The Denver Broncos may have wound up as the best team of the 2015-16 season after their impressive Super Bowl victory, but this doesn’t mean we should overlook what other NFL teams did. As a matter of fact, we even had some pretty impressive non-playoff teams from the past season that deserve some love. While there were plenty of teams who disappointed in 2015, which teams fell just short of the postseason yet still impressed us? Let’s kick things off with the fifth-best non-playoff team of the 2015-16 NFL season.
5. Detroit Lions
So, the Lions started the 2015 season with an 0-5 record that left fans rolling their eyes. Things didn’t improve much from there, as they went 1-7 before finally figuring out that a change had to be made. The Lions fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi on October 27, just before the loss that pushed them to that 1-7 start. From there, the turnaround was on.
Detroit hit their bye week, and won six of their last eight games, with their losses coming to the Green Bay Packers by four and by a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams. Were the Lions even remotely good to start the season? No, not really. Did they turn things around and do deserve to fall into the category of the fifth-best non-playoff team? Yes.
4. Buffalo Bills
Close, but no cigar for the Bills this season. Their 8-8 record wasn’t enough to get them to the postseason, but it was enough to derail the season of the top team on this list in their season finale. Buffalo may have finished with eight wins, but there’s a reason why they aren’t in the top three on this list. Basically, aside from the New York Jets, they didn’t have many impressive wins.
Of Buffalo’s six other wins, they defeated the Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins (twice), Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, and Dallas Cowboys (without Tony Romo). That’d be exactly one playoff team, and it was a team who got destroyed in the first round. Buffalo was close to defeating the New England Patriots (twice) and the Kansas City Chiefs, but the inability to win those games is what left them on the outside looking in.
3. Atlanta Falcons
Yes, the 8-8 Falcons, who defeated the 15-1 Carolina Panthers, failed to crack the top-two of this list. That happens when you lose six straight and seven of eight to basically derail your entire season. Atlanta showed so much promise and so much upside to start the year, but they just couldn’t keep things going. They will be a playoff team soon enough, but it’s going to be about consistency for this team.
After defeating three NFC East teams, their next two wins to start the year included beating the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins. Those two wins were solid, but two losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one to the San Francisco 49ers, and one to the Indianapolis Colts without Andrew Luck doesn’t leave us impressed. Atlanta has a ton of playmakers and put together some solid wins, but they weren’t the best of the non-playoff teams this year.
2. Oakland Raiders
For the Raiders, the 2015 season was filled with a whole lot of ups and downs, leading to a 7-9 record at the end of the day. After losing a rough one to the Cincinnati Bengals to start the season, they won their next two before losing close games to the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos. From there, the Raiders pretty much beat the teams they were expected to (while also defeating the New York Jets and Broncos) and lost to some pretty strong teams.
Of Oakland’s nine losses, seven of them came against playoff teams. The other two came against the previously mentioned Lions and Bears. Not bad at all for Derek Carr and company, and in all honesty, this team has the potential to be playoff-bound in 2016, especially if Denver can’t figure out their quarterback situation.
1. New York Jets
You really have to feel for the Jets after this past season. A win-and-get-in situation was staring them in the face in Week 17 against the Bills. To make things even worse, the 22-17 loss they suffered to Buffalo came after they reeled off five straight wins to get to that point. With playmakers like Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker as well as a rejuvenated Ryan Fitzpatrick, this offense did far more than many expected them to.
The Jets finished with a strong 10-6 record, which featured two losses to the Bills, as well as losses to the Texans, Patriots, Raiders, and Eagles. While neither the wins nor the losses blew us away, the fact is, the Jets weren’t expected to do much this year, and they did. They shocked many people and now look poised to be one of the more dangerous teams in 2016. Can the Jets steal a postseason berth next year? It’s tough to bet against them after seeing what they could do this season.
Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com.
Follow Jeff Smith on Twitter @JSM8ith