The NFL is composed of three tiers of teams. The top tier encompasses the teams that barely break a sweat making it into the postseason. This year, that would include teams such as the Chiefs, Broncos and the Seahawks.
The bottom tier is the other well-defined group. This is the group that is out of the running by the middle of the season. Every once and a great while one of these teams will make a late-season run, but usually these are the teams fighting for the top few picks in the draft. The Jaguars and Buccaneers lead this year’s charging group.
Then there’s the middle group. The bubble teams are close enough to a playoff position to make a run for it, but usually undisciplined enough to stumble along the way. This year’s group is headlined by teams such as the Chargers, Jets and Bears, and it’s this group that makes the final few weeks of the NFL season so special.
Many, if not most, of the bubble teams are ultimately bound to fail in their bid to make it into the postseason. There’s just too many teams in this group with too few available playoff slots. It creates a situation where only the fit survive and the rest fall back in the pit of mediocrity.
The successful bubble teams may win using different strategies, but they all have one commonality. They get better.
Many teams begin to fall apart through the season for one reason or another. Some fall to off-field distractions while others become the victim of the ever feared injury bug. The teams that succeed find ways to get through hardships and continue to improve as the season moves on.
So, the big question becomes, which bubble teams will make their late-season presence known and which will fall to anonymity? Well, your guess is as good as mine, but experience does play a role as the season wears on.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, is stocked with players that have been there, done that. At just 2-4, the Steelers are on the bottom end of the bubble teams, but in the past two weeks, they’ve made their presence known by knocking off two other teams fighting for wildcard positions. If their current streak continues, they’ll find themselves right in the thick of the wildcard race by mid-November.
As the wear and tear from a full season of football becomes apparent, look for the teams that continue to improve and refine their level of play. Those are the teams likely heading into the playoffs while the rest of the league continues to fall by the wayside. It’s never fair to make predictions this early in the year, but the signs are becoming increasingly prevalent, and that trend will only continue as the season wears on.