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The 2024 NFL playoff picture is set, with 14 different teams guaranteed a ticket to the postseason. But as contenders like the Cowboys, 49ers and Ravens gear up for a run at the Lombardi Trophy, what about the 18 who will be left to watch from home? While they'll have to wait at least another year to play meaningful January football, there's reason for many to have hope.

Here's one reason for each of the non-playoff clubs to be optimistic going into 2024:


They almost can't lose at quarterback. Justin Fields has flashed enough to warrant a longer-term look as their starter. But if they do sell, they'll get their pick of the 2024 prospects atop the draft, plus another top-10 pick and whatever Fields fetches in a hypothetical trade. Of course, they'd still need to make the right choice under center, but you can't say they're not well positioned.


Joe Burrow is still around, and the backup plan isn't bad. There's a real conversation to be had about Burrow's durability and/or his protection, but as long as he's the QB, title hopes are justified. And Jake Browning fared better than expected in an extended look as the fill-in, meaning Cincinnati may not have to spend big for insurance.


Sean Payton is finally set to build things his way. This may not be a good thing in the long run, but we already saw for much of 2022-2023 that the pre-Payton setup, with Russell Wilson as the figurehead, wasn't destined to go the distance. At least with Wilson on track to exit, the man in charge can proceed to put his true spin on key positions.


They turned a corner down the stretch. After starting 1-8, Arizona finished with three wins in its final five games, and Kyler Murray even flashed some legit progress under center. The 2023 season was always going to be a slog with their stripped-down lineup, but Jonathan Gannon had them fighting to the finish line.


A fresh voice is finally on the way. Justin Herbert isn't blameless for their failure to translate big-name rosters into big-time wins, but L.A. fans have to be pleased that an offensive mind could be the next target atop the staff, with Brandon Staley finally out.


Shane Steichen looks to be the real deal. It's one year, yes, and Steichen's situational decision-making left a bit to be desired down the stretch, but going 9-8, and coming within one game of a playoff bid, after losing dynamic QB Anthony Richardson early in 2023, speaks volumes about the first-time coach's ability to draw up an offense.


Everything's in front of them. New owner. A top-two draft pick. An NFL-leading $78.8 million in projected 2024 cap space. They have a chance to totally remake everything after four competitive, but mediocre years under Ron Rivera. It starts with landing the right leader for this next phase, but their resources are unmatched going into the offseason.


Ownership's had enough of "good enough." That doesn't mean Arthur Blank will get their next hire right. But how much more of the Arthur Smith-led "attack" did anyone need to see? After three straight 7-10 seasons with curious personnel usage, Atlanta at least deserves credit for starting fresh as it prepares to also reset under center.


They can't get much worse on the medical front. From Daniel Jones to Andrew Thomas to Evan Neal to multiple kickers, who stayed healthy for this team in 2023? The front office once again has work to do up front, where Jones or Tyrod Taylor or Tommy DeVito -- literally any QB they play -- needs better protection, but they'll benefit from an offseason of rest and rehab.


Doug Pederson's eyes are opened. Axing Mike Caldwell and the defensive staff after a largely offensive collapse may not be the staffing change they needed, but obviously the Jaguars' head man is aware something needs to change. Getting Trevor Lawrence's ball security under control will be paramount going into 2024.


The Aaron Rodgers experiment should've put team brass on notice. In other words, don't bet on a 40-year-old QB to save you if you aren't also outfitting him with a stable offensive line (or entering the season with a legitimate backup plan under center).


They've already hit rock bottom. Firing Frank Reich 10 games into his tenure atop the staff? Hurling drinks at fans from the owner's box? Perhaps solace can be taken by looking at the Jaguars, who were a trainwreck in the wake of Urban Meyer's run but still managed to rebound with their No. 1 pick at QB the following year.


The winds of change are blowing. Is it good that Bill Belichick, arguably the greatest coach to ever do it, could be on his way out? Not necessarily. But the fact Belichick is even publicly entertaining the possibility of surrendering certain responsibilities means team leadership knows its process and results have not been good enough since Tom Brady's exit.


They might already have their coach of the future. Mark Davis and Co. could very well throw darts at bigger names (see: Jim Harbaugh, Mike Vrabel), but Antonio Pierce didn't just go 5-4 as the interim after Josh McDaniels' exit. He also instilled genuine belief in an otherwise dismal locker room, breathing new life into their organization.


They got better as the year went on. Dennis Allen's squad still didn't do enough to make it into the dance, but if you're sad they're shackled to he and Derek Carr going into 2024, consider that pairing did finish 4-1 over the last five weeks of the season.


They never stopped fighting. Yes, the standard is higher than that, as Bobby Wagner noted following Week 18. But Geno Smith's penchant for late-game comebacks brought some spirit to an otherwise mercurial season for Pete Carroll's group. If Smith sticks, whether as the starter or in competition with a younger counterpart, his leadership will be welcome.


They've got a gamer under center. Mike Vrabel's departure raises questions about the true direction of the franchise, but what if GM Ran Carthon simply wanted to turn the page on the roster, and Vrabel didn't? Will Levis may or may not be the QB of the future, but he sure as heck provides more upside than Vrabel's old-guard favorites like Ryan Tannehill.


Brian Flores is a keeper. Of course, his work with the defense may end up biting Minnesota if another team poaches him for a top job. But if he stays, well, that's great news for Vikings fans, as his unit kept the team in the playoff race much longer than expected. Provided they can restabilize QB in 2024, that could mean an instant return to the postseason picture.