Teams most likely to return to playoffs
January, 23, 2014
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesSee you next year: Brady and Manning look like good bets to return to the playoffs in 2014.The first Super Bowl in the New York metropolitan area features two teams from far, far away. That is fitting because the West teams were best in 2013. While six of the eight NFL teams from the AFC West and NFC West finished with winning records, the other six divisions combined to produce just seven winning teams.
The timing is right for this Western revival as the NFL's scheduling rotation happens to pit AFC West against NFC West in 2014. As a result, the eight toughest schedules for 2014 belong to teams from these two Western divisions. Much will change by next season, of course, and 2013 records will not set expectations accurately across the board. But a run through some of the key variables provides an early read on which 2013 playoff teams have the best (and worst) shots at returning to the postseason.
I've ranked their chances 1-12 and consulted with an oddsmaker to get an outside perspective. It appears that one of the No. 2 seeds could be vulnerable, while the other No. 2 heads into the offseason as a prohibitive favorite to return.