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Ranking 49ers, other cellar dwellers for most likely to finish first

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The San Francisco 49ers join seven other teams this season looking to emerge out of last year’s cellar. The 49ers finished 5-11, which put them in last place in the NFC West, two games back of the now Los Angeles Rams. Six of eight teams that finished in last place finished at least two games back of third place, with the San Diego Chargers worst at three games back of the third place Oakland Raiders.

David Steele over at The Sporting News put together a look at the eight last place teams, and considered which ones had the best chance at going from worst-to-first in 2016. Every year teams surprise us and climb from the cellar into playoff contention. Last year, Washington won the NFC East after finishing in last place in 2014. The New York Jets finished in second in the AFC West after finishing in last place in 2014. The Browns, Titans, Bears, and Buccaneers all finished in last place for a second straight season between 2014 and 2015.

Here is how Steele ranked the last place teams, from most likely to least likely to finish in first place (2015 record listed).

  1. AFC South: Tennessee Titans, 3-13
  2. NFC East: Dallas Cowboys, 4-12
  3. NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 6-10
  4. NFC North: Chicago Bears, 6-10
  5. AFC North: Cleveland Browns, 3-13
  6. AFC West: San Diego Chargers, 4-12
  7. AFC East: Miami Dolphins, 6-10
  8. NFC West: San Francisco 49ers, 5-11

I think the Cowboys are more likely to win their division in 2016, primarily because of Tony Romo. He could very well get hurt again, but if he can stay healthy, they have an excellent shot of claiming the division. And in fact, Bovada opened NFC East odds with the Cowboys favored at 7/4 odds.

The Titans do still make sense as a potential division champ. The Indianapolis Colts are the favorite, installed at 5/4 odds. The Houston Texans are second in odds at 7/2, and have made a notable change at quarterback with Brock Osweiler. However, the Jacksonville Jaguars, at 7/2 odds, and the Titans, at 10/1 odds strike me as the value picks if you want to bet on divisional odds.

And the 49ers? Well, with Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks competing at the top of the division, it’s hard to see them climbing above both teams. The Miami Dolphins have to deal with the New England Patriots and New York Jets at the top of the AFC East. I think the combination of the Cardinals and Seahawks is a more difficult proposition. The 49ers have to just get back on some kind of track after last year’s awful season. Steele’s comments about the 49ers chances addressed the long road back for the 49ers:

Forget going worst to first: can they match last season’s win total? So much is going against them (the Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams top that list) and not enough for them (Chip Kelly handled the instant turnaround in Philly well, just not the follow-up). And until they prove otherwise, picking a starter between Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick is like picking between abdominal cramps and migraines.