Worst to first? Ranking the 8 last-place teams most likely to win their division in 2023

Here's how likely each last place team from 2022 is to flip the script and win their division in 2023

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NFL fans can enter almost every season with hope – and for good reason.

In 18 of the last 20 seasons, at least one team has won its division the season after finishing in last place the year prior. The Jacksonville Jaguars continued the trend in 2022, capturing the AFC South crown after finishing at the bottom in 2021.

That leaves eight teams with at least a hint of optimism for the upcoming season. Some of the last-place squads from last year are ready to win now, while others are still in the midst of their rebuilds – but anything is possible.

Here’s a ranking of the eight worst-to-first candidates for 2023, with a look at their offseason changes and division outlook:

1. Atlanta Falcons, NFC South

2022 record: 7-10 (tied with Saints and Panthers, but finished last in NFC South based on tiebreakers)

2023 offseason: The Falcons are all-in on second-year QB Desmond Ridder, a former third-rounder who started four games with mixed results last season. Looking beyond the quarterback position, though, this roster is relatively deep. First-round running back Bijan Robinson could be an instant star, plus Atlanta signed several impact defenders – Jessie Bates, Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, Bud Dupree and Kaden Elliss.

Division outlook: Even if you don’t believe in Ridder, here’s the No. 1 reason why the Falcons could go from worst to first: the NFC South. This division sent an 8-9 Buccaneers team to the postseason in 2022 – and that was before Tom Brady retired. Any of the four teams could realistically win the division, and it might not take more than eight or nine wins to pull it off.

2. New York Jets, AFC East

2022 record: 7-10

2023 offseason: For the first time in years (decades?!), the Jets have a quarterback. Aaron Rodgers will immediately bring a level of competency that New York has lacked, especially in recent years with first-round busts Sam Darnold and Zach Wilson. The young, loaded defense remained intact without any significant departures – and star defensive tackle Quinnen Williams got the bag.

Division outlook: Here’s where things get tricky. Even though the Jets are vastly improved, they play in perhaps the NFL’s toughest division. The Bills have won the AFC East for three straight seasons, the Dolphins are fresh off a wild card appearance and the Patriots should improve with an actual offensive coordinator. To claim their first AFC East title since 2002, the Jets will have to win games against their division rivals.

3. Cleveland Browns, AFC North

2022 record: 7-10

2023 offseason: Cleveland spent the offseason addressing its biggest weakness: run defense. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods was replaced by Jim Schwartz, and the team added defensive linemen Dalvin Tomlinson, Za’Darius Smith, Ogbo Okoronkwo, Maurice Hurst and Trysten Hill. The Browns also took a flier on wide receiver Elijah Moore – a low-risk, high-reward move for the 2021 second-rounder.

Division outlook: Similar to the aforementioned Jets, the Browns are facing a daunting division. The Bengals have won the AFC North twice in a row, with Joe Burrow and Co. showing no signs of slowing down. Then there are the Ravens and Steelers, who always seem to claw their way into the postseason picture. Baltimore re-signed Lamar Jackson and added Odell Beckham Jr., while Pittsburgh will rely on second-year players Kenny Pickett and George Pickens for internal improvement.

4. Chicago Bears, NFC North

2022 record: 3-14

2023 offseason: After securing the No. 1 overall pick, general manager Ryan Poles went to work. He traded down, acquiring a No. 1 wide receiver in D.J. Moore and a treasure trove of picks – including one used on first-round tackle Darnell Wright. In free agency, the Bears added two starting linebackers (Tremaine Edmunds, T.J. Edwards) and a starting guard (Nate Davis).

Division outlook: Rodgers, the self-proclaimed owner of Chicago, is finally out of the picture. But the Vikings and Lions – and even with Packers with Jordan Love – won’t be easy to topple. Minnesota went 13-4 last season but lost several key pieces this offseason. Detroit will likely be the division favorite after going 8-2 to close the season. It won’t be easy for the Bears, but the opportunity is there in a questionable division – especially if Justin Fields takes another step.

5. Houston Texans, AFC South

2022 record: 4-13

2023 offseason: The Texans will have a different head coach for the fourth straight season after firing Lovie Smith and hiring DeMeco Ryans. It finally feels like this rebuild is taking shape, though, after drafting quarterback C.J. Stroud and pass-rusher Will Anderson Jr. at Nos. 2 and 3 overall. Plus, Houston has no incentive to tank after trading away its 2024 first-round pick to draft Anderson.

Division outlook: This could look foolish come December if Trevor Lawrence continues his rise to stardom, but the AFC South still feels slightly open. The Jaguars, after a division title and postseason win, should rightfully be the favorite. Beyond them, the Titans have an aging roster and the Colts are at the very beginning of their makeover with rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson. If Stroud is good right away, the Texans are a sneaky worst-to-first candidate.

6. Denver Broncos, AFC West

2022 record: 5-12

2023 offseason: It was another massive offseason for the Broncos one year after trading for Russell Wilson. The Nathaniel Hackett experience was a total bust, so new owner Rob Walton went and hired the biggest name coach available: Sean Payton. On the field, Denver added two new offensive linemen (Mike McGlinchey, Ben Powers) and a rising pass-rusher (Zach Allen). The hope is that all of these moves will salvage Wilson, who struggled mightily last season.

Division outlook: Will the Broncos be better than the aforementioned Bears and Texans in 2023? Probably. The difference is that those teams don’t have to play in the Chiefs’ division. Until further notice, Patrick Mahomes runs the AFC West. Even if Kansas City somehow slips up, another generational quarterback – Justin Herbert – is still there. It’s difficult to envision the Broncos beating out the Chiefs or Chargers, though they should improve this season.

7. Washington Commanders, NFC East

2022 record: 8-8-1

2023 offseason: While the Commanders’ ownership situation remains unsettled, the roster is in a strange spot. There’s a lot of talent on paper – Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, Chase Young. But they were content with second-year QB Sam Howell, who has one career start to his name. While Jacoby Brissett is waiting in the wings if Howell slips up, Ron Rivera seems willing to hand the keys to the former fifth-rounder.

Division outlook: Even if Howell is a competent starter, Washington has little to no chance to win the NFC East. The Eagles arguably have the NFL’s best roster, while the Cowboys are coming off consecutive 12-win seasons. Over the past few years, the Giants were usually a team to beat up on and even that’s not the case anymore. Under Brian Daboll, New York returned to the postseason and won its wild card game. At this point, finishing third would be an overachievement for the Commanders.

8. Arizona Cardinals, NFC West

2022 record: 4-13

2023 offseason: From the moment Kyler Murray tore his ACL last December, the Cardinals’ 2023 fate was essentially decided. The tank is on in Arizona, with new head coach Jonathan Gannon facing a rebuild. The Cardinals lost J.J. Watt and Zach Allen (18 combined sacks) from the defensive line, and veteran journeyman Colt McCoy is likely the starting QB before Murray returns – if he does at all.

Division outlook: A line can be drawn directly through the middle of the NFC West. On one side, there’s the 49ers and Seahawks – teams aspiring to not only make the playoffs, but win games once they get there. Then, there’s the Rams and Cardinals – who could both be vying for the No. 1 pick in 2024. It’s going to be a long season in the desert.

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