by Derek Franks
The 2013 NFL season is coming up and it’s time to explore which division will be the best this season and have the most competition within the division.
8. AFC East
With Buffalo and the New York Jets in turmoil (in more ways than one), it leaves New England, who has had, to say the least, a rocky offseason and a Miami Dolphins team that looks to be improved to try and balance out what is by far the worst division in the league. While our projected records favored the AFC south as the underbelly, this division bolsters little in creating an exciting division race or clean organization within front offices or player personal making it the worst division in the NFL.
7. AFC West
When the team that selected first in the NFL draft will likely finish second in the division, it’s probably likely that the division is weak. Because this division is weak, that very Kansas City Chiefs team, who won only 2 games last season, has a shot at making the playoffs. The Denver Broncos are clearly the favorite, and our projected records like them at 11-5. I like them to possibly win the AFC. But those two teams are not enough to distract us from the two least interesting groups in the league: San Diego and Oakland, who give us absolutely nothing to pay attention to.
6. AFC South
There’s a reason Houston might go 14-2 this year. They play in the weakest division, where they will likely go undefeated. Jacksonville is dreadful; Tennessee is stuck in purgatory. Indianapolis carries interesting storylines because of its talented second year quarterback Andrew Luck. All things considered, this division doesn’t move the needle much outside of Houston.
5. NFC South
This is the most overrated division in football. That is not to call the breadwinners of the group, the Atlanta Falcons, overrated. They are the real deal and could be headed back to the NFC championship this season. They will likely be one of the most exciting teams in the league this year, and for good reason. Give us “Matty Ice” Matt Ryan over almost any other quarterback in the league. Pair it with an assembly of talented receivers and an improved defense, the dirty birds might be “Super” this year. But after Atlanta, thinks get murky. For starters, let’s all stop drooling over the Saints. Yeah sure they have Sean Payton back. Ok, they have Drew Breeze. Maybe their offense will be solid this season. But when you’re defense is so bad that a YMCA league of 4th graders could score on it— and do so repeatedly— it doesn’t mean you’re going to win games. Our formula has them in last. Sorry NOLA, but I agree.
Carolina! Now that’s an interesting group right? Except they aren’t. Alls I hear about the Panthers is that “they’re better than their record last year indicated.” I don’t know exactly how you support such a prediction, but our formula likes them at 8-8 this year. So they improve by one game. I still have little faith in Cam Newton, I have no idea who their coaching staff consists of, they’re in the middle of a transition in the front office and the defense is, well, so-so. I like Tampa Bay better. The Bucs were on a good track for a short time last year; overall it’s a team that could make the division battle interesting and could push for the playoffs. I’ll take them second in a division that clearly belongs to Atlanta.
4. AFC North
The AFC North is certainly interesting. While Super Bowl champion Baltimore will still make some noise—they better after that contract they just signed Joe Flacco to— I think it’s Cincinnati’s year. Quarterback Andy Dalton has proven he can keep up with the big boys, especially with those tough defenses that call the division home. He certainly has the weapons. The Bengal faithful have kept their allegiance in Marvin Lewis and it will pay off in a playoff victory this year. Our crystal ball says 10-6 (I might even be a little nicer than that). The Steelers appear to be playoff ready as well. Even Cleveland won’t be too shabby this year. I believe Browns’ quarterback Brandon Weeden will be this year’s most improved quarterback, so keep your eyes peeled. You’ll be hearing a lot about the AFC North this year.
3. NFC East
This division is always one of the most interesting, simply because it usually comes down to the wire— literally. The last three seasons have come down to the final game. And picking a division winner for this one is usually hard to do. Our formula likes the Giants at 12-4 which means that Eli Manning and company are going to overcome some issues with depth and losses on the defensive side. The formula is harder on Dallas than I would have been. I believe they will be right there contending. Heck, even Philadelphia is interesting for shear fact that Chip Kelly might bring something to the table offensively, despite the loss of some instrumental players to injury. As for Washington, they have Robert Griffin III. Enough said. With that, this division will certainly entertain and, as history has told, will be neck and neck meaning every divisional game will matter.
2. NFC West
Both the Formula and my personal crystal ball have San Francisco finishing on top this year. I like them winning it all. But don’t sleep on Seattle. We saw last year how good they can be. And as long as the two teams’ exceptional young quarterbacks don’t suffer a sophomore slump, look for them to be dueling it out for playoff positions and perhaps even play for an NFC championship. With a Jeff Fisher-guided St. Louis, which played both teams tough last year, also in this division, the West has a lot going for it, even with bottom dwelling Arizona leaching on.
1. NFC North
It’s true, this division is so good that all four teams in it may beat each other up, forcing some 8-8 records across the board. The formulator sees it that way. But that does not at all mean that this isn’t the best division in football. Aaron Rogers and the Packers will certainly excite. They play one of the most grueling schedules that I think I’ve ever seen, which is really what I think separates a 13-3 team from the 8-8 record that the formula predicts. They are that good and the schedule really is that hard. In fact, if the Pack make it to the playoffs somehow, they’ll be the most prepared of any team they face. But we must not forget the other three foes. After all, Detroit is much improved this season. Chicago to me will always be that team that flops just when things are looking up. But that comes with having Jay Cutler at quarterback. It’s in his blood. But that doesn’t mean they won’t finally change their ways this year. Even Minnesota made the playoffs last year. If you can make the playoffs with Christian Ponder as your starting quarterback, well then you can almost make anything happen. We won’t forget that Adrian Peterson was the real reason, but whether or not he can repeat last year’s performance remains to be seen. Either way, this is the most fascinating division in football and, in my book, the most talented, even if the records at the end of the year don’t suggest that it is.