Texans aim to carry turnaround season into playoffs
Don't worry if your favorite NFL team failed to make the playoffs. A quick fix to that fixer-upper isn't out of the question even if a new coach or quarterback is needed.
Just look at the Houston Texans' turnaround.
They won the AFC South one year after finishing in last place, and they’re the first team in the Super Bowl era to win its division with a rookie head coach (DeMeco Ryans) and a rookie quarterback (C.J. Stroud).
Watch them and the rest of the Texans take on the Cleveland Browns to open the NFL playoffs Saturday at 4:30pm ET/1:30pm PT on TSN1, TSN3, TSN.ca and the TSN App.
In 19 of the last 21 seasons, at least one team has won its division a year after finishing in last place.
In all, six teams reached the playoffs after missing them a year ago. Joining the Texans in the AFC field are the Steelers and Browns, who earned a wild-card berth a year after finishing last in the AFC North.
In the NFC, the Rams, Packers and Lions are all in after missing out in 2022.
The 18 non-playoff teams have a head start on their roster rebuilding over the 14 franchises still harboring hopes of winning Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas on Feb. 11.
There's hope for a quick turnaround even for the New York Jets, who haven't reached the playoffs in 13 years, or the Denver Broncos, who haven't been back to the postseason party since winning Super Bowl 50 eight years ago.
Here are the non-playoff teams by draft order:
1. CHICAGO BEARS (7-10) (from the Carolina Panthers 2-15). The Bears acquired Carolina's 2024 first-round pick as part of a blockbuster trade last March that also netted Chicago sixth-year WR D.J. Moore, who set career highs in catches (96), yards (1,364) and TDs (8). COACHING CHANGE? The Bears are bringing back HC Matt Eberflus but fired OC Luke Getsy. QB QUANDARY? Justin Fields showed enough progress to give the Bears flexibility. They could bypass a college QB and draft WR Marvin Harrison Jr. or trade the pick to stock up on more draft picks.
2. WASHINGTON COMMANDERS (4-13). The Commanders lost their final eight games after opening with back-to-back victories. COACHING CHANGE? Yes, Ron Rivera was fired after going 20-46-1 in four seasons. He did reach the playoffs in 2020, albeit with a 7-9 record that won the middling NFC East. QB QUANDARY? Sam Howell became the first Washington QB to start every game in a season since Kirk Cousins in 2017, but the Commanders are in prime position to land a premier prospect in the draft.
3. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (4-13). Bill Belichick had a fizzling finish to his incredible 24 seasons in New England. COACHING CHANGE? Yes, the Patriots moved fast by promoting Jerod Mayo as Belichick's replacement just one day after Belichick agreed to part ways with the Patriots after an unparalleled run that included six Super Bowl victories with Tom Brady. QB QUANDARY? Since Brady left in 2020 and immediately won a seventh Lombardi trophy, the Patriots have cycled through Cam Newton, Brian Hoyer, Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe. Mayo has the opportunity to follow in Belichick's footsteps and draft a foundational QB.
4. ARIZONA CARDINALS (4-13). The Cardinals made progress under first-year HC Jonathan Gannon, especially after QB Kyler Murray had a successful midseason return from a torn right ACL. COACHING CHANGE? No. Gannon's highlight was a 35-31 win over the Eagles in his Philly homecoming. QB QUANDARY? Murray, who signed a $230.5 million, five-year deal before the 2022 season, flashed the running ability that helped make him the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, and the Cardinals were much more competitive when he played, finishing 3-5 in those games.
5. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (5-12). The Bolts were one of the most disappointing teams and lost Justin Herbert to a season-ending broken finger. HC Brandon Staley and GM Tom Telesco were fired before the end of the season. COACHING CHANGE? Yes, and Herbert says he’s hoping to share his thoughts with owner Dean Spanos and the front office about what he’d like to see in the Chargers’ next coach. QB QUANDARY? A healthy Herbert is the biggest draw in this coaching cycle.
6. NEW YORK GIANTS (6-11). A season of high expectations went horribly wrong for the Giants, who were hoping to build off a rare playoff appearance only to lose their opener 40-0 to the Cowboys. It never got much better. COACHING CHANGE? No, but Brian Daboll shook up his staff, firing four assistants and bidding farewell to DC Wink Martindale, who resigned. QB QUANDARY? GM Joe Schoen said the Giants will consider a QB in the first round but he also is hopeful Daniel Jones will be ready to start the season after ACL surgery.
7. TENNESSEE TITANS (6-11). The Titans parted ways with HC Mike Vrabel and soon are expected to see star RB Derrick Henry leave after the Titans' worst season since 2015. Henry finished second in the NFL in rushing and wants to test free agency. COACHING CHANGE? Yes, GM Ran Carthon fired Vrabel, who went 56-48 in six seasons but posted back-to-back losing campaigns. QB QUANDARY? Rookie Will Levis went 3-6 after replacing veteran Ryan Tannehill.
8. ATLANTA FALCONS (7-10). The Falcons posted their sixth straight losing season and third under HC Arthur Smith. COACHING CHANGE? Yes, the Falcons fired Smith hours after Atlanta's 48-17 loss at New Orleans — the second-worst setback of his tenure. QB QUANDARY: Desmond Ridder went 6-7 in his second year.
9. CHICAGO BEARS (7-10). See top item for Bears information.
10. NEW YORK JETS (7-10). Aaron Rodgers' Jets debut ended after four snaps with a torn Achilles tendon and the Jets stumbled through a miserable season. COACHING CHANGE? No, owner Woody Johnson’s recent endorsement of HC Robert Saleh and GM Joe Douglas to return for a do-over settled the Jets’ biggest question. QB QUANDARY: Rodgers will return in 2024 but nobody knows how he'll hold up at age 40 or how he'll play after spending this season rehabbing and making waves on ESPN by feuding with Travis Kelce andJimmy Kimmel.
11. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-10). No team had a harder fall in 2023 than the Vikings, who won six fewer games. COACHING CHANGE? No, Kevin O'Connell is 20-15 with the Vikings. QB QUANDARY? Cousins’ contract is set to void in March, making him a free agent. His absence from a torn Achilles tendon reinforced the reality that there’s no other viable option on the roster for the long term. But the Vikings have options in the draft.
12. DENVER BRONCOS (8-9). The Broncos stretched their playoff drought to eight seasons and their string of losing seasons to seven. COACHING CHANGE? No, Sean Payton acted like he was still in the Fox broadcast studio when he ripped his predecessor Nathaniel Hackett only to lose to Hackett's new team, the Jets, as part of a 1-5 start. QB QUANDARY? The substantial financial fallout from an expected divorce from Russell Wilson may not bother the league's wealthiest owners much, but it will saddle the franchise with massive dead money charges that could stunt a recovery.
13. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (8-9). The Raiders finished strong under interim HC Antonio Pierce two years after owner Mark Davis bypassed another interim HC, Rich Bisaccia, for Josh McDaniels, who tore apart a stout offense and flamed out just as he'd done in Denver in 2010. COACHING CHANGE? The players want Pierce, the ultimate players' coach, to get the job. QB QUANDARY: Yes, rookie Aidan O'Connell improved down the stretch but the Raiders will likely seek an upgrade.
14. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (9-8). The Saints finished with the same record as two playoff teams: Tampa Bay and Green Bay. By virtue of tiebreakers, the Buccaneers won the NFC South, and the Packers took the last NFC wild-card spot. COACHING CHANGE? Dennis Allen expects to return in 2024. QB QUANDARY? During New Orleans’ final five games, Derek Carr completed 74% of his passes and threw for 14 TDs with two interceptions, the type of productivity the Saints had in mind when they signed the former Raiders QB to a four-year, $150 million contract.
15. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (9-8). While this season was supposed to be measured by QB Anthony Richardson’s progression, Indy got strong enough play from backup QB Gardner Minshew and backup RB Zack Moss that it came within 15 yards, 66 seconds and perhaps one dropped pass from winning its first AFC South crown since 2014. COACHING CHANGE? No, Shane Steichen was impressive in his first season. QB QUANDARY? The Colts expect Richardson to bounce back from his season-ending shoulder injury.
16. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-8). The Seahawks missed the playoffs for the second time in three years and Pete Carroll is out after 14 seasons. COACHING CHANGE? GM John Schneider embarks on his first coaching search after Carroll was moved into an advisory role with the franchise that he led to a win in Super Bowl 48. QB QUANDARY? Geno Smith was 8-7 while missing two games due to injury. He had a season that mirrored his team — great in some moments, cringeworthy in others.
17. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (9-8). Jacksonville was 8-3 in late November and had been perched atop the AFC South since Week 3. But they lost five of their final six games and failed miserably in a win-and-in game against the Titans in Week 18. COACHING CHANGE? No. HC Doug Pederson fired DC Mike Caldwell and seven of his assistants as a result of the collapse, however. QB QUANDARY? Trevor Lawrence, the top overall pick in 2021, is vowing to fix his turnover troubles after throwing 14 interceptions and losing seven fumbles.
18. CINCINNATI BENGALS (9-8). The Bengals nearly made the playoffs behind backup QB Jake Browning but the Bengals just weren’t the same in 2023 without star Joe Burrow. COACHING CHANGE? No, Zac Taylor posted his third consecutive winning season. QB QUANDARY? With Burrow sidelined for the last seven games with a wrist injury, Browning went 4-3 as the starter. This is as good a duo as there is in the NFL.
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