The worst to first scenario always seems like a reach for any NFL team that bottoms out in their division. However, in 2017, both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles went from finishing last in their divisions to playing in their respective conference championship game. 2018 should be no different with the slew of injuries that ravaged the NFL in 2017 coupled with the crop of talented youngsters selected just a month ago in the NFL draft.
These are three teams with a realistic shot of capturing their division title just one year after bottoming out.
3 NFL Teams That Can Go Worst to First in 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC South) – 2017 Record: 5-11
After finishing the 2016 season at a solid 9-7 the Buccaneers missed the mark in 2017 coming in last in their division despite a promising offseason. Tampa Bay added a ton of artillery for quarterback Jameis Winston in 2016 but his weapons that looked so promising came up short. Mike Evans finished the year posting a career low in receiving yards, O.J. Howard couldn’t find consistent success, and DeSean Jackson posted a career-worst 13.4 yards per catch. With all the star power, even considering last year’s struggles, the Bucs offence should be one of the better units in 2018 barring injury.
In 2018, Tampa Bay put the majority of its offseason resources into the dirty areas. The offensive line will get a boost with tackle Demar Dotson returning from a knee injury and incoming centre Ryan Jensen, who helped the Ravens reestablish a running game in 2017. On the defensive side of the ball, Tampa’s front-seven suddenly looks like one of the best in the NFL with the additions of Vinny Curry, Jason Pierre-Paul, and 12th overall pick Vita Vea. Curry and Pierre-Paul will attempt to revitalize a Bucs pass rush that finished 2017 last in sacks and Vea will team up with stud Gerald McCoy to clog the middle and limit the run game.
Down the stretch, Tampa finished the year 1-4 but would not lose any game by more than one score. Four of those five teams had winning records and three went to the playoffs. The NFC South may be the best division in football going into 2018 but the winner has changed each of the past three seasons. 2018 is going to be the breakout season for the Bucs they failed to have in 2017.
Houston Texans (AFC South) – 2017 Record: 4-12
After seeing Deshaun Watson light the NFL on fire in the seven weeks he played, Houston seems like the most popular pick to go worst to first in 2018. They play in a historically bad division and prior to last season had captured back-to-back division titles. The division has improved in recent years but each team has its fair share of deficiencies. Houston is not exempt from this but they have created an incredibly dynamic roster over the past few offseasons.
Besides the return of Watson, Houston will be getting back superstar defenders J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Both missed significant time in 2017 and were big reasons the Texans defensive took such a big step back from giving up the least yards on defence in 2016 to surrendering the most points in 2017. If healthy, Houston’s linebacking core is perhaps the best in the NFL and between each of them could maybe rack up the most sacks as a unit over the year. Hopefully, its finally time to see Watt and Jadeveon Clowney wreak havoc for a full season. And just for added insurance, Houston picked up one of the league’s elite safeties in Tyrann Mathieu.
Houston’s success will ultimately depend on the play of their offensive line. It might not be the sexiest x-factor but Watson’s success hinges on his mobility. Without a good line protecting him, he won’t have time to make the incredibly athletic plays that made him a so dangerous in 2017. The offensive line was awful in 2017 giving up the most QB pressures (253) and the second most sacks (54). If the offensive line can just improve to a mid-tier unit next season, the Texans should have a good shot at a division title with all the talent they possess on their roster.
New York Giants (NFC East) – 2017 Record: 3-13
This may seem like a bit of a reach but it was just two seasons ago that the Giants were a playoff team with an elite defence complemented by a very solid offence. They then proceeded to flame out in 2017 going 0-5 before getting their first win and the quarterback fiasco ignited by former Head Coach Ben McAdoo. On paper, the Giants have a very solid depth chart and if they can minimize their injuries, should have impact players all over the field.
The biggest improvement for the Giants this year will be the running game. After another terrible season on the ground in 2017, the Giants went all in on each component necessary to have a successful run game. New York drafted Saquon Barkley with their 2nd-overall pick, added 2nd-round guard Will Hernandez, and signed Tom Brady‘s ex-blindside tackle in Nate Solder. The rookie tore up Division I football during his three years at Penn State and if Hernandez and Solder revitalize Big Blue’s patchy offensive line, should allow him to become New Yorks first running back with 1000 yards since Ahmad Bradshaw in 2012.
The biggest hurdle for the Giants will be overcoming last season’s Super Bowl Champion Philidelphia Eagles. Philidelphia took no steps back this offseason and will be a favourite to not only repeat as division champions but to again win the Super Bowl. The Giants go worst to first if their offence becomes the dynamic juggernaut it has the potential to be. Eli Manning may be approaching 40 but he has the young weapons to excel even at an older age. It may be a longshot to overtake the Eagles but the NFC East has not had a repeat champion since 2004.
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