Just about every year, there's a team who finished last in the season before who will then go onto finish first in their division the following year. It's called worst-to-first, and because of the parity built into the NFL, we see something like that happen every year.
More than likely, we'll be seeing a team who finished in last place in 2011 turn things around and finish in first place in 2012.
There are eight candidates for this honor in 2012: the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams.
Related: Chiefs Offseason Report
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Yes, I'm a Chiefs fan, so call me out in the comments if you think I'm being a homer here. But the Chiefs are the best worst-to-first candidate for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they were this close to winning the division last year. If not for a Week 16 overtime loss to the Raiders, the Chiefs would have been AFC West champions last year. So that tells us they're not far off. They also had a solid free agent class picking up several new starters, including Eric Winston, and they're returning a number of key players from injury, including Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry.
But what really tells me the Chiefs have a shot at going from worst-to-first is that they play in one of the tightest divisions. There's not another division in the NFL where you can make a legitimate case for every team in the division having a shot at the division crown next year.
The lack of a clear leader in the division is the biggest reason the Chiefs are the top worst-to-first candidate in the NFL.
Related: Rams Offseason Report
2. St. Louis Rams: The Rams weren't good last year. In fact, they haven't been good for a few years now, so this is a tough case to make, but the Rams are set at a couple of key positions that will allow them a shot at becoming a worst-to-first contender.
First of all, the NFC West is a fairly close division. The 49ers won 13 games last year and finished the year as the clear cut best team in the division. That may not change next year but the 49ers aren't a perennial power where we can dub them divisional champs before the year even starts. They need to do it again to prove that they're for real. The Rams have Sam Bradford at quarterback, and despite some of his struggles last year, he's still a young quarterback who should get a lot better. Offensively, one of the Rams best weapons is Steven Jackson, who received some help in the draft with the selection of Isaiah Pead.
If Jackson has enough in him for another productive year, the Rams and new head coach Jeff Fisher can be serious contenders for the NFC West title.
Related: Redskins Offseason Report
3. Washington Redskins: Finishing 5-11 last year and playing in a division with the defending Super Bowl champs, the Redskins are an odd choice here, but the offseason additions put them in a place where it's not so crazy to think about potentially winning the NFC East. The Giants, Cowboys and Eagles all finished within a game of each other -- the Giants won the division and the Super Bowl -- but it's the Redskins who made perhaps the biggest jump in the offseason.
If Robert Griffin III is as good as it looks like he could be, the Redskins should be considered a legitimate worst-to-first contender.
4. Indianapolis Colts: At two wins last year, the Colts were one of the worst teams in the NFL. The loss of Peyton Manning was devastating, and the Colts' 2-14 record demonstrated that. Enter Andrew Luck. The No. 1 pick in the draft is one of the most pro-ready quarterbacks in recent memory, if not ever. The Colts, despite losing a number of key players last year, do have a few things going for them. First, Luck is in house and could step in and be productive right off the bat. Second, Reggie Wayne remains in Indy, so Luck has a true No. 1 receiver. Third, the Colts drafted two tight ends -- Coby Fleener in Round 2 and Dwayne Allen in Round 3 -- who should help Luck immediately as well.
The Colts defense, one of the weaknesses in recent years, could be revitalized with the addition of new head coach Chuck Pagano, who comes from the Baltimore Ravens. Then you look at the division, where the Texans are coming off a division title. and the Titans were right there behind them. It wouldn't be an easy task to win the division, but it's not impossible to see how the Colts could return to where they were nearly every year with Manning, as AFC South champions.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs could very well end up being better than most -- if not all -- of the teams already listed here. Josh Freeman is a young quarterback who should get better, and he now has a major receiving weapon in Vincent Jackson. The Bucs' rushing attack should get better as well with Doug Martin pairing with LeGarrette Blount. They were a 10-win team just two years ago, so it's not unreasonable to think they can do the same in 2012.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, they're in an incredibly difficult division, possibly the best in the NFL. The Saints are one of the elite teams in the league, and they should be near the top of the division again, despite the offseason issues relating to the bounty scandal. The Falcons are an above average team who should be in the playoff mix, and the Panthers are a rising team.
The Bucs will be better, but the competition around them will make it extremely difficult to pull a worst-to-first.
6. Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings, like the Bucs, very well could be a lot better in 2012. But, like the Bucs, they're in a tough spot with the talent in their own division. The Vikings are very unlikely to topple the Packers, and even the Lions and Bears are ahead of them at this point.
As long as they have a healthy Adrian Peterson, they'll be competitive, but winning the division is unlikely at this point considering arguably the best team in the NFL, the Packers, reside in the same division.
7. Buffalo Bills: The Bills will absolutely be better in 2012. They added Mario Williams, which was a huge move for a team that's looking to stop one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in Tom Brady. Unfortunately, it's unlikely the Bills did enough to topple the Patriots.
I can see them finishing the season second in the AFC East if all goes well, but the Bills aren't yet at the level where they can be considered a good worst-to-first candidate with the Patriots in the same division.
8. Cleveland Browns: Sorry, Cleveland. The Ravens and Steelers are both in the AFC North, and they're both significantly better than the Browns. Both Baltimore and Pittsburgh are two of the most consistent teams in the league, and even a great season from the Bengals wasn't enough to finish ahead of either them in the AFC North.
The Browns are building a solid foundation with Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, but they have a while to go before they can start talking about winning the division.