Last season we saw the unexpected rise of the Cincinnati Bengals as they became the latest NFL team to make the improbable jump from worst-to-first in their division. Catapulting themselves up the standings culminated in a Super Bowl LVI appearance and there are 8 teams at the bottom of their respective divisions with dreams of replicating that feat in 2022. Some of them are a more realistic chance to pull off this feat than others though.
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8. New York Giants (4-13)
Rock bottom. Where do we start with the uninspiring New York Giants? Daniel Jones continues to struggle, Saquon Barkley can’t stay healthy and there doesn’t seem to be any blue-chip talents on their roster to build around. Scoring a league-worst 23 touchdowns last year highlights a glaring issue NY has on offence, with their defence not offering much optimism either. They pounced on Bills DC Brian Daboll to be their next head coach, ending the Joe Judge era after a woeful 10-23 stretch, but this Giants team has a long way to go before they can start thinking about a division crown.
7. New York Jets (4-13)
While there are worse teams in the NFL (not too many), it’s virtually impossible to make the case for the Jets to turn their fortunes around in one season. The large reason is due to the strength of the AFC East, with the Buffalo Bills establishing themselves as the creme of the crop, Miami eager to make waves next season after trading for Tyreek Hill, and New England taking strides forward with Mac Jones under center. Robert Salah’s men are trending in the right direction, but the understandable questions around their young QB Zach Wilson mean they’re destined to duke it out for 3rd or 4th in their division.
6. Seattle Seahawks (7-10)
Dealing Russell Wilson during the offseason rules Seattle out of the Super Bowl picture for 2022 and their strong division means I can’t see them making too much noise next season. Their O-line seems set to feature a few rookies and with Drew Lock/Geno Smith under center I don’t have a ton of confidence in their ability to climb out of 4th place in the NFC West. The Seahawks have been a playoff calibre team for close to a decade now, but after the latest moves, they seem destined to spend a few years rebuilding this roster.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14)
With the Urban Meyer fiasco in the rear vision mirror, Jacksonville is hoping they can right the ship with a strong performance. Last preseason one of my bold predictions revolved around the Jags jumping from worst to first to the top of their division. Whoops. Tennessee sat at the top of the AFC South a season ago and while the division isn’t loaded with strong performers, I think a huge leap from Jacksonville is a task too tall. There should be promising signs that give Jaguars fans optimism, although I can’t see them vaulting up the pecking order and claiming top honours in their division for the first time since 2017.
4. Carolina Panthers (5-12)
We could still see the Panthers take a swing at a quarterback upgrade and trade for either Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garapollo, but a competent QB won’t solve all of Carolina’s issues. Sam Darnold and rookie Matt Corral will battle for the QB1 label throughout training camp and no matter which player starts the season under center, the health of Christian McCaffrey will dictate a lot of their success in 2022 with the star running back managing just 10 games over the past two seasons. The race for bragging rights in the NFC South is somewhat wide open, although with Tom Brady returning for his 347th pro season the Bucs will once again be the team to beat and a rebuilding Panthers team won’t change that.
Image from si.com
3. Detroit Lions (3-13-1)
Detroit hasn’t finished first in the NFC North since 1993, although for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, they’re poised to make a push and end the season as one of the most improved squads in the entire league. Boasting impressive talent on the offensive side of the ball, the Lions will need a few things to break right if that improbable climb is going to occur after yet another disappointing campaign in 2021; however, Dan Campbell seems like the right man to steer this franchise up the standings. Jared Goff leaves a bit to be desired as the lead quarterback, but don’t count out this squad on making a sneaky surge when the new season kicks off.
2. Denver Broncos (7-10)
The amount of talent in the AFC West this season is straight up ridiculous and trading for proven winner Russell Wilson has the Broncos sitting firmly amongst the teams set for a rebound campaign. Denver has some imposing talent on the defensive side of the ball and if they finally ‘let Russ cook’ on offence, there’s no reason why they won’t be back in the playoff picture. Duking it out with the Raiders/Chargers/Chiefs for supremacy out West looms as a wet dream for football fans, but the excessive talent in the division makes it hard to envision the Broncos taking the cake as the best of that bunch.
1. Baltimore Ravens (8-9)
Injuries and COVID issues were a major factor for the Ravens last season, which led to them slipping out of the postseason mix and posting a losing record. They’re set for a quick rebound though, even with Lamar Jackson’s contract extension hanging over the franchise as a major talking point. Whether the two sides can come to an agreement or not, Baltimore is poised to make noise in the AFC again and push themselves back towards the top. Cincinnati may be their biggest threat with Deshaun Watson’s potential suspension likely ruling the Browns out of a division title and the Steelers poised for a down season. Expect Jackson to re-enter the MVP discussion and Baltimore to get back to contention by recording double-digit wins and claiming the AFC North banner.
Banner from oregonlive.com
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