With the 2012 NFL season now just three around three months away, all 32 teams feel that this can be their year. Most of them are wrong, of course, but there is always a solid chance that we will see at least one team go from worst to first in the standings within their division.
While it may not happen every year, with the salary cap rules and league wide parity, many 2012 NFL teams stand a very good chance to go from last place in their division in 2011 to winning their division in 2012. Right off the bat, after perusing last year’s final regular season standings, I can come up with a handful of teams who have at least a glimmer of hope of accomplishing this feat.
In the 2010 NFL season, the Denver Broncos finished in last place in the AFC West. While they tied with two other teams for the top spot the following season, the Broncos won the 2011 AFC West in a tiebreaker with an 8-8 record. Denver was the only team to go from worst to first last season, although the Cincinnati Bengals finished in last place in 2010, only to have a huge turn around in 2011 and reach the playoffs. The Tennessee Titans came close.
Of the eight last place teams in 2011 (Nine, if you count the last place tie in the AFC East), I can actually see a few at least contending for the division in the upcoming season. Here is a look at which NFL teams may stand the best chance in 2012 of going from worst to first.
9. St. Louis Rams (2-14 record in 2011): The Rams may have done well in trading their picks in the 2012 NFL Draft to acquire more picks in the future. But they are nowhere near competing for a division, even in the NFC West. The San Francisco 49ers should have a stranglehold on that division for years to come, although the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks are still light years ahead of the Rams on paper.
8. Minnesota Vikings (3-13): Adrian Peterson may return for Week 1 of the 2012 season. It won’t make the Vikings much better. Christian Ponder was up and down as a rookie, and the defense is horrible. And they still have no legitimate wide receivers. It doesn’t help matters that all three teams in their division could make the playoffs in 2012.
7. Indianapolis Colts (2-14): Yes, the Colts drafted Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. They actually had a very good draft overall. But they are not going to turn things around that quickly. Even Peyton Manning went 3-13 in his first year with Indy. Luck may finish with a slightly better record, but he will not lead the Colts past the Houston Texans or Tennessee Titans.
6. Miami Dolphins (6-10): Seriously, I feel as if many people believe that Miami may actually have the worst shot at going from worst to first, especially because of the division in which they play. No Peyton Manning. No Jeff Fisher. Not even Matt Flynn. Miami is going nowhere fast.
5. Cleveland Browns (4-12): I suppose I could have placed the Browns even worse on this list, but Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden at least offer some hope for the future. But they are still too young to compete with the three teams in the AFC Central who all reached the postseason last year.
4. Buffalo Bills (6-10): The Bills may have added Mario Williams, and they could possibly leap ahead of the Dolphins as well as the New York Jets and finish in second place in the AFC East. They may even challenge for a Wild Card playoff berth. But they are not catching the New England Patriots for the division crown. No way.
3. Washington Redskins (5-11): RG3. That is what the Redskins fans will be chanting in 2012. He gives them a chance to be much better right off the bat. While I don’t think he is enough to get them past the other three teams in the NFC East, given a few injuries and bad luck to their opponents, and they at least have an outside possibility.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9): The Chiefs had a chance of winning the AFC West last season, and I don’t see the rest of the division being all that much better in 2012. I think that all four teams could once again find themselves bunched up throughout most the season, therefore giving the Chiefs a decent chance of competing for the top spot. Stranger things have happened.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): So, how does the team with the fifth worst record last season have the best chance of going from worst to first in 2012? The New Orleans Saints are going to struggle. Cam Newton is subject to a sophomore slump with the Carolina Panthers. The Atlanta Falcons seem to be taking steps backward. And Greg Schiano is a winner. It may take him more than one season, but this Bucs team is talented. If Josh Freeman can resemble the quarterback that he did in 2010 more than the one in 2011, this team has a chance to win the NFC South. Write it down.