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Worst to First: An Underdog Story

It seems like every year, a team that finished last in their division in one season rises from the proverbial ashes the following season and earns themselves a home playoff game. In 2020, the Washington Football Team won an albeit subpar division with a 7-9 record after drafting second overall the previous April. One of the greater turns we saw was just a year later when the previously 4-11-1 Cincinnati Bengals finished 10-7 on their way to a Super Bowl appearance.

I anticipate the 2023-2024 NFL season to be no different. We have 8 teams that are looking to have that kind of fate this year, with some teams’ chances looking more realistic than others. Here are the 8 teams and why they will, and will not be that team to complete the underdog story this season. Let’s start in the AFC:

AFC North: Cleveland Browns (7-10)

Why they will: The Browns have a very talented QB behind center (not so much on the personal side of the house) with an actual off-season to learn the playbook even more. Last year Deshaun Watson not only missed the last off-season but also missed the first 11 games of the season.

Why they won’t: The Cincinnati Bengals are still in the division and have the 2nd best QB in the AFC, possibly the league, and he has the best WR room in the league at his disposal. In a contract year for Joe Burrow, I don’t see his production slowing down while trying to get that massive payday next summer.

AFC South: Houston Texans (3-13)

Why the will: The Houston Texans’ owner must have watched ‘Draft Day’ the night before they traded back up to 3rd overall to select Will Anderson, right after selecting their franchise savior in CJ Stroud. If their top selections can outperform their rookie expectations, they may be able to see the jump in a lackluster division.

Why they won’t: It’s been a while since a team drafted a QB 1st overall and won the division the following season. It’s been 11 years since a team drafted a QB 1st overall and made the playoffs when the Colts did it in the 2012-2013 season, making it as a wild card team after drafting Andrew Luck. It’s going to be a tough hill to climb given how the Jags looked last season, and adding weapons in the off-season.

AFC East: New York Jets (7-10)

Why they will: The Bills look like the Bills of the 90’s, can’t win the big games. The Jets also added a guy named Aaron Rodgers. Not sure if he is going to get much playing time. But we shall see.

Why they won’t: Josh Allen is looking to redeem what I’m sure he would describe as a disappointing 2022 campaign. The Central Valley native will be looking to silence those of us that are looking at the Jets as the East champs in 2023.

AFC West: Denver Broncos (5-12)

Why they will: Russel Wilson will have a chip on his shoulder after all the talk last year about how well that team was going to be (shout out to Mo for calling the overhyping last pre-season) never to show signs of fulfilling their potential. They have also added one of the greatest offensive minds in the last 30 years in Sean Payton. That duo should make for some interesting games this season.

Why they won’t: Last I checked, Patrick Mahomes is still in that division.

Time for the NFC.

NFC North:  Chicago Bears (3-14)

The original owners of the 1st overall pick traded with the Panthers and got Justin Fields an actual receiver to throw to. Combining that with his ability to run, that offense will be exciting to watch.

Why they won’t: Of the other 3 teams, only the Packers took a considerable step back. The Vikings are looking like the early favorites and the Lions are trying to ride that momentum from the end of last season to propel them to their first division title since 1993.

NFC South: Atlanta Falcons (7-10)

Why they will: They are the bottom team by virtue of a tiebreaker. All three nonplayoff teams from that division finished 7-10, and none none really got significantly better, and they did draft the best running back in the draft to give whoever plays under center another weapon to compliment Drake London and Kyle Pitts. Oh, and they signed the human spark plug named Taylor Hienckie.

Why they won't: Although the division was close last season, so they don’t have the same uphill battle that bottom dwellers have, most of the others feel they have their Quarterback. As the saying goes “If you have 2 QBs, then you don’t have any QBs” and the Falcons have 3.

NFC East: Washington Commanders (8-8-1)

Why they will: Ron Rivera feels that he finally has his quarterback in Sam Howell, and he finally let go of Scott Turner to sign **checks notes** Super Bowl winning OC Eric Bieniemy. EB has his own chip on his shoulder being passed over year after year for head coaching jobs. Add all of that to a solid defense which added a bonafide ball-hawk in April’s draft, and this team is hungry and RR is ready for “overnight” to be over with.

Why they won’t: The NFC East was the only division to have all 4 teams finish .500 or above. The division still has the defending NFC Champs and you can never discount the Cowboys. The Giants think they have their guys in Danny Dimes. This division is shaping to look like it did back in the 90s. This is the division to watch this year.

NFC West: Arizona Cardinals (4-13)

Why they will: They won't. Let’s be serious. That is a tough division for starters, they have a new head coach, they lost their best receiver, and Kyler Murray is coming off an injury after only playing 11 games last season. Oh, and speaking of Kyler, the new COD is set to release in November 2023.

Why they won’t: See “why they will” above.

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