The NFL Draft has concluded, and team rosters are finally starting to take shape. Some of the top teams from last year lost some big pieces over free agency, while some of the up-and-coming teams added a few more key players to finally make that push for the playoffs. Numerous teams will feature new starting quarterbacks this year, while guys like Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen both played last year, but weren’t the day one starters. Let’s take an early look and predict the winners of each division.
This one is probably the easiest to predict, and has been that way for years now. Tom Brady and the Patriots are coming off yet another Super Bowl victory, and you are out of your mind if you think they aren’t the favorites to win the division. Hell, they may be the favorites to repeat as Super Bowl champs again, though they did lose a few pieces, including star tight end Rob Gronkowski. Look for the New York Jets to improve quite a bit with the addition of Le’veon Bell and C.J. Mosley, as well as the development of second-year quarterback Sam Darnold. The Dolphins are favorites in their own sense, but that’s favorites to win the number one pick in next year’s draft. The Bills may improve with Josh Allen as the full-time starter, but that roster still isn’t talented enough to compete at a high level consistently. This is, and always has been, New England’s division.
Winner: New England Patriots
This was one of the toughest divisions for me to predict, and I’ll probably change my mind on this a few times before the start of the season. It’s clearly a three-horse race, while the Bengals just aren’t quite at the level as its division foes. The other three teams, the Steelers, Ravens, and Browns, all have had very interesting, yet different free agencies/drafts that put them in the position they are in. The Steelers lost Bell in free agency after his holdout last year, as well as trading away Antonio Brown to the Raiders. Ravens lost Mosley and Eric Weddle to free agency, while trading away their Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco to the Broncos, giving the reigns to Lamar Jackson for this coming season. And then you have the Browns, who made a huge splash in free agency this year by trading for Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon, as well as signing Sheldon Richardson to beef up their defense. It’s hard to not be excited for this team, especially with young pieces like Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb already in place.
I’m going to go with the Steelers here. I know they probably took the biggest hit, but I think James Conner and Juju-Smith Schuster will be fine with their counterparts leaving. I’m not completely sold on Jackson at QB, and though I’m excited for the Browns just like everyone else, I still think they aren’t quite there. Therefore, I’m going with Big Ben and the Steelers.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
In years past, this has been notably one of the weaker divisions in the NFL, but this year looks to be different. Though it was a down year for the Jaguars, I think they can get back to their level of play they had a year prior, where they relied more on their defense and run game. Plus with new quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles in town, this team instantly improves at that position. The Colts were one of the biggest surprises from last year and even made the playoffs. It looks like all doubt in Andrew Luck’s shoulder have gone out the window, and this young team could improve even more this year. The Texans battled injuries last year, but still have quite the talented roster. If J.J. Watt can return to dominant ways, then he and Jadeveon Clowney can impose a lot of fear onto opposing quarterbacks. The Titans still seem to be stuck in mediocrity, so I don’t really see them challenging the top of the division. Personally, I am going with the Colts, but I’m keeping an eye out on the Jaguars. I think the Colts are the safe play here, but I could see the Jaguars making a push much like they did two years ago.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
This division looks like it comes down to the Chiefs and Chargers, though the Broncos and Raiders are a pair of wild cards that could surprise some people. Chiefs had the best record in the AFC thanks to the stellar play from Patrick Mahomes, but the defense regressed significantly, and the cloudy future surrounding Tyreek Hill puts this team’s divisional crown in jeopardy. The Chargers didn’t lose or gain much from last year’s solid season, though it is worth noting that Philip Rivers is getting up there in age, but that didn’t seem to hurt Tom Brady last year, so maybe father time is on this quarterback’s side as well. The Raiders added Antonio Brown and Lamarcus Joyner, so they should definitely improve from last year, but their defense still needs some work. Maybe Derek Carr can get back to his MVP-level of play we saw from him a few seasons ago now that he has a star receiver to throw to. The Broncos defense is still tough, and now they added Joe Flacco under center, so maybe this team can sneak into playoff contention behind his veteran leadership. I’m going to go with the Bolts here, for I think there’s too much question marks around Kansas City’s team for me to trust them. Mahomes can’t do it all himself, so I’m taking Los Angeles.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
Much like the AFC West, this seems to be a race between two teams: the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys. The Redskins won’t have Alex Smith at QB this year, so they may have to lean on rookie Dwayne Haskins a bit earlier then they wanted. The Giants just traded away their star receiver OBJ, so can Saquon Barkley literally carry this team to the top of the division? I think not. The Cowboys and Eagles both seem to be the favorites for the division. The Eagles appear to have the most talent between the two teams, but it all comes down to how far Carson Wentz can take this team. If he’s healthy, we saw him play at an MVP-level two seasons ago. But last year was his second year in a row where he missed significant time due to injury, so staying healthy will be crucial for this team. I’m banking on him staying healthy this year, so I think they win this division. If he goes down, look for the steady Dallas Cowboys to take the division title.
Winners: Philadelphia Eagles
This was another one that gave me some trouble. Personally, I was trying to decide between the Bears and Packers, though the Vikings could be in play as well, but that’s if Kirk Cousins can play at the level at which he’s getting paid to play. The Lions just can’t seem to get over that hump, and I don’t see them making that jump this season either. The Bears lit up the league with their incredible defensive play, while their offense wasn’t shy of great either. The Packers have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers, so he can easily take them to the playoffs and a divisional title. I’m sticking with the Chicago Bears to repeat as the division champs, though I wouldn’t be surprised by the Packers winning the division, and see the Vikings as a dark horse.
Winner: Chicago Bears
This was probably one of the easier divisions to predict, yet not quite as easy as the AFC East. The Saints stand alone as the team to beat in the division, while they also held the best record in the NFC last season. Drew Brees keeps defying father time, though they aren’t having to rely on him as much as years past. Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas are a nice duo of teammates Brees has at his disposal. This team’s biggest threat will be the Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan quietly had a great year last year, but still fell short at the season’s end. The Panthers and Buccaneers aren’t at the level of these two, making this an easy prediction to make.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
Again, like the NFC South, this was a rather easy prediction. The Rams made it all the way to the Super Bowl in Sean McVay’s second season as head coach, but fell short of the title with an underwhelming performance against the Patriots. The Seahawks seem to pose the biggest threat, who rewarded Russell Wilson with a massive contract. The 49ers may be a wild card team to take into consideration, who lost Jimmy Garroppolo early last season. Will he be what the Niners expect (and paid) him to be? He has some young weapons around him and could be a sneaky team to not take lightly. Though the Cardinals drafted the electrifying Kyler Murray, there’s just not enough talent around him to make a significant run. Rams have my choice for the prediction.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams