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Worst to First in the NFL: Sudden Improvement or Sudden Luck?

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 26: The Kansas City Chiefs take the field against the St. Louis Rams during a pre-season game at Arrowhead Stadium  on August 26, 2010 in Kansas City, Missouri.  The Rams defeated the Chiefs, 14-10. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Rodney LayContributor IIISeptember 1, 2011

In the 2010 season, the Chiefs joined an elite club. Well, elite might not be the correct word. How about unique! The Chiefs joined the worst-to-first club. A super selective club that looks for NFL teams that went from last in their division to first—in one offseason's time.

It was a great year in Kansas City. Several frustrating years were swept away as the Chiefs made it to the playoffs after a three year dry spell. The Chiefs went 2-14 in 2008, then 4-12 the next year. After two years in the cellar, a 10-6 record gave them first place in the western division and earned them the privilege of hosting a playoff game.

Actually, the Chiefs were a member of this club before last year. In 2003, the Chiefs came up with a 13-3 record after finishing 8-8 the year before.

Last year was a good year for the Chiefs and the expectations for this year are just as high. The Chiefs continued to build the team through the draft and free agency.

So, just for fun, I thought I would look at the history of the worst to first teams since the NFL and the old AFL joined in 1970. There is a long history of teams that have made the leap from last place to first place from one year to the next, and the history does not favor the Chiefs doing well this year.

Since 1970, teams have improved from last place to first place the following year 28 times, including the Chiefs team of 2010. Within those 28 worst to first team improvements, how many were able to maintain their first place finish the next year? Two! The Baltimore Colts in 1976 and the Chicago Bears in 2006.

Will the Chiefs be the third team to accomplish that feat?

History says no way.

One thing that I have learned in 40 years of watching the NFL is that making predictions about a team’s season before the season starts is a fool’s game.

I feel good about the Chiefs this year, and I am always hopeful, but I also know that every year writes its own story. I believe that the Chiefs can repeat. History says that they cannot.

Here’s hoping that the Chiefs of 2011 can beat the odds. Two out of 27!  Those are some incredible odds to beat. We will see come January of 2012.

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