There has been a theme over the last few years and throughout the NFL where a team that finished last in their division shoots up to first and into the playoffs. Ranging from the 49ers in the NFC a couple years back to the Bengals in the AFC this past season, who went to the Super Bowl after being last in their division with one of the worst records in the league the year prior. The hard thing about doing that this year in the AFC is that so many teams improved, making it such a competitive conference. Who is primed to be that team this coming 2022 NFL season to jump from worst to first?
- Jacksonville Jaguars
Although I like some of the additions that the Jaguars have had this offseason, when it compares to the other last place teams I think they have the worst shot to go from worst to first. The Jaguars seemed to need to overpay to bring in players, but did get some stars. In free agency they were able to acquire receiver Christian Kirk, tight end Evan Engram, and offensive limeman Brandon Scherff, along with others. These were big additions that Jacksonville spent a lot of money on but should make their team much better. The Jaguars were able to get some solid draft picks with all of their capital, in defensive end Travon Walker, linebacker Devin Lloyd, and others. An important thing to look at is the team’s division, as the Jaguars compete with the Colts, Titans, and Texans. The Jaguars should be able to be competitive with the Texans, but I question whether this young defense and team in general is competitive enough to beat out both the Colts and Titans for a division title after picking first overall two straight years.
- New York Jets
Despite the fact that the Jets had one of my favorite drafts in the entire league, I still had the other last place teams ranked higher. The Jets were able to obtain some quality starters in free agency, in tight ends CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, as well as lineman Laken Tomlinson, alongside others. You would imagine New York’s free agency additions would help out the unproven offense and elevate the team. The Jets were able to upgrade both sides of the ball massively in the 2022 NFL draft. They were able to get cornerback Ahmad Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson, defensive end Jermaine Johnson, and running back Breece Hall in the first two rounds. They were able to get incredible value with all of their draft capital. The Jets division also largely improved in the offseason for the most part, as they face off with the always competitive Patriots, rising Bills, and speedy Dolphins. I have a hard time seeing the Jets as a team that can surpass a star studded team like the Bills to win the division, which is why I have them here.
- Denver Broncos
For the past couple years we have been saying, “if only the Broncos had a quarterback”. Well now they do! The Broncos traded away their first round pick to acquire quarterback Russell Wilson from the Seahawks. The Broncos had a competitive roster outside of their quarterback situation, so this makes them instant contenders to make a run at the division title, as well as a championship. Denver signed defensive end Randy Gregory alongside others this offseason to also improve their team. Denver was able to fill some holes in the draft with linebacker Nik Bonitto and tight end Greg Dulcich. The hardest part about making the division title is how competitive the AFC West is. The Raiders have greatly improved, the Chargers are suddenly a force, and the Chiefs have dominated the division and playoffs over the past few years. Despite the competitive division, I think these teams will beat up on each other, and that Denver has a real chance to surpass them and win the AFC West.
- Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore this past season was ravaged with injuries and finished 8-9 in that stretch, ending the season on a six loss streak resulting in them placing in last in the AFC North. The Ravens were able to have a great free agency and draft, which should in turn make their team better, along with the return of a mostly healthy roster. Baltimore landed safety Marcus Williams and offensive tackle Morgan Moses in free agency to fill a couple of their biggest needs. Baltimore had my favorite draft in the entire NFL, as they traded away wide reciever Marquise Brown for a first round pick. The Ravens landed star safety Kyle Hamilton, offensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum, linebacker David Ojabo, defensive tackle Travis Jones, and lineman Daniel Faalele. These picks all have incredible values, especially based off of consensus rankings of players in the draft. Due to the trade however, there is a glaring hole at the wide receiver position. Despite this, all of these offseason acquisitions, and a returning roster, it will make Baltimore competitive with the rest of the AFC North again.