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It Happens Every Year: Teams Make the Playoffs After Not Being There the Previous Season

The Cardinals are trying to be a team that qualifies for the playoffs while not being there the season before.

The NFL is often described as a week-to-week league because whatever happens one weekend has little or no bearing on what happens the next week.

How else can it be explained when the Dallas Cowboys can lose one Sunday to the Denver Broncos, 30-16, and then beat the Atlanta Falcons seven days later, 45-3?

"Any Given Sunday" is alive and well.

Well, it’s always true the NFL is also a year-to-year league because each year the post-season is filled with teams that weren’t in the playoffs the previous season.


At least two teams have won their divisions the season after missing the playoffs in 17 of the past 18 years.

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And, in each season since 1990 – a streak of 31 consecutive years – at least four teams that were not in the prior post-season have qualified for the playoffs.

Not surprisingly, the 2021 season is falling right in line.

Entering Week 11, the aforementioned Cowboys, along with the Arizona Cardinals, are leading their respective divisions. Notably, with seven wins in nine games, the Cowboys already have more wins (seven) than they did last season (six). With eight wins, the Cardinals have equaled their victory total from 2020.

As for potential playoff teams, in addition to Dallas and Arizona, there are currently three other teams – the Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots – that would be in the playoffs if the season ended now and failed to qualify for the postseason in 2020. The Patriots solidified that Thursday night with their 25-0 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

The AFC East has to be considered in play with the Patriots meeting the Buffalo Bills twice in the final six weeks of the season.

The Falcons were one of six teams within one game of a playoff spot entering Week 11 that also weren’t in the playoffs last season. The others are the Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders, Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers.