3 NFL teams look for rare trip from 2-6 start to playoffs

Falling into a 2-6 hole near the midpoint of a season is usually a recipe to look to the future for NFL teams, with only two teams ever climbing out of that hole to reach the postseason.

Headed into Week 18 of this season, three teams that lost six of their first eight games remain in the playoff hunt.

Jacksonville can clinch the AFC South with a victory over Tennessee or it could sneak in as a wild-card team with a loss and lots of help.

Detroit and Pittsburgh have more complicated paths, with the Lions needing a win and a Seattle loss to clinch the seventh seed in the NFC and the Steelers needing a win plus losses by Miami and New England to clinch the final wild-card spot in the AFC.

The addition of an extra playoff team in 2020 and a 17th game in 2021 made climbing out of a hole a bit easier than in the past, but it still is rather remarkable.

Before this season, 186 teams in the Super Bowl era started a season 2-6, with only Cincinnati in 1970 and Washington in 2020 making it to the postseason.

The Jaguars have gone on quite a roller-coaster ride, having lost five straight from Weeks 4-8 and then winning the last four games. A victory Saturday night against Tennessee would make Jacksonville the fifth team to get to the playoffs in a season with a both a winning and losing streak of at least five games. The last team to do it was Kansas City in 2015.

The Titans can also join that group win a win, having won five straight early in the season and then losing the last six games.

The only teams to make the playoffs in a season with a six-game losing streak are the 2020 Bears, the 2014 Panthers and the 1970 Bengals.

PLAYOFF NEWCOMERS

The Giants clinched their first playoff berth since 2016, assuring this will be the 33rd straight season with at least four new playoff teams.

New York joins Baltimore, the Los Angeles Chargers and Minnesota as teams that made the postseason a year after missing it. The last time there were fewer than four new playoff teams in a season was in 1989 when only three teams did it.

There’s still a chance for three more teams to join the list, with Jacksonville having a shot at the AFC South or wild-card spots, Miami in contention for an AFC wild-card spot and Detroit and Seattle in the running for the seventh seed in the NFC.

SACK PARTY

The Philadelphia Eagles are closing in on the NFL’s single-season sacks record.

The Eagles have recorded 68 sacks so far this season for the fourth-best total ever and can pass the record of 72 set by the 1984 Bears with five more in Week 18.

Philadelphia has had at least six sacks in the past five games for the longest streak by any team in the Super Bowl era.

The Eagles have spread out the sacks, with Haason Reddick leading the way with 16, followed by 11 each for Josh Sweat, Javon Hargrave and Brandon Graham. This is the first time since individual sacks became an official stat in 1982 that a team had four players reach double figures in the same season.

STREAKING

A few impressive streaks got extended in Week 17.

Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans had 207 yards receiving to top the 1,000-yard mark for the ninth straight season. Evans is the first player to do that in his first nine seasons and joined Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (11 straight) and Tim Brown (9 straight) as the only players to do it at any point in their careers.

Kansas City’s Jerick McKinnon had a TD catch for the fifth straight game, becoming the first running back to do that since the merger.

New Orleans defensive end Cameron Jordan had three sacks to give him 8 1/2 on the season, marking the 11th straight year he has had at least seven.

The only players to do that since sacks became an official stat in 1982 are Reggie White (14 straight), Chris Doleman (13), John Randle (12), Derrick Thomas (11) and Robert Mathis (11).

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin also kept alive his bid of never having a losing season, owning an 8-8 record headed into Week 18. If the Steelers don’t lose Sunday to Cleveland, Tomlin will start his career with 16 straight seasons without a losing record.

The only other coaches with a streak that long are Tom Landry (21 seasons), Bill Belichick (19) and George Halas (16).

DEFENSIVE SCORES

Kyle Dugger had another pick-6 for New England’s high-scoring defense.

Dugger’s 39-yard return against Miami gave the Patriots a defensive touchdown for the fourth straight game. The last team to do that in a single season was the 2002 Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Dugger has three TDs on the season, with a pick-6 in Week 15 against the Raiders and a fumble return TD in Week 5 against Detroit.

That’s tied for the most defensive touchdowns in a season since Janoris Jenkins had four in 2012.

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