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From Worst to First – Can Any Team Do It This Season?

Steve Shoup

By Guest Writer Tajh Jenkins:


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With the start of the 2013 NFL season just under two weeks away, there are a few teams in the league looking to improve on their dismal 2012 seasons. While some teams have already established themselves as Super Bowl contenders, others are looking to go from their respective division cellars to playoff contenders this season. You might be thinking that it’s not possible, but recent NFL history suggests otherwise. In fact, going from “worst to first” is very doable in the NFL.

Since the 2003 season, there has been at least one team that went from worst to first in the 8 NFL divisions. That makes ten consecutive years in which a team that finished last in their division the year before, turned things around and won the division the following year.

Unfortunately, there will be some teams who finished at the bottom last season who will turn in yet another disappointing season. But, there will be other teams that make a surprise rise to the top of the standings. This is the true definition of parity in the NFL, which makes every season so competitive and interesting. There’s always a chance for your team to either regress or progress drastically in the standings from year to year.

As stated previously, there have been ten consecutive seasons that a team has gone worst to first. Thirteen teams have actually gone from worst to first in that span, with the Washington Redskins being the most recent to do so last season.


Here’s a chart that gives a look at the last decade of teams that have gone worst to first:

Seasons Team (Worst to First in 2012)
2012 Washington Redskins
2011 Denver Broncos
2010 Kanas City Chiefs
2009 New Orleans Saints
2008 Miami Dolphins
2007 Tampa bay Buccaneers
2006 Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints
2005 Chicago Bears
2004 Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers
2003 Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina Panthers


Here are the candidates for this year’s worst to first sweepstakes:

Team 2012 Record
Philadelphia Eagles 4-12
Arizona Cardinals 5-11
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-9
Detroit Lions 4-12
Buffalo Bills 6-10
Kansas City Chiefs 2-14
Jacksonville Jaguars 2-14
Cleveland Browns 5-11


Now that you know the candidates for this season’s worst to first turnaround, I will now breakdown the likelihood of each those team’s chances of winning their division this year.


Philadelphia Eagles (NFC East):      

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

How will Chip Kelly fair as the Eagles new head coach? Can his “fast paced” offense succeed on the NFL level? Was Michael Vick the right guy for the starting quarterback job? Can he stay consistent, healthy, and throw the ball accurately enough to last the entire season? How good or bad will the defense be after switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme? These are the questions, among others, that are surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles as the season nears.

I remain optimistic of what the NFL’s most “interesting” team of 2013 can do. They do have some great pieces in place offensively (LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, Jason Avant etc.) and defensively (Trent Cole, DeMeco Ryan, Cary Williams etc.), and should show major improvement in special teams under new coordinator, Dave Fipp. With that being said, I think that the Eagles are in too much of a transition to seriously make some noise in the division. They’ll most likely feature an exciting offense, but I don’t have that much trust in the defense right now. They struggle to tackle and capitalize on turnovers.

Also, playing in the NFC East is always tough even though the division isn’t as strong as it used to be. The Eagles play the NFC North, which can possibly have three teams make the playoffs, and the AFC West. The AFC West features a Super Bowl contender in the Denver Broncos and another team who you will see on this list a little later, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs expect to be much improved. The Eagles will be fun to watch, but I don’t know if this team is ready in Chip Kelly’s first season as head coach.

I think that they have a 25% chance of winning their division.


Arizona Cardinals (NFC West):

The Arizona Cardinals may have finally found a solution to a major problem that has plagued them since Kurt Warner’s retirement in 2009. Quarterback Carson Palmer was brought in via trade this offseason to be the team’s new starting quarterback. At age 33, he’s not the long term solution at the position, but All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald should be happy with Palmer throwing him the ball. Fitzgerald will finally have a stable quarterback under center and after being held under 1,000 yards receiving for the first time since 2006, he can certainly use that stability. Palmer is a much better option over the other quarterbacks on the roster (Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley, and Caleb TerBush) and last year’s starter Kevin Kolb. Passing was a major deficiency in the offense but so was the run game.

Arizona’s leading rusher for the 2012 season was LaRod-Stephens-Howling. He was only able to run for 356 yards all season. But they now have running back Rashard Mendenhall, who should be a major upgrade.

Defensively, the Cardinals look to improve upon a 28th ranked run defense. Their pass defense ranked within the top 5 of the league. They lost safety Adrian Wilson, but Patrick Peterson, Daryl Washington, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell along with rookie Tyrann Mathieu should pick up the slack. Their secondary will be strong this year behind Peterson.

The good news is that the Cardinals should be better, but the bad news is that they play in arguably the toughest division in the league. Super Bowl contenders San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks will sit atop the division when it’s all said and done. The St. Louis Rams will fight the Cardinals for third place. Since the Cardinals are in the same division as the 49ers and Seahawks,

I’ll only give them a 10% chance of coming out on top.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC South):        

The Buccaneers future looks bright. On offense, they have quarterback Josh Freeman, wide receiver Vincent Jackson, and running back Doug Martin. That’s three very good players to have as the core of your offense. Despite the 17 interceptions, Freeman had great production in passing yards (4,065) and touchdowns (27). Martin rushed for almost 1,500 yards with 11 touchdowns and Jackson had 1,384 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. Another year together and these three should be even better.

Defensively, the Bucs were one of the best rushing defenses, but they struggled in passing defense. To solve that problem, they brought in one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, Darrelle Revis. During the offseason they also signed cornerback Dashon Goldson, who is an All-Pro cornerback. Revis and Goldson figure to take care of any team trying to exploit their secondary.

Even though the Buccaneers play in a tough division, I believe that they have a good chance to come out on top. The Atlanta Falcons played in last year’s NFC title game. The Carolina Panthers are up and coming behind the maturation of third-year quarterback Cam Newton, and head coach Sean Payton will come back to coach the New Orleans Saints this season. They also play the NFC West and AFC East. A lot of the Buccaneers success will depend on the play of Josh Freeman and the defense. Freeman needs to cut down on the turnovers and take the next step into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. The defense needs a healthy Darrelle Revis on the field for 16 games. His presence can make everyone else on the defense better as he shuts down the left side of the field. I think that the Buccaneers have the second highest chance to win their division out of the 8 teams.

I’ll give them a 50% chance.


Detroit Lions (NFC North):    mattstafford

After making the playoffs for the first time since 1999 in 2011, the Lions regressed significantly in 2012. Calvin Johnson had a record setting season after breaking Jerry Rice’s single season receiving yard mark. Even with his successful individual season, it led the Lions to a 4-12 record. Despite the poor record, Detroit did have three Pro Bowl selections and two All-Pro selections, including Johnson. The other was defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Though they dominated the league in passing behind quarterback Matthew Stafford and Johnson, their rushing attack was less than stellar, so they signed Reggie Bush this offseason. Bush figures to help the running game a ton, but he isn’t an every down back. He’ll also be a factor in the passing game. The Lions lost a few key pieces to their defense, but they did bring in replacements. Their defensive line is one of the best in the league with Suh and Nick Fairley. It only got better after drafting the athletic DE Ziggy Ansah. Louis Delmas, Chris Houston, Glover Quinn will play key roles in the secondary.

Along with their division games, the Lions will take on teams from the NFC East and AFC North. The Lions play in a division with three other potential playoff teams. The NFC North will be very competitive. Playing the NFC East and AFC North doesn’t help the matter as they are two tough divisions in their own right.

I’ll give the Lions a 20% chance to win the division.


Buffalo Bills (AFC East):

The Bills have struggled the past two seasons. Their record has been stagnant at 6-10. With that being said, they do have some talent on their roster. This offseason they have changed coaching staffs with new head coach Doug Marron, and upgraded their roster. Only time will tell if their offseason moves translates into more wins. The Bills sent three players to the Pro Bowl last season. They also had an All-Pro selection, safety Jairus Byrd. Byrd is a key piece of a Bills defense that struggled to make plays last season.

The defense finished 26th in the NFL in scoring and allowed the second most rushing yards while giving up 23 rushing touchdowns. The defense should be much improved with an overhauled linebacker corps, reenergized Mario Williams and Pro Bowler Kyle Williams.

On offense, running back C.J. Spiller and wide receiver Steve Johnson are the Bills two most dangerous weapons. Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel and Kevin Kolb are battling for the starting spot, but regardless of whom wins, Spiller and Johnson will be leaned on heavily on offense. Receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin will also be key factors.

With the Bills being in the AFC East and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick still around, it’s pretty much a forgone conclusion that the New England Patriots will take the division. The Bills should finish second, ahead of the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.

Overall I give them a 40% chance to win the division.


Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West):    alexsmith2

Finishing with a 2-14 record is cause for major changes all around in Kansas City. But when you look at their roster, you start to realize that they should have been better than they were. With six Pro Bowl players (2 offense, 4 defense), and a second team All-Pro running back in Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs had the tools to be a good team.

Maybe it was the coaching. If so, that’s fixed now with Andy Reid in town. Quarterback play was also a problem, which resulted in the trade for Alex Smith. Reid and Smith hope to be the two main pieces to help turn the franchise around. I think that they can do it. The offense will definitely improve on their 13.2 points per game average from a season ago. Smith will be protected by the No.1 overall pick in Eric Fisher and Brandon Albert. Along with Jamaal Charles, Dwyane Bowe, Donnie Avery, and tight ends Anthony Fasano and Tony Moeaki expect to put up a lot more points this year.

Defensively, safety Eric Berry, and linebackers Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson will look to build on their Pro Bowl seasons. Berry will be a part of a solid secondary that also features cornerbacks Sean Smith and Brandon Flowers. Their defense was pretty good stopping passing attacks but struggled defending the run game. This season should see better with the addition of DE Mike DeVito, who is labeled as a run stuffer.

The Chiefs talent and new additions give them a great chance to challenge the Denver Broncos as the division winner. Denver should come back better, but they have had their share of problems this offseason that could play a factor during the season (injuries and Von Miller’s suspension). The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders will occupy the last two spots. The Chiefs also play the NFC East and AFC South, but I think that they will be just as good as anyone they face this year. Andy Reid has a successful track record as a head coach and should be able to take this team to new heights.

To me, the Chiefs have the best chance to win their division out of the 8 teams. I’ll give them a 70% chance. 


Jacksonville Jaguars (AFC South):

Remember when I said that there will be some teams who turn in yet another disappointing season? I was mostly talking about the Jacksonville Jaguars. Outside of running back Maurice Jones-Drew, wide receiver Justin Blackmon, and offensive weapon Denard Robinson, there isn’t really anyone I want to watch on this roster. Ok I lied. I would also like to watch linebacker Paul Posluszny, but that’s mainly because he’s a former Penn Stater and I’m a current Penn Stater.

Anyway, this team needs to improve in about every aspect of the team after finishing in the bottom third of every offensive and defensive category. New head coach Gus Bradley hopes to bring his defensive genius over from his days in Seattle. He has a lot of work to do, but defensive end Jason Babin and cornerback Marcus Trufant are two players that can help improve the defense. Those two can’t do it by themselves though.

Offensively, there’s nothing really to look forward too. There’s no quarterback on the roster good enough to lead this team, that includes starter Blaine Gabbert and backup Chad Henne. Justin Blackmon will miss four games due to suspension. Guess we’ll have to watch the Jaguars run Maurice Jones-Drew into the ground again.

While the Jaguars end the 2013 season as one of the worst teams in the league, the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texas will fight for the AFC South crown. The Tennessee Titans will most likely occupy the third spot. The other teams that they will play don’t matter.

The Jaguars have a 5% chance to win the division.


Cleveland Browns (AFC North):    brandonweeden

If the Cleveland Browns want to make any type of improvement in the standings, they have to fix their defense. The Browns ranked 25th in pass defense and 19th in run defense. It’s pathetic yeah I know. But the defense is expected to better this year. Fresh off a Super Bowl title with the Ravens, Paul Kruger was signed this offseason to anchor the Browns pass rush. He’ll have help from fellow linebacker Barkevious Mingo.

On the offensive side of the ball things are interesting. Quarterback Brandon Weeden is the future at the position but has struggled some in the preseason. He had a solid 2012 campaign throwing for 3,300 yards and 14 touchdowns. Weeden did prove to be a little turnover prone after throwing 17 interceptions. The Browns have their every down running back in Trent Richardson, who ran for just under 1,000 yards and 11 scores. He dealt with injuries throughout his rookie season and needs to stay healthy. The Browns also have a young receiver in Josh Gordon, who became a big-play threat. He ended last season with 55 receptions for 805 yards and 5 touchdowns.

New head coach Rob Chudzinski will be under a microscope in his first season with the team. I don’t think that the Browns will make major strides this season. They have a pretty tough schedule having to play the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals twice, plus the teams in the AFC East (mainly the Patriots) and NFC North. The AFC North is up for grabs this season, but the Browns are the fourth best team in that division. Even with the Steelers and Ravens expected to have down years. The Bengals can easily snatch the division title this year.

I’ll give the Browns a 35% chance to win the division.


 NOTE:  This article will be in the 2013 Fanspeak NFL Guide, released on September 3!  Mark your calendars!



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