There is a surprise team in the NFL every year and it isn’t completely uncommon for a team to go from last place to first place in their own division. The Dallas Cowboys were the most recent example of this. Coming off of a season that they could only win four games, there weren’t a lot of expectations of the team coming into the season, especially with the injury to then starting quarterback, Tony Romo. They then went on to win the most games in the NFC for the first time in nine years. It is unlikely that some of these teams have even a slight chance next season, but there are some that are certainly capable if they have a good offseason.
8. New York Jets
The Jets have a tough road if they want to go from worst to first. The biggest reason that they won’t go from worst to first is because the Super Bowl Champions are still in their division. The Jets are still going don’t have a quarterback going into next season. They are one of the older teams in the NFL and don’t have much cap space compared to other teams on this list so they can’t really improve through free agency. They do have the number six overall pick which should get them a good player, possibly even a quarterback that they like, but it is unlikely to turn them around next season.
7. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers have a new general manager, a new head coach, the number two overall pick and the second most cap space in the NFL, but they are still far off from taking over the NFC West. They need a lot of help on both sides of the ball and there is no way that they will get enough talent in the offseason to fix that. They are also in the same division as the Seahawks, a team that has been to the playoffs for the last five years. They have a chance to build a good core, but they won’t be able to do that in just one offseason.
Chance: 1.0 %
6. Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns won a total of one game last season and they should be able to win more than that next season, but not enough to take the AFC North. They have started to build a good core on their defense with guys like Jamie Collins and Emmanuel Ogbah and they should be able to build more with their eleven picks, five of which are in the top 100. The Browns also have the most cap space in the NFL and should be able to add some key free agents to turn this team around. They still need a quarterback to take this team forward, but even the best quarterback in the NFL needs help. If they are smart, then they will build a team that can sustain success going forward, but they won’t jump to the top next season.
Chance: 1.1 %
5. Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears have a chance to go from last to first, but it really depends on what they do in free agency and in the draft and also if they are able to stay healthy next season. Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer both had their share of injuries and Matt Barkley had to stop nearly half of the games last season. Danny Travathan missed eight games, Lamarr Houston missed fourteen games and Kyle Fuller missed the entire season. If they can just stay healthy for the most part, then they will certainly have a better chance than they did last season. It looks like they will probably lose Alshon Jeffrey to free agency so they are going to have to try to find his replacement. They are also going to have to find a new quarterback as Hoyer is a free agent as well and it looks like this team wants to move on from Cutler. They have the third pick in the draft and have a good amount of cap space to make some moves. They should be able to be better next season, but it is hard to imagine that they will catch up to the rest of their division.
Chance: 5.0 %
4. Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers are moving to a new city, but they are going to have to fight to have a different result than they had last season. The one thing that the Chargers still have is Philip Rivers. Rivers is still a top quarterback in the NFL and was productive last season, despite the fact that he was missing a lot of his weapons. Their defense got a shot in the arm from their top draft pick, Joey Bosa, and should be even better with going into his second season because he should participate in training camp. They aren’t going to be able to do a lot in free agency because their cap situation isn’t ideal. They do have eight draft picks, four are in the top 100 and should be able to add some key talent going forward. It is going to be tough for this team to take control of their already difficult division. The Broncos are a year removed from the Super Bowl, and the Raiders and Chiefs each won twelve games last season.
Chance: 6.0 %
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars actually have a good chance of taking over their division because their division is not that good. The Jaguars have a good receiving corps, a young defense that is underrated in the league and is just really missing a good quarterback. Blake Bortles regressed in a big way last season, throwing for 500 less yards and twelve less touchdowns than the season prior. Most of his statistics came when the games were beyond reach and he was unable to get the comeback. This put major strain on the defense and they were one of the worst teams in time of possession. If they could find a way to rely more on their running game and take some of the pressure off of Bortles or get a quarterback that doesn’t make the Jaguars have to play from behind every week, then they will be in a good position. They also have the number four pick in the draft and have the fourth most cap space to make an impact this offseason to add more talent along the offensive line or make their defense better. If they can do that, then they have a chance in the weak AFC South.
Chance: 9.0 %
2. Carolina Panthers
Last year was a disaster for the Panthers, but they were in the Super Bowl two seasons ago and came on strong at the end of last season. They still have the 2015 MVP, Cam Newton, on their team and he should be able to bounce back from his poor 2016 campaign. The biggest differences in the two seasons were his completion percentage and his touchdown passes. He completed nearly seven percent more of his passes in 2015 than in 2016 and had sixteen more touchdowns. He is going to have to revert back to his 2015 form if the Panthers want to get back to the top of the NFC South. Although the Falcons were the representatives in this year’s Super Bowl, it is feasible for the Panthers to take back their throne. If they can get some help in their secondary via the draft or free agency and possible add another weapon on offense the Panthers could easily be back on top.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have a good chance to go from worst to first next season. They were in contention for the NFC East for most of the season, but just didn’t have the firepower on offense to keep up down the stretch. Carson Wentz was good last season and should only improve next season. The Eagles really just need to add some receivers and probably another running back, but other than that the Eagles have a good team. Their defense was really good last season and they should only get better as they have more experience in Jim Schwartz’s scheme. The biggest reason that they won’t take first place is that they are in a tough division. The NFC East was one of the stronger divisions last season and it will be even more competitive next season.
Chance: 20.0 %