Which NFL Team Will Go From Worst To First?

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It is not uncommon for an underperforming NFL team to go from worst in the division one year to division winners the next. With the talent coming out in the draft to trades and free agency, it is possible to make that big of a jump from one season to the next.

Since the last time the NFL realigned divisions in 2002, there has been an average of at least one worst-to-first team every season (26 in 19 seasons). However, since 1984 there have been 47 such teams that finished with a worse record than the year before.

What does this mean? It is possible to undergo a massive change and improve from worst to first in the division. But it is just as likely for a team to go in the opposite direction and become even worse.

So—who is going to do it this season?

According to the NFL betting odds, there is one great candidate, four not-so-great candidates, and three that do not have a shot:

Odds Of Going From Worst To First-- 2021/22 SeasonWilliam Hill PointsBetBetMGM
New York Jets (AFC East)+2000+2000+2000
Cincinnati Bengals (AFC North)+2400+2300+2500
Jacksonville Jaguars (AFC South)+800+700+900
Denver Broncos (AFC West)+600+600+500
Philadelphia Eagles (NFC East)+500+550+500
Detroit Lions (NFC North)+2000+2200+2200
Atlanta Falcons (NFC South)+800+800+900
San Francisco 49ers (NFC West)+200+190+190

Does this mean the 49ers are a lock to be that team this year? The competition in the NFC West is pretty tough. Why not the Eagles or Broncos? Maybe the Lions could do it. Well—everyone ‘can’ do it, but from a betting perspective, only a few have value.

Let’s examine the eight teams and figure out who.

AFC East—New York Jets

It would take an epic turnaround for the New York Jets to go from winning two games last season to winning enough they become a contender in the division. Actually—it would take more than that because it is not just a matter of the Jets becoming competitive.

The Buffalo Bills have become a powerhouse, the Miami Dolphins are a team on the rise, and you can never count out Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. So, not only do the Jets have to be better, but they must improve so much that they can beat three good teams.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback, it is a hard pill to swallow. Then again, if Zach Wilson can live up to his pre-draft hype, the Jets have a solid collection of talent on the offensive side of the ball. If the offense can gel and head coach Robert Saleh can get the defense together, it is possible.

Unlikely, but possible.

AFC North—Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals appear as if they could be a lot of fun to watch this season. With Joe Burrow coming back and the weapons they have on offense, it is not hard to imagine Cincinnati putting up some points. However, It would help if they had done more to improve the offensive line.

It is also hard to say how good the defense is going to be this season. With the competition the Bengals are going to face, if the defense is not up to the task, the offense will need to score a lot. While the talent is there, the Bengals offense is a year or two away from operating at a high level.

Factor in the competition in the AFC North—the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh Steelers – and it looks like the Bengals have more of a shot to finish in last for the fourth year in a row than make the jump to first.

AFC South—Jacksonville Jaguars

No. It is not going to happen. Are the Jaguars going to be better this season? With the talent they added in the draft alone, yes—they will be a better team. But will they be so much better that they can make the jump?

Not even close.

It is not so much that the Jaguars will not be a good team, but that the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans project will be so much better. They will be more fun to watch with Travis Lawrence behind center and Travis Etienne in the backfield, though.

Urban Meyer will probably make the Jaguars look better than they are. But fans should set their sights on improvement, not a division title.

AFC West—Denver Broncos

If they manage to pull off a trade for Aaron Rodgers or Deshaun Watson (and he’s allowed to play), then the Broncos absolutely have a shot at making it happen. Yes, even with the Kansas City Chiefs in the division. There is undoubtedly value at +600 to win the division—but only if they acquire Rodgers or Watson.

Do not count on them acquiring either.

NFC East—Philadelphia Eagles

Injuries and Carson Wentz decimated the Eagles in 2020, causing them to go from first to worst. The extent of the injuries was just bad luck. Carson Wentz has been dealt to the Indianapolis Colts, and the Eagles even switched head coaches. Changes were made, but will they all be for the better?

Jalen Hurts showed some potential and is certainly a more athletic quarterback compared to Wentz. He will have some talent to work with in guys like Miles Sanders, Jalen Reagor, and last season’s Heisman Trophy winner, DeVonta Smith.

But they are going to have their hands full against the Washington defense. Even if the Dallas defense is terrible again, a healthy Dak Prescott makes the Cowboys tough to beat. Should Daniel Jones start living up to his potential, the Giants might even be challenging.

NFC North—Detroit Lions

If Aaron Rodgers stays in the NFC North with the Green Bay Packers, then the Lions do not have a slight chance of making the jump. But even if he does leave the division, they still do not have much of a chance.

However, if things come together just right, there is a chance (albeit a slim one).

Jared Goff looked like a good quarterback in Los Angeles when the Rams had a running game. With a top-ten offensive line and a stable of good running backs, there is a possibility the Lions have a good run game this season.

But the Lions do not have much talent at wide receiver, and they did not do enough to improve the defense in the offseason.

NFC South—Atlanta Falcons

It will not be easy for the Falcons to make the jump, but it is not impossible. The Saints will probably not be the team to beat anymore with Drew Brees out of the picture. Carolina is a season or two away from being a contender. But then there are the Super Bowl champions—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Offensively, the Falcons should be an incredible team. Losing Julio Jones hurts, but they still have a talented group of receivers and rookie tight-end, Kyle Pitts. Assuming new head coach Arthur Smith can work the same kind of magic in Atlanta as he did with the Titans, the Falcons will score some points.

However, on the defensive side of the ball, they are counting on veteran defensive coordinator Dean Pees to turn the unit around. If he can, then maybe the Falcons make the jump. But if he cannot, they do not stand a chance.

NFC West—San Francisco 49ers

Injuries absolutely decimated the 49ers last season—especially at key positions like quarterback, tight end, defensive line, etc. With a healthy roster, it is not hard to imagine the 49ers getting back to being the team that made it to the Super Bowl in 2019.

But the problem they are going to have is the competition in their division. The Seattle Seahawks are expected to be one of the best teams in the NFC again. Hopes are high for the Rams with Matthew Stafford at quarterback. Kyler Murray and the Cardinals are going to be competitive again, as well.

NFL Betting Tips And Recommendations

You can forget about the Bengals in the AFC North and the Jaguars in the AFC South. Both teams are going to be better, but the same can be said about their competition. The Broncos are not an advisable bet in the AFC West, and neither are the Lions in the NFC North.

San Francisco probably has the best shot and the most talented roster of the eight teams. But with the competition in their division, they are not an advisable bet. The potential reward is not worth the risk.

At their odds, the Falcons have value. But with the Bucs such strong favorites in the NFC South, keep your wager small. The Eagles have some value as well, but their offense is unproven, and we know how good the Washington defense and Dallas offense is.

This may sound surprising, but there is value in the Jets as well. Should the offense live up to its potential and Saleh gets more out of the defense, they have a shot. That is, assuming the Bills take a step back, Tua Tagovailoa struggles in Miami, and Cam Newton has another subpar year for the Patriots.

Yes, that is a lot of things that have to go right for the Jets. But at +2000 odds, there are worse ways to spend $10.

About the Author

Travis Pulver

Travis Pulver is a lifelong football fan, something he says comes naturally having been born in the football-crazy state of Texas. Through the years, his love of sports has extended into baseball, basketball, golf, and rugby. Life currently finds him in Indiana with his wife and two kids.

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