Every NFL season, we search for the diamonds in the rough. What teams will rise from the ashes of mediocrity to new heights as a division winner? But we don’t often give the same attention to the other side of the coin. Did any division-winning teams botch the offseason? Did any teams stand pat as the rest of their division improved the roster and coaching staff? Which teams have a chance to go from first to worst this upcoming NFL season?
Which NFL Teams Could Go From Worst To First This Season?
Although the NFL is geared to offer relative parity from one season to another, it takes a bit of creativity to envision most of these teams falling so far from grace that they end up soaking on the floor of a wet basement. However, there are a few monstrous divisions in the NFL, and the league is one of attrition.
If a team lacks depth at key spots, a few injuries could derail their entire pursuit of a division crown. Meanwhile, one team seems to simply not care about doing everything they can to compete in 2023.
1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Choosing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is low-hanging fruit. Although Tom Brady was unable to play at his usual Hall of Fame level a season ago, the transition from him to a combination of Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask is like getting your Lamborghini Huracán repossessed and settling for a 1997 Honda Accord and 2001 Nissan Sentra.
What’s most unfortunate is that the roster itself is nothing to balk at. Tampa Bay has some outstanding defensive talent and continuity. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Russell Gage is a trio good enough to compete with. And while the offensive line isn’t as good as it was just two seasons ago, getting Ryan Jensen back healthy and moving Tristan Wirfs to the left side could help make the unit work better than it did last year.
However, the Saints, Falcons, and Panthers all had better offseasons, and only one game separated the entire division a season ago.
2) Minnesota Vikings
Aaron Rodgers has been shipped off to New
York Jersey, and the Minnesota Vikings now have a crystal clear path toward consecutive NFC North titles… right?
What Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the Vikings’ front office have done is certainly not a tactic we’ve seen from other teams in similar situations. However, this unique path could pay greater dividends going forward.
Minnesota traded away Adam Thielen and Za’Darius Smith. They cut Dalvin Cook. Danielle Hunter isn’t getting paid, and they don’t have any other legitimate pass-rush threats on the roster.
Brian Flores’ CB group will probably consist of Byron Murphy (who is a peculiar scheme fit), a third-round rookie, and a second and fourth-round pick from last year’s draft.
Minnesota ranked 18th in offense EPA a season ago and 16th on the defensive side of the ball. The Vikings won 13 games, with 11 of them being one-score contests. It appears that Mensah and the Vikings are trying to play the long game here, trying to compete in the NFC North while also acknowledging their team isn’t good enough to win a Super Bowl.
3) Jacksonville Jaguars
NOTE: We have officially reached imagination territory. Manifest your inner Aaron “Ayuascha” Rodgers and come along on this journey with me.
On the surface, the Jacksonville Jaguars should walk away with the AFC South again in 2023. It took a magical run to make it here a season ago, but that’s not all that surprising considering the Jaguars were coming off the heels of arguably the most toxic coaching situation in recent memory the season prior.
And although the Tennessee Titans’ roster has deteriorated in appearance, particularly on the offensive line, that roster hasn’t had a healthy season in two years. The Titans have been surprisingly consistent since Mike Vrabel became the head coach.
Meanwhile, the Texans and Colts both added new coaching staffs and rookie QBs into the mix. While it will most likely take time for both organizations to find their feet, one of them could come out of the gates hot, particularly if the Colts’ OL can improve and the Texans’ weapons can separate well enough.
4) Buffalo Bills
The AFC East, NFC East, and AFC North all possess four teams that could make the playoffs if everything falls into place. There have already been more than a few people in the media that have expressed concerns about the Bills in 2023.
Personally, that feels foolish. Buffalo has what may very well be the deepest group of defensive end play in NFL history, the best safety tandem in the NFL, an experienced HC/DC, and a playground-bully-playing QB with a top-five WR to throw to.
HOWEVER… that QB’s tendency to seek out all of the contact and ask for all of the smoke could derail Buffalo’s entire season. We’re not predicting injury here but simply acknowledging that Josh Allen craves violence.
The placement at No. 4 has more to do with the rest of the division. The Jets and Dolphins should be really good football teams. And while it appears everyone and their mothers are counting the Patriots out… why? They went 8-9 in a season with a fake offensive coordinator and a fake QB coach. The offense should only get better, and Bill Belichick practically wakes up and materializes a top-10 defense out of thin air every year.
5) Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have arguably the most well-rounded roster in the NFL. However, they lost both coordinators in the offseason, and continuity can be very important as it pertains to year-over-year production. The Bengals, by contrast, have all of the continuity between Zac Taylor and Lou Anarumo.
Maybe we overrate the NFC East a bit because they each had freshly-paved roads to travel last season. Each possessed a schedule that teams dream of having. It even allowed the Cowboys to win 12 games despite losing Dak Prescott for five. The Giants were able to make a playoff push, and the Washington Commanders went 8-8-1 with a QB who isn’t even on an NFL roster right now.
6) Cincinnati Bengals
Although the Bengals have less depth than the Eagles, Cincinnati has done a fantastic job over the past few offseasons addressing depth issues at key positions, particularly on the edge and in the defensive backfield. The Bengals also maintain continuity up the middle at the first and second levels, and they added solid third-level defenders in Jordan Battle and Nick Scott.
But finishing lower on the list than Philadelphia comes down to the confidence in the Eagles’ NFC East opponents (and the wackiness of the division) relative to the Bengals’ AFC North opponents. By rule, the Eagles cannot repeat as division winners if the last two decades mean anything.
7) San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers might be a prime candidate to fall out of the top spot in their division this season, but it would take multiple catastrophic events for the team to tumble all the way to the bottom of the NFC West.
The Rams’ roster is practically made up entirely of Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, Matthew Stafford, and rookies. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are in the infancy of a total rebuild. And the 49ers have three quarterbacks that would have to all go down with severe injuries for the team to flounder so much that they’re unable to win seven or eight games.
8) Kansas City Chiefs
They’ve been to five consecutive AFC Championship Games. No further discussion is necessary.