The 2021 NFL season was wild and full of unexpected moments. In the end, it led to a crazy year for the playoffs, as a recap the AFC teams included the Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, Las Vegas Raiders, New England Patriots, and Pittsburgh Steelers. For the NFC, the teams included the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, and Philadelphia Eagles. Some teams will make it back there this year in 2022, but there are four teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year but could this season.
The Minnesota Vikings are the first team that has a great shot at making the playoffs this year. The landscape of the entire NFC became less dominant after free agency led to Davante Adams, Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Russell Wilson, Randy Gregory, Amari Cooper, Chandler Jones, and many more being acquired by AFC teams. In fact, two of those players in Adams and Mack are leaving their division specifically. The Vikings no longer have to worry about how to game plan for Adams, or the Green Bay Packers second top receiver in Marquez Valdes-Scantling as he is gone as well. The Packers did reach an extension with Aaron Rodgers, but even then the Vikings and Packers have gone 2-2 between 2020 and 2021.
The Vikings also have a new offensive-minded head coach in Kevin O’Connell who is coming from the Los Angeles Rams. O’Connell was a huge help for Matthew Stafford to be able to have his second career-high yardage total of 4,886 since 2012 and tie his career-high touchdown total of 41 for the first time since 2011. There is no reason O’Connell can’t do the same for Kirk Cousins who has the stars on offense already in Justin Jefferson, Adam Theilen, and Dalvin Cook. Heading into the draft the Vikings biggest concern was their secondary but they were able to upgrade that by drafting Andrew Booth Jr., Lewis Cine, and Akayleb Evans in addition to bringing Patrick Peterson back. With the talent on both sides of the ball, there is no reason the Vikings can’t make the playoffs.
In a division that includes the Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Houston Texans, the Colts mainly just have to have a better quarterback than Ryan Tannehill. After their tough loss to the Jaguars in week 18, they traded Carson Wentz away and got a quarterback that can rival Tannehill. That quarterback is Matt Ryan, who they traded for with the Atlanta Falcons giving up a third-round pick. With Wentz as their quarterback, the Colts were able to put together a 9-8 record and finished eighth in the AFC. Last season Matt Ryan with the Falcons led them to a 7-10 record and completed 67% of his passes for 3,968 yards and 20 touchdowns. Ryan did this despite being behind an offensive line that allowed 40 sacks, 84 quarterback hits, 172 pressures, and a depleted offense that lacked receiving options.
The Colts offensive line is better than the Falcons and they also have playmakers with Michael Pittman, Jonathan Taylor, and their new wide receiver they drafted Alec Pierce. Defensively the Colts are also still in a spot where they can contend. They traded for Yannick Ngakoue to pair with their other defensive end in Kwity Paye and still have DeForest Buckner at defensive tackle. There is also still Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore, and Isaiah Rodgers as well and they drafted Nick Cross. The only thing different is their new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley but with all the proven talent the Colts have there shouldn’t be a decrease in production. They were on the cusp of the playoffs last year and with their new additions could just make it this year.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers are going to have a challenge when it comes to their division. The AFC West now has Russell Wilson on the Denver Broncos, Patrick Mahomes with a new receiving group on the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Las Vegas Raiders who reunited Derek Carr with his college receiver in Davante Adams. It’s a tough division but the Chargers are well equipped to not only come out with a winning record but also have a great possibility to win the division. Justin Herbert is now entering his third year with the team and second year under head coach Brandon Staley. In 2021, the Chargers had a top-five offensive unit with a total of 6,634 yards.
On the other hand, it was their defense that led to their downfall in most games and is a big reason why they missed out on the playoffs in 2021. The defensive unit was ranked in the bottom ten in total yards allowed with 6,139. Of that, it was their run defense that was the worst giving up 2,361 yards which was the third-most in the 2021 season. So they went out and added Khalil Mack, Sebastian Joseph-Day, and Kyle Van Noy to their front seven in free agency. They also added to their secondary by signing J.C. Jackson in free agency and drafting safety J.T. Woods in the draft. With the Chargers new-look defense to pair with their high-powered offense, they should see themselves among the top in the AFC.
New Orleans Saints
Before Jameis Winston suffered a season-ending ACL injury he had the New Orleans Saints at 5-2. The Saints finished the season rotating through three different quarterbacks after Winston and ended up with a 9-8 record. They finished eighth overall in the NFC, just missing out on a playoff spot. The Saints brought back Winston and the offense should be even better than last season. Winston was without Michael Thomas who had surgery in the offseason for a high ankle sprain but wasn’t able to return due to a setback. Now with Thomas expected to be back, the Saints also drafted Chris Olave who will be another downfield target for Winston to throw to.
Defensively the Saints only continued to get better. They added depth behind Cameron Jordan and David Onyemata by signing Jaleel Johnson, Kentavius Street, and Taco Charlton in free agency. They also went on to add to their secondary by signing Marcus Maye, Daniel Sorensen, and Tyrann Mathieu. Unlike last season the Saints now have depth at the spots where they were depleted if their starter missed time. With a strong defensive unit and an offense that is better than last year, it should be expected the Saints compete for a playoff spot.
While it will be tough for any team to make the playoffs, these four teams are the ones in the best spot to make it that didn’t in 2021. For all your sports news make sure to follow TWSN on Twitter! For myself, you can find me on Twitter: Marissa_M27