The Denver Broncos are looking to be the 24th team to jump from worst to first in their division since the NFL grew to 32 teams. Since 2003, the year after the expansion, all but the 2014 and 2019 seasons had at least one team make such a jump.
This is a feat the Broncos made once before when they went from last place in the AFC West in 2010 with a 4-12 record to 8-8 in 2011.
The magical Tim Tebow season.
Of the teams to make this jump, a few include Super Bowl appearances, and two teams won it all: the 2009 New Orleans Saints and 2017 Philadelphia Eagles. The Saints went from an 8-8 season in 2008 to 13-3, while the Eagles went 7-9 to 13-3.
The most recent team was the Cincinnati Bengals, who lost the Super Bowl to the Los Angeles Rams earlier this year. The Rams were the second team in a row to win it all with a new quarterback in town after acquiring Matthew Stafford.
There are some common threads between the teams that jump from worst to first. First, of the 23 teams, most had continuity at the quarterback and head coach positions.
Only 10 teams saw a change at one of the two key organizational positions, and only three saw a change at both. Secondly, the teams achieving the feat had a significant jump to make, with only four having seven or more wins.
Thus, history isn't favorable to the Broncos making that jump. If Denver went from worst to first in 2022, the team would be the fourth to do so with a change at both quarterback and head coach and the fifth to win seven or more games the season before.
However, when you look at the other seven teams that could go from worst to first, the odds are more favorable, at least on paper.
The New York Jets are the option for the AFC East. On paper, the Jets are a young team, and they could shock people, but their quarterback has a significant jump to make. Zach Wilson had a rough preseason showing before he got injured. So while the Jets could make the jump, it would shock the football world.
The other New York team, the Giants, is the potential option for the NFC East. If the Giants were to go from first to worst, it would be the biggest surprise in the football world. They're a mess at quarterback and seem to be aiming for a quarterback in the 2023 NFL draft.
Then we have the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers. Both have young teams with a veteran quarterback, but their quarterbacks seem to be middle of the pack. The rest of their rosters also have some significant holes. Nevertheless, like the Giants, the Panthers appear poised for a quarterback in the next draft.
For the last of the more unlikely teams, we have the Seattle Seahawks, who have a battle taking shape between Geno Smith and former Broncos quarterback Drew Lock. The battle is still ongoing, and word coming out of Seattle has Smith winning it.
Lock getting strip-sacked to close out his night in the first preseason game didn't help him. This is a team that will probably be making many changes after the season, including at quarterback.
Of the remaining two teams, not counting the Broncos, you find the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens.
Before you laugh about the Jaguars, they have a young and talented quarterback that seems ready to make that Year 2 jump in play. The Jags also upgraded their head coach with someone who should be coaching in the NFL. The final reason is that Jacksonville's division isn't strong, but not weak.
The Jags upgraded their offensive line, offensive weapons, and defense and their defensive line looks extremely tough and physical up front. The Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts are in front of them, but the Jags are a team that could make that jump.
With the Ravens, they have one of the more talented rosters. As long as they can keep players healthy for the 2022-2023 season, Balrimoew should be in a good position in a division poised for regression in the overall competition.
The Steelers made a massive change at quarterback, but head coach Mike Tomlin consistently fields a tough team to beat. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns made a quarterback change and may make yet another for this season. But, undoubtedly, the Bengals are the team that is the challenge to the Ravens.
Having to beat out the division opponents is where the Ravens and Jaguars have a slightly better chance. They don't have to face two of the top-six quarterbacks and three top-10 quarterbacks for six games this season. The Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, and Las Vegas Raiders all have talented quarterbacks and made significant changes to their roster, as Denver did.
So, can Russell Wilson lead the Broncos from worst to first? Yes, and the biggest reason boils down to the defenses he'll face. That is still a significant concern for the Raiders, and the Chiefs look solid defensively. The Chargers may be the most formidable divisional defense they will have to face, but Denver's defense looks poised to be an excellent unit.
It won't be easy, but the Broncos can make that jump. It seems more likely, however, that Denver jumps from worst to second best. Only time will tell, and there are 17 games for the Broncos to send a message to the NFL about how legit this team is.
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