NFL
September 14, 2020
BY Bryan Zarpentine

Ranking the NFL Teams That Could Go From Worst to First in 2020

One of the great things about the NFL is how quickly things can turn around for a struggling team. In college, it takes a few years to rebuild, but in the NFL, one offseason can be all it takes.

Just look at the San Francisco 49ers, who went from 4-12 in 2018 to NFC Champions in 2019. The Chicago Bears are another great example of a team to turn things around. They finished last in the NFC North in four straight seasons, only to win the division in 2018 by going 12-4.

In a flash, teams can turn things around, so let’s take a closer look at the eight teams that finished last in their division in 2019 to see if any have a chance to go from worst to first in 2020.

8. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals might actually be poised for a big improvement from last season. In fairness, after going 2-14, there’s nowhere to go but up. Obviously, a lot depends on the play of Joe Burrow, who looked like a polished quarterback at LSU last year. With A.J. Green back healthy, Burrow will have a great set of receivers at his disposal.

If Green is still the receiver he was before the injury that forced him to miss all of 2019, the Bengals could have something special with Tyler Boyd, John Ross, and rookie Tee Higgins. 

Don’t forget how good Joe Mixon can be with a decent offensive line. Alas, Cincinnati’s plan to go from worst to first will be nixed by the Ravens, who were 14-2 a year ago and have the reigning MVP in Lamar Jackson. There’s also a chance the Browns and Steelers are both better than they were a year ago.

7. Arizona Cardinals

In a way, it doesn’t matter how much the Cardinals improve in 2020. Are they going to surpass the 49ers, Seahawks, and Rams? All three teams had a winning record last season with the 49ers going to the Super Bowl and the Seahawks having an MVP candidate in Russell Wilson.

For what it’s worth, Kyler Murray will be fascinating to watch in his second season, especially with DeAndre Hopkins joining Kliff Kingsbury’s high-flying offense. The Arizona defense is also starting to come together, at least on paper.

Don’t count out the Cardinals from being in the playoff hunt, but it’s still a little farfetched to envision them finishing ahead of both San Francisco and Seattle.

6. Washington Football Team

Based on how pitiful the NFC East was last season, the Washington Football Team might have a shot to go from worst to first. Most of it depends on whether or not Dwayne Haskins can take a step forward in his development.

The Washington defense should be better than last season, especially if Chase Young comes as advertised. 

The problem is that Washington might not be able to assume that the Eagles and Cowboys will underperform as much as last season. Philadelphia, in particular, just needs to stay healthy.

That being said, the NFC East is still wide open for Ron Rivera’s team if they can start fast, which they did by beating the Eagles in Week 1. 

5. Detroit Lions

Don’t sleep on the Lions taking a big step forward if Matthew Stafford is healthy. Stafford had some impressive numbers early in 2019 before he was sidelined by an injury. The Lions have a great set of receivers around him in Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola. If healthy, Stafford will get the ball in the end zone.

Meanwhile, the Bears are nothing special, the Vikings aren’t any better than last year and the Packers were one of the most uninspired 13-3 teams imaginable last season. Again, the odds aren’t in Detroit’s favor, but with a healthy Stafford, the Lions could make some noise.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

If you ask Las Vegas, the Jaguars have the worst Super Bowl odds and the second-worst odds to win their division. However, the AFC South has long been one of the most wide-open divisions in the NFL.

Last year, the Jags were just four games behind the division-winning Texans in the final standings. That makes a worst-to-first run from Jacksonville a little more realistic. Despite meager expectations, the Jags saw some promise in Gardner Minshew last season. The Jaguars have also used four first-round picks on defensive players in the last three drafts, so there is plenty of talent on that side of the ball.

Clearly, the odds are stacked against them. But no team is going to run away with the AFC South this season, giving the Jaguars a fighting chance to be in the hunt for a division title during the second half of the season.

3. Carolina Panthers

When Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Matt Ryan are in your division, upgrading from Kyle Allen to Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t feel that impressive. But that Panthers were still 5-11 last season despite terrible play at the quarterback position. They also have arguably the best non-quarterback in football with Christian McCaffrey, so there are some reasons to be optimistic.

Finally, new head coach Matt Rhule is the wild card. He’s never been an NFL head coach, although he turned Baylor around in a hurry. Rhule also brought in Joe Brady as his offensive coordinator. Brady will have McCaffrey, Bridgewater, and a ton of speed at wide receiver, so don’t count out Carolina in 2020 without giving them a chance early in the season.

2. Los Angeles Chargers

Of course, nobody is expecting the Chiefs to fall from grace so soon after winning the Super Bowl. But if Kansas City falters, the Chargers might have a chance to challenge for the AFC West crown. Tyrod Taylor gives L.A. a steady quarterback until Justin Herbert is ready to take the reins.

The Chargers also look like they could be strong defensively after taking Chris Harris away from the Broncos. Keep in mind this team was 12-4 and every bit as good as Kansas City two years ago, so a bounce-back season can’t be ruled out.

1. Miami Dolphins

With Tom Brady gone, the AFC East is wide open, giving the Dolphins a legitimate chance to go from worst to first. It’s not like Josh Allen or Sam Darnold is an established Pro Bowler. There are also lingering questions about Cam Newton’s health and how well he fits with New England. Meanwhile, Miami came on strong last year, going 5-4 down the stretch after looking like a team early in the season that could go winless. Brian Flores got a young team to buy into his message and start believing in themselves last year.

The Dolphins then upgraded their roster with five draft picks in the first two rounds of this year’s draft and key acquisitions like Jordan Howard and Matt Breida on offense and Byron Jones and Kyle Van Noy on defense. A year ago, it would have seemed impossible to envision the Dolphins winning the AFC East in 2020. But if New England’s reign is over, the Dolphins have a legitimate chance to win the AFC East this year.

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