It had been 12 seasons since last year's Super Bowl winner, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, made the playoffs previously. Hell, Browns fans went 17 seasons between playoff appearances before making it in 2020.
So which teams will end their own playoff droughts and make it to the postseason this year? Let's take a look, with all odds coming from WynnBET.
The Cardinals face an uphill climb to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015 this season, as their +170 odds (bet $100 to win $170) to advance to the 2021 postseason verifies. A lot of that has to do with the division they play in, the NFC West, arguably the toughest in the NFL. But with a dynamic quarterback, dangerous receiving corps and a defense featuring two of the best pass rushers of the last decade, they could surprise everyone ... including the bookmakers.
Kyler Murray is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the league. DeAndre Hopkins remains a Top-5 wide receiver and Christian Kirk had a breakout season alongside Hopkins last year. Their running game remains a mystery, but the Cardinals' season won't hinge on that. It's their defense that will have to make the biggest difference. Adding JJ Watt to pair with Chandler Jones gives them a formidable one-two punch on the edge. The loss of Patrick Peterson definitely hurts, but with head coach Kliff Kingsbury's job seemingly on the line, it feels like now or never for this Cardinals team. Motivation can be a hell of a thing in the NFL.
The Dolphins have only been to the playoffs twice in the last 20 seasons and their most recent appearance was 2016. They narrowly missed the postseason last year despite winning 10 games. They have +140 odds to make the playoffs this season, which seems like a real value for a franchise with a lot of things going in their favor.
Starting at the most important position, Tua Tagovailoa had a full season to learn the offense and acclimate to the speed of the NFL plus a healthy offseason, which he didn't have last year, to prepare for his sophomore NFL voyage. That experience and extra time should serve him well and, at worst, prevent some of the silly turnovers he committed as a rookie. Pairing him with new wide receivers Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle and incumbent tight end/security blanker Mike Gesicki should create a dynamic offense for the Dolphins.
Of course, head coach Brian Flores hangs his hat on the defensive side of the ball and Miami's defense should, as it did last year, force plenty of turnovers from the opposition. I'm not sold on the Patriots with Cam Newton under center and the Jets will be terrible again this season. Adding one more win against the fourth-easiest schedule in the NFL should see the Dolphins through to the playoffs in 2021. I could see that happening.
This one really all comes down to one position: quarterback. Whether the Broncos choose Drew Lock or (my pick) Teddy Bridgewater as their starter, that quarterback must limit turnovers and get the ball out to the Broncos' playmakers. If they can do that, the Broncos feel primed to make their first playoff appearance since winning it all in 2015.
Currently the Broncos have +155 odds to make the playoffs, which says a lot about how talented a team they are. No other team with questions at quarterback is even close to those odds, which simply emphasizes my point earlier about the importance of who they decide to start. Surrounding them are dynamic playmakers at wide receiver (Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton) and running back (Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon).
The talent on defense is also impressive (Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Justin Simmons). But this truly all about what happens under center. The Broncos have the second-easiest schedule in the NFL and a massive home-field advantage playing in the altitude of Denver. We'll see if they can take advantage of both.