Which surging NFL teams have enough to make playoff pushes?
The NFL’s growth of the playoff field to consist of the leading 14 groups ranks amongst the very best choices the league has actually made in the last few years. An extra postseason quote for each conference has actually equated into an increased level of competitors while likewise developing higher intrigue around those middle-of-the-pack groups.
It has actually likewise made it possible for sluggish beginners to rebound and place themselves for late-season promotes the playoffs.
The NFL, in between the AFC and NFC, has an overall of 14 groups with records because 6-6 to 5-7 variety.
Amongst that congested 2nd tier of groups rank a variety of expected playoff teams that stumbled out of evictions and now remain in the procedure of turning their seasons around. Those such groups consist of the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Football Group, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.
Some sustained a rash of injuries to begin the season and now have actually restored health. Others experienced growing discomforts however given that have actually begun to strike their strides.
If they continue the method they’re going, a few of these groups will be problem matches through December and January. Some might end up falling brief in their missions for a postseason area, nevertheless.
Here’s a look at some of those early-season strugglers that now find themselves on the rise, and an examination of their prospects for meaningful late-season pushes for the playoffs and beyond.
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Miami Dolphins (5-7)
Coming off of a 10-win season and narrow postseason miss, the Dolphins were expected to contend this year. Instead, they opened the year with a 1-7 record. But Brian Flores’ charges have caught fire, going 4-0 in November. Heavily scrutinized quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is playing the best football of his young career, and a sorely underperforming defense has gone from giving up 29 points a game through eight games to holding foes to just 11.5 points per contest on this four-game win streak.
Postseason prospects: Bleak. The Dolphins’ surge coincided with a soft part of their schedule that featured three losing teams in the Houston Texans, New York Jets and Carolina Panthers. The Dolphins are favored to beat the Giants this week, then have a bye before returning to action with a rematch with the Jets. Next comes a potential toss-up with New Orleans and two tough matchups with Tennessee and New England. Despite their impressive run, the Dolphins are still 13th in the AFC, trailing Denver, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Pittsburgh for that final playoff spot currently held by the Chargers. Those season-ending contests likely will derail the Dolphins’ hopes.
Denver Broncos (6-5)
Denver brass thought it had found the right game manager in Teddy Bridgewater to direct the offense at an efficient enough rate to complement a dominant defense. After the first three weeks of the season, that looked to be the case. But after those wins against the Giants, Jaguars and Jets, the Broncos lost four straight. However, they’ve now won three of their last four to move into a tie for second place in the AFC West.
Postseason prospects: Weak. The homestretch will prove challenging. The Broncos still have to play the Chiefs twice, as well as face the Bengals, Raiders and Chargers. Their defense is stingy, ranking top 10 in both points and yards allowed. But this team will only go as far as its quarterback play takes it, and neither Bridgewater nor Drew Lock is the organization’s long-term answer.
Minnesota Vikings (5-6)
The Vikings followed up a 2019 playoff win with a disappointing 7-9 campaign in 2020 and hoped to get back to the postseason this year. But a 1-3 start put those prospects in doubt. Their season has been a seesaw battle. Two close wins (over Detroit and Carolina) followed by two close losses (to Dallas and Baltimore), then two more wins (over the Chargers and Packers) and a tough loss to San Francisco.
Playoff prospects: Fading. That win over the Packers was huge, and the Vikings currently rank eighth and one spot outside of the playoff pack. However, Dalvin Cook’s injury could prove crippling. He’s expected to miss at least two games with that dislocated shoulder, and the Vikings will likely lose ground in his absence. Otherwise, this team seemingly would have a chance to make some late-season strides.
Washington Football Team (5-6)
Given the way the team closed out 2020, winning five of its last seven games to take the NFC East and reach the postseason, Washington was expected to again contend within the division. But the hip injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick in the season opener translated into a slow start for the offense, and the defense regressed after a dominant 2020 campaign. Washington opened the year with a 2-6 mark but returned from their Week 9 bye a new team, reeling off three straight wins (over Tampa, Carolina and Seattle) to move into the No. 7 slot in the NFC.
Postseason prospects: Moderate. The win streak, coupled with the Cowboys dropping three of their last four, has helped Washington pull within two games of the NFC East leaders. Two meetings with Dallas await. This team has found a physical identity and does well controlling the clock with its run game. Taylor Heinicke’s confidence is growing by the week. However, there’s skepticism over whether Washington can maintain this pace. Yes, the outfit beat Tampa Bay. But Carolina and Seattle are bad teams, and Washington might have trouble matching Dallas’ firepower. Washington could, however, benefit from a closing stretch that also features two games against the sub-.500 Eagles and one against the Giants. Another plus: the fact that trailing teams like the Vikings have their problems, while the Falcons and Saints (both 5-6) each have significant talent deficiencies.
Indianapolis Colts (6-6)
After an 11-5 campaign and playoff appearance behind Philip Rivers, the Colts were expected to capitalize on a reunion between Frank Reich and Carson Wentz to take another step forward. But a rocky opening for the quarterback factored greatly into a 1-4 start to the season. However, after easing pressure on Wentz by using a heavy dose of running back Jonathan Taylor to ensure greater balance, the Colts have gone 5-2 since. They led Tampa Bay at halftime on Sunday before falling brief in a 38-31 loss.
Postseason potential customers: Promising. Despite standing 10th in the AFC, the Colts have a 41.1% chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN. Rival talent evaluators say there’s a lot to like about the Colts. They have a strong defense and can run well. And despite a few eye-popping gaffes from Wentz, he really has done a good job of taking care of the football, throwing 21 touchdown passes and only five interceptions.
San Francisco 49ers (6-5)
After enduring an injury-plagued 2020, the 49ers were regarded as potential Super Bowl contenders in 2021. But they again fell prey to the injury bug, which spoiled a 2-0 start. After a wave of ups and downs, the 49ers finally appear to be getting their groove back while riding a three-game win streak.
Postseason prospects: Promising. The 49ers are getting healthy at the right time, and the schedule plays out favorably. Only Cincinnati, Tennessee and the Rams remain as upcoming opponents with winning records. That season finale versus the Rams in Los Angeles could be a huge indicator of San Francisco’s postseason prospects.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Which surging NFL teams have actually sufficient to make playoff push?
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.