I was this excited about the Lions.

    Atlanta Falcons

    Last playoff season: 2017

    I really like the feel of Arthur Smith's team, largely because of ... well ... Arthur Smith. He's an offensive guru, a detail-obsessed workaholic. That's why Atlanta is in almost every game it plays, regardless of opponent. Some people dwell on the fact that he's gone 7-10 in each of his first two years in the big chair. I still think the world of Smith -- and believe he'll benefit greatly from a highly productive offseason in Atlanta.

    I love how GM Terry Fontenot attacked free agency and the draft. Let's start with the latter, where the Falcons boldly selected RB Bijan Robinson at No. 8 overall. Absolutely loved the pick. Miss me with the positional-value talk -- Robinson's a unique offensive weapon who'll drive defensive coordinators crazy right off the bat. You think it's going to be fun game-planning for an offense that has Bijan, Drake London, Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson? And getting back to free agency for a second, Fontenot improved the defense at every level, adding guys like defensive linemen Calais Campbell and David Onyemata, linebacker Kaden Elliss and safety Jessie Bates.

    I think the Falcons can win 10 games this year and make the playoffs via the wild card.

    Denver Broncos

    Last playoff season: 2015

    I don't think the Broncos are going to make the playoffs in a loaded AFC, but with Sean Payton wearing the headset, you cannot rule it out.

    There's a realistic chance Russell Wilson is cooked. If anyone can get him back on track, though, it's Payton. The Super Bowl-winning head coach is an amazing play-caller who runs a tight ship. No more nonsense in Denver, which is refreshing after the 5-12 disaster in Nathaniel Hackett's lone season as head coach. Outside of the massive question mark at quarterback, this roster actually has promise, too. Denver boasts a bevy of enticing skill-position players -- if they can stay healthy -- and the offensive line looks pretty stout. Defensively, the Broncos have some legit dudes, like CB Pat Surtain II and S Justin Simmons.

    Payton can at least squeeze eight or nine wins out of this roster. With a truly elite head coach, Denver's back in business on the gridiron.

    Carolina Panthers

    Last playoff season: 2017

    I love Bryce Young. The No. 1 overall pick displayed rare processing ability and pocket presence at Alabama -- that's the kind of stuff that translates to the NFL level, size concerns be damned. I also love Frank Reich. The head man put together an all-star coaching staff with numerous QB whisperers to foster Young's development.

    The offensive line isn't bad, while the defense has immense upside with enticing talents at all three levels (SEE: OLB Brian Burns, DT Derrick Brown, LB Frankie Luvu, CB Jaycee Horn and S Jeremy Chinn). The thinnest area on the roster is at the offensive skill positions. This does concern me, given that Carolina is poised to start a rookie under center.

    I expect the Panthers to be brilliantly coached and take a step forward this year. They could be in the hunt for a wild-card spot in a watered-down NFC, but 2024 might be the real breakthrough year.

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