NFL Teams Most Likely to Go from Worst to First in 2021by Christopher Gallagher May 21, 2021 0 comments
With parody unlike any other on a year-to-year basis, remaining a consistent contender in the NFL remains a challenge. Faced with threats like roster turnover, salary cap constraints, and injuries, franchises across the league can transform from the bottom of the division to the top with one strong offseason. This article will look at the eight fourth-place clubs from 2020 and their odds to finish atop their respective division in 2021. Remaining the only team to vault from the bottom to the top a year ago, the Washington Football Team accomplished the impressive feat with their first NFC East title since 2015. As the draft is now in the rearview mirror and teams are beginning their preparations for the upcoming season, let’s get into the rankings.
8. Detroit Lions (Likelihood: 10 percent)
Still searching for their first NFC North title since 1993, the Lions will welcome first-year head coach Dan Campbell and new general manager, Brad Holmes. After finishing a miserable 5-11 a year ago, the team said goodbye to longtime quarterback Matthew Stafford in the offseason, trading the 33-year-old to the Los Angeles Rams. Acquiring former number one pick Jared Goff in the deal, offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn will look to rejuvenate the two-time pro bowlers career after he tossed 13 interceptions last season.
However, with the Lions parting ways with wide receivers Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay earlier on in the offseason, the team will be forced to turn to journeyman Breshad Perriman and rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown to help carry the load on offense. Furthermore, after ranking 32nd in the league in total defense in 2020, Aaron Glenn‘s group will look to be in a tough spot once again next season after losing linebacker Jarrad Davis in free agency. While Goff could help lead the team to five or six wins in 2021, competing with the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, and Minnesota Vikings remains unlikely.
7. New York Jets (Likelihood: 15 percent)
Under a new head coaching regime for the third time in as many seasons, the Jets will be under the guidance of former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh in 2021. After selecting BYU signal-caller Zach Wilson with the second pick in the draft to replace Sam Darnold, the team also reset the rookie quarterback clock. Upgrading on offense in the early rounds of the draft, the team selected USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker and Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore. Furthermore, New York also made splashes early on in free agency by agreeing to terms with defensive end Carl Lawson and pass catcher Corey Davis.
Miserable at getting stops a year ago, the Jets ranked 26th in the league in total defense. Furthermore, the team also struggled to score points, leading to a 32nd-place ranking in total offense. While appearing to be on the right track with Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas beginning to add quality pieces across the roster, the team remains a step behind the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and New England Patriots in the suddenly loaded AFC East.
6. Jacksonville Jaguars (Likelihood: 22 percent)
The Jaguars are a young up-and-coming team with no shortage of intrigue surrounding them heading into next season. Appearing to solve their franchise quarterback issue, the Jaguars selected college phenom Trevor Lawrence, first overall in the draft. The team also added running back Travis Etienne to pair with James Robinson and receiver DJ Chark. However, after allowing more than 30 points per game in 2020, they must sure up one of the worst defensive units across the league.
With question marks surrounding their divisional rivals as the Titans parted ways with Davis and Jonnu Smith in the offseason, the Colts also handed the reigns to former number one pick Carson Wentz after acquiring him via trade. On the trajectory to become a contender in the AFC in a few seasons under head coach Urban Meyer, look for Jacksonville to surprise a few teams next season as they leapfrog the miserable Houston Texans for third place in the AFC South.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (Likelihood: 25 percent)
With three straight seasons in the last place spot in the AFC North, the Bengals will get back franchise quarterback Joe Burrow after losing him to an ACL injury a year ago. Surrounding their second-year signal-caller with pieces on offense, the team added former LSU wide receiver, Ja’Marr Chase, with the fifth pick in the draft. Thus, pairing him with Tee Higgins and running back Joe Mixon in an exciting offense in Cincinnati. The Bengals also bolstered their offensive line with the selection of tackle Jackson Carman.
Remaining in one of the toughest divisions across the NFL, Zac Taylor‘s group still heads into 2021 with significant questions both upfront and on the defensive side of the ball. Nonetheless, with Burrow back, they will head into next season with loftier expectations as they battle with three potential playoff teams in interdivisional play.
4. Denver Broncos (Likelihood: 28 percent)
Tied for the second-longest active playoff drought in the league after not qualifying for postseason play since the 2015 season, the Broncos head into 2021 with one of the most well-rounded rosters league-wide. Likely to get back wide receiver Courtland Sutton after an injury-riddled 2020 campaign, Vic Fangio’s group made significant additions on the defensive side of the ball after agreeing to terms with cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller. Furthermore, the team also drafted Alabama defensive back Patrick Surtain II with the ninth overall pick.
Remaining held back by quarterback play in a division with Patrick Mahomes, Derek Carr, and Justin Herbert, look for the Broncos to go as far as third-year veteran Drew Lock takes them. A polarizing figure with the talent to be a franchise player, the Missouri alumnus has been hindered by consistency problems and turnover issues during his two seasons in the Mile-High City. While the Aaron Rodgers rumors remain a distant hope, if general manager George Payton fails to solve their quarterback issues, a jump from fourth to first remains unlikely.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (Likelihood: 35 percent)
Heading into year number two with former second-round pick Jalen Hurts under center, the Eagles will begin the Nick Sirianni era in Philadelphia. Agreeing to hire the longtime Colts offensive coordinator after parting ways with Doug Pederson, the team will look to bounce back after finishing 28th in pass yards per game and 26th in points per game a year ago. Furthermore, look for Jonathan Gannon’s group to improve on their 15th ranked pass defense in 2020 with the additions of Ryan Kerrigan and former Vikings safety Anthony Harris in free agency.
With no repeat winner in 17 straight seasons, the Eagles remain more likely to make the jump from fourth to first than other last-place finishers. Likely to remain one of the weaker divisions heading into 2021, the NFC East appears to be wide open for the taking again next season.
2. Atlanta Falcons (Likelihood: 40 percent)
One of the most disappointing teams across the NFL a year ago, the Falcons were unable to get stops in critical moments in games, leading to just four wins. Ranked 32nd in the league in passing yards allowed, the team also ranked 27th in passing touchdowns gave up. Choosing to part ways with head coach Dan Quinn in the offseason, Atlanta agreed to terms with Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith to fill their head coaching void.
Expected by many to draft the heir apparent to Matt Ryan with the fourth selection in the draft, general manager Terry Fontenot ultimately choose to go in a different direction with the selection of tight end Kyle Pitts. Loaded on the offensive side of the ball, the team still has work to do to improve their defense. However, with longtime coordinator Dean Pees sporting a proven track record across the league, the Falcons will look to jump up back to the top of the NFC South. Home to the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the division remains ripe for the taking, with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers entering 2021 with significant question marks.
1. San Francisco 49ers (Likelihood: 45 percent)
Decimated by injuries last season, the 49ers had a colossal 32 players spend time on the injured reserve list. Losing Nick Bosa, Raheem Mostert, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle for an extended period, the team was ultimately unable to overcome its vast amount of injuries. Along with this, longtime quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo endured a down season, with multiple high ankle sprains forcing him to miss three quarters of the year.
Making shockwaves across the landscape of the NFL early on in the offseason, San Francisco selected their signal-caller of the future in the draft in North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Expected to have all of their core players healthy heading into week one in 2021, the 49ers remain one of the premier Super Bowl contenders in the NFC. Remaining the most competitive division in football, the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, and Seattle Seahawks all hold playoff aspirations. However, with one of the best rushing attacks league-wide intact and Kyle Shanahan at the controls, look for the group to focus on returning to the conference title game.
Follow Chris Gallagher on Twitter @ChrisGally06
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