NFL teams most likely to go from worst to first in their division: Bengals, Bears among top candidates

2T5JYP9 Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow works out prior to an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Cincinnati Bengals could be back on top with Joe Burrow in 2024: Burrow’s return means the Bengals are back to being Super Bowl and AFC North contenders.

Caleb Williams put the Chicago Bears in an intriguing position: The Bears have given Williams a lot of weapons, giving them a shot to vie for the NFC North crown next season

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Today, we wanted to call our long shots by ranking who we believe can go from worst to first in each division in 2024. Let's rank each team's chances. 


  1. Cincinnati Bengals – AFC North

2023 Record: 9-8

The Bengals are the easy choice here. Cincinnati finished 2023 with a record of 9-8, and its starting quarterback, Joe Burrow, missed seven games due to a wrist injury. He also played through a calf injury to start the year. The Bengals won the division in both 2021 and 2022, and with a fully healthy Burrow, they are just behind Baltimore in betting odds to win it in 2024. 

  1. Chicago Bears – NFC North

2023 Record: 7-10

The Bears finished last in their division in 2023 but looked competitive in a lot of areas despite a 7-10 record. The fact of the matter was their quarterback situation – and offense overall – just was not good enough. Their defense ranked 15th in EPA per play allowed in 2023. Most of their best players will return for 2024. On the offensive side, former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams takes over in an offense that has receivers D.J. Moore, Keenan Allen and Rome Odunze. They probably won't beat the Detroit Lions for the top of that division, but they have the talent to make it interesting. 

  1. Los Angeles Chargers – AFC West

2023 Record: 5-12 

This is where we get to the teams that only have a small chance to climb atop their division. The Kansas City Chiefs have won the AFC West eight years in a row dating back to 2016. Tack on the fact that they’re back-to-back champions going for a three-peat, and it’s highly unlikely anyone in their division stands in their way. But, new Chargers head coach, Jim Harbaugh, has won at every level and at every stop he’s been at since his days as head coach of the San Diego Toreros. He also has one of the league's best quarterbacks in Justin Herbert to kick off his Los Angeles tenure. Head coach and quarterback mean a lot in this league, and the Chargers have two you want to bet on.

  1. Washington Commanders – NFC East

2023 Record: 4-13

The Commanders felt like a ship without a sail in 2023. It was good and bad, but through it all, it just wasn’t enough, hence the wholesale changes this offseason to go along with new ownership. I am a big fan of Dan Quinn, who happens to know at least one of the competitors in that division as the Dallas Cowboys’ former defensive coordinator. How Dallas bounces back from not only Quinn’s departure but also a bad playoff loss will be something to watch. The Philadelphia Eagles have the talent to bounce back as well, but their postseason also ended on a sour note. As for the Commanders, they brought in a ton of new names in free agency and the draft, including the 2023 Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels. If Daniels can have a Robert Griffin III-like rookie season, watch out for the Commanders. 

  1. Tennessee Titans – AFC South

2023 Record: 6-11 

I don't have a ton of confidence in where the Titans are currently at to compete for the playoffs in 2024, but that AFC South division could be somewhat up for grabs. The Houston Texans are the clear favorites, as they should be, but that division seems to go haywire every year. Tennessee added key players like Calvin Ridley, L’Jarius Snead and JC Latham. They reside in the bottom half of this list for a reason, but if quarterback Will Levis catches fire with those pass catchers, maybe they can make a run. 

  1. Arizona Cardinals – NFC West

2023 Record: 4-13

I actually like the Cardinals, as a team, more than the Titans, but it’s very difficult for me to imagine any team that isn’t named the San Francisco 49ers winning that division – they’re too talented. Regardless, I liked how competitive the Cardinals were in 2023, even before they got Kyler Murray back from injury, and a full offseason of healthy work for Murray in that offense – and with Marvin Harrison Jr. now to throw the ball to – should lead to some extra wins.  

  1. Carolina Panthers – NFC South

2023 Record: 2-15 

Like the Titans situation, the Panthers aren’t dead last here simply because the NFC South is always a cluster of teams winning games they weren’t expected to and losing games they weren’t expected to. If Bryce Young takes a massive leap in Year 2 under new head coach Dave Canales and looks like Alabama Bryce Young, maybe we have something here. Nevertheless, the defense lost a lot of talent from last year’s group, and the offense is still a work in progress, even with some welcomed new additions like Xavier Legette, Robert Hunt, Damien Lewis, Jonathan Brooks and Diontae Johnson. They should look better, but that doesn’t mean a division shot just yet. 

  1. New England Patriots – AFC East

2023 Record: 4-13

This ranking starts with the fact that the Patriots are in the same division as the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, who all have their eyes set on a Super Bowl, not just a division title. New England’s defense last year was good, as it typically was under Bill Belichick. It ranked 17th in overall PFF grade, but fifth in total EPA per play allowed. The Patriots offense was quite the opposite. They ranked 29th in overall offensive grade, 31st in passing grade and 31st in total EPA per play. They hope their quarterback play between Jacoby Brissett and Drake Maye is an improvement from 2023, but it’s hard to have high expectations for the rest of the offensive cast. This season is a building one for them.  


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