The NFL’s expansion of the playoff field to include the top 14 teams ranks among the best decisions the league has made in recent years. An additional postseason bid for each conference has translated into an increased level of competition while also creating greater intrigue around those middle-of-the-pack teams.
It has also made it possible for slow starters to rebound and position themselves for late-season pushes for the playoffs.
The NFL, between the AFC and NFC, has a total of 14 teams with records in that 6-6 to 5-7 range.
Among that crowded second tier of teams rank a number of anticipated playoff squads that stumbled out of the gates but now are in the process of turning their seasons around. Those such teams include the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Football Team, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.
Some endured a rash of injuries to start the season but now have regained health. Others experienced growing pains but since have started to hit their strides.
If they continue the way they’re going, some of these teams will be nightmare matchups through December and January. Some may wind up falling short in their quests for a postseason spot, however.
Here’s a look at some of those early-season strugglers that now find themselves on the rise, and an examination of their prospects for meaningful late-season pushes for the playoffs and beyond.
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Duke Riley #45 of the Miami Dolphins celebrates after blocking a punt that was returned for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Miami Dolphins (5-7)
Coming off of a 10-win season and narrow postseason miss, the Dolphins were expected to contend this year. Instead, they opened the year with a 1-7 record. But Brian Flores’ charges have caught fire,…