NFL News & Analysis

Worst To First: Ranking the eight last-place NFL teams by their chances to win their division in 2024

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)

Joe Burrow will return: A healthy Burrow puts the Cincinnati Bengals right back into division title contention.

Can Bryce Young bounce back?: In a weak NFC South, Young rebounding from a disappointing rookie season could change everything for the Carolina Panthers.

Cap woes: Los Angeles Chargers could be in trouble being $45 million over the cap and sharing a division with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

With Super Bowl 58 in the books, the 2024 NFL offseason is officially in full swing. However, for eight of these NFL franchises that finished last in their division, the offseason has effectively been going on for weeks. Despite a bad 2023, there’s reason for optimism amongst several of the last-place finishers.

Here, we’ll be taking a look at which last-place teams have the best chances of reversing their fortunes and winning their divisions in 2024. All salary cap projections are according to Over The Cap.

1. Cincinnati Bengals

  • 2023 Record: 9-8
  • First Round Pick: 18th 
  • Projected Cap Space: $59.4M (fourth)

The Bengals made history in 2023 by becoming the first team in the Super Bowl era to finish in last place in their division with a winning record. The Bengals accomplished this feat despite Joe Burrow missing the last seven games of the season due to a wrist injury. Jake Browning played well enough to keep the team afloat in his absence, but it wasn’t quite enough for a playoff berth. With a healthy Burrow, the Bengals should be right in the thick of things for the division title once again. The big question is what they do with Tee Higgins, who is set to hit free agency but is also a candidate for the franchise tag. Due to how much cap space the Bengals are projected to have this offseason, a new contract is doable if that’s the route they choose to go in.

2. Chicago Bears

  • 2023 Record: 7-10
  • First Round Picks: First and ninth
  • Projected Cap Space: $46.8M (7th)

Much like the 2023 offseason, 2024 looks to be another busy one for the Bears, as last year’s trade with the Panthers has them in an outstanding position in the draft with two top-10 picks and over $40 million in cap space. That draft capital should increase further if the Bears are able to find a trade partner in a potential Justin Fields deal. With the projected selection of Caleb Williams at quarterback to pair with DJ Moore, Cole Kmet and possibly a high-end rookie pass catcher, the 2024 Bears have the potential to make some noise in what is expected to be a very competitive NFC North.

3. New England Patriots

  • 2023 Record: 4-13
  • First Round Pick: 3rd
  • Projected Cap Space: $66M (third)

This past year was the worst Patriots season since they went 2-14 in 1992, two years before Robert Kraft bought the franchise. While they currently lack playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, they do have the means to acquire some, as they have a high draft pick in an offense-heavy class and lots of cap space. On top of that, The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins rank 30th and 31st, respectively, in projected cap space (both are currently over $51 million over the cap) and may need to shed some contracts, potentially weakening their rosters. The New York Jets are under the cap at the moment, but by just under $5 million, making them the team with the least cap space that hasn’t gone over.

4. Washington Commanders

  • 2023 Record: 4-13
  • First Round Pick: Second
  • Projected Cap Space: $73.6M (first)

With the Commanders, you can pretty much copy and paste the Patriots’ entry. Like the Patriots, they finished 4-13 but have a high draft pick and lots of cap space to make some big-time free-agent moves. The reason New England is ranked above Washington is that the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants are each projected to have a little over $20 million in cap space and therefore can be competitive with Washington in free agency. The Dallas Cowboys are over the cap, though they aren’t in nearly as bad a spot as the Bills and Dolphins are. With a new regime in town, expect the Commanders to make a splash as the franchise enters a new era both in coaching and ownership.

5. Tennessee Titans

  • 2023 Record: 6-11
  • First Round Pick: Seventh
  • Projected Cap Space: $68.1M (second)

The Titans are in a pretty good position to make some noise this offseason. Like the teams ahead of them on this list, they have lots of cap space to sign free agents and improve upon what was a lackluster roster last season. Their main issue is the rest of the division. The other three teams all had a shot to win the division in Week 18 last year and are all under the cap heading into free agency. In fact, the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans rank fifth and sixth in cap space, respectively. However, if Will Levis develops into the quarterback the Titans think he can be, they could be right back into competition for a division they had been leaders in for much of the last few years.

6. Carolina Panthers

  • 2023 Record: 2-15
  • First Round Pick: N/A
  • Projected Cap Space: $28.6M (12th)

It’s hard to have a worse season than the 2023 Carolina Panthers did, as they not only finished with the worst record in football, but they can’t even fall back on having the first overall pick in the draft thanks to their trade-up to that position last year in order to select Bryce Young. New head coach Dave Canales will have his work cut out for him, however, if he can help Young bounce back from a brutal rookie season and play like the first pick in the draft, this is a very winnable division. Despite nine wins resulting in a last-place finish for the Bengals, it was enough for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win this division last season. Based on each team’s current roster status, there’s no reason to believe that won’t be the case in 2024 as well. There is a precedent that Young can bounce back, too. Jared Goff and Trevor Lawrence are two recent examples of first-overall picks faltering as rookies while their head coach gets fired midseason before bouncing back in Year 2 after new coaching hires. If Canales is able to work the same magic on Young that he did on Baker Mayfield, it’s not unreasonable to think the Panthers could have a shot at the division next year.

7. Los Angeles Chargers

  • 2023 Record: 5-12
  • First Round Pick: Fifth
  • Projected Cap Space: $-45.8M (29th)

This past season was a disaster for the Chargers. On paper, this team had the talent to overthrow the Kansas City Chiefs for the division title, but pretty much everything that could go wrong did, whether that be close losses, key players underperforming or Justin Herbert’s season-ending finger injury. This team is likely going to look a lot different next season, as only the Bills, Dolphins and New Orleans Saints have less cap space than the Chargers, who will need to get very creative with their contracts in order to be cap-compliant in 2024. The only things really keeping the Chargers from last place on this list are hiring Jim Harbaugh as head coach and the AFC West not being super competitive outside of the Chiefs. While the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders have been treading water these last couple of seasons, the Chiefs have dominated this division, winning each of the last eight AFC West titles. Despite Harbaugh’s track record of taking floundering NFL teams to new heights, it’ll be a tall order to unseat the two-time defending Super Bowl champions.

8. Arizona Cardinals

  • 2023 Record: 4-13
  • First Round Pick: Fourth, 27th
  • Projected Cap Space: $41.7M (ninth)

Despite having two first-round picks and over $40 million in cap space, the Cardinals come in last place in large part due to what is once again a hyper-competitive NFC West. Not only does this division feature the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, who were a questionable coin toss decision away from potentially hoisting their sixth Lombardi Trophy, but the Los Angeles Rams proved their disastrous 2022 season was a fluke by earning a wild card spot in 2023 while the Seattle Seahawks were in playoff contention until the season’s final day. Despite what could be an eventful offseason, the Cardinals are still likely another year or two away from seriously contending in this division.


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