One thing that makes the NFL so entertaining every year is the fact that it's one of the most unpredictable sports on the planet, and nothing proves that more than the league's ability to produce at least one team every season that goes from worst to first.
Last year, that team was the Jacksonville Jaguars. After finishing with an ugly record of 3-14 in 2021, the Jags bounced back in a big way in 2022 by winning the AFC South, which should give some hope to every team that finished at the bottom of its division last season.
Since 2015, there have been a total of nine teams that have followed up a last-place finish in one season with a division-winning run, and for those of you who aren't good at math, that's an average of more than one team per year. That average has actually held pretty firm over the years: Since the NFL realigned its divisions in 2002, there have been 28 teams that have gone from worst to first, which is an average of 1.33 teams per year over that 21-season span.
Basically, NFL history says that at least one team is going to go from worst to first this year, and because we love ranking things here, we're going to rank the eight last-place finishers from 2022 to find out who has the best chance to be this year's Jaguars.
Ranking teams most likely to go from worst to first
(All division odds via Caesars Sportsbook)
2022 record: 4-13
Odds to win NFC West: +2700
They have a new head coach, a starting QB who won't be ready for the start of the season and the worst roster in the NFL. If you've ever wondered what the recipe for disaster is in the NFL, that's pretty much it.
I don't want to say the Cardinals have zero chance of winning the division, but it feels like they have zero chance of winning the division. If they win the NFC West, I will buy a "Cardinals division champions" shirt and wear it every day for an entire year without washing it. That's how sure I am that they won't win it.
Fun fact: Over the past 25 years, the Cardinals have finished in last a total of 10 times and they have failed to go from worst to first even a single time during that span, so I wouldn't bet on it happening this year. Not only have they not gone worst to first over the past two-and-a-half decades, but they've never done it in their franchise history, which dates to 1920.
2022 record: 8-8-1
Odds to win NFC East: +1800
The Commanders actually finished with the best record of any of the last-place teams in the NFL last season, but unfortunately, that's not going to help them on our list. If we had ranked these teams by who has the best roster, then the Commanders would almost certainly be in the top three, but this ranking is based on a team's chances of winning its division this year and it doesn't feel like Washington has much of a chance.
Not only will the Commanders be starting a new QB in 2023 (Sam Howell), but they also play in a division where the other THREE teams made the playoffs last year. The Commanders finished 5.5 games behind the Eagles in the NFC East last season and 3.5 games behind the Cowboys and it's hard to see them closing that big of a gap in one offseason, especially since the Eagles and Cowboys both got better.
No matter what happens this year, let's hope someone finally explains to Ron Rivera how the playoffs work.
Fun fact: The Commanders have gone from worst to first a total of three times since 2010, which is the most of any team in the NFL over that span.
2022 record: 3-13-1
Odds to win AFC South: +850
The Texans have quietly improved their roster this offseason by adding several key players on offense like RB Devin Singletary, TE Dalton Schultz and G Shaq Mason, plus they drafted C.J. Stroud. Not to mention, DeMeco Ryans also beefed up his defense by adding players like DT Sheldon Rankins, DT Hassan Ridgeway, LB Denzel Perryman, LB Cory Littleton, CB Shaq Griffin, CB Darius Phillips and S Jimmie Ward. Oh, and they also drafted Will Anderson.
This team is absolutely better than it was last year. That being said, this team still isn't great, but the good news for the Texans is that you don't have to be great to win the AFC South. As bad as the Texans were last season, they actually went 3-2-1 against their division, which was the second-best divisional record in the AFC South. The Texans have already proven they can beat other teams in the AFC South and if they can figure out how to beat non-divisional teams, they might be able to surprise some people this year.
Fun fact: The Texans have gone worse to first a total of two times since 2010, which is the second-most in the NFL over that period, trailing only the Commanders. The last time the Texans accomplished the feat came in 2018 when they went 11-5 following a 2017 season where they went 4-12.
2022 record: 5-12
Odds to win AFC West: +500
Even if Sean Payton somehow manages to fix Russell Wilson, the Broncos still seem like a long shot to win the division. This is a team that went 1-5 in the AFC West last year, including 0-4 combined against the Chiefs and Raiders and even with the addition of Payton, it still doesn't feel like the Broncos are quite ready to steal the division title.
Also, it's not going to be easy for Wilson to thrive out of the gate and that's mostly because the Broncos are already dealing with multiple injuries at receiver with Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick both banged up (Patrick is out for the season). The Broncos might be able to sneak into the playoffs this year, but it likely won't be as the division winner.
Fun fact: The last time the Broncos went worst to first came in 2011 and they did it thanks to the magic of none other than Tim Tebow. If Wilson can harness some Tebow magic, Denver might be able to pull off the feat again this year.
2022 record: 3-14
Odds to win NFC North: +440
The Bears finished with the worst record in the NFC last year, so it might seem a little crazy to be talking about them as a potential division winner, but it's something that could absolutely happen. For one, the roster this year is much better on paper than what the Bears had last year. Justin Fields finally has a true No. 1 receiver in DJ Moore. Also, he likely won't have to run for his life as much as he did last year thanks to some key additions on the offensive line.
Another reason to like the Bears is because they're in a winnable division. The Lions are a national darling right now, but they're still unproven. As for the Packers, they'll be breaking in a new quarterback. On the Vikings' end, you could argue that they have one of the bottom-two rosters in the division even though they're the reigning champs. The NFC North seems wide open this year and there's no reason the Bears can't win it.
Fun fact: The Bears know something about going worst to first and that's because they pulled it off just five years ago. After going 5-11 in 2017, they rebounded with a 12-4 division-winning record in 2018.
2022 record: 7-10
Odds to win AFC North: +330
Of all the team on this list, the Browns have gone the longest without winning a division title. The last time the Browns won the AFC North was actually before the AFC North even existed with the title coming in the AFC Central back in 1989. If their 34-year drought is going to end, they're going to need a huge season from Deshaun Watson.
The Browns have one of the better rosters in the AFC and if Watson plays like he did in 2020, then the Browns could be a dark horse to take home the division title. However, if Watson plays like he did last season, then the Browns will likely be staring at another disappointing year.
One reason the Browns aren't higher on this list is because they play in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. To win the AFC North, they'll have to knock off both the Bengals and Ravens, along with the resurgent Steelers, and that's not going to be easy.
Fun fact: Since their last division title in 1989, the Browns have finished last in the division 17 times in the 34 seasons since then, but they've never gone from worst to first.
2022 record: 7-10
Odds to win AFC East: +250
When you look at what the Jets did last season, it's almost impressive. This team managed to win seven games despite that fact that they had one of the worst quarterback situations in the NFL with Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco and Mike White all starting at least four games each. If the Jets can get better quarterback play this year, you have to feel good about their chances of winning the division, which is good news for the them, because no team in the NFL upgraded more at quarterback this offseason than the Jets.
If you spent the entire offseason in a dark room with no internet, then you might not have heard yet, but the Jets traded for Aaron Rodgers, who actually knows a thing or two about dark rooms with no internet. The Jets biggest weak spot right now is probably their offensive line, but if Rodgers can overcome that, there's no reason this team can't win the AFC East.
Fun fact: The Jets have never had a worst-to-first season in franchise history, despite the fact that they've had plenty of chances to make it happen. Over the past seven years alone, the Jets have finished in last six times, and not once did they bounce back with a division title the following year.
2022 record: 7-10
Odds to win NFC South: +190
Although the Falcons finished at the bottom of the NFC South last year, they really shouldn't be viewed as a last-place team and that's because they almost WON the division. At 7-10, the Falcons finished just one game out of first place in the NFC South. They tied with the Saints and Panthers for second and only ended up as the last-place team due to tiebreakers.
The Falcons roster was good enough to compete for a division title last year and they only got better this offseason, which makes them feel like a dark horse to take the division crown in 2022. Offensively, the Falcons are absolutely loaded with players like Kyle Pitts, Drake London and Bijan Robinson. If Atlanta can get just average play from both Desmond Ridder and the team's defense, there's no reason they shouldn't be able to compete for the division title.
The reason the Falcons only need average play from those two spots is because they're in the one NFC division where average might be good enough to win it.
Fun fact: The Falcons have only gone worst to first one time in franchise history and that came nearly 20 years ago. After finishing in the NFC South cellar with a 5-11 record in 2003, the Falcons rebounded to win the division with a 11-5 record in 2004.
Super Bowl fun fact: Of the 28 teams that have gone worst to first since 2002, only four of them have made it to the Super Bowl, so although it's possible, it's definitely not likely.