Three NFL teams improved so much over the offseason that they have a legitimate chance at going from last place to first place in their division.
One of the most challenging feats to accomplish in professional sports is to go from last place in a division to first place in the matter of a singular offseason. However you want to put it, going from worst-to-first or from zero-to-hero by drastically improving a roster, coaching staff, and culture in a span of 6-8 months is incredibly difficult. This is particularly true in the NFL, where the concept of “any given Sunday” is prevalent, yet teams near the bottom of the barrel typically spend years — sometimes decades — without climbing the ranks. The hope that comes from one big upset win can only mean so much, and in the long run, is often more devastating than the usual suck.
With the historic and frantic nature of this 2022 NFL offseason, however, there are three teams that have made such solid improvements that they very well could make the leap from the basement to the bell tower.
The Denver Broncos
If there’s one thing that we have learned about the NFL over the past ten or twelve years, it’s that this league is nothing more than a boat race to finding the quarterback who can bring your team to the promised land. This offseason, the Denver Broncos finally got their guy.
In a trade with the Seattle Seahawks, the Broncos acquired Russell Wilson for a few players and some significant draft capital. Seattle received two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a 2022 fifth-round pick, quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant, and veteran defensive end Shelby Harris.
Whether or not the Broncos got Wilson — a nine-time Pro Bowl selection — for far too cheap is not the focal point here. Rather, we’re discussing whether or not Denver can move from last place in the AFC West in 2021 to first place in 2022, and the answer is a resounding yes.
Since Hall of Fame inductee Peyton Manning finished his four-year tenure in Denver in 2015, the Broncos have been at the bottom of the AFC West totem pole, perpetually in search of their guy. They’ve remained competitive by maintaining a stout defense year in and year out, and have done a fine job of drafting supplemental prospects, but the Broncos have always swung and missed on quarterbacks in the years since.
Since Manning’s departure, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenan, Joe Flacco, Drew Lock, Brandon Allen, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien, Phillip Lindsay* (running back), Kendall Hinton* (wide receiver), and Teddy Bridgewater have all taken snaps in Denver.
Wilson’s arrival signifies a complete revival of the Broncos offense. He will be surrounded by a highly-talented receiving corps in Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Jerry Jeudy, as well as a stout backfield commanded by Javonte Williams and veteran Melvin Gordon. While the running backs proved to be efficient regardless of the situation last season, this will be the first time that this receiving corps is playing together with a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback with a marvel of an arm.
Finally, the Broncos defense is expected to continue thriving in 2022. Depending on which statistics get pulled up, Denver’s defense last season was certainly a top-ten unit, and arguably closer to the top-five overall. That success was largely in part to the effort of the defensive secondary, led by stars Pat Surtain II and Justin Simmons. Their efforts will be supplemented this season by a beefed-up pass rush where a — hopefully — healthy Bradley Chubb will be stacked with Randy Gregory (from Dallas) and rookie Nik Bonitto.
It will be a tall feat to overcome the six-time reigning divisional champion Kansas City Chiefs, the Los Angeles Chargers, who have been threatening the throne for years, and the Las Vegas Raiders, who made as big of a splash in free agency as any organization in the league, but given the reinforcements in Denver and the energy they will supply, it is absolutely possible.