Over at SB Nation, Joel Thorman ranked the eight NFL teams that finished in last place in 2011 based on their chances of going from worst to first in 2012. The NFL is loaded with parity, which opens the door for quick turnarounds. The two most obvious examples of such huge turnarounds are the 1999 St. Louis Rams and the 2001 New England Patriots. Our own 49ers did not quite go from worst-to-first last year, but it was pretty close.
Joel is a Chiefs fan (he runs Arrowhead Pride), but I think his ranking of the Chiefs as most likely to go from worst to first is a reasonable choice. A season after going 10-6 and winning the
NFC AFC West, the Chiefs dropped to 7-9 and a last place finish. There are several reasons for their 2011 struggles, but losing Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki were big contributors. The fact that they only dropped three games shows the questionable nature of the AFC West (they were 3-3 in divisional games). The Broncos could take a big step forward with the addition of Peyton Manning, but they remain a huge question mark. If Manning is healthy, the Broncos likely win the division, but if he isn't quite there, the division is up for grabs.
The Bucs and Bills both strike me as the better sleeper candidates among the eight cellar-dwellers. The Bucs are two seasons removed from a solid 10-6 season. The NFC South has some strong teams, but there are enough question marks that a Bucs turnaround could help them climb to the top. The Saints are a huge question mark for a variety of reasons, whether it be the fallout from the Bounty scandal, to the potential of Drew Brees considering sitting out the season. I suspect Brees is in uniform and playing week one, but there is enough doubt that the division is opened up. I think Atlanta has a strong shot at the division, but there is enough room for an upstart to sneak in.
The Bills will continue dealing with the New England Patriots. The Bills would need to see Ryan Fitzpatrick take a sizable step forward if they want to win the AFC East. They've added some significant talent, most notably Mario Williams, but if they want to get past the Patriots, Fitzpatrick needs to take care of business.
Do you see any of the other teams as more likely candidates? Maybe the Redskins with an impressive rookie season from RG3?