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NFL’s Longest Active Playoff Droughts, Who Will Break Out In 2023?

With the NFL playoffs currently underway, several teams have not experienced postseason in quite a few years. Which team will break out of this streak next?

Playoff

The 2022/2023 NFL Playoffs are underway and heading into the divisional round. With the current expanded seven team lineup in each conference, more teams have an opportunity to get in and make a run. However, there are several teams that have a playoff drought of over half a decade including one that has been over ten years. Let’s take a look at which five teams have not seen postseason action for the longest and whether their luck might change next season. 

Atlanta Falcons

Last Postseason Appearance: 2017 Season

The Atlanta Falcons from 2008 to 2017 made the playoffs six out of ten seasons. Matt Ryan was the franchise quarterback, the 2016 MVP, and nearly knocked off the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51. Unfortunately, the team gave up a 28-3 lead in that game and have not looked the same since. 2017 was the last season the Falcons made the playoffs, which was as a wildcard team. They defeated the Rams before coming just two yards short of beating the eventual Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round. 

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After a disappointing 4-12 season in 2020, the Falcons have gone 7-10 in back-to-back years. Even in a weak NFC South where the Buccaneers finished 8-9 to win the division, Atlanta still finished in last place this season. The Falcons need to figure out if 2022 third-round draft pick Desmond Ridder is their quarterback of the future. He went a respectable 2-2 in his four starts this year with no interceptions. In a division that could be weak again next year, this may all the Falcons need to end their playoff drought.  

Carolina Panthers

Last Postseason Appearance: 2017 Season

Carolina also saw success through the early to mid-2010’s making the playoffs four out of five years under head coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton. 2015 was the year the Panthers almost came out on top but lost to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. After a wildcard appearance in the 2017 season losing to the New Orleans Saints, the Panthers have had a losing record every year since. 

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Ron Rivera was let go and Matt Rhule who transformed several college programs was brought in. Unfortunately, his college success as a head coach never translated into the NFL. He had back-to-back five-win seasons before getting fired after a 1-4 start this year. The Panthers almost made a postseason run going 6-6 the rest of the 2022 season. 

The 2023 Panthers will have an opportunity at a fresh start. Carolina is currently looking for a new head coach and the team will need to decide which quarterback to go with. The team also has the ninth overall pick in the draft, so if the right decisions are made, the Panthers could set themselves up for success. 

Detroit Lions

Last Postseason Appearance: 2016 Season

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The Detroit Lions are one of the NFL’s most disappointing franchises, but things could change soon. Detroit has not made the playoffs since the 2016 season. They have not won their division since 1993 and have not won a playoff game since the 1991 season. In 2022, Detroit finally finished with a winning record for the first time since 2017. 

Head coach and former NFL player Dan Campbell seems to have things on the right track. The Lions finished this season on an 8-2 run and nearly snuck in the playoffs with their Week 18 victory over the Packers. Campbell has changed the culture in Detroit but will need to get the Lions off to a quicker start in 2023 if they want to make the playoffs. 

Denver Broncos

Last Postseason Appearance: 2015 Season

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The last time the Denver Broncos made the playoffs resulted them winning Super Bowl 50, but this is now eight seasons ago. The 2015/2016 Super Bowl win capped off over half a decade of success. Denver won the NFC West five straight seasons from 2011-2015 and made two Super Bowl appearances winning one of them. Ever since the retirement of Peyton Manning who spent four years in Denver, the Broncos have not found their identify. 

2022 was supposed to be the year Denver came out of their playoff drought, but the season flopped. The offseason was highlighted by the trade for nine-time Pro Bowler and former Super Bowl winning quarterback Russell Wilson. It ended up being Wilson’s least productive season in his career where he threw just 16 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. The Broncos fired first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett after a disastrous 4-11 start.  

With less draft capital in the near future, Wilson playing under contract through 2028, and playing in an ultra-competitive division with the Chiefs and Chargers, it is unlikely that the Broncos find a way to compete anytime soon. They can only hope that bringing in the right head coach changes their fortunes. 

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New York Jets

Last Postseason Appearance: 2010 Season

The longest active playoff drought in the NFL belongs to the New York Jets. New York has not had a playoff appearance since the 2010 season where they lost the AFC Championship game for the second year in a row. Neither the 2009 nor the 2010 team were dominant in the regular season, but quarterback Mark Sanchez and head coach Rex Ryan found some magic in the postseason as a wildcard team both seasons.  

Three head coaches and multiple quarterbacks later, the Jets are struggling to get back into the playoffs. The 2022 Jets got off to a surprising 6-3 start after their signature win over the Buffalo Bills but lost six straight games to end the year with a 7-10 record. Head coach Robert Saleh started three different quarterbacks as 2021 second overall pick Zach Wilson battled injuries and poor play. New York has a chance to get into the playoffs next year as they were competitive for most of this season. Potentially the franchise will look to bring in a veteran QB to lead the offense more effectively. 

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Which Team Will Break Their Streak Next?

Chances are one of these teams should be able to end their playoff drought in 2023. The team most likely to is the Detroit Lions. In fact, the Lions could even be a favorite to win the NFC North. Detroit finished the 2022 season on an 8-2 run including going 5-0 against their divisional rivals during this stretch. The Lions only loss against the NFC North was Week Three where they lost by just three points to the Vikings. Detroit did start the year 1-6, but four of those losses came by less than a touchdown. Expect the Lions to get better in 2023 with another year in Dan Campbell’s system.

There is always a chance someone unexpected could break out as well. The New York Giants made the playoffs this year having not been in the postseason since 2016, which was totally unexpected. The Miami Dolphins also made it in with the same drought as the Giants.

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Editor in Chief for Stadium Rant

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