New Playoff Teams (07/20/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
Bold Predictions – an interesting player or team prediction for the 2015 NFL season.

Each day, over the next two weeks (July 13th – 24th), we will reveal an interesting player or team prediction for the 2015 NFL season. The first five articles of the series will have a fantasy focus while the next five will be bold predictions for the upcoming season.

Previous Articles: Hill leads NFL in rushing, Luck highest scorer in fantasy, Landry over 100 receptions, Peterson is No. 1 running back, Mariota over Winston

Prediction: Dolphins and Vikings will make the playoffs

Every year there is considerable turnover among playoff teams. On average, over the last 15 years, half the teams that participate in the NFL Playoffs were not in the postseason the year before. Two teams, the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings, which were on the outside looking in a season ago, will play past Week 17 of the regular-season.

The easiest way for a team to make the playoffs is to win their division. The New England Patriots have won the AFC East in 11 of the past 12 seasons, but the Dolphins took the division crown in 2008 (Brady missed the season due to ACL injury) and will once again in 2015. A perfect storm of events has opened a window for Miami to once again sit atop the division. Tom Brady's suspension and the departure of Darrelle Revis have weakened the Patriots on both sides of the ball while the Dolphins are expected to improve. Ryan Tannehill should take another step forward in his second year in Bill Lazor's system and the addition of Ndamukong Suh has helped Miami improve from 26th to 4th in our defensive rankings.

Miami and New England actually are projected to finish with the same record (9.2-6.8), but the Dolphins have a greater chance to win the division (39.9 percent compared to 35.8 percent). Of course, this is dependent on Brady being suspended for the full four games. If the Patriots starter has his suspension reduced then the Dolphins will become less likely to win the AFC East.

Shifting to the NFC, Minnesota was 7-9 last season and finished third in the division. Of course that was without one of the best running backs in NFL history. The return of Adrian Peterson, projected to finish as the No. 1 running back in fantasy, isn't the only reason why the Vikings will be back in the playoffs.

Peterson no longer has to carry the offense on his own. For the first time in a long time, Minnesota has a true franchise quarterback. Over the final five games of last season, Teddy Bridgewater completed 72 percent of his passes, throwing eight touchdowns and averaging 246 yards per game. Mike Zimmer has also built the best defense in the division with young impact players at every level.

Green Bay is projected to win the division for a fifth straight year but if the ball bounces right, the Vikings season finale in Lambeau could decide the division title. Minnesota has a 51.0 percent chance to reach the postseason.

The next most likely teams to make this year's playoffs that missed last year's postseason are (in order) – the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, all three teams made the playoffs in 2013.