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Could 2020 Be the Year of the Underdog?
Could 2020 Be the Year of the Underdog?

NFL Playoffs Expanded to Include Two New Wild Cards: Could 2020 Be the Year of the Underdog?

The NFL playoffs have been expanded in 2020 to include 14 teams rather than 12, with two additional wild cards added to the mix. This is the first expansion since the field grew from 10 teams to 12 teams back in 1990. The new format includes two extra wild card teams, meaning the playoffs will be comprised of the winners of each of the eight divisions plus the best six teams from across both conferences. With two additional spots available to compete for the championship, there is potential for 2020 to see a surprise Super Bowl winner.

Wild Card History:

The wild card format, which creates opportunities for champions even from teams that did not win their leagues, was initially introduced when the American Football League merged with the National Football league in 1970 when the combined league consisted of three divisions in each conference. The playoffs added the non-winning team from each division that scored the highest win-loss percentage. In 1978, the format was adjusted to include two wild card teams from each conference.

The introduction of wild cards generated more viewing figures and ensured that there were more teams that had the opportunity to win the coveted Super Bowl. However, since wild cards were introduced, only 10 have reached the Super Bowl and only six have walked away champions. Despite the NFL odds reflecting how tough it will be, the new format could mean that 2020 finishes with an underdog taking home the Vince Lombardi trophy.

The Tennessee Titans were a wild card entry into the playoffs in 2019 after finishing in second place in the AFC. Fans were delighted and others astounded to watch these underdogs beat two of the bookmaker’s favorites, the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens in the wild card and divisional championship games respectively.

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The Titans did not quite manage to make it all the way to the Super Bowl after facing the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game, thereby ending the playoffs 2-1. Pre-season 2020, the Titans have been ranked fifth in terms of winning the AFC championship, but there are at least 11 teams ranked ahead of them at the bookmakers for odds of making it to and winning the Super Bowl.

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Last season’s performance was bolstered by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has just signed a new four-year deal with the Titans. While the odds may not be in their favor, there is a definite possibility that the Tennessee Titans have the potential to take home the Super Bowl for the first time ever in February 2021.

Cincinnati Bengals:

The Cincinnati Bengals are almost the very definition of the underdogs, with these surprise contenders having been the very first AFC North division team to be eliminated from the playoffs in the 2019 NFL season and ending the year with a win-lose score of 2-14. However, strong changes to the line-up could make a difference to the fortunes of the Bengals in 2020. New drafts include linebackers Markus Bailey, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Logan Wilson, D.J. Reader upfront, and Vonn Bell, Mackensie Alexander, and Trae Waynes in defense. The new line-up could also have a relatively easy ride in the initial stages of the season, with their opening four games facing the Chargers, Browns, Eagles, and Jaguars, all of which have struggled in recent seasons. 

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Towards the middle of the season, the Bengals have what could be seen as another opportunity to get ahead, playing the Redskins, Giants, and Dolphins in succession. While the league is currently dominated by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, beyond these two teams it is not looking strong. Should the Steelers or the Browns falter, there could be an opportunity for the Bengals to slide in and grasp a place in the playoffs.

Indianapolis Colts:

The Indianapolis Colts finished third in the AFC in the 2019 season but did not make the playoffs. Odds vary for the team’s chances of succeeding in 2020, with most bookmakers offering somewhere between +2500 and +3000. Manager Chris Ballard has been working hard to rectify the weaker areas of the team since last season, making Philip Rivers starting quarterback and scoring superstar defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in the first round of the draft.

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Placekickers Rodrigo Blankenship and Chase McLoughlin are also new additions, filling in identified gaps and solidifying the team prior to the start of the 2020 season. While the Colts are certainly up against it with the Kansas City Chiefs, if the new line-up comes together there could be an opportunity for the Colts to make it to the Super Bowl in February 2021. If they go all the way, this would be the third Super Bowl Championship victory for the Indianapolis Colts. 

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Wild cards may not have the strongest history of winning the Super Bowl, but the addition of two more definitely shakes things up a little and creates more competition for the league winners. The top favorites pre-season are the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, and New Orleans Saints. Should all four of these teams make it to the playoffs, the new regulations leave an additional ten places up for grabs. There are many teams that could become contenders for a place at the end of the 2020 season. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won a total of six Super Bowls but not been champions since 2006. The Miami Dolphins have not won the Super Bowl since their two consecutive victories in 1973 and 1974 but are looking strong for the upcoming season. The New York Jets have only one Super Bowl victory to date but with their strong defense may have a shot this time around. No matter who makes it, the new format will surely make the season tenser than ever.

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