Posted on June 25, 2017, by Travis Pulver
There are few things people love more than winners, but a good worst-to-first story. We love to see underdogs win. We love to see a team overcome the odds and beat the favorite. It’s the kind of thing that makes for a great movie—or at least a good after-school special.
It is not uncommon to see NFL teams go from worst in their respective divisions. The league does what it can to give poor teams a helping hand. They get to pick first in the draft and play an easier schedule. So, if they pick a player that can contribute as a rookie, the road to the top isn’t as tough.
Since the NFL expanded to 32 teams and organized them into eight four-team divisions (in 2002), there has been at least one a year. The Dallas Cowboys did it last season (from 4-12 in 2015 to 13-3). Who will this year’s Cinderella team be?
Chances are—no one.
In some cases, it is pretty easy to say it isn’t going to happen. For example, there is no way the New York Jets (100 to 1) are going to supplant the New England Patriots on top of the AFC East. It is just as hard to imagine the Cleveland Browns (80 to 1) making the jump in the AFC North or the San Francisco 49ers (40 to 1) in the NFC West. The Chicago Bears (50 to 1) will have a hard time overcoming the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North as well.
The odds are a lot better in the other four divisions, but fans shouldn’t count too much on their team making the jump.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles (7/2 odds)
The Philadelphia Eagles gave Carson Wentz some additional weapons in the off-season, but it is hard to see Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, and LeGarrette Blount be the difference between the Eagles finishing last or knocking the Dallas Cowboys off their perch. Wentz is still very raw and has a long way to go.
It is easier to see the New York Giants or Washington Redskins knocking the Cowboys off. The Giants have a better defense and more potential on offense. If Kirk Cousins doesn’t miss Desean Jackson or Pierre Garcon too much, the Redskins have a better shot than the Eagles do.
NFC South: Carolina Panthers (2/1 odds)
The Carolina Panthers won 15 games and made it to the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Last season they went 6-10 and finished dead last in the division. Fans are hoping last season was the anomaly and not the 15-win season. With the addition of a couple of offensive weapons via the draft (Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel), it is not hard to imagine the Panthers moving in the right direction.
But will they be better than the Atlanta Falcons? Eh—doubtful. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to be much better this season, and the New Orleans Saints will always be relevant with Drew Brees at the helm.
Carolina will be much more competitive this season. Cam Newton will play better, but the anomaly was how well he played in 2015. Expect Atlanta to repeat as division champs or Tampa Bay to take the title.
AFC West: Los Angeles Chargers (4/1 division odds)
The Chargers do not have bad odds because they are not a bad team. Phillip Rivers is still one of the best in the game. Melvin Gordon showed a lot of potential last season, and the Chargers were nice enough to draft Rivers a new wide receiver in the first round (Clemson’s Mike Williams). Their defense should be in good shape as well with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram leading the charge.
But while there is a chance the Chiefs could slip this season, it is hard to imagine anyone overcoming the Oakland Raiders in the AFC West this season. It is easier to imagine the Denver Broncos finishing last as the offense struggles without a running game or adequate quarterback play.
Jacksonville Jaguars: (5/1 division odds)
Jacksonville has drafted quality players and spent a fortune in free agency the last few seasons, but have continued to struggle. Many blame it on Blake Bortles, and while he is part of the problem, the actual problem is more than Bortles. The Jaguars are a wreck from the top of the organization to the bottom of it.
If it is possible in the NFL to wipe the slate clean and start over, the Jaguars need to. Maybe new head coach Doug Marrone can get them on the right track—but it would take a small miracle for them to win the AFC South over Houston, Indianapolis, and Tennessee.
Odds via sportline.com