From the drawers of the Top Secret Fyles:
A perk of an NFL team’s schedule following a last-place finish from the previous season is that it plays other last-place squads within its conference the next season. Usually, that along with some other factors can be attributed to a club’s faster-than-normal rise up the division standings.
We will now rank 2020’s all eight last-place division finishers (Jets, Bengals, Jaguars and Broncos in the AFC and Eagles, Lions, Falcons and 49ers in the NFC) and their prospects for improvement in 2021, from best to least.
n 1. 49ers (6-10 record, 376 points scored, 390 points against, number of ’20 playoff teams on this year’s schedule: 8) — Coach Kyle Shanahan’s team, which just played in the Super Bowl just 17 months ago, won’t finish last this season. San Fran has to figure out the QB situation between Jimmy Garoppolo and newcomer Trey Lance. Unlikely Niners will have 32 players on IR again this season, with 16 unable to finish 2020.
n 2. Jaguars (1-15, 306/492, 7) — Decorated college coach Urban Meyer and rookie franchise QB Trevor Lawrence — deemed the hottest prospect since Peyton Manning in 1998 — have will Jacksonville moving in the right direction along with new talent acquired via free agency and the draft.
n 3. Eagles (4-11-1, 334/418, 5) — Of the eight squads, Philadelphia has the fewest games against playoff opponents. It plays in a whacky division and was separated by three wins from first-place Washington.
n 4. Broncos (5-11, 323/446, 6) — It’s a difficult division to move up when the QB combo of Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock have a total of six games against Patrick Mahomes, Derek Carr and Justin Herbert.
n 5. Falcons (4-12, 396/414, 6) — QB Matt Ryan, 36, provides stability for new coach Arthur Smith. Hot shot TE prospect Kyle Pitts is in, while veteran WR Julio Jones is out.
n 6. Jets (2-14, 243/457, 6) — Positive direction is seen with new coach Robert Saleh and No. 2 overall draft pick and QB Zach Wilson, hoping to boost listless offense. Team went 0-6 in division games last season.
n 7. Bengals (4-11-1, 311/424, 9) — QB Joe Burrow returns from torn ACL and MCL injures suffered last November. Cincinnati is not moving up in the AFC North, where Steelers, Ravens and Browns were all playoff squads in 2020.
n 8. Lions (5-11, 377/519, 9) — New coach Dan Campbell wants to restore Detroit’s fire and competitiveness and improve on last season’s poor 1-7 home record. Allowed 32.4 points per game in 2020. Too much Packers, Bears and Vikings in division to see any other finish than fourth place.
Times sports copy editor Richard Fyle can be reached at email@example.com