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From Worst to First

In 21 of the last 23 seasons at least one last place team has climbed the ranks and sat atop of their division the next year. Who is most likely to be 2024’s comeback story? Will there be more than one Cinderella team? This ranking is based on who is most likely to win their division. Not necessarily a traditional power ranking.

1. Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati sticks out like a sore thumb among the last place finishers. The Bengals run away with first place in this ranking despite facing the toughest division in the league. That is because the Bengals shouldn’t even be in this article. Cincinnati actually accomplished this feat in 2021 after losing Joe Burrow to injury half way through 2020. The Bengals will look to make history repeat itself in 2024. The roster and big game experience of this team is another degree or two ahead of the seven other last place finishers. The Bengals are the only serious contender here to win their division.

2. Tennesse Titans

Playing in a weaker division really helps out the Titans in this ranking. They would not be sitting at 2nd if this list of teams were based soley on who was better. But alas, the Titans have an easier road to the top than some of these other rebuilding teams who will have to go through some juggernauts. Tennessee has a solid supporting cast for second year man Will Levis who hopes to take the next step. Their trenches have been re-solidified and their additions at cornerback in the offseason should shore things up on the backend with Chidobe Awuzie and L’Jarius Sneed. The Titans biggest obstacle in their division is the Houston Texans. Otherwise, you can already make the argument they have the 2nd best roster in the AFC South.

3. Chicago Bears

If all goes to plan this season, Caleb Williams could already become the greatest Bears quarterback in franchise history. Which is sad, but still exciting for Chicago, I guess. The Bears have surrounded their most talented quarterback ever with a great supporting cast. Almost reminiscent of what the Bengals gave Joe Burrow to play with and why the Bears could have a big year. The Bears exciting offensive arsenal may be one of the best the team has ever rostered. Veterans D.J. Moore, Keenan Allen. Cole Kmet, and Gerald Everett give the number one overall pick a fantastic on field support system. Top 10 rookie Rome Odunze gives them the ability to be elite on offense. With solid running back and offensive line rooms this is a well built and balanced offensive roster. The Bears have enough on the backend of their defense, but their defensive line still has questions along with their Head Coach Matt Eberflus. Can the Bears finally overcome the Packers? And Chicago will be hoping the Lions revert back to their classic historical losing ways. As of now the Bears rank third in their division at best behind two playoff teams they’ll need to triumph over.

4. Washington Commanders

The NFC east hasn’t had a back-to-back division winner in nearly 20 years. Washington didn’t win it last year, so they already have that ironically going for them. The Commanders have exciting potential on offense with rookie Heisman winner Jayden Daniels and new offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. With other new additions on offense in Austin Ekeler and Luke McCaffery I can see the offensive vision a bit clearer than the Chargers, who I had ranked closely with the Commanders. Washington’s defense projects to be an average unit on paper but with defensive head coach Dan Quinn, that should be enough to be at least competitive in a division that may not be untouchable at the top.

5. New England Patriots

New England has a promising young quarterback talent in Drake Maye. QB play should be improved from 2023, which is the number one reason to expect improvement from this club. Maye should be supported by a good defensive roster led by former linebacker turned coach Jerod Mayo. That should be enough for the Patriots to remain competitive in more games than they were in 2023. Yet, their offensive supporting cast is still a work in progress in their receiving and offensive line rooms. A once dominant franchise now plays in the shadow of much more exciting offenses in Miami, Buffalo, and New York who they’ll have to contend with six times a year as part of the t-8th hardest schedule of 2024.

6. Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers are at a disadvantage no other team on this list can say they have to go through. If the Chargers didn’t have to contend with the Chiefs, they would likely rank higher on this list. LA has the quarterback, coach, and offensive line to win a division. The problem is the questions surrounding their 24th ranked defense and lack luster receiving options.

7. Carolina Panthers

You can’t say the Panthers didn’t at least upgrade their offense to support their young quarterback. Still, it doesn’t take much to say they’ve upgraded from whatever their offense was last year. We’ll see in 2024 if those additions will truly pay off on the offensive line and wide receiver rooms. They should be better, but by how much? Carolina’s defense still remains a big question especially after dealing away star Brian Burns. First time head coach Dave Canales will have his work cut out for him. Even in a weaker division, the Panthers are still so far away as a roster to think about titles. Although crazier things have happened than the Falcons, Saints and Buccaneers falling apart. If the Panthers somehow exceed expectations with a t-29th strength of schedule, I could see them being in contention late in the year.

8. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals ceiling in 2024 is average. Arizona’s roster has less holes than before but is still missing high end talent almost everywhere. Marvin Harrison Jr. will look to carry a bleak wide receiver unit, and really the entire offense. The Cardinals are in one of the toughest divisions featuring two of the best coaches in the league. Their work is cut out for them to simply not finish last again in 2024.


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