All of the measures in the NFL to ensure parity result in nearly yearly worst-to-first stories, where a team would rally and win the division the year after coming 4th in it. Last year, the Texans and Bears fell into this category. Both squads added 7 wins to their total and were able to capture the division and a spot in the postseason. So which of last seasons losers are ready to make the jump this year to capture their division? Let’s rank them from least to most likely capture a division title:
8. New York Giants
The NFC East should be very competitive this year, with both the Cowboys and Eagles coming off of playoff years. Dallas has improved their defense and gets Witten back while the Eagles will have a myriad of important players who were injured last season. On paper, the Giants appear to have one of the weakest rosters in the NFL. It would be very hard for them to end up with the division.
7. Arizona Cardinals
I like Kyler Murray and believe he’s more than capable of carrying his team for a few extra wins. But the Cardinals are still a few years away from truly competing. They also are playing in a division with a Rams team that just went to the Super Bowl, a Seahawks team who made the playoffs, and a Niners team who will (hopefully) get a full season from Jimmy G. Quite a longshot for the Cardinals to take the division.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I think there’s a big jump from the Cards to the Bucs. I really like Tampa as a sleeper team; with the guidance of Bruce Arians, the Bucs could perhaps take advantage of their juggernaut-esque offensive weapons. However, they are in a division with three dangerous teams. The Saints haven’t shown any signs of slowing down. The Falcons were stricken by injury last season. The Panthers are led by a QB who could break out in any given season. The NFC South should be a real bloodbath this year.
5. Oakland Raiders
Oakland is much improved from last season. The offense has a chance to be truly potent, with Carr certainly having the arm to air it out to AB. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they are in the same division as the Chiefs and Chargers, both of whom put up 12 wins last season. The Raiders have a shot, but will need the Tyreek Hill absence to really affect the Chiefs and hope Rivers starts showing signs of aging. Possible, but not probable.
4. New York Jets
It feels crazy to put an AFC East team this low, but if any team is going to take down New England this season its going to be the Jets. Running back Le’veon Bell adds a whole new dimension to an offense led by promising second year Sam Darnold. The Jets are widely believed to have had a good offseason and have many good weapons. However, they will be completely dependent on Brady falling off. Given that he’s going to be 42, there’s certainly a chance, but I wouldn’t bet on it. And if Brady doesn’t slow down, with a much improved defense the Patriots will cruise to yet another division title.
3. Detroit Lions
The Lions are a team who always seems like they will be able to compete in the offseason and then always disappoints when the regular season comes around. Detroit was tied for the best division loser last season with 6 wins, and they appear to be a better team than they were last year. However, the Bears still have a scary good defense, the Packers still have Aaron Rodgers, and the Vikings have what on paper should be a Super Bowl contender. So while the Lions show promise, so do all of their competitors.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
It’s crazy that I have the Bengals this low given that I think they are one of the worst teams in the league heading into next season. However, the AFC North is pretty wide open. Both of the Steelers and Browns underwent massive roster changes over the offseason, and while the Browns appear talented, it’s far easier said than done to create a playoff contender from tons of new acquisitions. The Ravens lost many key defensive pieces over the offseason and no one knows if Lamar Jackson is going to work out. The Bengals have some dangerous offensive weapons, such as Mixon and Green, so perhaps they can get hot and take the division.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
The AFC South has quickly gone from the laughing stock of the league to one of the most dangerous divisions in football. A legitimate case could be made to argue any of these teams should be able to capture the division. And while I think both the Colts and Texans (especially the Colts) are potent, the Jaguars appear to be ready to bounce back to their 2017 form. Josh Allen was the steal of the draft and adds to the embarrassment of riches the Jags have on defense. They were constantly put in bad situations by an incompetent offense last year and quickly lost heart. That shouldn’t happen this year. Foles is a massive improvement over Bortles and Fournette is hopeful to have a full healthy season. I’d give the Jags a 35% chance of taking the AFC South next season. By no means a sure shot, but they have a fighter’s chance.