DENVER — Worst to first. While yes it is rare for it to happen in multiple divisions in any given year, it may happen in the NFL more than you think.
Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals won the AFC North at 10-7 after going 4-11-1 in the 2020 season, finishing dead last in the North. The Bengals obviously went on to go to the Super Bowl before falling to the Rams.
The 2018 Chicago Bears went 12-4 to win the NFC North after going 5-11 the previous year. Also in 2018, the Texans did it, going 11-5 to win the AFC South after a 4-12 campaign the previous year.
In 2017, the Philadelphia Eagles came off a 7-9 season in 2016 to win the NFC East with a 13-3 record. The 2017 Jaguars won the AFC South with a 10-6 record after going 3-13 in 2016. The 2016 Cowboys went 13-3 to win the NFC East after finishing 4-12 in 2015.
So could it happen in the 2022-23 NFL season?
That was the subject of discussion on Tuesday's Peacock and Williamson NFL Show, part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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Peacock and Williamson made their picks to win all the divisions and while there are some obvious ones like the Bills to win the AFC East, Packers to win the NFC North and Bucs to win the NFC South, there are some divisions where we could see some potential worst to first action this upcoming season.
This is probably the most obvious one, as Peacock and Williamson pointed out. This is probably one of the tightest divisions in football next season, as it often is.
It features the Steelers, Bengals, Browns and Ravens. The Bengals won the division last year at 10-7 with the Steelers just behind at 9-7-1. The Browns finished third at 8-9 with a tiebreaker over the Ravens who finished last in the division at 8-9.
“I’m going to pick the Ravens to win as the most likely worst to first," Matt Williamson said on Tuesday's show. "The Ravens were 8-9…I assume you’d rather have the field in the AFC North than pick the Bengals to repeat."
“That’s the most even, most competitive division," Peacock agreed. "The one where you could say any of the four teams have a realistic shot at the division.”
You have to go back many years to find the last time the Ravens finished last in the AFC North, and it was in 2007 when they finished 5-11. The next year, in 2008, the Ravens went 11-5, making the playoffs but finishing second in the AFC North just behind the Steelers (12-5).
We know Baltimore had a really solid 2022 NFL Draft, and if Lamar Jackson can stay healthy, they have a realistic shot at getting back on top of a division they won in 2018 and 2019.
This is another obvious choice as a trendy-type of possibility. The Kansas City Chiefs have won this division for six-straight years. But is it finally time for someone else to get on top here?
It was a bonkers offseason for the entire division. The Broncos added quarterback Russell Wilson as one of the biggest gets for the division while the Raiders added Davante Adams and Chandler Jones and the Chargers added Khalil Mack and JC Jackson. While the Chiefs added Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, they did lose their No. 1 receiving threat in Tyreek Hill in a trade to the Dolphins.
While Peacock and Williamson said their official pick to win the division is still the Kansas City Chiefs, there's room for doubt.
Last year the Chiefs won the division at 12-5 with the Raiders coming in at 10-7, the Chargers in third at 9-8 and the Broncos in last at 7-10.
“What about the Denver Broncos at 7-10 last year with Russell Wilson now? This is going to be a really competitive division and I wouldn’t put them last in this division," Peacock said.
“I would put the Raiders last," Williamson said. "I probably will pick the Chiefs again to win the division, but I would definitely take the field (Chargers, Broncos, Raiders) over the Chiefs winning if I had to choose.”
Notably in 2010, the Broncos finished last in the AFC West with a 4-12 record before coming back in 2011 to win the division one season later, albeit with only a 8-8 record. But that started a run where Denver won it five straight seasons.
Dark horse candidates?
The Ravens and Broncos are the only two prime worst to first candidates, according to Peacock and Williamson, but they did mention the Jets and Jaguars as potential dark horse candidates.
“Maybe the Jets are a dark horse," Peacock said. "Could the Jets make that big leap? Could the Jacksonville Jaguars make that leap in the AFC South? New coaching staff all of a sudden is all of a sudden like OK, here’s that generational talent we saw and maybe the Colts and Titans scuffle.”
“Yeah, maybe the Titans and Colts only win eight or nine games and they’re just OK and maybe Jacksonville somehow gets to 9 wins with a tiebreaker or 10 wins," Williamson agreed. "Maybe?”
The Jets have finished last in the AFC East in six of the past eight seasons and haven't won the division since 2002.
The Jaguars have finished last in the AFC South in each of the past four seasons, but they did go worst to first in the 2017 season.