What's going on, you guys! I had a good time putting together my thoughts on my two previous NFL pieces, so I decided to come back with an extremely early look at who should win each division in the upcoming season! If you really want, you can listen to the most recent episodes of the podcast...
While you read. Either way, prepare to have the regular season spoiled for you:
The Baltimore Ravens will win the AFC North. This shouldn't come as a surprise, but it is also a tough call. Last year at this time, it looked as if anyone except The Bengals could win it. This year.... Feels similar to me. The Ravens only made themselves stronger, immediate contenders for the Super Bowl, so that is why I do not doubt that they will take the division crown. Still, I have the Steelers and Browns in the back of my mind. With Roethlisberger back and presumably at full go, the Steelers are sneaky Super Bowl contenders. Last year was pretty much a disaster for them, but they still finished 8-8 in what felt like a lost campaign. Mediocre, with a slight chance to make the playoffs, is the floor and the ceiling is much higher. The Browns are a wildcard... They could finish around .500 or just below, or be dominant and win 10-12 games. I just know that the Ravens will take this division, even though it will be a heated battle for it.
The Buffalo Bills will win the AFC EAST. Sean McDermott is proving a lot of people right. He came in and revitalized a defense that had good pieces, but was still falling off. He and his team drafted Josh Allen, a risky pick maybe even taken too early, but he is progressing into one of the best dual-threat signal callers in the league. They improved their offense last season and doubled-down this year (see: The Stefon Diggs trade.) They drafted well and kept their staff intact. It already feels cliche to crown the Bills as AFC East championships, but it is hard to deny that right now, they seem to be the most put together. It could be one of the most contested divisions, if things go well for the other three teams. I don't think Adan Gase has the IT factor, but if he suddenly finds it, the Jets have enough firepower to make some noise. Miami is still rebuilding, they feel a few seasons away from competing, but Brian Flores does seem to have a certain spunk about his team. Then, the depleted Patriots roster seems like it isn't going to have a chance, but they fielded one of the leagues best defenses last year. They lost some pieces, but still have enough to be feared. Basically, I wouldn't ever count Bellichek out of it.
The Tennessee Titans will win the AFC SOUTH. I feel like the Titans get too much credit. I honestly don't know what it is, but something about them does not feel legit. I fear that they may be banished to the .500 realm this year. Still, this is a team that blew by The Ravens in the divisional round and had a chance (albeit early in the game) to win The AFC Championship. Mike Vrabel and team just have to make sure they keep things fresh because teams have more tape and time to prepare for the Tannehill-Henry led offense. I am not worried about the defense, only how the young cornerbacks will hold up, maybe. I don't trust Tannehill or Henry long term, but they are on season removed from being two of the best at their respective positions down the stretch last year. Neither of them have really, truly held up and performed a high level for an entire season, so we'll see.
I like The Jaguars, but they feel like a sinking ship in need of another rebuild. They are giving Dough Marrone one more chance, I don't think he proves them right for that. Houston wiill be competitive with Deshaun Watson at the head of the operation, but they lack the pieces to be consistent on defense and I don't think they'll stay healthy enough on offense. The Colts should give Tennessee a run for their money for the division title, but I think Phillip Rivers will not prove to be the Messiah that everyone thinks he will be.
The Kansas City Chiefs will win the AFC WEST. This is an easy pick. The defending Super Bowl champions still have one of the best rosters in the league. Interestingly enough, any of the other three teams would be a good choice to win it, if the Chiefs didn't exist. This could be the division to produce both wild card teams.
The Green Bay Packers will win the NFC NORTH. This division gives me a WEIRD vibe. Arron Rogers is literally slowly being pushed out, even though he remains one of the top few QBs in the game. They still seem to be incapable of putting an offense together around Rogers... The backfield is in good shape and same for hte offensive line, so they will succeed. It just as if the front office hasn't tried to sign or draft more than a number 3 or 4 wide receiver in eons. The defense is one the look good on paper, but Mike Pettine doesn't seem to be able to coax consistency out of his guys. Luckily for the Packers, I do not believe in Mike Patricia whatsoever. I wish Mathew Stafford better, but it won't happen with Patricia at the helm. The Bears should not be struggling as they are, but they made a bad call with Trubisky and they made a worse call with Nick Foles. They traded a fourth round pick for a guy who cannot lead a team for more than 10 games and was shipped out of JACKSONVILLE after one season for a spunky, sixth round rookie. Their defense will be good, but it has gotten worse each year (and doesn't look better this year.) The Vikings have the best chance to compete with the Packers, but Mike Zimmer's offenses continue to look stale at points and his defense was dismantled by the salary cap and players under performing. They are a sneaky strong team, though.
The Dallas Cowboys will win the NFC EAST. I wish I could choose a different team, but they have a seemingly revitalized, Super Bowl winning head coach and should have one of the best offenses in the league. The defense lacks depth and is built with solid (if not under performing) players, but I trust some of the names there. It really comes down to The Redskins and Giants being a few years away from contending. I don't quite trust their foundations yet. The Eagles could snatch the crown, but I don't trust them to stay healthy. They added a few nice pieces, but Wentz is throwing to nobody outside. Hell, I am waiting for him to miss multiple games again. Desean Jackson and Alshon Jeffrey would have been an intimidating duo in 2013, but now they can't stay on the field. I don't Miles Sanders can carry the offense. The defense can carry the team though... As long as the back end plays up to its surprisingly high ceiling.
The New Orleans Saints will win the NFC South. This is an interesting division... Ant team outside Carolina seems to have a great shot at the division title, but all have some mighty questions. Tampa Bay is a popular band wagon with Tom Brady in tow, but I am slightly worried at how that operation will gel, especially with this tumultuous offseason. The Falcons still have the offensive pieces everyone craves, but they haven't been consistent and my fall victim to another season of Dan Quinn's defense lacking the punches to truly compete with the big, bad NFC contenders. New Orleans feels like it is getting a little stale... STILL, with Brees and Sean Payton guiding them, they should be one of the best teams in the league. The defense is not the issue that is was with past Saints teams and as long as they get Alvin Kamara going again (consistently,) I trust this team for one more year.
The San Francisco 49ers will win the NFC WEST. I so badly want to pick the Cardinals here. I LOVE their offense. The questions are though: Will Kingsbury only get better and will the defense be anything but nearly the worst? The Rams are an interesting case because they had some awesome rankings on defense and offense in terms of statistics, but they didn't ever feel like a team that would seal the deal to me. They lost some pieces, but have one of the best, young coaching staffs in the league, so we'll see. In Seattle, Russell Wilson is finally the guy. He always has been, but he has a weird offensive coordinator, an emergency room of a backfield, and an offensive line that has barely been functional since he was drafted. Still, that is a unit that ALWAYS plays better than it looks on paper. I just have too much confidence in how John Lynch has built the Niner's roster, they seem ready to compete again this year and for a few more years.