NFL: AFC Worst to First – Can each division’s 4th placed team turn their fortunes around and finish top in 2022?

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AFC East – New York Jets

The Jets have not been to the postseason since 2010. They have not beaten a divisional opponent for the second season running. Even though this has been his first year at the helm, am I too hasty in saying that Adam Saleh is running out of time? An unremarkable 2021 campaign has the fans feeling subdued once again. The jury is out on the verdict of second overall pick Zach Wilson, who showed glimpses of quality, albeit few and far between. His inability to make the easy throws may be excused by an inevitable adjustment period from college-level ball to the quick pace of the professional game, or it may well be a cause for concern. In Wilson’s defense, the weapons at his disposal were not serial playmakers, with only Corey Davis and rookie Elijah Moore to rely on. The offseason acquisition of steady tight ends Tyler Conklin and CJ Uzomah gives Wilson two big-bodied receiving options, something that he did not have in his debut season. Jets fans should look forward to the future, specifically April 28th, where their two top ten picks are extremely valuable in a 2022 draft that is rife with exciting defensive prospects. The defensive line could do with more juice coming off the edge, and luckily enough talented prospects in this position are aplenty. Divisional Worst to First? – Not a chance. A rejuvenated Patriots team and super-human quarterback play by Josh Allen put pay to the Jets’ hopes of winning an AFC East title. Also, did I mention that Tyreek Hill now plays for the Dolphins?

AFC North – Baltimore Ravens

Finishing with an 8-9 record, Baltimore was the highest-ranked 4th placed team. Injuries plagued their 2021 campaign. Dual-threat QB Lamar Jackson missed 5 games, whilst promising 2nd year running back JK Dobbins was out for the entire season. Luck wasn’t on their side either. Baltimore went 8-3 before losing the last 6 games of the season, 4 of which they lost by no more than 2 points and one that went into overtime. However, amid a cloudy 2021 campaign, one star shone through. Mark Andrews led the league in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving TDs for a tight end, catapulting him into the high-end bracket of TEs that Kelce and Kittle have dominated for the past half-decade. So, barring any injuries, the offense should be okay. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the defense. From a contract breakdown with leading pass-rusher Z’Darius Smith to an unsuccessful attempt to sign All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner, the Ravens’ offseason hasn’t been an overwhelming success. Good thing they’ve got a whopping 10 picks in the draft then isn’t it! No team in NFL history has used all its double-digit selections on one side of the ball, nevertheless, owner Steve Bisciotti has stated that he’d be quite happy with an all-defensive draft. Watch this space. Divisional Worst to First? – Possibly. JoeyB’s Bengals should be strong again. The Steelers and Browns enter a new era, with Big Ben’s retirement and the blockbuster trade deal for Deshaun Watson making the division extremely unpredictable.

AFC South – Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags have finished bottom of the AFC South for the past 4 years. Fans were hopeful ahead of the 21′ season when they secured Urban Meyer, one of the best college coaches the game had ever seen. What a debacle that turned into. From being pictured dancing with a woman that wasn’t his wife in a bar after a game (which they lost) to allegedly kicking a kicker (not a typo), Meyer’s 11-month reign was filled with controversy. Jacksonville’s season did end on a high though. In week 18 they beat a good Colts side, in which 2021 number one pick Trevor Lawrence delivered a masterful performance that had him looking like the generational talent that he was built up to be. However, this was too little too late, as they finished dead last in the NFL, securing the first pick in the draft for the second year in a row. Before we talk draft, let’s talk offseason, where the Jags have not been messing around. Firstly, they moved to protect their number 1 pick by signing Brandon Scherff, the All-Pro offensive guard. Secondly, the offensive weapons arrived in the form of Christian Kirk on a bumper four-year, $72 million contract and Zay Jones on a three-year deal. They didn’t stop there, securing 2021’s leader in tackles Foye Oluokun to strengthen the linebacker corps. If Jacksonville’s 12 draft picks are chosen wisely, the 2022 offseason will be a massive step in the right direction under new head coach Doug Pederson. Divisional Worst to First? – Dark Horse. The Titans are beatable, the Texans are starting a rebuild and the Colts have had 5 different starting QBs in the last 5 years. Why not?

AFC West – Denver Broncos

The Broncos have been stuck in a rut since Hall of Fame Quarterback Peyton Manning won them the Superbowl in 2015. In recent history, the Broncos have been completely mediocre, and after three years of consistently average performances, the board seemed to have had enough, as Vic Fangio was fired after their week 18 loss to the Chiefs. In comes Nathanial Hackett, former offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers. First order of business: get a new QB. On March 8th the Broncos did exactly that, in a big way. They acquired Russell Wilson in one of the largest trade deals in NFL history that saw Drew Lock, Noah Fant, Shelby Harris, and 5 draft picks head to Seattle. It feels like the Broncos have finally found the one piece of the puzzle needed to transform them into an offensive powerhouse. Due to the aforementioned trade, draft picks this year are not in abundance, however, if their 2022 choices are anything like they were in 2021, Denver will be laughing, as 1st round corner Patrick Surtain and 2nd round running back Javonte Williams look like fantastic prospects. Divisional Worst to First? – Probably not. The AFC West is a joke. Even with a Superbowl-winning QB, does Denver have what it takes to dethrone Mahomes or even challenge Justin Herbert? Not to mention Davante Adams, the league’s best receiver, now plays for the Las Vegas Raiders. This is going to be fun.

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