Saturday, June 12, 2021

AFC: Who Can Go From Worst To First In 2021?

The NFL is best known for its parity in both the AFC and NFC. Any team can win the Super Bowl, with it often being the case that half the teams that make the playoffs one season will not be in the postseason the following campaign.

In the 2020 season, we only saw 7 out of the 14 teams in the playoffs that made it during the 2019 season.

The Super Bowl winners Tampa Bay Buccaneers had not been in the playoffs since the 2007 season and had not won the playoffs since they held the Lombardi Trophy after the conclusion of the 2002 season. The San Francisco 49ers, who lost in Super Bowl 54, did not even make the playoffs in the 2020 season.

It is also common for teams to go from best in their division to worst and we also see teams go from worst to first.

Which teams are most likely to go from worst?

AFC East: New York Jets (2-14 In 2020)

The Jets were considered the worst team in the NFL last season until they decided to win games late in the season.

Head coach Adam Gase was fired shortly after the conclusion of the season and the Jets decided to hire Robert Saleh, who had success over the past few seasons as the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator.

The NFL offseason will be an intriguing one for the Jets as disgruntled Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is said to have the Jets as his number one destination because of Saleh. Should they not acquire Watson, they have a decision to make when it comes to their quarterback Sam Darnold.

The number three overall pick in 2018 has been a disappointment so far during his time at the Jets but Salah is his third head coach in what will be his fourth season in the league. This goes to show the turmoil that has gone on around Darnold.

Should the Jets decide to move off Darnold, they will most likely draft a quarterback in the draft, with Justin Fields and Zach Wilson seen as the most likely picks.

Doing so will allow the Jets to acquire draft capital. This is a team that needs a lot of work. Whichever quarterback that is under centre for the Jets will need the weapons around them. Offensive tackle Mekhi Becton had an encouraging rookie season and will be part of an offensive line responsible for protecting their QB.

Salah seems ready-made for a head coaching job in the NFL and he appears to have all the man-management skills to allow him to adapt quickly.

The Patriots have an uncertain future in 2021 and the Miami Dolphins quarterback situation is far from clear. The Buffalo Bills will deservedly be the division favourites but it is yet to be determined if they will be a one-season wonder. Should this be the case, this is where the Jets can capitalise.

AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1 in 2020)

The Bengals were the worst team during the 2019 season and acquired quarterback Joe Burrow with the first overall pick.

Burrow was having an excellent rookie season before an injury ended it prematurely. It is unlikely that the Bengals would have gone 4-11 with Burrow available all season long.

We saw the 49ers suffer after Jimmy Garoppolo went down in the 2018 season and their second overall pick in the 2019 draft helped elevate San Francisco to Super Bowl 54.

We could see a similar effect with Cincinnati provided they draft right. An offensive tackle would be the most viable option for this Bengals team in order to help protect Burrow.

Wide receiver Tee Higgins showed promise during the 2020 season and Joe Mixon is one of the league’s underrated running backs.

There is uncertainty about the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, in a similar fashion to Buffalo, could easily be just a one-season wonder. The Baltimore Ravens struggled for the most of 2020 before a great run down the stretch. They hit good form at the right time albeit against favourable opposition but teams appear to have figured out Lamar Jackson.

Provided Burrow is protected and the defense stops teams more than they did during 2020, then the Bengals can look at attempting to take the AFC North crown for the first time since the 2015 campaign.

AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15 in 2020)

This is the most likely option of the four teams, with plenty of upturns in the Jaguars this offseason. Many predicted the Jaguars to be the worst team in the league during the 2020 offseason.

A win against the Indianapolis Colts in week 1 offered fans hope but they would not win for the remainder of the season.

Legendary college coach Urban Meyer is the new head coach in Jacksonville and he is coming into a team with plenty of cap space along with many draft picks. This includes the number one overall pick, which is almost certain to be Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Urban Meyer attended the pro day and will want to give his new quarterback the best team possible.

Meyer will want to use his second first-rounder in the 2021 draft on a wide receiver with their only reliable option coming from D. J. Chark.

A defensive stud is a welcome addition to any team but no more so than this Jaguars team who were once called ‘Sacksonville’. With Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey and Yannick Ngakoue now gone, the Jaguars have certainly missed this threat on the defensive side of the ball.

The city of Houston appears to be making a habit of losing their top athletes and the Texans are no exception. J.J. Watt and Deandre Hopkins have all departed within the past twelve months and Deshaun Watson could be the next. Houston will be unlikely to challenge for the South in 2021.

The Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts will be the two favourites for the division and both teams took it to the final week of the regular season to decide who would be division champions.

Nobody knows who will be the Colts quarterback after Philip Rivers’ retirement and the Baltimore Ravens proved in the Wildcard Round in January that if you stop running back Derrick Henry you stop the Titans.

If anyone has seen Meyer during his time as a college analyst on television, you cannot help but be mesmerised.

A new head coach in Jacksonville can inspire this struggling franchise to the division title with the other AFC South teams’ status in 2021 far from predictable.

AFC West: Denver Broncos (5-11 in 2020)

The Denver Broncos went into the 2020 season with much hype, with how rookie quarterback Drew Lock performed down the stretch during his first five career starts in 2019. Alabama wideout Jerry Jeudy was drafted and this gave fans a lot of hope. The media also held them as Super Bowl dark horses.

However, star defensive lineman Von Miller suffered a season-ending injury before the start of the season and Denver soon flattered to deceive.

Lock was a victim of a sophomore slump and failed to produce the performances that we saw when Lock was named the starter in 2019.

This is going to be arguably the toughest division to go from worst to first due to the strength of AFC West rivals the Kansas City Chiefs.

If the Broncos can get Lock to improve in 2021 and have Miller back to both improve the defense and held develop Bradley Chubb, then the Broncos have a chance to win this division. Jerry Jeudy can only get better and the same applies to K.J. Hamler.

The Broncos will hope that the Chiefs suffer an unlikely Super Bowl hangover. The Raiders have been inconsistent these past two seasons and the Chargers have defensive issues to fix, despite their hiring of new head coach Brandon Staley.

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