With NFL training camps opening up in a week or so, it’s time to start fully getting back into football. The off-season can be very long and reach a major lull point, where nothing is going on. Despite the Aaron Hernandez fiasco, there is point from May to early July where there aren’t many moves being made and teams are trying to settle their rookies in.
Now we are in mid-July and everyone can begin looking at every team closely. You won’t see major moves minus a few potential veteran pickups. It still surprises that players like John Abraham, Kerry Rhodes, and Richard Seymour are still free agents. They could be picked up once teams see a few holes in their defensive personnel.
I’ll be breaking down each division and where the division ranks in the NFL today. It’s obvious that the NFC has more quality teams than the AFC, so expect their respective divisions to be around the top of the list. The depth of competitive to elite teams in the NFC is tremendous. You could see almost any team make a run for the playoffs in that conference. On the other hand, the AFC has about five teams that will be fortunate if they win six games this season.
It’s a strange twist considering for all these years, the AFC was always producing wild-card teams that had to win at least ten games just to have a remote chance of clinching a playoff spot. That has changed and you’ll see that when I break each division down. They will be broken down in overall quality of all four teams, along with how strong their top two teams are compared to other divisions.
1. NFC South
They slightly take the spot due to Tampa Bay vastly improving over in the off-season. The additions of Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson should provide a major upgrade to their below-average secondary from last season. It’s all on the front four to get a consistent pass rush if they want to become a top ten defense. Carolina is considered the worst team in the division, yet they always manage to stay competitive. Cam Newton played much better in the second half of last season, while their front four showed how much pressure they can create led by Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.
Atlanta and New Orleans are still the top teams in the division. Sean Payton is back for New Orleans, which means the offense should be back to being more fluid and consistent. Atlanta is on the cusp of winning a championship to round out this stellar division. From top to bottom, nobody has a division that is that deep in talent.
2. NFC North
They didn’t get the top spot because Detroit isn’t going to improve very much and Minnesota could drop off this season if Christian Ponder doesn’t step up. The Vikings will still be around the seven to nine win area, but the questions at quarterback play makes me very cautious in believing in them. Detroit didn’t really address their secondary issues, along with adding support for Calvin Johnson. They are one of the few teams in the NFC that will likely end up losing at least ten games.
This division is still very good with Green Bay still being one of the top teams and Chicago making some much-needed changes by adding Mark Trestman as their new coach. After consecutive disappointing second halves in the last two seasons Chicago could be in prime position to finally make the playoffs. There won’t be any easy game in this division.
3. NFC West
There is a lot of hype going into the division this year, after years of being the laughing stock of the NFL. Now it’s filled of great defenses and teams that are primed to be contenders. The reason why it’s only ranked third is because Arizona could be the worst team in the NFC and St. Louis is still average offensively. I’m expecting the Rams to compete for a wild card spot, but I’m still unsure if their young offense can score enough points to beat top competition.
The loss of Michael Crabtree hurts the 49ers’ offense in a big way. He was Colin Kaepernick’s number one option and really carried their passing attack at times. Anquan Boldin isn’t a number one receiver anymore; he has begun to slow down despite his playoff performance. Seattle is being touted as the team to beat in the NFC. They were aggressive in the off-season; to go along with the best secondary in football and a dynamic running game led by Marshawn Lynch.
4. AFC North
It was considered one of the best divisions for the past few years, but Pittsburgh and Baltimore have declined. After losing so many key players from free agency, the Ravens will be hard pressed to win two playoff games let alone repeating as Super Bowl champions. With their veterans starting to decline, it’ll be an odd year where not many people will be predicting Pittsburgh to even make the playoffs.
The reason that the AFC North still remains in the upper echelon in the division rankings is because of the depth of competitive teams. Cleveland is starting to become more competitive, while Cincinnati is starting to become one of the best teams in the AFC. If Andy Dalton could have that “third year breakout season”, they could be one of the top three teams in the AFC. The division may not be as good as it was for the past few years, but it remains to be very competitive.
5. NFC East
For the past few seasons, I’ve called this “The Overhyped Division”. The division that everyone talks about being the best, yet the best team can’t win more than ten games. It’s still very competitive and it consists of three teams that can make the playoffs. Philadelphia is in rebuilding mode and is right there with Arizona, as the worst team in the NFC. They have too many questions on both sides of the ball that will make Chip Kelly’s first year of coaching in the NFL a long one.
New York looks to be the most capable of winning the division, but they are always inconsistent and have issues all over their defense. With the schedule being much more difficult this season, Washington will likely fall off a bit. They didn’t make any upgrades this off-season to improve their weak secondary. Dallas always seems to look good on paper, yet they haven’t made the playoffs in three years due to inconsistent play from both sides of the ball and poor decision making. There is never a dull week in this division filled with storylines and heated rivalries. The only thing it lacks is a championship-caliber team.
6. AFC South
It has made some improvement from last year with the emergence of Indianapolis. Now the division is no longer one-sided with Houston on top. It has become more competitive and the Colts look ready to compete for years to come. They still have issues defensively and Andrew Luck will need to cut down on his turnovers. People aren’t taking Houston seriously as contenders anymore until Matt Schaub starts playing better. He needs to be more confident this year. There were too many times last year he looked tentative.
The division is still saddled with Jacksonville, who continues to show that they aren’t going in any direction to get better. There main star is Maurice Jones-Drew, who continues to age and get more banged up. Tennessee is unsure if Jake Locker can even stay on the field, while the defense may be the worst in the league. Unlike the other two divisions I’m going to break down next, at least the South has two teams that look to be playoff teams.
7. AFC West
Denver keeps this division from being the worst. They are the favorites to win the Super Bowl this year and look unstoppable offensively. Nobody is going to challenge them for first place, as they should cruise towards their third straight division title. The only question is who is going to carry the load at running back between Montee Ball or Ronnie Hillman? The rest of the division is an absolute mess.
Kansas City seems to be making improvements, but I’m not sold on Alex Smith. The running game and defense will keep them in the playoff picture. In a very weak AFC it’s possible that they could sneak in a wild card spot. San Diego seems to be in rebuilding mode. It can only go up after dealing with Norv Turner for so many years. Oakland can be considered the favorites for the first pick in the draft. They want to run the ball, yet their offensive line is among the worst in the league. This division is all about Denver with Kansas City possibly winning nine games.
8. AFC East
This division was one-sided, now it has become an all-around mess. New England should still win the division, but they aren’t contending for a championship. With there top two skill players being so injury prone in Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, it’ll be interesting to see who becomes Tom Brady’s new favorite target this season. You may see some cracks this season.
Miami should improve and could very well make the playoffs. The reason why the AFC East is the worst division is because Denver is better than New England, while Miami and Kansas City are about on the same level. Miami been very aggressive in the off-season, but their overspending could come back to haunt them. Buffalo and New York are going through major quarterback issues. They have solid defenses that can keep them in games, but the quarterback situations aren’t good. Both teams pose no threat this year and won’t win more than six games. This is without a doubt, the worst division in football.
With August coming near, there will be plenty of football content coming to the site. We are going through a writer search so be sure to check it out if you haven’t. If you want to apply, you can check it out here. Good luck to all. You can follow me on twitter at @Allen_Strk