Tuck: NFL Worst To First

For the last 9 years, at least one NFL team has gone from a last place finish to first place and a division title.  When people talk about parity, they speak nothing but the truth and have the numbers to back it up.  In reality, what is more impressive is the teams like the Patriots, Colts, Eagles, and Steelers that maintained excellence throughout a decades time.  Those teams are the abnormality in a league that shifts power every season.

So who are the teams to pull it off?


2003: Carolina Panthers (7-9)/Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)
2004: Atlanta Falcons (5-11)/San Diego Chargers (4-12)
2005: Chicago Bears (5-11)/New York Giants (6-10)
2006: Philadelphia Eagles (6-10)/New Orleans Saints (3-13)/Baltimore Ravens (6-10)
2007: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)
2008: Miami Dolphins (1-15)
2009: New Orleans Saints (8-8)
2010: Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)
2011: Houston Texans (6-10)

As you can see, there are varying degrees of sucking.  Average teams have finished in last, and often times those are the easier to predict the move up.  Benefiting from a last place schedule can do a team wonders.  Kansas City in 2010 is a glaring example of that playing out.  Injuries can make the difference, sometimes the return of a star (ATL w/Vick in 2004) or the injuries on another team (HOU in 2011 w/Manning injury for IND).

I am proud to say I pegged the last 3 worst to first teams.  Alas, even I as a Dolphins’ fan didn’t see 2008 coming, the remarkable turnaround or the Tom Brady injury.

So can the streak continue this season?  Here are your options to keep the streak alive.

The cellar-dwellers from the 2011 season:
Bills/Dolphins 6-10
Browns 4-12
Colts 2-14
Chiefs 7-9
Redskins 5-11
Vikings 3-13
Bucs 4-12
Rams 2-14

Per usual, at first glance it might seem impossible, as it should because these teams were terrible last year.

Quickly jumping out to me is Kansas City.  The Chiefs were due a decline because of a tougher schedule, but they also got dealt a terrible hand with Jamal Charles, Eric Berry, Tony Moeaki, and Matt Cassel all getting injured.  Even with all that, they only finished a game out of the division lead with Denver, Oakland, and San Diego all wrapping up at 8-8.  Clearly this is the most logical choice.

The Bills have caught a lot of peoples attention as well, being picked by many experts as a playoff team this year with additions in the draft (CB Stephon Gilmore), free agency (DE Mario Williams), and injury (RB Fred Jackson).  The Jets and Dolphins are on shaky ground as well which could help.  Only problem I see is that New England is the clear cut favorite in the AFC.  So unless another Brady injury takes them down, I struggle to see the Bills jumping to the top of the division.

The Colts, Browns, and Redskins all clearly made excellent additions through the draft.  The top 3 picks went to these teams, and Cleveland also added a 1st round quarterback.  They all have a long way to go however.  I’d rank the likelihood as Washington, Indianapolis, and Cleveland in that order.

The Rams, Dolphins, and Bucs made a lot of changes, most notably on the coaching staffs.  Both the Bucs and Rams should be better, but both also still look at best to climb only one spot in the standings.  The Dolphins also added a rookie quarterback to the mix, and traded away Brandon Marshall and Vontae Davis, likely making them weaker this year instead of stronger.

The Vikings I’d list last.  Their superstar, AD, is coming off ACL surgery.  And probably more importantly, the three teams ahead of them all look like serious playoff, if not Super Bowl, contenders.  It seems extremely doubtful all three teams fall apart to clear the way.

Could the streak end?  Absolutely.  There isn’t a slam dunk choice.  In a league where at least 5 new teams have made the playoffs for the last 15 years, it’s probably more amazing that teams have routinely risen from the bottom to the top each year.  It just shows how competitive the league is, and how unpredictable it can be.