Chicago's loss was especially exasperating. Not only did it come to the irredeemable Packers and Aaron Rodgers, but it obviously only happened because Jay Cutler couldn't play in the second half and we had to roll with Caleb Hanie. I mean, Hanie was still better than Rex Grossman, but he wasn't Cutler. And the Bears lost.
Seven seasons later, neither team has returned to the playoffs. Still, it could be worse -- we could be the Bucs or Browns!
Heading into the 2018 campaign, here are the six longest playoff droughts in the NFL:
Cleveland Browns: 2002
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2007
Chicago Bears: 2010
New York Jets: 2010
Los Angeles Chargers: 2013
San Francisco 49ers: 2013
Who has the best chance of snapping their postseason dry spell in 2018? Got 'em ranked right here, from most likely to least likely:
1) Los Angeles Chargers
2017 record: 9-7 (second in AFC West)
Some people still hate the NCAA playoff format -- or, more specifically, they hate that a panel decides who gets a bid. But that kind of approach could have made a lot of sense in the NFL last season, at least when it comes to this Chargers team, which won six of its final seven games. I mean, given a choice, is there anybody who would have put the Bills in the playoffs over the red-hot Bolts? No. Thankfully, this year's Chargers shouldn't leave anything to question. This loaded group is ready to punch its playoff ticket for the first time since 2013.
John Elway recently said Los Angeles might be the team to beat in the AFC West. Ya think? The team with the best quarterback, running back and defense in the division is the front-runner? (No, wait, I'd take Kareem Hunt over Melvin Gordon. But still.) The Chargers are not just the front-runner for the division crown, but a clear threat to end the Patriots' AFC reign.
The addition of center Mike Pouncey filled a hole that had been gaping since Nick Hardwick suffered a serious neck injury and eventually retired. The Chargers didn't have many deficiencies on defense ... and then they received an absolute gift from the Draft Gods when chess piece playmaker Derwin James fell into their laps. This roster is brimming with talent. All the Chargers need is a little injury luck. Or can they at least avoid a full-blown injury bug infestation??
2) Chicago Bears
2017 record: 5-11 (fourth in NFC North)
OK, hear me out ...
A team with a talented roster -- and a highly drafted rookie QB -- underachieves behind an old-school coach. But then, that team hires a sizzling, young, brilliant offensive mind with a playbook for the modern NFL, makes a huge splash in free agency and adds some pieces in the draft to eventually become the toast of the NFL.
3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2017 record: 5-11 (fourth in NFC South)
Hey, look -- another team that hasn't won a playoff game since it fired Lovie Smith! Sure, he never got the Buccaneers to the playoffs, but roll with me here.
I really believed Tampa Bay would be in the thick of things last year. But, for the second time in my life, Dirk Koetter hurt me greatly. (Arizona State fan? Check!) Apparently, I just can't quit him, because I'm kinda right back in again.
The Bucs' defense was a sieve last year, ranking dead last in yards allowed. One way to fix that: overhaul the defensive front. Which is exactly what Tampa Bay did, bringing in five new D-linemen, including Jason Pierre-Paul and first-round pick Vita Vea. On the other side of the ball, running back was a huge question mark. Not anymore! Ronald Jones was a great second-round selection. The only downside is playing in the best division in the NFL from top to bottom. Oh, and Koetter. But alas, for whatever reason, I'm still in.
4) San Francisco 49ers
2017 record: 6-10 (fourth in NFC West)
You know how this works, right? Any team that gets the famed "can't-miss" label almost always succumbs to the pressure. I mean, it's cool for the 49ers to put together a bunch of December wins after entering the month at 1-10. Let's see what happens when San Francisco begins the season under the spotlight.
I'm afraid the 2018 Niners are "Suicide Squad" -- you know, the movie that has an amazing trailer but fizzles at the box office. It might not be terrible, just not as good as people anticipated -- or wanted it to be. Everyone thinks this is Jimmy G's breakout role, but what if the supporting cast just isn't ready yet?
Don't fret, though, 49er Faithful. This team is clearly trending up under Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. Maybe set your sights on eight wins and making the playoffs in 2019.
5) Cleveland Browns
2017 record: 0-16 (fourth in AFC North)
I know. Winning one game should be a priority, not necessarily making the playoffs. But there are reasons to believe this Browns team could shock the world and end the longest active playoff drought in the NFL ...
Cleveland lost six games by seven points or less last season. There is indeed plenty of talent on this roster. And I'll just go ahead and put this out there on Front Street: I like Baker Mayfield. Spent some time watching more film on him prior to the draft, and I truly believe he could be a difference maker this season. Remember: The Bills got in with a 9-7 record last year on some crazy tie-breaker business. Could we end up having another nutty season?
So, why do I have the Browns ranked fifth out of six teams here? Well, the head coach still owns a 1-31 record in Cleveland. And, in its past 20 seasons, this franchise has reached nine wins twice. Tough to fully shake that kind of ineptitude overnight.
6) New York Jets
2017 record: 5-11 (fourth in AFC East)
The good news for the Jets: There's always that one team nobody believes in that manages to MacGyver its way to a playoff berth. Buffalo was that team last season. Could another AFC East team pull off the feat in 2018? Maybe it's best to remain disrespected and fly under the radar.