by Ryan Hagerty
If there is one word to describe the NFL, it is unpredictable.
This is not to say that other sports are easy to predict, but it seems as if every season there is a Cinderella team that surprises all the analysts. Like last season for example, when rookie quarterback Andrew Luck took a rag tag Indianapolis Colts team that finished dead last in 2012, all the way to the playoffs. It also happened when Matt Ryan turned the Atlanta Falcons lowly franchise around after being drafted third overall. We even saw this occur with the Miami Dolphins when Chad Pennington took a team to the playoffs that finished 1-15 the previous year.
This prompted me to take a look at each time that finished last in their respective divisions, and rank them in order of which is most likely to make a surprise run. There were two divisions in which teams were tied for last, so in those cases I’ll decide which one was worse.
To make things interesting, I’ll start with the least likely.
AFC East- New York Jets 6-10
Both the Buffalo Bills and the Jets finished with 6-10 records, but I think it was pretty clear New York took the cake here. For the first time in his three year stint with the Jets we didn’t have to hear Rex Ryan’s big mouth during the post-season and it doesn’t look like they will be making it back anytime soon. With the retirement of veteran quarterback David Garrard, the battle for starting quarterback will be between the struggling Mark Sanchez, and the arrogant but talented rookie Geno Smith. Regardless of who gets the nod New York will have a hard time recording wins, and I don’t see anyway Ryan will remain head coach after this year. This may sound harsh, but with the minimal talent that the Jets have, I will guarantee they don’t see the playoffs for at least five years.
NFC West- Arizona Cardinals 5-11
I was hoping that the Cardinals would be smart and take a quarterback early in the draft for the first time since the Matt Leinart bust, but that didn’t happen. Instead the Cardinals signed veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, who, while decent at times, is in definite decline. Signing a veteran worked out well with Kurt Warner, but I don’t think that will be the case here. Palmer will be facing daunting pass rushes from both the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. Top that off with a St. Louis Rams team that is on the rise, and we have ourselves another losing season in Arizona.
AFC North- Cleveland Browns 5-11
I don’t have them ranked last, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them have a solid team in my lifetime. Trent Richardson was the first good addition in a while. Veteran, I mean second year quarterback, Brandon Weeden, will be heading into his second year…. at the age of 29.
AFC South Jacksonville Jaguars 2-14
For the past few years Maurice Jones-Drew has been a one man show in Jacksonville. This franchise hasn’t seen a productive starting quarterback since Mark Brunell, but this is no time to give up on top ten draft pick Blaine Gabbert. With young talent at receiver in Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts III, this team could surprise people if Gabbert plays well. I don’t expect them to finish last in the division.
NFC East Philadelphia Eagles 4-12
It will be interesting to see how the Chip Kelly project works out in Philly. I still can’t believe that the Eagles blew a chance to draft Geno Smith, the perfect quarterback for Kelly’s system. I have no idea why they would go and get a pocket passer in Matt Barkley, the USC product who has recently been plagued by injuries. If Kelly can do what Reid wouldn’t and feed McCoy, Philadelphia could make some moves.
NFC South- Carolina Panthers 7-9
Another case in which two teams tied for last, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also finished 7-9. However, Tampa was in contention for the playoffs last year until falling off, which was not the case in Carolina. Cam Newton, in my mind, can beat any team on any given day when he is on. Unfortunately, it is hard to win with one player, and that is why the Panthers need to find Newton weapons, especially with Steve Smith aging. The best chance for Carolina to make a playoff run is for them to establish a run game and take the pressure off of Newton a bit.
NFC North- Detroit Lions 4-12
What a disappointing season for the Lions, who finished dead last in the North a year after making their first playoff run in over a decade. The Matthew Stafford connection to Calvin Johnson is lethal, and that offense will become even more potent with the addition of Reggie Bush. Late game blunders did the Lions in last year, but I expect them to be a contender next season.
AFC West- Kansas City Chiefs 2-14
Similar to the Colts last year, the Chiefs will be coming off of a season in which they played their way to the number one overall draft pick. Kansas City was a much better team than their record showed last year, as injuries and Matt Cassel held them back. The addition of Alex Smith is huge, and if he can perform this team will most definitely be a playoff contender. Call me crazy, but I see them giving the Denver Broncos issues next season. This is my playoff pick.