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NFL playoff team tiers: Rating all 12 based on their chances to return

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Which NFL contenders have the biggest roster gap to fill? (1:48)

Matt Hasselbeck, Tim Hasselbeck and Jeff Darlington pick the Bears, Seahawks and Chiefs, respectively, as playoff contenders with roster holes to fill. (1:48)

Making the playoffs in the NFL is hard. Making it in consecutive seasons is exceptionally tough. To wit: Just five teams have reached the playoffs in each of the past two seasons: the Chiefs, Eagles, Patriots, Rams and Saints.

We have enough evidence to suggest that this year's playoff field will represent quite a different collection from 2018's group. So let's rank the teams most likely to return to the playoffs, accounting for several factors: this year's version of the roster, the schedule, the division, plus the improvement of other teams in the division.


The best bet

New England Patriots

The Patriots set the standard of excellence in professional football, having reached the postseason an astonishing 10 consecutive seasons. The roster profiles as one of the NFL's deepest, with an outstanding secondary, strength along the offensive line, a premier linebacker group and a deep stable of running backs. Tom Brady remains one of the game's best players, though he'll have to familiarize himself with a made-over group of pass-catchers. And, of course, no team is better coached, more prepared, more situationally aware or adaptable within a game than the Patriots under the guidance of Bill Belichick and his staff.

The AFC East has been playing catch-up to New England for two decades, and while there is hope in both Buffalo and New York for improved seasons (Miami is in a transition year), the Patriots enter the season as a favorite in the division and one of the NFL's most complete teams.

Area to monitor: Although New England went to Arrowhead Stadium and upended the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game last season, the team posted just a 3-5 record on the road during the regular season. The Patriots must find a way to be a more efficient road team.