For each of the last eleven NFL seasons, at least one team has won its division that finished in last place the year before. From the 2003 Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers all the way up to Chip Kelly’s 2013 Philadelphia Eagles, the National Football League is becoming known for unmatched parity, a league where “wait ’til next year” actually has some history of realistic hope behind it. (As opposed to, say the MLB’s Chicago Cubs.)
The ‘worst-to-first’ streak even includes a Super Bowl champion, with the 2009 New Orleans Saints finishing at 13-3 and beating the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV after occupying the NFC South cellar a season earlier.
This string of more than a decade begs the question — what last-place team from 2013 can make the jump in 2014? The nine possible candidates (there was a tie for last in the NFC South a year ago), in alphabetical order, are:
- Atlanta Falcons (4-12 in 2013)
- Buffalo Bills (6-10)
- Cleveland Browns (4-12)
- Houston Texans (2-14)
- Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1)
- Oakland Raiders (4-12)
- St. Louis Rams (7-9)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)
- Washington Redskins (3-13)
St. Louis looked like a promising prospect as a near-.500 team from a year ago, but Sam Bradford’s unfortunate ACL tear in the preseason makes the Rams less likely to pass up Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC West. In fact, quarterback uncertainty plagues many of the teams on this list, which makes it hard to believe in a significant year-over-year improvement. (Does anyone really know if Robert Griffin III will be Washington’s starter by the end of the year? What about Minnesota’s Matt Cassel? Oakland’s Derek Carr has as many regular-season starts as an NFL quarterback as I do. And so forth and so on…)
With that said, it seems that the two most likely teams to go from worst-to-first in 2014 reside in the same division. Which would you pick?