The 2020 NFL season is less than two weeks away. There are no preseason games, so teams are soaking up every minute of practice to prepare for the season. As the teams prepare, you can start placing your bets on our sportsbook.
None of the 2018 divisional winners went on to finish last in their division in 2019. The Rams, and Bears both lost four more games in 2019 after winning the division in 2018. Both the Rams and Bears finished third in their division last year. The last time someone actually went from first-to-worst was from 2017 to ’18. In 2017 the Jaguars won the AFC South with a 10-6 record. When the 2018 campaign finished they were last in their division with a 5-11 record.
Since the NFL realigned its divisions in 2002, there have been a total of 18 teams that went from first-to-worst. That is an average of exactly one team per year to fall from the top to the bottom. Let’s take a look at the teams that qualify for this great demise in this upcoming season.
The following will be a list of teams starting with the least likely to not only fall from first-to-worst but also win less regular-season games than are being predicted on our NFL sportsbook. You can find more stories and picks for Week 1 on our Locker Room page.
No. 3 San Francisco 49ers
- 2019 record: 13-3
- Under 10½ regular-season wins: -115
- Chance to make the playoffs: Yes (-300), No (+225)
- Odds to win NFC West: +100
- FPI projected strength of schedule: 15th toughest
The Patriots almost made it to No. 3 on this list because of losing Tom Brady and multiple other starters from last season. It didn’t seem right to bet against Bill Belichick to win nine games with a healthy MVP QB Cam Newton.
That brings us to the team that lost in the Super Bowl last season after leading 20-10 in the fourth quarter. How could a team go from the Super Bowl to last in their division? Ask the 6-10 2016 Panthers after they went 15-1 and made it to the big game in the 2015 season. Just like the 2016 Panthers, the 49ers are playing in a division that is loaded.
Injuries Already a Problem
The Niners are already dealing with multiple injuries at wide receiver. They also have some injury issues on the offensive line. Center Weston Richburg will miss at least the first six weeks due to a knee injury. His backup, Ben Garland is also out with an ankle injury that happened during camp. Coach Kyle Shanahan has a deep team but will have his work cut out for him early in the season.
First-to-Worst Points of Note: Powerful NFC West
The Niners went 5-1 last season against NFC West teams, but three of those five wins came by less than five points. One of the other wins was a 10-point victory over the Cardinals. In that game, the 49ers were trailing with 40 seconds left to play. They could quickly fall down the rankings if they do not fare so well in their tough division this year.
No. 2 Green Bay Packers
- 2019 record: 13-3
- Under 8½ regular-season wins: +130
- Chance to make the playoffs: Yes (-130), No (Ev)
- Odds to win NFC North: +160
- FPI projected strength of schedule: T-16
The Packers ended their season by losing to the Niners in the NFC title game. They looked like a team that was a few pieces away from a potential Super Bowl run. They did not go out and add those players. They still have Aaron Rodgers and a solid squad in a division that has the closest odds between the top and bottom. Here is a look at the latest Super Bowl Odds.
13-3 Point Differential
Since 1989, 48 teams have gone 13-3 and they have outscored their competition by an average of 9.4 points per game. The Packers outscored their opponents by an average of fewer than four points per contest. The 2019 Packers had the worst point differential for a team with this record over the past 31 seasons.
The Packers were 6-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer in 2019. These are the games that impact a season greatly. They should regress to the average in these same games this coming season.
Their propensity to win close games helped the Packers sweep the NFC North last season. They outscored their division rivals by an average of slightly more than six points per game. Since 2002, 21 other teams have swept their divisions in a given season. Those 21 teams averaged 3.3 divisional wins the following year.
First-to-Worst Points of Note: Defensive Reality Check
Even with the Packers possibly getting better on defense, they should have a fall in their interception rate. They picked off 3.1% of opposing passes last season which, was third in the league. Last year’s defense also ranked in the top-10 in the league in points allowed in the red zone. This could be another place the defense takes a step back towards the median.
No. 1 Houston Texans
- 2019 record: 10-6
- Under 7½ regular-season wins: -115
- Chance to make the playoffs: Yes (+145), No (-175)
- Odds to win AFC South: +325
- FPI projected strength of schedule: T-16
Houston went first-to-worst in 2017 after it won the division in 2016. The Texans would have to finish behind a dysfunctional Jaguars team to pull that off this year. The Titans and the Colts look like the top teams in the division. At +325 the Texans have the worst odds out of any division champ to defend their title. The biggest move the Texans made this offseason was trading away their best offensive player DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals.
Houston was unpredictable a year ago. The Texans are the fifth team since 1989 to win at least 10 games with a negative point differential. From week-to-week it was hard to predict which team would show up. They beat the Chiefs and Saints last season. They almost lost to the Jaguars, Raiders, and Colts.
Like the Packers, the Texans were a team that won most of the games that were within seven points. They went 8-3 in one-score games after previously going 20-18 under Coach Bill O’Brien in those games. The Texans recovered 61.1% of the fumbles in their games, which was the second-highest rate in the league. There is no historical evidence that teams are able to recover a significant portion of the fumbles year after year.
Additions to the Roster
The Texans added RB David Johnson in the trade that sent Hopkins to Arizona. With cap space, they signed WR Randall Cobb. The Texans only had five selections in the 2019 draft. They did not have a first-round pick and only had two picks in the top 120. They were not able to address one of the worst secondaries in the league. They are hoping to get better performances from young players in their secondary.
First-to-Worst Bottom Line
The score-by-score metric suggests that the Texans were more lucky than good a year ago. They will need to stay lucky and stay healthy to compete in their division this year. If neither of these things happen, they may be battling with the Jaguars for third place in the AFC South.