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Two NFL teams that could go from Worst to First

Case-Keenum
(Clutch Points Illustration)

The Two Best Possible Worst-to-First NFL teams for 2018

Everyone loves an underdog. There is nothing better than a feel good story or team making a huge turnaround when seemingly left for dead the prior season.

The Philadelphia Eagles finished 7-9 for the 2016 season, only to turn it around with a 13-3 record and win the Super Bowl against the Patriots. The only other teams to also accomplish this same feat since 2000 have been the 2001 Patriots (5-11), and the 2009 Saints (8-8).

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(x= tied in division)  (y= won Super Bowl)
YEAR / TEAM NEXT SEASON PRIOR SEASON
2001 Chicago 13-3 5-11
2001 y-New England 11-5 5-11
2003 Carolina 11-5 7-9
2003 Kansas City 13-3 8-8
2004 Atlanta 11-5 5-11
2004 San Diego 12-4 4-12
2005 Chicago 11-5 5-11
2005 New York Giants 11-5 6-10
2005 Tampa Bay 11-5 5-11
2006 Baltimore 13-3 6-10
2006 New Orleans 10-6 3-13
2006 Philadelphia 10-6 6-10
2007 Tampa Bay 9-7 4-12
2008 Miami 11-5 1-15
2009 y-New Orleans 13-3 8-8
2010 Kansas City 10-6 4-12
2011 Denver 8-8 4-12
2011 Houston 10-6 6-10
2012 Washington 10-6 5-11
2013 Carolina 12-4 7-9
2013 Philadelphia 10-6 4-12
2015 Washington 9-7 4-12
2016 Dallas 13-3 4-12
2017 y-Philadelphia 13-3 7-9

As you can see above, 21 teams had major turnarounds and had double-digit win totals for the next season.  It’s also funny to think about those prior season teams and how bad they were at the time. 

The NFL Draft has now been completed and the beauty of this time of year is that optimism is at an all-time high. As fans, we are almost tuned out to the outside noise and just focused on how much better our teams can be for the upcoming season. I personally love it. The parity that the NFL has created since the dawn of free agency can truly turn last place teams into champions any given year.

Going into 2018, what teams have the best chances? Who will drop out of the playoff picture for the 2018 season? Each year, four to six prior season playoff teams will fall out of the picture. They will be replaced by bubble teams from their divisions and sometimes by the prior years cellar-dwellers.

Only six teams have won the Super Bowl entering as the lowest seed (6th seed): the 1980 Raiders, 1997 Broncos, 2000 Ravens, 2005 Steelers, 2007 Giants, and the 2010 Packers.

What I have decided to do is look at one team from each conference who in my opinion, has the best chance to turn around their last place finish in 2017 and come back for a possible first place finish in 2018. I picked two teams because I wanted the two teams with the most opportunity within their conference, the most opportunity on the roster, and the two that I personally feel have the best shot along with team additions/subtractions, coaching and overall potential in their divisions.

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NFC Team, San Francisco 49ers (6-10)

DIV Record 1-5, CONF Record 3-9

Notable additions

RB Jerick McKinnon (MIN,) CB Richard Sherman (SEA,)  G Jonathon Cooper (DAL,) OLB Jeramiah Attaochu (LAC,) ILB Korey Toomer (LAC,) ILB Brock Coyle (SF,) C Weston Richburg (NYG) OL Mike Person (FA)

Notable draft selections

First round selection Mike McGlinchey (OT) is likely to bring an immediate impact to the niners offensive line. A top tackle prospect in this years draft, he is a near complete tackle with above average length, set and athletic ability. The trade of right tackle Trent Brown to the Patriots allows a prime opportunity for McGlinchey to likely become the teams starting right tackle. Washington receiver Dante Pettis brings elite speed and can stretch defenses vertically on the field. Assuming Pettis can fill out his frame, get stronger, and have a solid preseason, he is likely to enter as the teams slot receiver and a big special teams contributor. Third round selection Safety, Tarvarius Moore could also be a huge surprise pick of this 49ers draft class. His technique and reads will need to be developed but with elite 4.32 speed, outstanding length (6’0, with 33 ⅛ inch arms) it will be hard to deny him an opportunity granted he can prove himself on special teams and during the preseason.

After looking at the final standings from last season, a few takeaways that I liked were that within the division, the average score differential was 5.8 points in the teams five losses. The bright spots in those losses would have to be the niners taking the Cardinals to OT in the 15-18 loss, losing in Seattle 9-12, and holding their own (loss) with a Rams team at home 39-41 on a Thursday night shootout.

This tells me that this San Francisco team is not going to lay down. They will fight within their division and that shows by the close scores in 2017. The 49ers finished with a five game win streak after Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start in week 12 (loss) against the Seahawks. After a full offseason under Kyle Shanahan and a full upcoming preseason to his playbook/offense, 2018 should be a marked improvement for him entering his sixth season at quarterback.

Adding free agent guard Jonathon Cooper and center Weston Richburg will add some depth to the offensive line and running back Jerick McKinnon will provide some more pass plays out of the backfield. Remember, the niners also have one of the league’s best fullbacks in Kyle Juszczyk along with fellow running backs Matt Brieda and Joe Williams who showed some flashes last season. The return of a healthy Pierre Garcon paired with speedy Marquise Goodwin/Trent Taylor provide some outside and deep threat potential for Garoppolo. George Kittle also started 7 games at tight end last season catching 43 receptions for 515 yards and two touchdowns. Look for him to develop with Garoppolo.

I believe this team has a legitimate shot based on the current status of the Seahawks “reset” and a Cardinals in flux. Like it or not, the Seahawks are in full-blown rebuild and the Cards are now starting with a new head coach, quarterback and David Johnson returning after missing the 2017 season. The 49ers have shown they can hang with the Rams, however, the dream team Rams will be a much more difficult task this season, offensively and defensively.

Overall, 2018 will be the season to strike. The 49ers have more consistency and now with Jimmy Garoppolo in a full offseason with the team, I don’t see why they can’t move up within the division. 

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AFC Team, Denver Broncos (5-11)

DIV Record 2-4, CONF Record 4-8

Notable additions

QB Case Keenum (MIN,) OT Jared Veldheer (ARZ,) S Su’a Cravens (WSH,) P King (OAK,) CB Tramaine Brock (MIN), DT Clinton McDonald (TB,) ILB Todd Davis (DEN,) G Billy Turner (DEN) CB CJ Smith (CLE, Waivers)

Notable draft selections

Defensive end Bradley Chubb (NC State) opposite Von Miller? That is a scary pass rush duo. Although not a top need for the team, it is an immediate upgrade for a defense that finished 22nd in sacks last season. The Broncos also drafted WR Courtland Sutton (SMU) in the second round. A 6’3 receiver with long arms and a huge catch radius. Sutton is raw but could develop into a red zone nightmare for opposing defenses. He will need to develop his route running and quickness but brings tremendous upside. Former Oregon running back Royce Freeman, Denver’s third round pick will challenge the Broncos current running back by committee and could possibly take the lead. Freeman has great vision and run instincts to hit the next level of defenses. The schools leading rusher (5,621 yards) is a dual threat speed back and goal line bruiser.

After looking back on the Broncos 2017 season, the biggest issue to me would have to be quarterback and team culture. The post-Manning era began with Trevor Siemian appearing in 11 games, starting ten, the Brock Lobster appearing in 6, starting four, and Paxton Lynch starting two.

You know what they say, If you have three quarterbacks, you have none.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Broncos need to protect their quarterback. They surrendered 52 sacks last season and have their work cut out for them in a division of pass rushers that include Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa and Justin Houston. What is worrisome is that Denver waited until the 6th round to address the offense line, selecting Sam Jones out of Arizona State.

Similar to the 49ers mentioned above, this is a team that plays tough within their division and the AFC West does seem to have a changing of the guard feel going into the 2018 season. The Raiders are going all-in with the John Gruden experience, the Chiefs traded Alex Smith to the Redskins and have promoted second year quarterback Patrick Mahomes to be the starter, the Chargers have Philip Rivers entering his 15th season at quarterback and also lost guards Matt Slauson and Kenny Wiggins in free agency and Hunter Henry to a season ending ACL.

One reason that I picked the Broncos (among many others) is that after looking at other AFC teams and divisions, I asked myself this, “Could you logically see the Browns going full-blown Cinderella and winning the AFC North?” “How about the Jets knocking off the Pats for first place?” “The Texans & Colts  could overtake the Jags Duvall Defense right?”

None of the above are likely and seem almost impossible to me. Ok. maybe the Texans, and please be sure to let me have it when they do. 

The mountain for the Broncos to climb seems much more manageable based on a few things. One, acquiring Case Keenum will give some consistency to one of the teams most unbalanced positions in 2017. Don’t forget, he will still have Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas on the outside with a running back committee in the backfield. As much as I dislike comitte backfields, I would expect one of these running backs to emerge during the preseason. The team cut CJ Anderson this offseason and now has Devontae Booker or De’Angelo Henderson ready to breakout if the offensive line can put it all together. I also like Royce Freeman to sneak into the picture. Competition is a good thing during camp and hopefully the team can get back to the bell-cow days of running backs in Denver.

This defense is still solid and does feature LB Von Miller. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods is now in his second season and this unit should start to see some better results in year two of his zone heavy scheme. The offense should be able to put together more quality drives with Case Keenum under center allowing the defense to stay fresh and ready to attack once going back onto the field. The draft also addressed numerous areas on defense with quality depth in Josey Jewell (LB, Iowa) Isaac Yiadom (DB Boston College) and Keishawn Bierria (LB, Washington

Yes, the Broncos have the tougher path from worst to first, but in the AFC West, this may be the year to overtake the Chiefs for first place. This AFC West is not in regression, but is in transition and the Broncos could pounce on the opportunity in 2018.

The Broncos and 49ers each have former player GM’s running the team in Elway and Lynch. Both know what it takes to win in the NFL and both have previously won Super Bowls. They understand what it takes to get their teams turned around and competitive.

Picking worst to first teams may initially sound crazy sometimes but with the parity of the NFL, you just never know. I hope you have enjoyed reading this and please post up on @TheFFLWire with who your worst to first picks are for 2018 and let’s talk about who is overtaking their divisions in 2018!

Written by: Frank Bonincontri @TheFFLWire

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