The NFL is unlike any other sports league in America, and possibly in the world, because of its league-wide parity. Almost every year, at least one team goes from worst to first in its division. In 2018, both the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans won their division after finishing in last the year before.
While both the Bears and Texans lost in the first round of the playoffs last season, some teams go directly from last place to having playoff success. For example, both of the worst to first teams in 2017 won multiple games in the postseason. The Jacksonville Jaguars went to the AFC Championship game and the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl. Which teams have the best chance of going from worst to first in 2019?
The Jaguars over the last three seasons perfectly exemplify parity in the NFL. In 2016, they ended the season at 3-13 and last place in the AFC South. Then one year later, Jacksonville not only won the division and earned a playoff berth, but they also came one Tom Brady comeback drive short of a Super Bowl appearance. Then last season, they went in the opposite direction and fell all the way back to last place in their division.
However, there is reason to believe they can make another total bounce back and win the AFC South once again. The Jaguars defense, which carried the team to the AFC Championship in 2017, was still very good last season. They finished top five in the league in both yards allowed (fifth) and points allowed (fourth), including allowing only 19.8 points per game. Even after losing Telvin Smith (taking a year off) and Malik Jackson (release), Jacksonville still has a stout, talented defense. They added a terrific defender through the draft in Josh Allen, arguably the best edge rusher in the entire draft.
As suspected for a 3-13 team whose defense allowed under 20 points per game, the offense was on the opposite side of the spectrum last year. They were 27th in the league in yards and second-to-last in points, scoring a meager 15.3 points per game. However, they made a huge change at the quarterback position by replacing Blake Bortles with 2017 Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. Bortles was one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league. On the other hand, Nick Foles has his ups and downs but overall, is at least a league average quarterback who has a high ceiling. Further, Foles turns into a superstar when the pressure is on and the lights shine brightest.
The Jaguars have a still terrific defense and made a monster improvement at the quarterback position. In addition, they have key players returning from injury including offensive tackle Cam Robinson. They are back in position to win their division and perhaps do some damage in the postseason.
New York Jets
Yes, the New England Patriots have won the AFC East all but twice since 2001. In one of those two seasons when they didn’t win, Tom Brady tore his ACL Week 1. But looking away from the Patriots long stretch of dominance for a second and focus on this upcoming season, the New York Jets have the potential to be a surprise playoff contender.
The Jets have a quarterback in Sam Darnold who had ups and downs as a rookie last year, but is extremely talented. His rookie season and style of play is reminiscent of Carson Wentz. Both quarterbacks had their miscues and erratic moments as rookies, but also flashed incredible playmaking ability. Darnold has the escapability, arm talent and leadership to break out as a sophomore like Wentz did in 2017.
The Jets also had a fantastic offseason, adding key contributors on both sides of the ball. Newly signed star running back Le’Veon Bell will be a boon for Darnold in the offense. Bell is a great runner out of the backfield, a very good slot receiver/dump-off option and a great pass-protector. They also added former All-Pro Guard Kelechi Osemele who had a down year in 2018, but is certainly an upgrade for the Jets. The wide receiving corps has young talent with Robbie Anderson, Quincy Enunwa and Jamison Crowder.
On defense, New York added a dominant inside linebacker in former Raven CJ Mosley, who has been named to the All-Pro team each of the last four seasons. They drafted defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who should be an immediate force in the middle. In the third round, they found a steal in talented edge rusher Jachai Polite. This could turn into a very good defense as soon as this season.
The Jets have enough potential on both sides of the ball to make a huge jump in the win column. If new head coach Adam Gase can get the most out his team, they should contend for the playoffs. If the chips fall their way, New York could unseat the New England Patriots atop the division. While the Patriots and Tom Brady have proven not to be counted against, this could finally be the season they lose the AFC East. The Jets are in prime position to take advantage.
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