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Early NFL Rankings: Which fourth place team could win in 2020?

The phrase “worst to first” is often thrown around in the NFL. One terrible season, combined with a stellar winter and a strong NFL Draft can sometimes equate to a division title the following year. A good example of this would be the Houston Texans — a team that finished 4-12 in 2017 but have taken home the AFC South crown in back-to-back seasons.

Eight teams struggled to generate success in 2019 thanks to mediocre rosters, injuries, and a multitude of other reasons. With a new year and a fresh start, they’ll look to bounce back and contend for the division title when football resumes in the coming months.

However, that’s easier said than done. Not only will they be facing the current divisional winners, but they will also be hoping the new talent on the squad can live up to the expectations. Every so often, though, one team pulls off the unfathomable and makes the jump to the top.

Is there a possibility that we can have a team that finished last place in their division last year make the leap and grab the title in 2020? If the early NFL rankings are a good indication, that might not be the case this time around.

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Which 2019 last-place roster has the chance to win their division?

AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars

Embrace the tank, Duval County. Whether you believe in Gardner Minshew Mania or the promising potential of young stars, the Jaguars are starting fresh, taking them out of the running for the AFC South title before the race even begins.

Jacksonville’s offseason woes began in October when the team elected to ship star cornerback Jalen Ramsey to the Rams for a pair of first-round picks. The fire sale only continued as Calais Campbell, Nick Foles, and A.J. Bouye were traded away this spring. Franchise tagged Yannick Ngakoue, who has made his intentions of leaving clear, will also likely be playing elsewhere out sooner rather than later.

C.J. Henderson, K’Lavon Chaisson, and Laviska Shenault all could be hits from April’s draft. Their development, however, could take longer than a season to transition to the NFL and compliment the few stars found on Jacksonville’s gutted roster. Plus, despite outshining his sixth-round selection, there’s no guaranteeing that Minshew won’t suffer a sophomore setback and prove to be nothing more than a one-year wonder.

Jacksonville will likely be one chosen early in the rankings to be selecting first overall next spring. Outside of a few star-power faces, the team has little direction.

Related | 2020 NFL Draft Grades: Jacksonville Jaguars

NFC South: Carolina Panthers 

One thing you can bet on is that Matt Rhule will change the culture in the Queen City after doing so at Temple and Baylor. The thing is that neither of those programs transformed into winners overnight, meaning the Panthers will likely not be competitive in the NFC South division.

Carolina will feature several stars and potential breakout players like Christian McCaffrey, Brian Burns, Shaq Thompson, and third-year standout D.J. Moore. Robby Anderson will reunite with his former coach as the team’s second target, and if Teddy Bridgewater can excel the way he did during his brief tenure as the Saints starter, there’s your franchise quarterback.

Luke Kuechly, Mario Addison, Gerald McCoy, James Bradberry, and Eric Reid are all gone after a down year. General manager Marty Hurney used all seven draft picks on defense, but how many players will immediately become high-end starters? The Falcons, Buccaneers, and Saints all have established players that can place them as early contenders for both the division and wild card spots.

Bridgewater might stop the quarterback concerns, but plenty of other holes weren’t corrected. Throw Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan-led offenses into the equation, and the issues seem unsolvable for the first-year coach.

Related | An improved Carolina Panthers squad might be overrated in 2020

NFC East: Washington Redskins 

Washington’s 2020 season could be described with one phrase; Dwayne Haskins’ progression. The reality is that the second-year quarterback’s play will determine how far the team will go.

Last year’s 15th overall pick was in a wasteland offense with an all but fired Jay Gruden calling the shots. Because of the change, Haskins struggled to generate buzz and transition from budding college standout to potential NFL starter. That should be corrected with Ron Rivera calling the shots now, with the former Carolina head coach having tallied six seven-plus win seasons with the team.

With a new coach in control, nothing is guaranteed for Haskins in a starting capacity. While his talent is undeniable, his lack of knowledge with the playbook and miscommunication with teammates likely won’t paint a bright picture. He did, however, finish with 72.1 completion percentage and four touchdowns in his final two games last season, showing growth after a forgetful first year.

Chase Young will be the only rookie to see significant snaps in 2020, leaving pressure on Haskins to guide Washington through the AFC East. Dallas and Philadelphia are the only two genuine contenders, so don’t expect much buzz coming from our nation’s capital this year — Haskins shining or not.

Related | Opinion: Message to the Redskins, support Dwayne Haskins

AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati finally made the right call to end the Marvin Lewis era in 2018. Deserving or not, Andy Dalton received the pink slip in May as the team elected to take a youthful approach by selecting Joe Burrow first overall. Now the question becomes whether or not the Ohio native can live up to immediate expectations this fall.

After putting up video game numbers and leading his team to a College Football title, Burrow is penciled as the team’s starter before taking a snap. If you take a look back at the success of rookie quarterbacks transforming a franchise early, it’s not promising. Burrow is bound to make mistakes that will keep Cincinnati out of the postseason race for now.

Even after breaking code and spending money in the offseason, the Bengals will be banking on things to turn sour for divisional opponents. They’ll also need to rely on young talent growing into vital playmakers by Week 1 from the previous two draft classes. Plus, will A.J. Green or John Ross stay healthy long enough to help Burrow progress?

If Baker Mayfield underachieves, Ben Roethlisberger struggles due to age, and MVP Lamar Jackson is hurt; all bets are off the table. What’s the likeliness of all three of those events happening in the same season?

Related | Can Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow get A.J. Green back to Pro Bowl level?

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