Which NFL team will go worst-to-first in 2018?
The Philadelphia Eagles were the worst team in the NFC East in 2016, finishing 7-9. A year later, they were the best team in the NFL with a 13-3 record and a Lombardi Trophy.
Since 1984, when the parity-driven NFL implemented a balanced scheduling format, there have been 29 teams that have vaulted from worst in their division to first. The 1999 St. Louis Rams, 2001 New England Patriots and 2009 New Orleans Saints joined the 2017 Eagles in the quantum leap from last place in a division to Super Bowl champion in the span of one season.
The Eagles became the third consecutive NFC East team to vault from worst to first. The Dallas Cowboys accomplished the feat in 2016 and the Washington Redskins in 2015. So that’s the subject of this week’s Talk of Fame Network poll – which of the eight last-place teams in 2017 stands the best chance of vaulting from worst to first in 2018? Here are your eight options:
Chicago Bears (NFC North, 5-11). The Bears put their rookie quarterback on the field last season and struggled. Mitch Trubisky went 4-8 in his dozen starts, offsetting his seven TD passes with seven interceptions. He’ll be a year better, the Bears have given him a new target in free agent WR Allen Robinson and Chicago returns a Top 10 defense.
Cleveland Browns (AFC North, 0-16). The Browns have reloaded at quarterback, acquiring Tyrod Taylor in a trade with Buffalo and using the first overall pick of the draft on Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. They also acquired the leading rusher of the 49ers (Carlos Hyde) and the leading receiver of the Dolphins (Jarvis Landry).
Denver Broncos (AFC West, 5-11). The Broncos ran through three quarterbacks without any success last season, so GM John Elway moved to stabilize the position by signing Case Keenum away from the NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings in free agency. Defense will still carry the Broncos. They finished third a year ago and added to the pass rush with first-round pick Bradley Chubb.
Houston Texans (AFC South, 4-12). The Texans went from first in 2016 to worst in 2017 because of injuries. Defensive end J.J. Watt missed 11 games last season and rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson missed nine games. The Texans also took steps to fix the 20th ranked defense at safety by signing Tyrann Mathieu in free agency and drafting Justin Reid out of Stanford.
New York Giants (NFC East, 3-13). The Giants are following the path of their NFC East rival Cowboys with a run-heavy offense after passing on all the quarterbacks at the top of the 2018 draft to take Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. New York also hope to give aging quarterback Eli Manning some breathing room in the pocket by signing New England’s Pro Bowl left tackle Nate Solder in free agency.
New York Jets (AFC East, 5-11). The Jets used the third overall pick of the 2018 draft on Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold with hopes they have finally fixed the quarterback position. But that selection didn’t address the NFL’s 25th ranked defense, which will be without DT and salary-cap casualty Muhammad Wilkerson.
San Francisco 49ers (NFC West, 6-10). The 2017 season was a tale of two seasons for the 49ers. They were 1-10 through the first 11 games but 5-0 down the stretch after installing Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Brady’s former backup, as the starter. But leading rusher Carlos Hyde bolted in free agency for the Cleveland Browns.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC South, 5-11). This is a franchise that once won a Super Bowl with defense. That identity is officially gone. The Buccaneers fielded the NFL’s worst defense with the league’s worst pass rush (22 sacks). But Tampa Bay added edge rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry this offseason and used a first-round draft pick on a tackle (Vita Vea).