In the NFL, the success of one year does not always carry over to the next. Over the past three seasons, 18 different teams have won their division, and only the Patriots have won their division in all three years. Every other division has seen multiple winners, and three divisions — the NFC East, NFC South, and NFC West — have had a different winner each year. Predicting the division winners in the middle of July is not an easy task, but I’m going to breakdown each one of them and tell you who I think will finish on top.
This is one isn’t difficult. You have to look no further than Las Vegas to understand how favored the Patriots are in this division. Vegas gave the Patriots 5-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, they have the best chance in the league. The New York Jets and the Bills were both given 80-1 odds, while the Dolphins were given 100-1 odds. The latter three teams are in complete disarray and have a combined record of 66-78 over the last three seasons. The Patriots, returning with their core of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Bill Belichick can sleep walk to a division title.
This could be the Steelers’ year. They went 13-3 last year and retained their key offensive weapons. They have arguably the best wide receiver and the best running back in the league in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, and Juju Smith-Schuster gives Big Ben Roethlisberger another dynamic aerial threat. The Browns made some serious moves this offseason to bolster their offense for now and for the future, and I believe they have a serious shot at the playoffs, but they will need at least a year to gel together and develop as a team. The Steelers are already a well-oiled machine.
This division is up in the air. The Jaguars scraped a division title with a 10-6 record last year but the Titans were right behind them at 9-7. Adding Dion Lewis in the running game and getting a healthy Corey Davis and Marcus Mariota could put the Titans over the top. Let’s also not forget that the Colts had back to back division titles in 2013 and 2014 with a fully healthy Andrew Luck, despite the horrible state of their defense. I think the Titans have the best dual threat attack on offense, combined with an above average defense (based on yards given up in 2017) that just acquired defensive minded coach Mike Vrabel. I give them a slight edge for the division title in 2018.
This division is going to be owned by the Los Angeles Chargers. They put together a 9-7 campaign last season and have gotten better since then. Forrest Lamp, who many thought was the best guard in the 2017 draft, will be bolstering their offensive line this season. They also drafted safety Derwin James in the first round at pick 17 (though many believed he had top 10 talent) who will contribute right away to an already established defense that gave up the third fewest points in the league last year. The Chiefs and the Broncos lost key members of their defenses and have relative question marks at the quarterback position, while the Raiders need to recover from a total belly flop in 2017. The Chargers are a complete team at every position, led by a veteran quarterback looking to regain his “elite” reputation.
It’s hard to see anyone besides the Super Bowl champion Eagles winning this division. They were the strongest team in a loaded NFC last season. The Cowboys lost big pieces of their offense in Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, and the Redskins had a quarterback change and have been stuck in mediocrity under head coach Jay Gruden (24-23-1 over the past three seasons). The Giants have a dangerous offense with a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. and the number two overall pick Saquon Barkley, but it’s tough to see them finishing above the Eagles with a steadily declining Eli Manning under center.
This division may not be decided until Week 17, but it’s either going to the Packers or the Vikings. Aaron Rodgers will be on a comeback rampage after missing most of last season due to injury, but i’m not sure they can get past the Vikings’ defense. The Vikings ranked first in total defense last year in points and yards given up. With the addition of Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook returning from injury, the offense gets a bump as well. The Vikings are a team without any clear weaknesses.
The NFC South produced three 10+ win teams last season — the Saints, the Panthers, and the Falcons — and they all have a good shot at repeating their success. The Panthers might have the most dynamic arsenal of offensive weapons in the league, but Cam Newton hasn’t shown the consistency in his career to make me confident that he can effectively utilize all of them. The Saints blew the league away with their dual threat rushing attack and improved defense, and while Drew Brees didn’t show much regression, he will be turning 40 at the end of this season, and i don’t believe their efficiency from last year completely carries over. That leaves the Falcons. Rookie receiver and first round pick Calvin Ridley was said to be the most NFL ready receiver in the draft, I think he’ll give the passing game more stability and create a bit more breathing room for Julio Jones. All three teams had above average defenses and I think this will be the most exciting division battle of the season, but I’m giving the Falcons the edge.
The Seahawks no longer have a defense and the Cardinals don’t have much of an offense. The 49ers believe in a future with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon, but the Rams went full Golden State Warriors over the offseason and put together a super team of monsters. They Acquired Brandin Cooks, Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, and Marcus Peters. They took the division easily in 2017 and I think they’ll find it even easier to conquer this season.