Since the NFL realigned in 2002, almost every year, and sometimes in multiple instances does a team go from worst to first in their division. This year, it was the Cincinnati Bengals, and not only were they last in their division, but they also won their division, won a playoff game, and then two more! So, it’s unlikely that happens again next year, but, which teams will go from worst to first in the 2022-2023 NFL season?
The Eight Possibilities
There are two conferences in the NFL, and four divisions in each of them, meaning there are eight divisions in football. The eight last-place finishers from the previous season are as follows: The New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, and Seattle Seahawks. Some of these teams have a much better chance at winning their division than others.
Bottom of the Barrell: A Jets Tradition
First, there are the non-factors. While these teams are in no position to win their division next year, I guess everyone learned with the Bengals this year that anything is truly possible.
The Jets for example will not win their division next year. Zach Wilson showed few bright spots, they have a massive need at offensive line and at skill positions, and their defense was one of the worst in the league. They have way too many positions groups that can’t be solved in free agency and in the draft in just one year.
Additionally, they play in the same division as Josh Allen and the Bills, who will be a Super Bowl favorite as they seek revenge. They also must top the Mac Jones-led Patriots and their revamped roster, as well as an occasionally startling and surprising Dolphins team. All other three teams were above .500, meaning it’s unlikely all three fall below the Jets in just a year.
Struggles in Seattle
Believe it or not, the Seahawks have almost as little of a chance at topping their division as the Jets do. Russell Wilson has one of his worst statistical seasons to date, their defense has aged, and their offense looked stagnant all year.
Pete Carroll being on the hot seat means that something has gone completely off the rails in Seattle. The Niners will have another year with a top defense and rookie Trey Lance will likely be their starter.
Kyler Murray showed why he was the number one overall pick and he’s poised for another great campaign, and as are the Cardinals and the Rams will return a solid amount of their core pieces and will be able to attract more talent as players ring chase. The Seahawks may not be rebuilding just yet, but getting a head start on it might not be a bad idea.
The Young Jags
The Jaguars are going to have a very difficult time winning their division, but they might have a shot if Tennessee starts to fall apart after another disappointing playoff loss, and the Colts fail to find consistent play at the quarterback position. They will have an older, more mature Trevor Lawrence, and he has plenty of weapons, including Travis Etienne who missed his whole rookie season with an injury.Even with the presence of former No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence, the Jacksonville Jaguars do not seem poised to be the NFL’s next surprise team.
But their defense just doesn’t have the experience to stop teams for four whole quarters, and it’s unlikely that can be addressed in just one year, especially with a new head coach and a new system. Don’t be shocked if they improve significantly, but a division title is still far off in the distance.
The Mess of the NFC East
The chances of the Giants winning the division are low, but it’s the NFC East, so who really knows. There were some whisperings about the Cowboys being ready to move on from some key players, and they’re the Cowboys, so maybe they’ll blow it all again.
The Eagles were inconsistent and pretty much always are, so they aren’t very convincing as a favorite for the division. And Washington at the quarterback spot is a mystery, and it’s hard to imagine them attracting any big-name quarterback talent in free agency with their lack of weapons, so they may have to go with youth, which doesn’t bode well for winning a division title.
The Giants’ ability to win the division rests more on the failures of the other three teams. Daniel Jones is on a contract year, so maybe he over-performs, and he does have weapons.
Maybe they can spark up Saquon Barkley with a revamped offensive line, and their defense was alright all year. It is the first year with a new head coach though, so it seems like a low possibility.
The Lions have a division falling apart. The Vikings seem to be ready to move on from just about everyone if this year doesn’t go well with the new coach, the Bears also have a new coach, and an offense who couldn’t go anywhere all year last season, and the Packers may lose Aaron Rodgers. If they lose Rodgers, maybe the Lions unlock Goff once again.
They showed fight in almost all of their games, and maybe with some free-agent signings, and a little bit of luck, they win the NFC North.
The Panthers have a great defense, most of who for now are sticking around. But, their lack of direction as a franchise is scary.
They couldn’t make a decision at the quarterback spot, and their offense is puzzling to watch sometimes. This is Rhule’s final chance likely, and who knows who his quarterback will be. Their possible division title will come as a result of their stout defense, and quarterback evaluation.
The Bucs lost Tom Brady, a huge shift in the division, the Saints lost their head coach and seem to be in rebuild mode now, and the Falcons may be in store for Matt Ryan’s final season in black and red. The Panthers are the only team in the division on the come-up, so maybe those trends see them to the top.
Just Needing a Quarterback
The Denver Broncos have an elite defense. They have weapons at all the skill positions. All they were missing last year was a quarterback, and Denver is possibly the most discussed destination for all the impending free-agents and trade requesters (Aaron Rodgers).
If Denver can lure a top quarterback to Mile High, they could compete in the playoffs. The only thing stopping them from winning the division is the opposition.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will of course be back, Justin Herbert and the Chargers will be solid again, this time hoping not to blow their playoff chances, and Derek Carr’s Raiders, should the players choose to stay after the front office didn’t hire the interim coach that had won the support of the players, will have a very solid roster to contend with.
This could be the first year all 4 teams in a division somehow make the playoffs; the AFC West could be that good.
Return From Injury
The Baltimore Ravens, in first place most of the year, somehow in the last few games they dropped, slid to fourth. Ravaged by injuries before the season even started, Baltimore had almost no chance of winning as many games as they did.
In what could be considered the best coaching job of his career, John Harbaugh and the Ravens showed more promise than ever. The Ravens will be back, the Steelers are rebuilding, who knows which Browns team and which Baker Mayfield will show up next season, and who knows if the Bengals’ success is sustainable.
Lamar Jackson will be back with a vengeance, and they will probably be one of the division favorites, if not the top favorite in the AFC North.