Which NFL Team Has the Best Chance of Going from Worst to First?
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
As the spring draws to a close and the dog days of summer come upon us, the NFL is starting to see its teams start their mandatory minicamps in preparation for the season.
The thing that is beautiful about today's NFL is that it offers even the worst teams in the league the chance to go from laughing stocks to perennial contenders.
So while some teams who finished at the bottom will end up disappointing their fans once again, some teams will surprise their respective fan bases and escape obscurity and rise to the top.
After all, according to a 2012 article on bigleadsports.com, there have been nine (now 10 as the Redskins won the NFC East this past season) consecutive years in which a team that was at the bottom of their division the year before turned things around and won the division the year after.
Who are the candidates for this year's worst-to-first turnaround?
|*Buffalo Bills ||6-10|
|Kansas City Chiefs||2-14|
|*Tampa Bay Buccaneers ||7-9|
*The Buccaneers and Bills were tied for last place in their divisions, but based on final standings from NFL.com, they were officially in last place.
The following slides will give a percentage of how likely these last-place teams are to make a quicker-than-anticipated rise up the standings.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs 2012 Top 10 plays
|Rd 1, Pick 1 (1)||Fisher, Eric OT|
|Rd 3, Pick 1 (63)||Kelce, Travis TE|
|Rd 3, Pick 34 (96)||Davis, Knile RB|
|Rd 4, Pick 2 (99)||Johnson, Nico ILB|
|Rd 5, Pick 1 (134)||Commings, Sanders CB|
|Rd 6, Pick 2 (170)||Kush, Eric C|
|Rd 6, Pick 36 (204)||Wilson, Braden FB|
|Rd 7, Pick 1 (207)||Catapano, Mike DE|
Free agency/trade: Traded for QB Alex Smith, re-signed WR Dwayne Bowe, OT Brandon Albert, P Dustin Colquitt, signed WR Donnie Avery, DL Mike DeVito, LB Akeem Jordan, CB Sean Smith, CB Dunta Robinson
The Kansas City Chiefs had a dismal season last year, finishing with a 2-14 record. However, based on the quality of players they had, Chiefs fans were likely left wondering how exactly they were the worst team in the league.
They had six Pro Bowl players, four of which were on the defensive side of the ball. They also had a second team All-Pro selection in running back Jamaal Charles. Charles rushed for 1,7000-plus yards and six total touchdowns out of the backfield last season.
Still the Chiefs went to work in the offseason by bringing in former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid and trading for QB Alex Smith.
With both of them on board, look for the offense to greatly surpass the 13.2 points per game they put up last season. Not only will Smith provide stability at the quarterback position, he will also have a solid offensive line in front of him thanks to the addition of No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher and the return of Brandon Albert.
Smith will have some solid weapons to work with such as Charles, Bowe, Avery and tight ends Tony Moeaki and Anthony Fasano.
On defense, the team brings back all four Pro Bowl selections in safety Eric Berry and linebackers Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. However, even with four Pro Bowlers, the Kansas City defense was 27th in the league in rushing yards allowed and 12th against the pass.
How did the Chiefs address their problems?
They brought in cornerback Sean Smith from Miami to go along with Brandon Flowers. The two together should provide one of the better cornerback tandems in the league. They also brought in run-stuffer DE Mike DeVito who was an undervalued player with the Jets, and should fit nicely into their 3-4 scheme.
What's the point?
With all of the additions to the team, and particularly the winning reputation that Andy Reid brings to the table, Kansas City has a pretty good chance of winning the AFC West. Considering the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders both finished under .500 last year and have their own questions heading into the season, the Chiefs could challenge the Denver Broncos. However, the Broncos got better as well, if that's even possible, as they acquired WR Wes Welker.
In terms of their schedule, Kansas City has a solid shot of going 4-2 in the first six games of the season as they play the Jaguars, Eagles, Titans and Raiders with toss up games against the Giants and Cowboys. They also play five teams that had a winning record last year, so an 11-5 or 10-6 season is a strong possibility for Kansas City.
Chances of winning the division: 60 percent
Cleveland Brown 2012 highlights
|Rd 1, Pick 6 (6)||Mingo, Barkevious DE|
|Rd 3, Pick 6 (68)||McFadden, Leon CB|
|Rd 6, Pick 7 (175)||Slaughter, Jamoris SS|
|Rd 7, Pick 11 (217)||Bryant, Armonty DE|
|Rd 7, Pick 21 (227)||Gilkey, Garrett OT|
Free agency/trade: Traded for WR Davone Bess, signed OLB Paul Kruger, PK Shayne Graham, QB Jason Campbell
The 2012 Cleveland Browns were an interesting bunch. They found some key players through the draft in RB Trent Richardson and WR Josh Gordon. Richardson rushed for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns, but he battled injuries throughout the season. Meanwhile, Gordon became a big-play threat for the Browns, catching 50 passes for 805 yards and five touchdowns.
Even though QB Brandon Weeden threw 17 INTs, he was a solid option for the Browns, throwing for over 3,300 yards and 14 TDs.
However, the Browns showed their youth by losing a bunch of close games. They lost to the Eagles by one point, Cincinnati and Baltimore by a touchdown, Indy by four, and Dallas by three.
The defense also wasn't stopping anyone last year—they ranked 25th in pass defense and 19th in run defense.
What's the point?
Another year in the league should benefit their young offense as they become are one year older and wiser. However, Richardson's health has been a concern in the past and remains so in the present. According to a SBnation.com report, however, he should be healthy in time for training camp. Also, the Browns will be without Gordon to start the season, as he will be serving a two game suspension, as Yahoo Sports reported.
The defense also gets a boost from Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo, who should both help the pass rush. Kruger, fresh off winning a Super Bowl with the Ravens, recorded nine sacks during the regular season last year, including 4.5 in the playoffs during their Super Bowl run.
It will be interesting to see how new head coach Rob Chudzinski does in his first season with the Browns after being fired by the Panthers. Unfortunately, I do not believe that Chudzinski and the Browns will have a good shot at winning the division due to their schedule, which features the Patriots, Packers, Bears, Vikings and what should be an improved Dolphins team. Not to mention they still have to face the Steelers and Ravens who will be down this year but still tough nonetheless.
Chances of winning the division: 30 percent
Philadelphia Eagles 2012 highlights
|Rd 1, Pick 4 (4)||Johnson, Lane OT|
|Rd 2, Pick 3 (35)||Ertz, Zach TE|
|Rd 3, Pick 5 (67)||Logan, Bennie DT|
|Rd 4, Pick 1 (98)||Barkley, Matt QB|
|Rd 5, Pick 3 (136)||Wolff, Earl SS|
|Rd 7, Pick 6 (212)||Kruger, Joe DE|
|Rd 7, Pick 12 (218)||Poyer, Jordan CB|
|Rd 7, Pick 33 (239)||King, David DE|
Free agency/trade: HC Chip Kelly, Signed QB Dennis Dixon, RB Felix Jones, DL Isaac Sopoaga, LB Connor Barwin, CB Cary Williams, FS Kenny Phillips, SS Patrick Chung
The 2012 season was one to forget for the Eagles, as they went 4-12 and registered the third losing season of Andy Reid's coaching career and first since 2005. So the Eagles decided to move in a different direction, hiring Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.
Last year's team featured zero Pro Bowlers or All-Pro selections. They also lost two games by three points or less and three by eight points or less. Their wins were close as well; they won all four games by a combined six points.
What's the point?
The Eagles are in a bit of a state of flux with new head coach Chip Kelly. They may not have the quarterback that ideally suits Kelly's offense, but the more you look at the weapons that surround this team, the more this offense looks intriguing.
Adding offensive tackle Lane Johnson and tight end Zach Ertz will definitely help the offense which was 13th in the league in both running and passing. Ertz will give the Eagles an intriguing two tight end set with him and Brent Celek.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson will provide the deep threat, while Jeremy Maclin is more of a possession receiver on this team. Maclin is more than capable, however, of turning a small gain into a big play. Lastly, 'Shady' McCoy is one of the best backs in the league. The offense should be pretty good this year if quarterback Nick Foles can be consistent or Michael Vick can stay healthy.
Defensively, this team could be a little more interesting as they move to a 3-4 defense. The new additions are all solid players and should solidify a defense that ranked 23rd in rushing defense. Barwin, DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, and Trent Cole provide a very solid linebacking corps. Meanwhile Phillips, Chung, and Williams look to shore up the secondary and improve on a surprising ninth ranked pass defense.
Despite the optimism I've stated here, the Eagles are still in the NFC East. Although the division isn't what it once was a couple years ago, it is still a division that has come down to the last week of the season for the past two years.
They also face the NFC North, which has the potential to send three teams to the playoffs, and the AFC West, which features the Denver Broncos and what should be a much improved Kansas City Chiefs team.
Chances of winning the division: 30 percent
Detroit Lions 2012 season highlights
|Rd 1, Pick 5 (5)||Ansah, Ziggy DE|
|Rd 2, Pick 4 (36)||Slay, Darius CB|
|Rd 3, Pick 3 (65)||Warford, Larry OG|
|Rd 4, Pick 35 (132)||Taylor, Devin DE|
|Rd 5, Pick 32 (165)||Martin, Sam P|
|Rd 6, Pick 3 (171)||Fuller, Corey WR|
|Rd 6, Pick 31 (199)||Riddick, Theo RB|
|Rd 7, Pick 5 (211)||Williams, Michael TE|
|Rd 7, Pick 39 (245)||Hepburn, Brandon ILB|
After making the playoffs the season before, the Lions took a couple steps backwards in 2012. Despite the poor record and some problems with Titus Young and his skills, the team sent three players to the Pro Bowl and had two All-Pro selections.
Wideout Calvin Johnson also had the best season a receiver has ever recorded in NFL history as he broke Jerry Rice's 1995 single season receiving record last season.The first team All-Pro selection was joined by Ndamukong Suh who, despite his less than stellar reputation, was a second team All-Pro selection.
Unfortunately, the Lions could not succeed in the league by only passing the ball. Their rush offense, which ranked 23rd in the NFL, only recorded one 100 yard rushing game all season. Enter Reggie Bush who should not only help the rushing attack but also the passing game as he is one of the more versatile players in the league.
The defense which surprisingly ranked 14th and 16th in passing and rushing defense respectively, gets a boost with the super athletic Ezekiel Ansah. Ansah makes Detroit's defensive line scary as they now feature Suh, and Nick Fairley who had 5.5 sacks last year.
What's the point?
In a division that features three potential playoff team in the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, and Chicago Bears it will be very tough for this team to win the NFC North. Despite their opponents within the division, they face the NFC East and AFC North, two of the tougher divisions in the NFL.
Despite losing 10 games by seven points or fewer, including three overtime games, this team does not get a break once again from the scheduling gods as they face the second hardest schedule according to CBSsports.com. This is a team that had one of the toughest schedules last year as they faced only four teams with losing records last season.
Chances of winning the division: 20 percent
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB Doug Martin will do his best to help Tampa Bay make the playoffs
|Rd 2, Pick 11 (43)||Banks, Johnthan CB|
|Rd 3, Pick 11 (73)||Glennon, Mike QB|
|Rd 4, Pick 3 (100)||Spence, Akeem DT|
|Rd 4, Pick 29 (126)||Gholston, William DE|
|Rd 5, Pick 14 (147)||Means, Steven DE|
|Rd 6, Pick 21 (189)||James, Mike RB|
Free agency/trade: Trade CB Darrelle Revis, SS Dashon Goldson, WR Kevin Ogletree, OT Gabe Carimi
Despite posting a 7-9 record, the Buccaneers featured one of the better QB-RB-WR tandems in the NFL last season thanks to the acquisitions of rookie running back Doug Martin and wide receiver Vincent Jackson. While quarterback Josh Freeman threw 17 interceptions, which is too many for any quarterback, he did throw for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. Martin rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Jackson caught 72 passes for 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns.
Despite boasting the best rushing defense in the league, Tampa was on the other side of the spectrum in pass defense, ranking as the league's worst unit.
So what did they do to correct that?
They brought in Darrelle Revis, a.k.a. Revis Island, to shut off one side of the field. They also signed first team All-Pro selection Dashon Goldson to cure the pass defense ailments.
What's the point?
Unfortunately for the Buccaneers and their fans, the NFC South may be one of the best divisions in football. The Carolina Panthers came on strong at the end of the season, the New Orleans Saints get back head coach Sean Payton and the Atlanta Falcons only went to the NFC Championship game last season.
The Bucs and their fans will get a good sense of where this team is headed after the first half of the season, as they play all three NFC South opponents as well as New England. They also have three games against teams that had losing records last season in the Eagles, Cardinals, and Jets. So a 5-2 record is not out of reach for the Bucs.
Everything will depend on two players: Freeman and Revis. If Freeman takes the next step and Revis shows no problems with his knee, they have a great chance of winning this division. Also, this division has a tendency to see teams go from worst-to-first, as the trend has occurred six times since 2003. The most recent team to do it was the the 2009 New Orleans Saints who won the Super Bowl that year.
Chances of winning the division: 70 percent
Arizona Cardinals 2012 season highlights
|Rd 1, Pick 7 (7)||Cooper, Jonathan OG|
|Rd 2, Pick 13 (45)||Minter, Kevin ILB|
|Rd 3, Pick 7 (69)||Mathieu, Tyrann CB|
|Rd 4, Pick 6 (103)||Okafor, Alex DE|
|Rd 4, Pick 19 (116)||Watford, Earl OG|
|Rd 5, Pick 7 (140)||Taylor, Stepfan RB|
|Rd 6, Pick 6 (174)||Swope, Ryan WR|
|Rd 6, Pick 19 (187)||Ellington, Andre RB|
|Rd 7, Pick 13 (219)||Jefferson, D.C. TE|
Free agency/trade: Signed QB Carson Palmer, RB Rashard Mendenhall, DL Frostee Rucher, LB Karlos Dansby and Jasper Brinkley, CB Antoine Cason
I really feel for Cardinals fans, and more specifically wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is one of the best players in the league and was held under 1,000 yards last year for the first time since 2006. That statistic said more about the quarterbacks on the roster than it did about his skills at wide receiver.
Luckily, the Cardinals addressed the need by bringing in Carson Palmer. He may not be the quarterback he once was, but he is certainly heads and shoulders better than John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and Ryan Lindley. Palmer still threw for over 4,000 yards and had 22 TDs for the Raiders, and he definitely didn't have the type of receiver in Oakland as he presently does with Fitzgerald.
Despite their passing woes, the Cardinals were just as bad running the ball. Their leading rusher LaRod Stephens-Howling gained 356 yards on the ground. As you might've guessed, that made the Cards the worst rushing attack in the league. So the Cards signed Mendenhall. They also will get Ryan Williams back from a ruptured patella tendon injury, and added Andre Ellington from Clemson.
Defensively, the team ranked in the top five in rushing defense, but 28th in pass defense. Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Patrick Peterson were good players, but they couldn't do it alone. Linebacker Daryl Washington also turned into a great NFL player and was rewarded with a second team All-Pro selection. The team will miss safety Adrian Wilson, but they will be better with the additions of Dansby and Brinkley to the linebacking corps.
What's the point?
In what is arguably now the best division in the NFL, the Cardinals will struggle to win in the NFC West. The loss of Washington for the first four games of the season only makes things tougher for the Cardinals. Especially since, according to NFL.com's Adam Schein, Washington is one of the most indispensable defensive players in the league.
While the Cardinals will improve this season, they will fight with the Rams for third and fourth place in the NFC West. The only way they challenge for a division title is if the 49ers and Seahawks suffer crippling injuries, and the rushing game greatly improves.
Chances of winning the division: 10 percent
Jacksonville Jaguars 2012 season highlights
|Rd 1, Pick 2 (2)||Joeckel, Luke OT|
|Rd 2, Pick 1 (33)||Cyprien, John FS|
|Rd 3, Pick 2 (64)||Gratz, Dwayne CB|
|Rd 4, Pick 4 (101)||Sanders, Ace WR|
|Rd 5, Pick 2 (135)||Robinson, Denard WR|
|Rd 6, Pick 1 (169)||Evans, Josh FS|
|Rd 7, Pick 2 (208)||Harris, Jeremy CB|
|Rd 7, Pick 4 (210)||McCray, Demetrius CB|
Free agency/trade: Signed CB Marcus Trufant, FS Alan Ball, DL Kyle Love, DL Sen'Derrick Marks
Unlike the other teams on this list, the Jaguars really do not feature any players or bright spots to brag about outside of running back Maurice Jones-Drew. They ranked in the lower third in the NFL in every offensive and defensive category.
New head coach Gus Bradley looks to work his magic on the defense just as he did in Seattle, and improve a unit that ranked 22nd and 30th in passing and rushing defense respectively. It will be hard for a team that is devoid of any notable talent. They will hope that defensive end Jason Babin and cornerback Marcus Trufant can help at least stabilize the defense.
Offensively, this team is not looking good. While offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Eugene Monroe should bookend the line nicely, quarterbacks Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert are clearly not going to help this team. Add on the fact that wide receiver Justin Blackmon was suspended four games for alcohol abuse, and it looks like Jones-Drew will be bearing the brunt of the load for the Jaguars again.
What's the point?
This team will not only be the worst team in its division, it will be one of the worst teams in football next year. Indianapolis and Houston will jockey back and forth for the top spot in the division while the Titans stay in the third spot.
Also, with the Broncos, Rams, Chiefs, 49ers, Seahawks, Colts and Chargers slated for the first half of the schedule, this team could easily slump out of the gates to a 1-7 mark by the time they hit their bye week at Week 9.
Chances of winning the division: Five percent
Detroit Lions 2012 season highlights
|Rd 1, Pick 16 (16)||Manuel, EJ QB|
|Rd 2, Pick 9 (41)||Woods, Robert WR|
|Rd 2, Pick 14 (46)||Alonso, Kiko ILB|
|Rd 3, Pick 16 (78)||Goodwin, Marquise WR|
|Rd 4, Pick 8 (105)||Williams, Duke FS|
|Rd 5, Pick 10 (143)||Meeks, Jonathan DB|
|Rd 6, Pick 9 (177)||Hopkins, Dustin K|
|Rd 7, Pick 16 (222)||Gragg, Chris TE|
Free agency/trade: Signed QB Kevin Kolb, DL Alan Branch; Re-signed RB Tashard Choice and CB Leodis McKelvin
Having finished 6-10 the last two seasons, the Bills do feature some talent. After all, they sent three players to the Pro Bowl and saw safety Jairus Byrd garner a second team All-Pro selection.
The Bills should hope to sign Byrd soon and avoid a contract dispute. With him they are a solid defense. He joins a secondary that has Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin at cornerback. They also have the potential to have one of the better pass rushes in the league with Pro Bowler Kyle Williams, second year defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, and hopefully a bounce-back year from Mario Williams.
Offensively, the Bills have two gifted players in running back C.J. Spiller and wide receiver Stevie Johnson. With the recent cutting of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, Kevin Kolb looks to be a placeholder at quarterback until E.J. Manuel is ready to take over. Until then, Spiller will continue to be a playmaker on offense for the Bills. Former USC standout Robert Woods and Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin will both try to relieve the coverage on Johnson.
What's the point?
It will be interesting to see how new head coach Doug Marrone handles his quarterback situation and re-acclimates himself to the NFL after being the offensive coordinator of the Saints. However, with talent on both sides of the ball, this team has a decent shot at contending for a division crown.
Remember, contending does not mean winning.
The Patriots will win this division. But with the Jets being a circus, Miami being a question mark after their big offseason spending spree, and the fact that the Bills face the 26th toughest schedule in the league (take it for what it is), this team should show some definite signs of improvement.
Chances of winning the division: 40 percent
Which team do you think has the best chance to go from worst to first? Sound off in the comments or follow/tweet at me @gbthegoalie12