NFL Playoff Drought: 8 Teams Who Have Struggled to Qualify and 8 Reasons That Could Change

In theory, playoff droughts aren’t something that should really happen in the NFL. Although only 12 teams make the playoffs every year, the NFL’s salary cap, draft rules, and general parity should ensure that teams make the playoffs on a semi-regular basis; everything’s designed to help the downtrodden teams bounce back to contention as soon as possible.

That isn’t always the case in reality, however. The Oakland Raiders lost Super Bowl XXXVII and haven’t returned to the postseason since. The Cleveland Browns fell in the 2002 AFC Wild Card playoffs and have been trying to get back ever since. Sometimes, things just don’t work out, as long-term front office mismanagement or quarterback searches that never really seem to end weigh a franchise down, putting them in the doldrums year after year after year.

There are currently 12 franchises who are sitting on playoff droughts of three years or longer, ranging from teams with short-term issues like the Atlanta Falcons to teams with long-term organization issues like the Buffalo Bills. Six of these teams—the Bills, Raiders, Browns, Rams, Jaguars, and Dolphins—are sitting on the longest playoff-free streak in franchise history. There’s some historic futility going around the league; a side-effect of the NFL expanding to 32 teams and not expanding the playoffs since the 1990s.

But that’s all ancient history—it’s time for training camps, OTA and general optimism. It’s likely some teams will break playoff droughts this season, as last year’s playoff teams fall out and new teams are needed to replace them. The question is which teams it will be.

Here are the eight teams with three-season or more droughts that are most likely to finally see some playoff football this season. Obviously, not all eight of these teams will make the playoffs this year; most of them likely won’t. Still, if it’s going to happen, these are the eight most likely to do it.

16 Oakland Raiders

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

15 Oakland Could Make the Playoffs Because…

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

13 Tampa Bay Could Make the Playoffs Because…

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

12 Tennessee Titans

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

11 Tennessee Could Make the Playoffs Because…

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

10 Chicago Bears

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

9 Chicago Could Make the Playoffs Because…

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

8 Atlanta Falcons

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

7 Atlanta Could Make the Playoffs Because…

Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

6 Los Angeles Rams

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

5 Los Angeles Could Make the Playoffs Because…

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

4 Jacksonville Jaguars

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

3 Jacksonville Could Make the Playoffs Because…

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

2 Buffalo Bills

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

1 Buffalo Could Make the Playoffs Because…

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

They’re actually pretty darn good. The defense was a top-five defense in both 2013 and 2014, but it fell a little back to Earth last season. Still, with Rex Ryan at the helm, and with additions like Shaq Lawson, Reggie Ragland, Sterling Moore, and Zach Brown providing reinforcements, there should be a significant bounce-back effect there. Tyrod Taylor was a surprising revelation in his first year as a starter, and if the Bills can couple their 2015 offense with the defenses of the years prior, they’ll have a playoff squad. They’re helped by Tom Brady’s four-game suspension; Buffalo’s yearly trip to New England looks like it will avoid the future Hall of Famer, which helps. Yes, they’ve suffered some bad luck with offseason injuries to Lawson and Sammy Watkins, but all in all, this is the best chance the Bills have had in a long time to reach the playoffs once again.

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NFL Playoff Drought: 8 Teams Who Have Struggled to Qualify and 8 Reasons That Could Change