It's a well-worn truism in the NFL that sometimes teams go from last to first in their division very quickly. The last few seasons haven't seen the kind of huge one-season reversals that we saw 15 years ago. It's been a while since a team went from five or six wins to a Super Bowl title the way that the Rams and Patriots did around the turn of the century. Still, roughly one team per season climbs from last place into the postseason. Last year it was Washington, and while no team accomplished this feat in 2014, two teams did in 2013: Kansas City and Philadelphia.
So which of last year's eight last-place teams are most likely to make their way into the playoffs? One is the clear favorite: the Dallas Cowboys. It won't be a big surprise for the Cowboys to go from last to first, because last year they went from first to last.
Below, we've gone through the eight teams that finished in last place in each division last season, ranked by their odds of making the postseason in 2016. These odds are based on the huge 2016 simulation that we ran for our new book Football Outsiders Almanac 2016. The system predicts each team's DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average, explained here) on offense, defense and special teams using a number of variables, including performance over the last three years, coaching experience and personnel changes. Then we simulate the season a million times to get a wide range of possibilities that account for every team's best-case and worst-case scenario.
1. Dallas Cowboys
Playoff odds: 50.5 percent (8th of 32 teams)