Which NFL Teams Will Go From Worst to First?
Almost every season, we have a team that goes from last in their division to first. In 2020 it was the Washington Football Team that won the NFC East after finishing last in 2019. In 2018, the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans both did it. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles both did it in 2017. It’s a trend that happens nearly every year, and as a result, we have come to expect it. Even in 2019, we had the San Fransico 49ers go from 4-12 to 13-3, not finishing last in their division because the Arizona Cardinals went 3-13. We’ll take a look at which teams have the best chances to go from worst to first this season.
The Denver Broncos
Currently, this is unlikely. However, the Broncos have shown interest in both Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson. While Watson likely isn’t playing due to legal issues, if Rodgers joins the Broncos, they would be an immediate contender. It’s blasphemous to think that the Chiefs may not win the AFC West again, but outside of the quarterback position, the Broncos have an incredibly stacked roster.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Broncos have a lot of young talent that would give Rodgers plenty to work with. The receiving corps has a ton of potential, with a healthy Courtland Sutton returning. The Broncos also invested heavily in receiving options in the 2020 NFL Draft, drafting both Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler in the first two rounds. Tim Patrick also stepped up last season, producing a career-best 742 receiving yards. The Broncos also have a talented tight-end core in 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam. In 2021, the Broncos also drafted running back Javonte Williams who looks to partner with Melvin Gordon for a strong rushing attack. Garett Bolles broke out last season as one of the premier left tackles in the league, and if Dalton Risner and Lloyd Cushenberry improve, the offensive line should be a solid piece as well.
However, on the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos are loaded. Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons are two of the best safeties in the league and have an argument for being the best safety duo. The Broncos added to their cornerback room this offseason, signing Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller, as well as drafting Patrick Surtain II at ninth overall. Bryce Callahan had a career season last year as well, finishing with an 84.1 PFF grade, which was the third-best in the league. Shelby Harris, Bradley Chubb, and Vonn Miller lead the defensive line, which should be one of the league’s best. At linebacker, Alexander Johnson has been an important piece, leading the team with 124 tackles. Head coach Vic Fangio is known for his defensive prowess. He now has the talent to produce one of the best defenses in the league next season.
The Broncos are a quarterback away from being a real contender in the AFC West, but if they manage to land Aaron Rodgers, expect them to try and dethrone the Chiefs, who have won the division every year since 2016.
The Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles aren’t in a great position with their roster right now, and it showed through their 4-11-1 record in 2020. The disappointing season led to the Eagles moving on from both head coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz. There are also a lot of questions with the front office, especially with general manager Howie Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie. The Eagles are an organization that’s on borderline dysfunction at the moment. However, they do play in the NFC East. Last season all it took was for a 7-9 Washington Football Team to win the division, improving from their 3-13 record in 2019. The division shouldn’t be as bad in 2021, especially with the return of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, and the Football Team signing Ryan Fitzpatrick. Due to these factors, the Eagles going from worst to first is a bit of a long shot.
The one saving grace is in second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. In just four starts last season, Hurts put up 1061 passing yards and 354 rushing yards. He also had 9 total touchdowns to go along with four interceptions. His advanced metrics weren’t as great, with a 52% completion percentage, 77.6 passer rating, and 5.85 Adjusted Net Air Yards per Pass Attempt. However, for a rookie who was thrown into the starting role amidst a dysfunctional team, Hurts flashed his upside. If he can take a leap forward with a full offseason to prepare, and what should be a better supporting cast, he may be able to carry the Eagles to compete in their division.
We also know the NFC East has been one of the worst divisions over the past couple of years, even if the Giants, Cowboys, and Football Team are all on the upswing now. The Eagles need a lot of things to go right for them to be able to win their division in 2021, but we have seen stranger things happen before in the NFC East.
The San Francisco 49ers
Out of all the teams that finished fourth in their division, the 49ers have the best chance of turning it around and winning their division in 2021. This was a team that was an overthrown fourth-quarter pass from winning it all in Super Bowl 54. They also have a lot of the core pieces still intact from that Super Bowl run. The defense will likely not return to 2019 form with the players they have lost, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh taking the Jets’ head coaching job. On offense, the 49ers are filled with talent.
Kyle Shanahan has the reputation as one of the best offensive minds in the game, and he has the tools to create an explosive offense. The offensive line was one of the best in the league, behind left tackle Trent Williams. Williams and right tackle Mike McGlinchey are one of the best run-blocking tackle duos in the league. They are the main reason the 49ers can have one of the best run games in the league. Add in the blocking skill of tight end George Kittle, the 49ers can do nearly anything they want through the ground. They also added quarterback Trey Lance through the draft, who is the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback.
With their run game, they also set up their passing offense through a trio of yard-after-catch pass catchers. Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk are all YAC specialists and allow the 49ers to complement their strong run game with an equally strong passing attack. The 49ers have the weapons and the coaching for an elite offense, and along with a solid defense, this would allow them to be a major threat in the NFC West. It won’t be easy for them to get through the Rams, Seahawks, and Cardinals, but the 49ers have the potential to make another Super Bowl run with this roster.