It’s a phenomenon that occurs in the NFL almost every season: One team that finished last in their division the previous year goes on to win their division the following year. Last year saw the Denver Broncos win this dubious honor, posting an 8-8 record in 2011 after a dreadful 4-12 performance in 2010. 2010 saw the Chiefs winning the division at 10-6 after posting a 4-12 record in 2009. For many years before that, many teams from the NFC South experienced this seesaw effect as well. With that being said, let’s take a look at the AFC divisions and see which team that came in last place has the best shot of turning it around in 2012.
AFC East – Last Place Team in 2011 – Buffalo Bills (6-10)
Ability to Win Division: C
The Buffalo Bills had a very good off-season, and by that, I mean the team broke the bank for Mario Williams and, barring injury, it looks to be a move that will pay immediate dividends. The team also made sure that Stevie Johnson won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, giving him a 5-year, 36.25 million dollar contract extension this off-season. The team also has Fitzpatrick locked up for some time. So why are their chances so low? Two things: a very shaky offensive line, and the New England Patriots. The team did address the line to a degree in the off-season, getting Cordy Glenn in the second round of the draft, but outside of Center Eric Wood, who is very good, but not elite at this time in his career, there are numerous ways for Randy Fitzpatrick to get injured and thrown off his game. As for the Patriots, barring an severe injury to Tom Brady, it seems, just as it is every year, that the division title is theirs to lose. Still, if anyone can do it this year in this division, it would be the Bills, as I see them being better than the Dolphins by far, and the Jets by a little.
AFC North – Last Place Team in 2011 – Cleveland Browns (4-12)
Ability to Win Division – F
Many people admired the off-season by the Browns franchise, especially in light of the draft. Nearly everyone (except Jim Brown of course) was exceptionally high on the Trent Richardson pick, and while the Brandon Weeden pick was certainly a shocker, many analysts saw it to be a good selection in hindsight, though it was heavily criticized in the moment by all except Skip Bayless. However, the Browns play in one of the toughest divisions in football, home to perennial post-season teams the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. In addition, the Cincinnati Bengals have really begun to advance as a team, led by A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. The Browns may have found some important pieces in their quest to re-build, but rest assured that they are many years away from snatching the division title from any of those three teams over the coming years.
AFC South – Last Place Team in 2011 – Indianapolis Colts (2-14)
Ability to Win Division: D-
The Colts are a completely different team then they have ever been in the last decade plus. I’m not certain which is more jarring: seeing the team without Peyton, or seeing them play a predominately 3-4 defense. I expect at least a few years of growing pains for the offense and defense, and the only thing preventing me from giving this team an outright F is the fact that it might be so radically different, there’s an outside chance they could sneak a few games here and there from teams that have no idea what to expect. That is a small margin, however, and with the Houston Texans looking to take charge of the division with a second consecutive title, as well as a strong push from the Tennessee Titans, who narrowly missed the playoffs last year, expect the Colts to be many years away from contending. That could change, however, if Andrew Luck’s development advances as quick or quicker than expected.
AFC West – Last Place Team in 2011 – Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)
Ability to Win Division: B-
The Chiefs grade has just as much to do with division talent, or lack thereof, as any other aspect of their team. The fact is that the AFC West is a huge vat of mediocrity and disappointment. The Broncos, Chargers, Raiders, and Chiefs have all consistently been teases not only before the season, but throughout as well. In 2011, three teams went 8-8, while one went 7-9, that team being the Chiefs. Only one team separated the best and worst in this division, and hence, the Chiefs are in the best spot to go from worst to first. It should be noted, however, that the Chiefs desperately need to take advantage of this season, as once Manning has a full season under his belt with the Broncos, I expect them to be the team to beat in the AFC West for the following four years.
Come back to NFL Spin Zone for the NFC Edition coming soon…
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