By Lance Zierlein
May 12, 2012
Going from "worst to first" is certainly not unheard of in the NFL and there hasn't been a year since pre-1990 that a team with a losing record the previous season didn't make the playoffs in the following season. So we know that one of the teams with a losing record will step up and make the playoffs this year, but which team is ready to make that jump?
While point differential certainly has its flaws as it pertains to comparing teams, when we add Adjusted Strength of Schedule, things become more clear.*
Do with these numbers what you will, but it is clearly the Dolphins, Seahawks, Panthers and Bills were the best of the teams with losing records while the Redskins should have posted a much better winning percentage and point differential based on their weak schedule.
The Browns actually hung in okay losing by less than 6 points per game despite having what was the 8th toughest schedule in football last year while the aforementioned Redskins lost by 4.9 points per game despite having the the third easiest schedule in the league.
The Chiefs allowed 20 points or less in 8 of their last 11 games and responded defensively with great vengeance and furious anger after Romeo Crennel took over as head coach for the fired Todd Haley. The Chiefs gave fits to Tom Brady (sacked him 3 times and held him to 234 yards), Ben Roethlisberger (193 yards passing on 31 attempts) and Aaron Rodgers (235 yards passing with 4 sacks).
The Chiefs will get TE Tony Moeaki, RB Jamaal Charles and SS Eric Berry back from season-ending injuries and they've added FB/RB Petyon Hills and ORT Eric Winston to their offense. While the Broncos will be the most talked about team in the division with Peyton Manning taking snaps there now, the Chiefs are a solid season of QB play away from challenging for a division title.
The Bills will enter the season with the 3rd easiest schedule in football (on paper) and they just added a couple of defensive ends to address their pass rush in Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Rookie CB Stephon Gilmore figures to bolster the secondary in a division that features Tom Brady, but little else in the passing department.
With the always underrated Fred Jackson in the backfield and with an offensive line that is looking to take a step up, the Bills have a good shot at finishing second in the AFC East and fighting for a wildcard spot. To get into the postseason, Ryan Fitzpatrick has to play like he did over the first half of the season and not the second.
The Panthers should probably be at the top of the list except for the fact that they have games against the NFC East as well as two apiece vs. the Saints and Falcons. Add to that, the game against the improving AFC West and the Panthers will have their hands full this year.
Defensive coordinators will come into the season with new gameplans for Cam Newton that he will have to maneuver around, but the Panthers should be better defensively with rookie LB Luke Kuechly joining Jon Beason in the LB corps. If the defense comes even remotely close to actually doing their job this year, the offense won't have to carry so much of the load and the Panthers might jump either the Saints, Falcons or both on the way up the NFC South ladder.
Seattle is the beneficiary of playing in a week division (outside of the 49'ers) and they have a chance to rack up as many as four wins inside the division. Over the second half of the season, the Seahawks beat the Ravens and the Eagles and gave the 49'ers all they could handle.
If QB Matt Flynn can live up to the hype and if RB Marshawn Lynch can follow up on his strong 2011 season, the offense should improve on their pedestrian offensive output. The Seahawks defense features some young, core players who might be ready to step their game up enough for a run at the playoffs.
* For anyone unfamiliar with the Adjusted Strength of Schedule, this is simply a team's SOS after removing all the games said team actually played. Or in other words, Green Bay's 15 wins were removed from their "opponent's losses" column. source