AP Photo / Mark Humphrey

Texans poised for playoff bid after missing out last year

There have been at least four new playoff teams each year since the NFL went to the 12-team format

July 26, 2018 - 11:02 am
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By JOSH DUBOW,  AP Pro Football Writer

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The Philadelphia Eagles went from playoff spectators to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, an impressive one-season turnaround that was far from unprecedented in the modern NFL.

The Eagles were the seventh team in the past 19 seasons to pull off that trick in a sport that always goes through some significant playoff turnover each season.

There have been at least four new playoff teams each year since the NFL went to the 12-team format in 1990, including eight new postseason participants last season when the Eagles won it all.

With new blood coming into the playoffs each year, there are just as many teams heading another way, doomed by injuries, age, bad luck, poor coaching or other reasons.

Here's a look at three teams that could go from playoff spectators to participants, and three others that could go the opposite direction:

TRENDING UP

Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson showed flashes of becoming a star quarterback in six starts as a rookie before getting hurt. With the dynamic Watson on offense and a healthy J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus back on defense, the Texans could be in position to get back into the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. The Texans scored at least 33 points in Watson's final five starts and then went 1-8 after he had a season-ending injury in practice. Keeping Watson healthy will be necessary it the Texans are going to rebound.

Green Bay Packers: Green Bay's run of eight straight playoff appearances ended last season thanks mostly to a collarbone injury that limited star quarterback Aaron Rodgers to seven games. With Rodgers again healthy, the Packers should be among the contenders in the NFC, as they usually are. Green Bay was much more active this offseason under new GM Brian Gutekunst, adding prominent free agents like Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine should bring a more aggressive approach that could help support Rodgers and the offense.

San Francisco 49ers: San Francisco won its final five games last year after making the switch to Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. With Garoppolo signed long term and poised to take his 7-0 career record into his first full season as an NFL starter and coach Kyle Shanahan having much more talent in Year 2 at the helm, the Niners could have the pieces to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Free-agent running back Jerick McKinnon should spark the offense, and the defense has some key building blocks in DT DeForest Buckner and LB Reuben Foster. Richard Sherman could provide a defensive boost at cornerback if his Achilles tendon injury is healed.

TRENDING DOWN

Buffalo Bills: The Bills ended the longest playoff drought in North America's four major sports leagues when they made the postseason for the first time since 1999. Repeating that in coach Sean McDermott's second season will be a more difficult trick, especially with the change made at quarterback this offseason. Tyrod Taylor was traded to Cleveland, leaving either career backup A.J. McCarron or raw rookie Josh Allen as the top two options. Making the playoffs with one of those two at the helm would be a long shot, even in the weaker AFC.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans also ended a playoff drought last season, making the postseason for the first time since 2008 under third-year quarterback Marcus Mariota and coach Mike Mularkey. Even winning a postseason game wasn't enough for Mularkey to keep his job and Tennessee is now retooling under new coach Mike Vrabel. The Titans are in a tough division with Houston and Indianapolis likely taking big steps forward if Watson and Andrew Luck are healthy, and Jacksonville having one of the league's most talented rosters. That makes a return to the postseason a difficult proposition in Tennessee.

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons took a step back last year after their Super Bowl collapse the previous season but still made the playoffs as a wild-card team. The offense regressed a bit after losing Shanahan as coordinator. There still is plenty of talent in Atlanta led by quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones, but the NFC is stacked, leaving little margin for error.

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