Things can spiral out of control fairly quickly in the NFL. Likewise, the opposite is true. Positive momentum can lift franchises to places they have not been to for a long time. There’s no doubt about that, instead, the underlying question remaining is who will be the team(s) to see these drastic changes? One of the greatest changes we can observe in the NFL is when a team rises from the bottom to the top of their division over only one offseason. There are a few candidates to accomplish this impressive feat this season. Let’s take a look at why these three AFC teams have a favorable chance to find themselves on the other side of the divisional standings this season.
Candidate 1: Baltimore Ravens
Seeing the Ravens at the bottom of the AFC North last year was not something NFL fans were accustomed to. For better or for worse, the Ravens shouldn’t be back in that position anytime soon. The Ravens finished last season with a record below .500 (8-9), but still found themselves only two games behind the AFC North champion Bengals, who won 10 games in 2021. Despite their records being in the same neighborhood, the Bengals dominated Baltimore twice last season, outscoring them 83-38 in their two matchups. While the Bengals deserve plenty of credit for those performances and the season as a whole, it’s hard to imagine that there will still be a wide gap between the two franchises next season. It’s easy to forget that Baltimore once held an 8-3 record last season.
Think of it this way, in a season where the Ravens were plagued by injuries to several key players including Ronnie Stanley, J.K. Dobbins, Marlon Humphrey, Derek Wolfe, Gus Edwards, Lamar Jackson, and others, they still almost reached a .500 record. It’s hard to imagine that a fully healthy Ravens team won’t win a few more games in 2022 than they did last season. If they do so, there’s a good shot they find themselves as the AFC North champions once again.
Candidate 2: Denver Broncos
This one seems a little too easy as the Broncos are arguably the most improved team heading into this fall. When you add a quarterback like Russell Wilson to a roster that already has a great defense and receivers, you should expect nothing less than lofty expectations. The Broncos will also receive some help from the medical side of things. Last season, starters Bradley Chubb, Josey Jewell, Jerry Jeudy, and Ronald Darby all spent time on injured reserve. Health and depth will be the key to the Broncos’ success and improvement going into next season as they will be competing against some of the most talented rosters in the NFL in their potential worst-to-first campaign.
Overall, Denver’s biggest obstacle will be its competition in the AFC West. Although the Broncos improved, it will be difficult to outplay the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, and Las Vegas Raiders on a consistent basis over an 18-week season. However, somebody has to win that division. Why not Denver? A lot is possible when you pair great defense with great quarterback play.
Candidate 3: Jacksonville Jaguars
For Jacksonville, it’s fair to call last season a disaster. The Urban Meyer experiment proved to be costly as both on and off-the-field antics minimized Trevor Lawrence’s rookie season. Meyer has proven to be one of the greatest college coaches of this era, but for whatever reason, it did not translate to the NFL scene. A reconstruction of the coaching staff with Doug Pederson at the helm should help the Jaguars clean up the collapse from last season. In the NFL, a culture change can sometimes have a greater effect on a team’s success than an addition of talent. There’s no telling what Jacksonville might look like by simply subtracting chaos.
Aside from a potential culture shift, Jacksonville has a few football-related trends and changes going their way. To start, quarterbacks tend to have much more success in their second season than in their rookie season as of late. It’s possible to look at Patrick Mahomes winning an MVP in his second year and Joe Burrow taking the Bengals to the Super Bowl and wonder if Trevor Lawrence could do something similar. While it’s likely too ambitious to think that Lawrence could reach those marks, winning the AFC South seems much more reasonable. With the Houston Texans in a full rebuild, the Tennessee Titans losing A.J. Brown, and the Indianapolis Colts starting another new quarterback, it’s not crazy to view the Jaguars as a sneaky threat to win the division. Of course, Tennessee and Indianapolis are much more accomplished, but change is inevitable in the NFL, it’s just a matter of when it will happen. At the end of the day, this roster is full of young talent. From Lawrence to Travon Walker, Devin Lloyd, Chad Muma, Travis Etienne, Josh Allen, etc. the Jaguars roster has plenty of potential. If that talent reaches its full potential, it could lead to an AFC South title.