Every year, there are teams and players that fall short of the mark, and those that exceed even the loftiest expectations. Of last year’s Super Bowl teams (Carolina and Denver), neither are going to win their division. Only Denver has a shot of even making the playoffs. It’s not abnormal for teams to miss the playoffs after Super Bowl runs the year before (this has happened five times in the past decade). However, it is incredibly uncommon that a 15-1 team playing in the Super Bowl finishes the following season under .500. And by uncommon, I mean it has literally never happened. In fact, no 15-1 team has ever missed the playoffs the following year. All this being said, here’s your 2016 overachieving and underachieving teams.
2016 NFL Season: Biggest Overachieving and Underachieving Teams
Oakland Raiders (10-3; Current AFC Five Seed)
The Raiders had a lot of promise coming into the season. Many talked about them as one of those “fun, young teams that will be around .500.” They are clearly exceeding everyone’s expectations, even with last night’s loss at Arrowhead. Their season win total in Vegas going in to the season was 8.5. After 14 weeks, they’ve already surpassed that by quite a bit. Despite last night’s bad performance, Derek Carr will likely be in the top three of MVP voting come the end of the year, and Khalil Mack will be one of the favorites for Defensive Player of the Year. Potentially the biggest reason for this surge in success has to be their improved offensive line. After signing Kelechi Osemele this offseason, the line is ranked first in the league in pass blocking by DVOA. Through 13 weeks, they had given up a league best twelve sacks.
Tennessee Titans (6-6; Tied for Best Record in the AFC South)
Going into the season, the Titans were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. USA Today gave them four wins on the season. Fivethirtyeight projected them to get five wins, but finish as the worst team in the league. Vegas gave Tennessee an over/under of 5.5 wins, of which they have already surpassed with four games to play. The Titans now have a legit shot at making the playoffs. Even in a lousy division, this is quite an accomplishment for a young team. Thanks in part to the leap made by Marcus Mariota, the Titans are one of only six teams ranking in the top twelve of both offensive rushing and passing efficiency. Tennessee’s playoff chances are significantly damaged by losing both games to the Colts, but finishing near .500 would be a big step in the right direction for this team.
Detroit Lions (8-4; First in the NFC North)
They have no traditional running back. Matthew Stafford doesn’t have Calvin Johnson to throw up prayers to. The defense is nothing compared to what it was with Ndamukong Suh. Aaron Rodgers is in that division. This was the noise surrounding the Lions coming into the year. However, this team is sitting in the driver’s seat to win their division, and are currently the third seed in the NFC. Matthew Stafford is having one of the more efficient seasons of his life, sporting career bests in both passer rating interception percentage. He’s also tied for third in MVP odds. The Lions could have a playoff berth and the division locked up even before their week 17 matchup with the Packers. Who would’ve thought?
Carolina Panthers (4-8; Last in the NFC South)
One year removed from a dominant 15-1 regular season and a Super Bowl appearance, the Panthers are now one of the most unwatchable teams in football. The offensive line is a mess. At one point, the secondary gave up 300 yards in a game TO ONE PLAYER. Cam Newton is not playing like anything resembling his MVP level self from last season, and no one can rush the passer. The Panthers are simply a bad football team right now.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-7-1; Third in the AFC North)
The Bengals are bad enough to be the last place team in just about any division. Thankfully, they play in a division that sports the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals had high expectations entering 2016. They were just coming off a 12-4 season when they won one of the toughest divisions in all sports by a full two-game margin. Despite their playoff woes, people were starting to look at Andy Dalton as a good NFL quarterback. They had one of the more interesting skill position corps in the NFL with A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard, and Jeremy Hill. The defense ranked in the top ten in both passing and rushing DVOA in 2015. Even before they lost A.J. Green to a torn hamstring, their season looked just about over. Coming into the season with a 9.5 win over/under, the Bengals look like they might get to six wins. Maybe.
Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1; Second in the NFC West)
Most saw the 2015 NFC Championship game bludgeoning by the Carolina Panthers as an anomaly, rather than a sign of things to come for the Cardinals. Carson Palmer had had one of the best seasons of his life in 2015, but he was battling a broken thumb during that game. Injuries of that sort are simply part of the game. However, the Cardinals have never looked the same since that game. They came into the season with a 9.5 win over/under (which seemed low at the time), and were a popular pick to return to the NFC Championship. What happened? Well, Palmer looks like a completely different quarterback than he did last year. After a season where he finished tied for second in MVP voting, Palmer is currently ranked as the 22nd best quarterback in the NFL by both DVOA and Pro Football Focus.