<
>
Insider

Ranking playoff losers best set up for 2017

play
Is the Falcons locker room in jeopardy? (1:35)

Donovan McNabb wonders if Matt Ryan's teammates will become jealous if Ryan receives a huge contract from Atlanta. (1:35)

Matt Ryan was named regular-season MVP, but even he couldn't save the Atlanta Falcons from one of the most heartbreaking losses in Super Bowl history. Ryan and the Falcons blew a 25-point lead in Super Bowl LI as the New England Patriots stormed back to win 34-28 in overtime, giving Tom Brady his fifth Super Bowl title and fourth Super Bowl MVP.

The Falcons, however, should make a playoff run in 2017. They have young, talented pieces on both sides of the ball.

Maybe just a handful of the teams that were knocked out of the playoffs will be back next season -- that's just how it goes in the NFL. Of last season's playoff field, the two Super Bowl teams (Denver and Carolina) as well as Arizona, Washington, Minnesota and Cincinnati didn't make it to the playoffs this season. That's half of last year's playoff field.

Here's how I rank each playoff loser's chances of returning to the playoffs next season:


1. Pittsburgh Steelers

It's hard to envision the Steelers not returning to the playoffs next season. Everything breaks well for them. They play a schedule with a combined 2016 winning percentage of .453, which ranks fifth easiest in the league. For the first time in years, the Steelers are actually under the salary cap at the end of the season. Once they sign practice-squad players, they should have more than $35 million of room.

But the money could go fast. It will cost $12.7 million to franchise Le'Veon Bell. Antonio Brown is entering the final year of his contract and should get an extension worth more than $14 million a year. Their offense could actually get better if Martavis Bryant, one of the most dangerous deep threats in the league, comes back off his yearlong suspension. The offensive line is one of the best in the league, and the some of the young draft choices on defense are starting to come together. Ben Roethlisberger remains one of the league's best quarterbacks, and he didn't lose offensive coordinator Todd Haley to a head-coaching job.

The Steelers are right in the middle of a great run in which they have won 32 regular-season games in three years. That trend should continue.