With the NFL season about to kick off, now is as good a time as any to make arbitrary predictions and baseless proclamations. I love it.
Heading into the season, many look at the NFC West as the best division in football because of the strength of the Seahawks and 49ers, but it's really anyone's ballgame at this point.
There are sure to be sleeper teams that emerge, like Indianapolis or Seattle have recently, and shift the geographical balance of power. Who will it be this season?
Here are my perspectives on each of the NFL's 8 divisions and a pre-Week 1 divisional power ranking, but as soon as the craziness commences, I reserve the right to change any opinions stated here 180 degrees.
According to VegasInsider.com, the NFC East has the highest average Super Bowl odds at 33.75-1. Of course that doesn't necessarily indicate the strength of the division, it mostly rewards the NFC East for not having any horrible teams. The NFC East is pretty balanced and should be very competitive, as it always seems to be. The Giants, Redskins, and Cowboys are all 25-1 and the Eagles are 60-1. No powerhouses, but good strength top to bottom.
Handicapping this division is tough. Every year it comes down to the wire and some team is bound to surprise us. But the lack of NFC favorites in this division is a bit of a downfall.
I'm envisioning a situation where each team finishes 8-8 and Jerry Jones, Daniel Snyder, Michael Vick, and the gap between Michael Strahan's front teeth duke it out on national television. I'm picking the tooth gap.
As a fan of an NFC team in a potentially loaded division, looking at the AFC divisions is incredibly frustrating. We have to play Seattle twice while New England gets to play Miami, Buffalo and the Jets twice!
But every year we make the same mistake; watch Miami and Buffalo turn into powerhouses right before our eyes. Not really, but you never know.
In all seriousness, Buffalo could be interesting. You never know with a mobile rookie QB (so I guess I'm saying the Jets could catch lightning in a bottle too) and CJ Spiller is supposed to have a huge season. Obviously New England is the favorite, with Super Bowl odds of 10-1, but they're bound to run into a bump in the road at some point. I just can't see anyone in this division actually winning in Foxboro, let alone challenging them for the division crown.
But this division has too much potential to totally count them out. The quarterback position in this division is a total mystery with Ryan Tannehill and his smokin’ hot wife being the second surest thing in the divison.
Here's my sleeper pick: Tampa Bay. I'm not sure they're really that much a sleeper anymore, but I'm sticking to it. Before Darrelle Revis got hurt he was widely considered the best defensive player in football. He was a game changer. If he gets back to being Darrelle Revis this season, the Bucs will go from the 23rd ranked defense a year ago to top-10. Oh yeah, and Doug Martin is going to get the ball 8,562 times this season behind an offensive line that will be much healthier than in the past.
And then there are New Orleans and Atlanta. Sure, maybe they're offensive-oriented teams, but they are both legitimate threats to win the Super Bowl and VegasInsider agrees, giving ATL 14-1 odds and NO 20-1 odds.
Carolina still isn't scaring many opponents, but they could sneak up on people this year too. AFC South
The AFC South, according to VegasInsider, is the worst division with an average Super Bowl odds of 133.25-1. Houston is 18-1 and Indy is 40-1, but they can't make up for the others (Jacksonville is 300-1 and Tennessee is 175-1). Houston is a known commodity but the rest is up in the air. Indy has a nice team but they benefit from getting to play both Tennessee and Jacksonville twice, so I don't think last year's record is really indicative of what kind of team they actually are, not to take anything away from Chuckstrong.
Overall, this seems like a very weak division but I'm open to idea of Jacksonville turning things around and surprising people. I see Maurice Jones-Drew pulling a mini-AP this year and carrying the team for stretches. And you really never know with a new coach, maybe Gus Bradley will light a fire under the troops this year.
The case can be made that this is the best division in football. All four teams have the potential to win a playoff game or two. Two teams, Green Bay and Chicago, expect to do so and both Detroit and Minnesota have a couple of guys that can single-handedly get them there.
There are two people that can turn this division into the best in the NFL:
1) Jim Schwartz. Come on, Jim. It's now or never. You've got the talent but you need to bring the consistency.
2) Christian Ponder: if he's the real deal (or at least a real-er deal than he's been) they'll be in business.
We know that Green Bay is going to be good and Chicago should be also, especially with their much-hyped offense under new coach Marc Trestman. I don't think anyone would be shocked if this ends up being the best division in the NFL.
Like the rest of us, VegasInsider likes the NFC much better than the AFC. Based on average Super Bowl odds, the NFC has the top four divisions. But at 50-1, the AFC North's average Super Bowl odds are just 1 behind the NFC West's 49-1.
Vegas likes Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati roughly the same, while Cleveland is lagging behind at 100-1.
While I think Vegas is underating some teams out there, I think the opposite is happening in this division. Pittsburgh and Baltimore will be competitive--their coaches won't have it any other way--but playing hard only gets you so far.
Both Baltimore and Pittsburgh are going to take a time to get settled; Baltimore has to adjust to the roster overhaul and loss of the team's leaders and Pittsburgh needs to figure out a way to deal with its offensive line situation. I think this division has the potential to really stink up the joint this year and I wouldn't be surprised if Cleveland ends up ahead of the Baltimore and Pittsburgh with Norv Turner taking the reins on offense.NFC West
Very top heavy. San Francisco and Seattle have better than 10-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, making the NFC West the only division with two such teams. But with Arizona and St. Louis in the fold, the West's average Super Bowl odds are 49-1, fourth best among the eight divisions.
I think the West's bottom dwellers could surprise some people, however. Arizona finally has a quarterback
that can get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald and St. Louis is turning into a decent overall team. But I think Vegas is mostly right here. St. Louis and Arizona still have plenty of weaknesses and neither are on my personal dark horse NFC watch list.
I do love Larry Fitzgerald this year, though. He is the second best receiver in the NFL and I think he's going to remind us of that this season. If Andre Roberts or Michael Floyd (my money is on Floyd) emerge as a second option and the defense can play like they did early last year, they could give Seattle or San Francisco a few extra losses and really impact the NFC power balance.
This is the biggest mystery of them all. Denver is widely considered the best team in the AFC while Oakland is widely considered a mediocre college team. And there's always a chance--albeit an increasingly minuscule one--that Philip Rivers and the Chargers are still actually capable of playing football. But I'm not going to take that risk.
Kansas City, on the other hand, is primed for a big year. Andy Reid is going to have Alex Smith throw, throw, throw and Dwayne Bowe is going to have a monster statistical season. Reid is a proven coach and Smith, Charles, and Bowe seem to comprise a core that can keep them in most games.
This division intrigues me, but with Oakland's obvious ineptitude and the situation in San Diego, it's hard to expect too much out of the AFC West.
So, without further ado, here are my divisional power rankings:
1. NFC South
2. NFC North
3. NFC West
4. NFC East
5. AFC North
6. AFC South
7. AFC West
8. AFC East
Man, isn't speculating fun? What do you think will happen? At the end of the year, which division will prove to be the best?