Updated:Sep 23, 2022
The Cincinnati Bengals surprised everyone last year by going from the bottom of the division during the 20-21 season to winning the AFC North and going all the way to the Super Bowl the next season. No one- not even the most diehard of the Bengals faithful- could have seen it coming.
Will we see anything like that this year? Let’s break down every team that bottomed out each division last year and find out.
AFC North – Baltimore RavensEmbed from Getty Images
Easily the most likely team of this collective to win their respective division, the Ravens, even with the ridiculous amount of injuries they incurred last season, were well on their way to taking the AFC North crown last season until star QB Lamar Jackson went down with an ankle injury that would sideline him for the rest of the season. The team, which was 8-3 and still had a healthy lead in the division, promptly dropped six straight afterward and would miss the playoffs.
Assuming their entire team doesn’t turn to glass again, the Ravens have a good chance of getting revenge and taking it this year. They did lose a few players this off-season that they probably would’ve liked to keep, such as Hollywood Brown and Anthony Averett, however, made up for it with key signings Marcus Williams, Michael Pierce, and Morgan Moses. On top of that, Lamar Jackson is still Lamar Jackson. No matter how much people want to discredit him as a ‘running back’, Jackson is still one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league who can kill you on the ground or through the air.
Jackson’s weapons aren’t too shabby either, the best of the bunch being Mark Andrews, an elite tight end who is typically the young QB’s top target. Besides Andrews, Rashod Bateman has looked pretty solid so far this season, already grabbing two touchdowns and coming fresh off a 100-yard game in a 42-38 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
With the Bengals looking hungover after their Super Bowl appearance, the Browns missing their controversial star QB for the first 11 games, and the Steelers’ offense looking dead to rights with Matt Canada calling the shots, the Ravens are in a good position to take the AFC North this year.
AFC East – New York JetsEmbed from Getty Images
I’m going to be blunt here, the Jets are not winning the AFC East. Not with superstar Josh Allen throwing beautiful spirals to the likes of Stefon Diggs and Dawson Knox every week. As long as the Buffalo Bills are healthy and have Allen at the helm, the Jets’ chances of winning the division are close to zero.
That’s not to say the future isn’t bright, however.
Yes, Zach Wilson went down with a knee injury in the pre-season, however, it isn’t as serious as initially thought. Besides, this team has a few young stars who could end up leading this team to glory in the upcoming years. Ohio State product Garrett Wilson showed out against the Browns this past Sunday, going for over 100-yards and catching two TDs, one of which being the game-winning one.
Outside of Wilson, they got a young running back with a lot of upside in Michael Carter, solid receiver options to compliment Wilson in Corey Davis and Elijah Moore and a potential lockdown corner in former Cincinnati Bearcat Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner. While this year may not (will not)be their year, the Jets could see a playoff birth sometime in the near future.
AFC West – Denver BroncosEmbed from Getty Images
Before the year began, the Broncos were actually my top candidate to complete the turnaround from the bottom of the division to the winners of the West. Sure, they’re facing stiff competition as the AFC West is full of contenders- namely the Chargers and especially the Chiefs- however, it was widely agreed upon that they were a good quarterback away from being contenders last year, and they got their good quarterback in long-time Seahawk Russell Wilson.
Unfortunately, while they fixed their biggest problem by getting the likely Hall of Famer, they created a possibly even bigger issue in the coaching department. Nathanial Hackett has not shown any signs of being a capable head coach through these first two weeks. Good clock management and better playcalling in those final two minutes and they’re 2-0 right now, tied with the Chiefs for the top of the division. I hate to play armchair coach, but I think that most armchair coaches could’ve coached better in that situation.
Now, it has only been two weeks and they did manage to snatch a win, albeit just barely, from the Texans this past Sunday, but I’d be concerned if I was a Broncos fan. That defense can still hold opponents down, no doubt, but I’d expect a better product on the field from the offense.
If Hackett can get it together, this team will be in the playoffs. But if not, then prepare for another wasted season of Russell Wilson’s career.
AFC South – Jacksonville JaguarsEmbed from Getty Images
The Jaguars are in a similar situation as the Jets, except in a much, much weaker division. A division which they currently lead at the moment.
They have a lot of young, unproven players with a fair amount of upside, most notably Trevor Lawrence and Travon Walker, although with a more experienced and Super Bowl-winning head coach named Doug Pederson. That may not be enough to lead them to the Promised Land, but it could be just enough to lead them to an AFC South title this year, or at least in the next few years.
Granted, the AFC South doesn’t look to be a very loaded division this year as their usual top team the Titans has gotten off to a very rough start, losing to the Giants off a missed field goal and getting thrashed by the Bills on Monday Night Football, but it still would be an impressive turnaround for this squad.
However, if they want to make that turnaround, a lot of the responsibility is going to be on second-year QB Trevor Lawrence’s shoulders, who has shown flashes of brilliance, such as completing 83% of his passes and throwing for TDs this past week against the Colts, though has struggled mightily, throwing the 3rd most interceptions last season and throwing the game-sealing INT in their first game this season against the Washington Commanders.
Man, that still feels weird to say.
Anyways, if Lawrence can take that step forward this season, they could very well take the AFC South crown this year. We’ll see how he plays as the season develops.
NFC North – Detroit LionsEmbed from Getty Images
The Lions are a team that pretty much everyone outside of NFC North fans wants to see succeed, and a lot of that is because of Head Coach Dan Campbell, who has become a well-liked coach throughout the league since joining the Lions coaching staff, which has only been amplified by his appearances on Hard Knocks.
Though, while Campbell is arguably the most popular member of this team at the moment, they have a lot of good, young pieces. Amon-Ra St. Brown sticks out the most, coming off a 2-touchdown performance against the Commanders this past Sunday. D’Andre Swift is another young offensive weapon for Detroit, already racking up 200 yards in these first two games, averaging exactly 10 yards a carry. Assuming that ankle injury doesn’t keep him out long, this offense should be sneakily good this year.
The defense could have a good season as well, as No. 2 overall pick Aiden Hutchinson had a dominating performance against Washington, racking up 3 sacks. Tracy Walker III is a solid safety, some might say underrated even, as he is currently sporting a PFF grade of 73.4. Jeff Okudah has had a pretty rough start to his career, full of injuries and substandard play, though he could end up having a breakout year with Hutchinson and the rest of the D-Line applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks and forcing bad passes.
With Aaron Rodgers still in Green Bay, it is unlikely they end up taking the crown this year, though I could see them being a dark horse candidate for a wild card spot.
NFC East – New York GiantsEmbed from Getty Images
Out of everyone listed so far, the G-Men are the only ones to start the season 2-0. Now, some might discredit this impressive start (which is the best start they’ve had since 2016) due to their opponents, but I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the Giants. They have a new head coach, who after just two games has already proven he’s one of the best coaches they’ve had in a while. Take that however you please.
Like many of the teams mentioned above, the Giants are full of young stars with lots of potential. Their 2022 first-round picks Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal could end up having bright futures with the G-Men. Saquon Barkley, whenever he’s healthy, is a game-changer. Sterling Shepard has proven to be a reliable option in the receiving game.
They also have some pretty good players on defense like Adoree’ Jackson, Leonard Williams, and Dexter Lawrence. Xavier McKinney is a solid safety as well. Honestly, their biggest flaw is really at the quarterback position. Daniel Jones isn’t terrible, per se, but he is a below-average starter. I think QB is a position they address this off-season, whether it be through free agency or the draft.
With the Eagles looking like a top team in the NFC at the moment, I doubt the Giants will take home the division crown, but I could see them snatching a Wild Card spot this season. Or we’re all just overreacting and their record is only a product of their opponents, we’ll see as the season progresses.
NFC West – Seattle SeahawksEmbed from Getty Images
Seattle was the only team in their division to miss the playoffs last season, and I don’t think this season will go much better for Carroll and his squad. In fact, this is the team I am probably most confident in that they will not win their division.
They did manage to win on Monday Night Football in what was supposed to be a revenge game for the ousted Russell Wilson, but most people agree that the Broncos more so lost that game than Seattle won it, thanks to a poor coaching job (especially in the last two minutes) by Nathaniel Hackett. The Seahawks were promptly slapped back into reality by division rival 49ers in a 20-point loss. If I had to predict which performance we’d see more of from the Seahawks, it’d be week two’s.
They do have a good receiving unit headlined by DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but that doesn’t mean anything when the quarterback throwing to them is subpar at best. When Geno Smith is the best quarterback on your depth chart, then I can’t imagine you winning more than 8 games, let alone the division. A division that includes Super Bowl Champions the Los Angeles Rams, who still has one of the most stacked rosters in the league.
They don’t have any semblance of a run game either, as through two games they are at the very bottom of the NFL in terms of rushing yards, and they have yet to score a TD on the ground. And with Bobby Wagner going to the Rams this off-season, they really don’t have anyone notable on the defense.
It’s easy to see that the Seahawks are in a regression period at the moment and it’ll likely be more than a few seasons before they find themselves at the top of the division again. Or even make the post-season.
NFC South – Carolina Panthers
Last and arguably least is the Carolina Panthers. The frustrating thing about the Panthers is they do have quite a few good players on their team. DJ Moore, Christian McCaffrey, Robbie Anderson, Brian Burns, Shaq Thompson, Donte Jackson, Jeremy Chinn. Unfortunately for Carolina and their fans, these guys’ efforts are usually undone by Head Coach Matt Rhule.
To put it nicely, fans have been calling for the third-year coach’s head, who sports a 10-25 record through his two first seasons and the first two games of his third. The underwhelming 0-2 start to the 2022 NFL season has already raised questions about how much longer before he is given the boot. Rhule may not be the sole person to blame for the teams’ woes the last few seasons, but he is a big reason for a good chunk of their losses.
Now, there is the argument that he hasn’t been dealt the greatest QBs to begin his stint with the Panthers. Frequent ghost-sighter Sam Darnold, XFL legend PJ Walker (which we have found doesn’t translate to the NFL all too well), and a washed-up Cam Newton. The best player they’ve had under center since Rhule began coaching is Teddy Bridgewater, who is currently a backup behind Tua Tagovailoa on the Miami Dolphins.
The Baker Mayfield era hasn’t been promising either, as he has just completed barely over 50% of his passes and only has a 79.5 QB rating in his first two starts with the Panthers. Alongside the Seahawks, the Panthers are least likely to win their division of all these teams, especially with Tom Brady looking to stick it out with the Buccaneers this season and win his ninth ring.
While all of these teams share a common result last season, each of them is on a different path this season. Some are already contenders and potential division winners, others probably have a few more seasons before they will be in such a position, and the rest…well, you might just want to look towards the off-season.