Top NFL Contenders Most Likely to Suffer an Early Playoff Exit


Top NFL Contenders Most Likely to Suffer an Early Playoff Exit

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    Patrick Mahomes

    Patrick MahomesDavid Eulitt/Getty Images

    The ugly truth of every NFL campaign is that regular-season success never guarantees a thing in the playoffs.

    Only one franchise will realize its Super Bowl dreams. The other 13 postseason qualifiers will enter the offseason empty-handed, and several of those teams will be especially disappointed to have missed—perhaps even feel they wasted—a chance at a title.

    Each team (ingloriously) featured has recorded 10-plus victories heading into the Week 17 slate.

    From there, the choices are subjective but focus on the four 10-win teams most likely to lose in the divisional round or earlier.

Baltimore Ravens

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    J.K. Dobbins

    J.K. DobbinsGregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Thanks to a 6-1 stretch from Oct. 23 to Dec. 11, the Baltimore Ravens clinched a playoff spot in Week 16.

    This season, Baltimore has leaned on a defense that has surrendered the third-fewest points per game. Since the Week 10 bye, the Ravens have limited five of their six opponents to 14 points or fewer.

    But this offense is just so flawed.

    Even before Lamar Jackson suffered a knee injury Dec. 4 and missed the last three games, the quarterback ran a one-man show. The offensive line hasn’t played well in front of a revolving door at running back. Baltimore has no high-end target other than tight end Mark Andrews—and he’s been relatively quiet since November too.

    While the Ravens have little to no shot without Jackson on the field, it’s difficult to see this talent-thin offense accomplishing much in the playoffs if and when he’s back anyway.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Mike McCarthy

    Mike McCarthyJeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The phrase “playing down to the competition” can be vague, but it’s fit the Dallas Cowboys over the last four weeks.

    They needed a last-minute touchdown to survive the one-win Houston Texans and coughed up a 17-point lead to the Jacksonville Jaguars before falling in overtime. They narrowly avoided a loss to the Jalen Hurts-less Philadelphia Eagles and didn’t put away the Tennessee Titans—led by third-string quarterback Joshua Dobbs—until the fourth quarter. Dak Prescott has committed eight turnovers in those games.

    Dallas is unbothered by the criticism, given that it holds a 12-4 record with six wins in the last seven games.

    “Whether we don’t get any style points, that’s OK. We’re still at 12 wins,” head coach Mike McCarthy said after the victory over the Titans, per Jon Machota of The Athletic.

    But with one game left in the regular season, the Cowboys aren’t playing at the level of a true Super Bowl contender. That’s not an encouraging sign as the playoffs near.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Andy Reid

    Andy ReidAP Photo/Matt Patterson

    The most frustrating part of watching the Kansas City Chiefs is the imaginary “off” switch.

    We know exactly how devastating this offense can be. Patrick Mahomes is quite a way down the path to becoming a legendary quarterback, and Travis Kelce is already one of the best tight ends in NFL history. Kansas City, at its best, only needs, oh, 13 seconds for a clutch scoring drive.

    But in December alone, the 12-3 Chiefs failed to score in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and an uncomfortable win against the Denver Broncos. They needed overtime to beat the struggling Texans and gained just 297 yards in a victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

    Kansas City cannot afford those kinds of cold spells in the playoffs—just look at the AFC Championship Game collapse against Cincy last season.

    For good measure, the Chiefs are 0-3 with a trio of three-point losses to the Bengals during the 2022 calendar year. Given the teams are currently aligned for a divisional-round matchup, that feels problematic, no?

    Kansas City’s upside is both undeniable and championship-worthy, but the Chiefs haven’t been a model of consistency.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Kirk Cousins

    Kirk CousinsStephen Maturen/Getty Images

    Minnesota Vikings fans, we know you expected to see this.

    Easily the most confounding team of 2022 is Minnesota, which has posted an NFL-record 11 wins in one-possession games. The difficult balance is appreciating the team’s resilience and late-game success while understanding the negatives that created the need for dramatics.

    For example, overcoming a 33-0 deficit to the Indianapolis Colts was legendary. Also, it feels incredibly unwise to believe in a roster that trailed a flailing Colts team by 33 points.

    Minnesota holds a massive advantage with Justin Jefferson, the league’s best receiver. Having a wideout of his caliber gives the Vikings a chance to succeed in any clutch-time possession, and Jefferson has developed a great connection with quarterback Kirk Cousins.

    However, the Vikings’ path to the Super Bowl likely requires at least two matchups with top contenders. Minnesota’s penchant for close victories seems unsustainable against that level of competition in the playoffs.

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