Teams going from worst to first in their division has become the norm in the 21st century NFL.
In 15 of the past 16 years, at least one NFL team has gone from last place to a division title.
The Houston Texans accomplished the feat last season, winning the AFC South with an 11-5 record after a 4-12 last-place finish in 2017.
The Jaguars went from worst to first in 2017, finishing 10-6 a year after going 3-13. Jacksonville appeared headed for the Super Bowl before blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead at New England in the AFC title game.
After reverting back to last place last season at 5-11, the Jaguars are the leading candidate to go from worst to first in 2019. Jacksonville is a 9-2 choice to win the AFC South.
Those are the best division odds at the Westgate among the eight 2018 cellar dwellers, followed by the New York Jets (6-1), Detroit Lions (12-1), Cincinnati Bengals (14-1), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (16-1), New York Giants (18-1), Oakland Raiders (20-1) and Arizona Cardinals (20-1).
The Jaguars had an anemic offense last season behind inconsistent quarterback Blake Bortles and oft-injured running back Leonard Fournette, averaging 15.3 points. But they finished fourth in scoring defense (19.8 ppg) and fifth in total defense and have replaced Bortles with former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles.
“The defense still played well last year. The whole thing came down to Fournette getting hurt and bad quarterback play,” Westgate sportsbook manager Ed Salmons said. “You just don’t know with Foles. For whatever reason, Philadelphia is the only team where he’s really played well.
“If he can give them anything with quarterback play, with their defense they should be a team on the improve.”
If this is the year the Patriots finally regress after winning 16 division titles in 19 seasons, Salmons said the Jets are the most likely team to win the AFC East.
“Just because of their quarterback play. I like (Sam) Darnold. He just has to stay away from mistakes,” Salmons said. “They have (running back) Le’Veon Bell and the makings of a good defense. The Jets have a chance if everything goes right.”
The NFC North is loaded with three teams with win totals of nine in the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. But that didn’t stop a respected Westgate bettor from wagering on the Lions to win the division.
Sunset Station sportsbook director Chuck Esposito also is high on Detroit.
“I’m not necessarily saying they can go from worst to first, but they’re the best of the (2018) last-place teams,” he said. “There’s a lot of scoring potential on that team with Matthew Stafford, Kerryon Johnson, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and T.J. Hockenson.
“In that division, there’s a tremendous amount of heat on (Bears quarterback) Mitch Trubisky and (Vikings QB) Kirk Cousins, and there already seems to be a rift between (Packers QB Aaron) Rodgers and (Green Bay first-year coach Matt) LaFleur.”
Salmons said the Westgate also has taken respected money on the Bengals to win the AFC North, which has lowered their odds from 20-1.
A sharp bettor at MGM Resorts placed a $20,000 wager on Tampa Bay to go over its win total of 6, and The Mirage sportsbook director Jeff Stoneback said the Buccaneers also have been a popular bet to win the NFC South.
“With Bruce Arians going over there, maybe he can do something with (quarterback) Jameis Winston,” Stoneback said. “One great thing about the NFL is that the salary cap keeps everything in check. Everybody’s got a chance.”
Westgate bettors are all over the Raiders and Cardinals.
“We’ve had so much public money on the Cardinals. It’s crazy. They’re betting the Cardinals to win the Super Bowl, division, everything,” Salmons said. “And they’re betting the Raiders like crazy to win the division, conference and Super Bowl. It’s all public money.”
That leaves the Giants, who handicapper Bruce Marshall said have a shot to win the NFC East now that the Cowboys are dealing with Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout, Dak Prescott’s reported contract demand and Amari Cooper’s heel injury.
“There’s a chance that that division could completely implode,” said Marshall (Goldsheet.com). “Dallas could slip, and the Eagles certainly could if (QB Carson) Wentz gets hurt again. And the Redskins have some issues.
“If things fall into place, the Giants might have enough to give (QB) Eli (Manning) one last hurrah in that division.”
Worst to first?
Division odds for 2018 last-place teams
At Westgate sportsbook