The 2018 NFL playoffs feature several teams that did not make the playoffs last year, and arguably the most notable might be the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 10-6 Jaguars won the AFC South a year removed from finishing 3-13 and in last place.
The Jaguars worst-to-first turnaround inspired NFL personnel guru Gil Brandt to rank the eight last place teams based on how likely it is they will win their division in 2018. It is not all that surprising that the three teams are ranked in large part because of their quarterback situations. Brandt’s top three include the Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Texans are at the top because of 2017 injuries. The defense took a beating, losing J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus in October. And of course, DeShaun Watson was having a great year before tearing his ACL in practice. Coupled with plenty of question marks in the AFC South, it made sense.
Here’s what he had to say about the 49ers:
A word of advice: If you’re ever asked to make a list of cellar-dwellers who could immediately and completely reverse their fortunes, start with teams that have great starting quarterback. I just like everything about Jimmy Garoppolo, from his attitude to his accuracy. Head coach Kyle Shanahan, meanwhile, is like a young version of his dad, Mike -- he and general manager John Lynch have stabilized this organization. The defensive front seven is strong. With a well-assembled scouting department and plenty of projected cap space, the 49ers are poised to fill holes at receiver and on the offensive line. With the Seahawks and Cardinals both likely to move backward in 2018, the NFC West should come down to a fight between the Niners and Rams -- and I like San Francisco’s chances.
The Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals find themselves dealing with potentially significant transition. The Seahawks are in better shape than the Cardinals, but an overhaul of their coaching staff coupled with some potentially big free agency departures could create issues. The Rams claimed the division, but it remains to be seen how they’ll carry over into the second season of Sean McVay.
The 49ers are in the process of a rebuilding process that was turbo-charged by Jimmy Garoppolo’s late season emergence. They enter the offseason with four picks in the first three rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, and over $100 million in cap space. They can make some big moves this offseason, and that could very well get them over the hump in the NFC West.