Being a new NFL Contributor to Draft Countdown, I figure it is only fair to publicly humble myself! Despite reading the latest daily developments throughout the offseason and then posting up for endless hours of regular-season football, predicting division winners can be a tedious task (especially for divisions like the AFC West-coin toss anyone?).
I will run through each division and give my thoughts, projected winners, and all of the reasoning behind it. Be sure to check back at the end of the season and keep tabs on how I fared!
NFC South: Tampa Bay
It’s undeniable that with Tampa Tom’s unretirement and a division where teams are managing some growing pains, that anyone can doubt the seven-time Super Bowl winner. Despite some preseason blows to the O-line and the (actual) retirement of Gronkowski, this regime under new Head Coach Todd Bowles is primed to be great. Bowles’ defensive prowess coupled with Brady’s new weapons (Jones, Gage, and Rudolph) is going to be tough to overlook in the NFC South.
NFC East: Philadelphia
The NFC East will certainly be an interesting one as many fans are losing their faith in America’s Team. A few key departures from Dallas mounted with a Tyron Smith injury in early August creates some uncertainty about the Cowboys’ ability to put together a winning season. With that being said, Philly seems to be scooping up additions on the daily! Notably: AJ Brown, Haasan Reddick, Chauncey Gardener-Johnson, and Nakobe Dean. The Eagles continue to add solid talent to both their D and to support third-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. I expect a much more settled offense and a defense that continues to improve.
NFC West: Arizona
While it is tough to root against the reigning Super Bowl champs, there are a few thoughts that point me toward the Arizona Cardinals in this wildly competitive division. I do believe that it is going to be an extremely tight race with the Niners and Rams creeping up behind Kyler and company. My biggest concern for the Rams is Stafford’s throwing arm prognosis. He has proven his toughness before, but despite Sean McVay’s optimism I cannot help but worry about his production or playing time with continual shoulder pain. Stafford also tied Trevor Lawrence for INTs last season. A nagging injury can in no way help this.
Murray indisputably has something to prove after signing his five-year, $230 million extension this offseason that drew a lot of mixed feelings. He tends to take a lot of flak from a media and fanbase standpoint so this will be his year to prove himself once and for all. The Cards only finished the 2021 regular season with one less win than the Rams at 11 and 12, respectively.
NFC North: Green Bay
It’s no surprise that I am a lifelong Packers fan. There, I said it! A lot of folks are concerned with Rodgers’ loss of Davante Adams and rightfully so. I think I should be a little more nervous myself, but over the years it’s tough to not trust the four-time NFL MVP winner-two of which came the previous two seasons. The talented slinger of the pigskin is indeed peaking in his career. It is certainly going to be a receiving-by-committee situation assuming a couple of rookies like Watson and Doubs are as good as advertised.
This Pack defense may end up being the best to suit up in well over a decade and this alone takes off a little of that chokehold that is, “Who in the hell are our offensive weapons? How will we score?” Not to mention, a stout little one-two punch in tandem running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon don’t hurt either. Though we mourned the loss of Tae, we do get three dominant players back on offense this year: Bakhtiari, Jenkins, and Tonyan. I am cautiously looking forward to a new season within the NFC North despite some uncertainty in our divisional opponents.
AFC South: Indianapolis
This Indy pick came fairly easy in comparison to other divisions and here is why: Jonathan Taylor, a top-10 Defense, and Matt Ryan. A fresh start for the quarterback who played 14 seasons in Atlanta walked into a well-balanced team on both sides of the ball.
Also, Frank Reich is no slouch of a head coach. Since leading the team in 2018, he holds a 37-28 record and has made the playoffs twice. I strongly believe the Reich/Ryan collaboration has the potential be potent EVEN against their division foes in Tennessee.
AFC East: Buffalo
Nobody can deny the monster roster that the Buffalo Bills have built over the last several years. A complete team on all fronts from coaching to the personnel on the field. Their incredible talent mixed with the grief of losing that historical playoff game against Kansas City in overtime will take the East no questions asked.
Josh Allen’s MVP odds paired with his reliable weapons are something for the Bills Mafia to celebrate. I foresee many broken tables come January!
AFC West: LA Chargers
Mental gymnastics is the phrase that comes to mind each time I deliberate AFC West possibilities; which is approximately every five minutes. Every five minutes it seems to also change! Aye aye aye. Before I change my decision, let’s ink it: the Los Angeles Chargers are my predicted winners of the most closely loaded division of the National Football League.
Step aside Mahomes. I wholeheartedly believe there is a new sheriff in the West. Herbert, entering his third year, shows more promise than most veterans at this point. Finishing second in both completions and yards per attempt on deep passes (per Pro Football Focus) for the 2021 season is just the tip of the iceberg for the Oregon alum. Aside from the dangerous talent on offense, the defense features names like Joey Bosa, Derwin James Jr., and now Khalil Mack.
AFC North: Cincinnati
I cannot comprehend how the reigning AFC champs do not make another solid run into the postseason. Do I believe in a Super Bowl comeback? Not quite. That is just too tough to replicate and too many things need to happen. As far as winning the division, however, I strongly believe Who Dey Nation will be in for an exciting season.
Lamar and the Ravens will give the Bengals a run for their money while the quarterback plays on a contract year. I will not deny their talent and I fully admit that I pondered flipping a coin between these two teams to take the North. I just believe the momentum going in for Cincinnati will catapult them a couple of games further. Ravens should easily still make it into the playoffs as a wild card.
One thing is for certain: the line between a 3-win team and a 10-win team is really not always a huge difference and the lines seem to be even more blurred this year. Dominant teams are one key injury away from blowing their season and those rebuilding are one play away from securing a notch on the W column. Let’s have a great NFL season and have fun watching how it all shakes out!
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