I don’t know about you, but the endless wait for the start of football season is killing me. The offseason for both college football and the NFL is just too long to handle. The season is getting close, and training camps will soon open, but there is still a whole lot of time to kill. To help pass that time I like to find every way I can to think about football and get ready for the upcoming seasons. One such way is to look at the eight divisions in the NFL and rank them in terms of perceived strength. Besides being kind of fun, it also will force me to think about how I see things turning out, and which teams are worthy of some real respect. Without further ado here are my rankings along with some predictions:
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1. AFC East - This isn’t a particularly bold pick, but I can’t see a reason to be any more daring than this. I’m concerned abut the Tom Brady contract situation and the potential for distraction, and I wish their roster was younger, but the Patriots are still the Patriots. I’m not nearly as optimistic about the Jets as some people are because I don’t love Mark Sanchez, but no team has been more aggressive in this offseason. I’m very bullish about the Dolphins. I believe strongly in Chad Henne, and I love the team they have built around him. There are three teams that could easily win this division and go deep in the playoffs. You can’t say that about a lot of divisions.
2. NFC East - I’m not convinced that Kevin Kolb is an upgrade over Donovan McNabb, but I think that the change of leadership will be a net positive even if Kolb isn’t great. Washington is obviously improved by the addition of McNabb, and especially improved by their coaching change. The Cowboys are strong again, and have a very impatient owner who will be pushing for success. This division isn’t quite as deep as the AFC East, but they are close.
3. NFC North - I’m assuming that Brett Favre is coming back, and that will make Minnesota a pretty good team. He had better come back or I’ll be very annoyed about all of our time he has wasted this offseason. Green Bay was very good this year, and should be at least as good this year. They should actually be better because I don’t expect them to limp out of the gate like they did last year. The Bears aren’t a great team in my eyes, but they should be better than they were. Detroit will still be lousy, but they’ll try hard. This again is a division with three solid teams that could do some damage.
4. NFC West - Arizona is going to be weaker than they were last year because they don’t have Kurt Warner, but they should still be a solid team. I am very optimistic about the Niners. Of course, I have been very optimistic about the Niners for the last few years and they have never come through for me. The Seahawks have some issues, but Pete Carroll is going to be very aggressive, and they should be improved. This division is below the other three because I don’t believe that Seattle is ready to be a contender yet, but this is still a solid grouping. It’s nice to see the NFC West finally back to respectability after a long stretch of only really having one team in it.
5. AFC North - Cleveland is in the midst of a long and painful rebuilding phase. Actually, it’s more of a building phase, because this current franchise has never really been good for any length of time. Cincinnati is getting a lot of attention, but the next time I really respect a Marvin Lewis-coached team will be the first time. Pittsburgh has far too many distractions for a good team. I like a lot of what Baltimore has going on, but I am really concerned about the age of some key players. The top three teams in this division could all put together a nice year, but I’m not entirely confident that any of them will.
6. AFC South - Indianapolis will be Indianapolis, though I am expecting them to be a little less so this year. Houston has reasonably high expectations, but they’ll find a way to disappoint because they always do. There is more about Tennessee that makes me uneasy than excited. Jacksonville is worse than last year, and they were massively disappointing then. I find it very hard to get emotionally attached to any team in this group.
7. AFC West - San Diego is going to be strong again, though I’d feel better if they added a bit more receiver depth to add a cushion to overcome a rough offseason on that front. Denver should be more improved, or at least more consistent, though I’m not sure that they are confident that their QB situation will remain stable. Oakland won’t yet be good, but they are going to be better and are finally being managed well again. Kansas City could even surprise a few people this year. There’s only one elite team in the group, but the others all promise to be interesting.
8. NFC South - It’s not nice to be so negative about the division that produced the Super Bowl champion, but I’m just not. I think the Saints are in for a rough time this year like most Super Bowl champions are the next year. The other three teams just have a lot of issues. Atlanta is the best of the lot, but there was something that clearly wasn’t right with them last year, and I am not sure what they did to significantly improve this offseason. Carolina and Tampa Bay have too many issues from the coaching to the quarterbacks and on down to be taken seriously.
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