With the NFL preseason coming to a close, here is my outlook on how the divisions will pan out in the NFL this year.
Once again, it looks like the Patriots will win the AFC East despite losing tight ends Aaron Hernandez (cut) and Rob Gronkowski (injury). Hopefully, Gronkowski will be able to return somewhere down the line to also help replace the loss of veteran wide receiver Wes Welker. For Jets fans like myself, this season looks to be another disappointing one as Darrelle Revis, arguably the best cornerback in the league, was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. To make matters worse, the Jets still haven’t decided whether Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith will be the starting quarterback. Don’t expect a lot of change with the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins as they’ll finish the season with under .500 records.
The AFC North could be this year’s most competitive division with the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers all boasting extremely strong rosters. Despite winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens suffered a huge loss when Ray Lewis decided to retire. However, they’ve made some offseason moves to help recover from the loss, including signing linebacker Elvis Dumervil. Even without a replacement for Anquan Boldin, the Ravens should still be strong enough to take the division. The Bengals continue to get better every year and could potentially give the Ravens a run for their money. In Pittsburgh, the loss of James Harrison will be too much for the defense to overcome. As for the Browns, it looks like just another year in Cleveland with low expectations.
The AFC South this year will feature the Colts and the Texans fighting for the division title. The Texans look to be the better team after drafting wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to add depth to their already talented passing offense. In Indy, Andrew Luck will try to improve on an 11-5 record and beat out the Texans for the division. Unfortunately, the Colts’ attempt to strengthen their defense has yet to prove itself this preseason and may not be enough to help them win the division. The Titans are a few seasons away from contending. If the Titans have a few seasons to go, the Jagaurs have a decade as their quarterback struggles continue. Don’t expect them to win more than a few games this season.
The Broncos should top the division for the second year in a row despite losing Elvis Dumervil to the Ravens and Von Miller to a suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy. The addition of Wes Welker gives the Broncos and Peyton Manning an additional threat in the passing game. The Chiefs and the Chargers should finish at second and third in the division. The signing of Alex Smith for the Chiefs should help them contend for the wild card race. The Chargers and Philip Rivers look like they’re in for another sub-par season and missing the playoffs once again. Meanwhile, the additions of Charles Woodson and Matt Flynn should do nothing to keep the Oakland Raiders from a last place finish.
Like the AFC North, the NFC East should shape up to be an extremely competitive division. The Giants and Cowboys will now be faced with a young, talented Redskins team led by Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. Both players proved their potential last year in taking the Redskins to the playoffs before RG III tore his ACL. It’s always hard to rule out the Giants based off their play in the past few seasons. They’ve lost running back Ahmad Bradshaw and will turn to Andre Brown and David Wilson to carry the ball this year. For the Cowboys, unless Romo can fix his late-game woes, I see the Cowboys finishing third in the division with either the Redskins or Giants on top. The Eagles have made a lot of offseason moves in getting rid of cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomougha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie while signing safety Kenny Phillips and defensive end Connor Barwin. This shouldn’t have a drastic effect on last season’s 4-12 record.
The Green Bay Packers will undoubtedly win the NFC North as they remain one of the best teams in the entire league. They’ve added Eddie Lacy to help their running game and nobody has been able to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers passing game.
The Lions signed running back Reggie Bush and drafted defensive end Ziggy Ansah to strengthen their defensive line. Though their defense isn’t there yet, I think the Lions offense is enough to help them make the playoffs. The Vikings and Bears will by no means have bad seasons this year as Minnesota picked up wide receiver Greg Jennings to add strength to their run-dominated offense and the Bears drafted linebacker Jon Bostic to help replace the gap left by Brian Urlacher. Expect both of these teams to follow just behind the Lions in the division.
In the NFC South, the Falcons should come out on top after a strong 2012 season. To strengthen their offense, the Falcons acquired running back Steven Jackson and retained Tony Gonzalez despite his initial decision to retire. Expect the Falcons to not only win the division but also to make a deep playoff run. Despite not having coach Sean Payton last year, the Saints should return this year and make the playoffs in a wild card slot. The only thing keeping them from contending with the Falcons for the division is their weak pass defense, which hasn’t improved significantly since last season. Neither the Saints nor the Panthers have done enough to leave the NFC South basement.
The NFC West is up for grabs between the Seahawks and the 49ers. Whichever team comes out on top in this matchup will take the division. I still expect both teams to make the playoffs.
Russell Wilson surprised the entire league last year with his stellar play and the Seahawks have gone out and gotten wide receiver Percy Harvin to help Wilson out, though Harvin has already been injured.
Much like the Seahawks, the 49ers QB, Colin Kaepernick, also surprised the league last year with his strong arm and quick speed. To help him, the 49ers went out and signed Anquan Boldin. Meanwhile, the Rams have improved and will continue to improve this season, but it’s unrealistic to say that they have the caliber to beat out the 49ers or Seahawks for the division.
Look for them to post a solid record but just miss the playoffs. The Cardinals have struggled to find a quarterback since losing Kurt Warner in 2009 but may have found their replacement in Carson Palmer. Though Palmer is 33, he should be able to help the Cardinals improve from an 11 loss 2012 season.
— By Adam Troyetsky