The draft has concluded and now comes the time to look at each team, each division. Which division boasts the strongest teams?
With the NFL Draft complete, we finally have our first glance at the NFL rosters of this season. Cuts still have to be made, and in the world of football, anything can happen, but for the first time, there is a general idea of what each team will look like. Looking over the eight divisions of the NFL, some look to be extremely competitive and filled with Super Bowl caliber teams while others could struggle to put forward a viable playoff contender.
The following is not a ranking of the individual teams but the divisions as a whole:
1. AFC West - Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, Oakland Raiders
3 Super Bowl Contenders, 1 Playoff Contender
Ron Chenoy - USA Today Sports
The AFC West is the best division in football. When you look over this division, all four teams are playoff caliber teams, or at least close to. The AFC West sent two representatives to the playoffs last postseason with the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders.
Kansas City has been one of the most consistent teams in football, and while also failing to get over the hump, continuously remains among the contenders. The Raiders have quickly emerged as a top team, and had quarterback Derek Carr not been injured, who knows what could have been.
As for the teams that didn’t make the playoffs, the Denver Broncos are only a year removed from their own Super Bowl victory and still boast perhaps the league’s best defense. While confusion may be in the air at the quarterback position for Denver, the team has proven that defense truly does win championships, and they can never really be counted out.
The Chargers have moved to Los Angeles, and with that comes hope for a better future. While they have struggled mightily the last couple of seasons, a lot has been due to the unfortunate fact that they reside in the toughest division in football. With the addition of wide receiver Mike Williams in the draft, watch out for this Philip Rivers’ led offense consisting of a (hopefully) healthy wide receiver Keenan Allen, an improving running back in Melvin Gordon, and the forever reliable tight end Antonio Gates.
2. NFC East - Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, New York Giants
2 Super Bowl Contenders, 1 Playoff Contender, 1 Cellar Dweller
Matthew Emmons - USA Today Sports
The NFC East is another division that could contribute three playoff teams and a couple of Super Bowl contenders. With the arrival of Offensive Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott and league-leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott last season, the Cowboys has blasted onto the scene quickly and become quite a scary team. The team boasts one of the best triple threat offenses in the league with Prescott, Elliot, and wide receiver Dez Bryant, but also happens to have the best offensive line in the league.
The team has also been building on their defense with the additions of defensive end Taco Charlton in the first round and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie to help out a needy secondary. If Jaylon Smith can return from his nasty injury and play to the level of his hype, he could pair up with Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens to form quite the linebacker trio. Still, the Cowboys have plenty of competition
The New York Giants made the playoffs as well last year, and have only added to their strength. One of the biggest free agent signings was wide receiver Brandon Marshall’s two year contract with New York. Marshall being paired up with Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard makes this offense scary. Even scarier is that they added a tight end in Evan Engram in the first round of the draft. The team’s only concern is a lack at the running back position, but with fourth round selection Wayne “The Train” Gallman joining them and reports that Legarrette Blount could be interested might erase that issue. Two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning might have the best offense of his career.
As for the defense, the team is looking solid as well. Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul make quite the formidable tandem while their secondary quickly emerged as one of the better in the league last year with the emergence of safety Landon Collins and rookie Eli Apple continuously improving. If there’s a team capable of surpassing the Cowboys in this division, it’s the Giants. The two that didn’t make the playoffs are definitely capable of competing, but might struggle against the Giants and Cowboys.
Kirk Cousins and the Redskins just missed out on the postseason last year. With the loss of Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson, the team brought in Terrelle Pryor who they hope can fill that void. On the defensive side of the ball, the Redskins got one of the big steals of the draft in defensive end Jonathan Allen who could start right out of the gates. Cornerback Fabian Moreau from the third round could be another surprise starter alongside Josh Norman with Benwikere struggling last season. The Redskins didn’t get much better, but also didn’t get much worse, so it’s likely that they’ll compete. Whether or not they’re good enough for the playoffs is a little up in the air.
Finally, the Eagles are definitely the weakest team in this division, but aren’t exactly a weak team. Quarterback Carson Wentz proved last year that he has the potential to be a great quarterback, but just needs some more weapons to work with. The Eagles fixed that issue by adding wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to the squad in the offseason. On the defensive side of the ball, the draft went extremely well for them. Defensive End Derek Barnett was praised as one of the best prospects of the draft and fell to Philadelphia. In a badly struggling secondary, the team drafted Sidney Jones, a top player who fell because of his a terrible injury he suffered. The team might not be the best in the division, but have the weapons to at least compete and make things interesting.
3. NFC South - Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1 Super Bowl Contender, 2 Playoff Contenders, 1 Cellar Dweller
Mark J Rebilas - USA Today Sports
Over the past two seasons, the NFC South has sent two teams to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, both have lost. This division is actually extremely underrated and boasts four teams that are capable of making the playoffs. Looking at the field, the Falcons are really the only team here that I would call a Super Bowl contender. The other three teams could make the playoffs, but might struggle to grab a Wild Card spot.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been slowly on the rise throughout the past couple years and this offseason they might’ve taken that final step they need to really compete. The offense, at first glance, looks locked and loaded. Quarterback Jameis Winston has had a great start to his career, posting back-to-back 4,000 yard seasons. Now, he has quite a number of weapons having already formed a great bond with wide receiver Mike Evans. Evans will now have the speedy Desean Jackson and rookie tight end OJ Howard to work with. With a run attack that was lacking last year, the team is hoping that running back Doug Martin can return and be the top running back that he’s shown he can be.
The Panthers aren’t too far removed from their 15-1 season just a year ago. Cam Newton had quite the drop in production compared to the MVP year before. He went from having 35 touchdowns to 10 interceptions compared to 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions this year. Despite the off year, him and Kelvin Benjamin seem to be getting onto the right page. However, after Benjamin, the team lacks a lot of offensive depth. First round selection Christian McCaffrey has a pretty unpredictable role, but could see a lot of playing time. As for the defense, the loss of Josh Norman seemed to have impacted them more than people thought. The secondary is really in shambles right now, while the rest of the defense is at least fairly solid with Thomas Davis Sr. and Luke Kuechly leading the way.
Finally, the Saints are probably the weakest team in the division, but as long as they have Drew Brees, it’s hard to say how they’ll do. Brees has been one of the most consistently magnificent quarterbacks in the league posted yet another 5,000+ yard season. The team did well in the first round of the draft, addressing a needy secondary with probably the best cornerback in the draft in Marshon Lattimore. At the end of the round, the team picked Ryan Ramczyk, who just might be the most polished offensive tackle in the draft. Protecting Brees at his age is important, and that pick shows their commitment to that mission.
4. AFC North - Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns
1 Super Bowl Contender, 2 Playoff Contenders, 1 Cellar Dweller
Denny Medley - USA Today Sports
For the past decade, the AFC North has been a vicious battle between the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals while the Cleveland Browns have watched from the sidelines, getting absolutely ravaged by the other teams of the division. No more? At some point, that’s got to end, and with the era of Hue Jackson underway, change seems to be coming.
The Browns have been criticized time and time again for their poor draft strategy and plethora of busts, but this most recent draft received nothing but praise. They might not be a playoff team just yet, but I’m not sure if they will be the doormat of this division this year. Myles Garrett was the best player in the draft, and grabbing both an athletic tight end in David Njoku and the do-it-all man in Jabrill Peppers, this team had quite the first day of the draft. The Browns have had a bad history of jumping up to grab quarterbacks, but this year, the quarterback fell to them with Deshone Kizer in the second round. Cleveland is on the rise, and it might be a couple more years before their really competitive, but watch them make some noise even this year.
The Cincinnati Bengals on the other hand have been on the downfall. After years of making it to the playoffs just to be eliminated, the playoffs could be a difficult task for them. Dalton remains one of the more middle-of-the-road quarterbacks in the league. The upside for this team is that their offense is looking pretty strong. Dalton will have AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, and first round selection John Ross to pass to while a triple threat at the running back position could be lethal. If running back Joe Mixon can clean up his act, he could become a premier running back pretty quickly.
On the defensive side of the ball, Cincinnati could struggle. Last year’s first round pick William Jackson III has yet to play and could add a needed surge to the secondary, but the loss of Reggie Nelson and Pacman Jones on the downhill of his career isn’t helping. The team isn’t necessarily bad, but their defense simply cannot compete with the big offense of their division.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the favorite, and well deserving of it. This is a team that might have the best offense on paper that the NFL has seen in a long time. Veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is looking at the best unit of his Hall of Fame level career. When you have the best running back in the league with Le’Veon Bell, and a crazy deep receiving corps consisting of Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, Sammie Coates, Cobi Hamilton, and more, other teams are going to struggle to gameplan a solution. The defense might not be the best in the league, but has been slowly improving with an infusion of youth in recent years.
The Baltimore Ravens always tend to stick with it, and could be competitors for a Wild Card spot. Baltimore didn’t exactly do a great job in the offseason, but Ozzie Newsome knows what he’s doing and the team didn’t necessarily need to go big. The team is counting on some of their young players including wide receiver Breshad Perriman to fill the void left by Steve Smith Sr. and Kamar Aiken. Rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey could play a big role in the defense and bolster a secondary that had an off year with Jimmy Smith as the only real contributor. Could the Tony Jefferson and Eric Weddle duo become one of the more formidable in the league? We know Tony thinks so, but we’ll have to see.
5. AFC East - New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets
1 Super Bowl Contender, 2 Playoff Contenders, 1 Cellar Dweller
Robert Deutsch - USA Today Sports
The New England Patriots are going to win the division, again.
This is a team that has just bolstered an already Super Bowl champion roster. The Patriots are the favorites of the entire league, and it’s going to be difficult for this division to keep up. Adding wide receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive end Kony Ealy, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore has made this team even stronger. If you want to know this team’s kryptonite, it could be the run attack. Dion Lewis and James White a good tandem and the addition of Rex Burkhead was nice, but LeGarrette Blount could be more of a loss than people think if he doesn’t re-sign.
The Patriots being so good doesn’t mean the rest of the division isn’t good. The Dolphins could easily be a Wild Card team this year and have also been building up their team. Jay Ajayi emerged as a great running back option for the team and has really taken a lot of pressure off of Ryan Tannehill who will only improve because of it. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry is one of the more underrated players in the league and if DeVante Parker can become the receiver the team drafted him to be (which he showed signs of last year), they could be a great duo. On the defensive side of the ball, keep an eye out for the Alonso-Timmons duo at middle linebacker.
The Buffalo Bills might be stuck in the middle again. I really liked the selection of wide receiver Zay Jones to pair up with Sammy Watkins. Bringing back quarterback Tyrod Taylor was a great move by the team, and giving him actual weapons to work with could be a great help to the team. Running back LeSean McCoy is still one of the best in the league, and while the team did lose Mike Gillislee to the Patriots, the team should be alright in that facet.
On the defensive side of the ball, the team was in a lot of risk of issues in the secondary with Gilmore leaving, but drafting Tre’Davious White in the first round and pairing him up with Ronald Darby could alleviate those issues before they even begin. Free agent acquisitions Jordan Poyer from Cleveland and Micah Hyde from Green Bay should start and the rest of the defense is looking pretty stout.
Finally, the Jets. Oh, the Jets. I’m not going to spend too much time talking about them, because I think they might be the worst team in the NFL. The Jets don’t have a quarterback, and are left with an aging running back in Forte. Eric Decker and Quincy Enunwa are productive, but neither really strike me as major game changers. The defensive line is actually one of the best in the league, but the rest of the defense is worrisome. Drafting safety Jamal Adams was a great move by the team in fixing a secondary in shambles, but there’s just a long way to go in every facet of their team here.
6. NFC North - Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions
1 Super Bowl Contender, 1 Playoff Contender, 2 Cellar Dwellers
Brett Davis - USA Today Sports
This is a fairly unpredictable division. As long as the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, it’s likely that they’ll be the favorite, but the Lions have been giving them a challenge recently. Both of them could compete for a playoff position, but looking at the field, I’d say that probably only the Packers really competitors right now.
The Vikings have had a string of bad luck recently, and that should make them another middle of the road team this year. The defense had a fantastic year last year and that should continue. Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith are league leaders in the secondary and their defensive line is powered by the powerful duo of Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph. On the offensive side of the ball, an unpredictable future awaits. Is Sam Bradford the quarterback of the future? Can Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray make up for the loss of the Adrian Peterson? Will Diggs return to 2015 form, and what can Laquon Treadwell contribute? I guess we’ll see.
Chicago sure had the surprise of the draft. Mitchell Trubisky as the second overall? Well then. It’s very unlikely that Trubisky will start right out of the gates, or at least most hope he won’t, but the Bears are confident that he will be the man that restores a winning tradition to Chicago. In the meantime, they didn’t pay Mike Glennon over fifteen million dollars a year to sit around. He’ll be working with a long cast of mediocre wide receivers including Eddie Royal, Cameron Meredith, Kevin White, Markus Wheaton, and Kendall Wright.
Running back Jordan Howard will look to continue his 2016 rookie successes and establish a run game that could maybe take away from the fact that the passing attack is not very good. On the defensive side of the ball, a number of free agent acquisitions in recent years could help to really improve this team. There actually aren’t too many holes on this defense, but there also aren’t too many game changers.
7. NFC West - Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers
1 Super Bowl Contender, 1 Playoff Contender, 2 Cellar Dwellers
Gary A Vazquez - USA Today Sports
There is really only one real Super Bowl contender in this division. The Seattle Seahawks have consistently made the playoffs over the last couple of years, and this year probably won’t be much different. The Legion of Boom might not be the powerful force it was back in 2013, but the unit is still strong. Despite trade talks, cornerback Richard Sherman is still in Seattle and as long as that is the case, the secondary remains strong. With safety Earl Thomas returning from injury, the fifth ranked defense from last year comes back even stronger.
As for the offense, consistency is the name of the game. The run game was a big concern last year, but with Thomas Rawls hopefully putting in a full season, that concern should be alleviated. The rest of the teams in the division just aren’t as good. The Cardinals are a team that could magically win the division with all the talent they have or could sink to miss the playoffs just like last year. Quarterback Carson Palmer’s play could be a key factor in how the team does this year.
Both the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers are rebuilding, but on the mend. The 49ers had a fantastic draft this year, and being able to pick up defensive end Solomon Thomas and linebacker Reuben Foster in the first round was a big win. As first year GM stated, they “got two of the top three guys” on their draft board. Still, without the quarterback position figured out and one of the worst defenses in football, it’s likely we won’t see the Niners in the playoffs this year.
The Rams didn’t have many draft picks to spend after using them to trade up and grab quarterback Jared Goff last year. Now we enter the sophomore season of Goff and he’s going to have to prove to be a lot better than he was last year. The Rams are helping him out by adding some weapons in wide receiver Cooper Kupp and tight end Gerald Everett. The Rams defense is actually very underrated, led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, but without a capable offense, this team is doomed to lurk the bottom of the league.
8. AFC South - Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts
2 Playoff Contenders, 2 Cellar Dwellers
Troy Taorima - USA Today Sports
Without much thought, the AFC South is still the worst division in football. The Houston Texans are on the rise, and if rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson turns out to be any good this year or beyond, the team could easily compete very quickly. With JJ Watt returning from injury, the best defense from a year ago gets back their best defender. Watson comes into the best situation a rookie can ask for. With great wide receivers in DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Jaelen Strong with a presently useful run attack with Lamar Miller, the offense is fully capable.
As for the defense, free agency didn’t help. JJ Watt coming back will be a big boost, but losing both a top cornerback in AJ Bouye and safety Quintin Demps could be a setback. The defense’s front seven could be scary with an emerging JaDeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, and Watt’s return. The team will need veteran cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph to really step up this season, and second year man KJ Dillon out of West Virginia could be thrusted into a starting safety spot.
The only other competitor in the division is the Tennessee Titans. The Titans offense has really grown into something exciting to watch the quarterback Marcus Mariota doing better each year and running back DeMarco Murray returning to his dominant days. With the addition of wide receiver Corey Davis, the team adds yet another weapon for Mariota and one that could easily become his top receiver. On the defensive side of the ball, the team added the athletic freak, cornerback Adoree Jackson, to help an ailing secondary. If the Titans can’t push their way past the Texans this year, they should be able to do so very soon.
The Jaguars and Colts are still at the bottom of the worst division in football. The Jaguars have continuously stocked up during free agency year in and year out, this year grabbing defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback AJ Bouye. Still, the team never manages to squeeze into the playoffs. A lot of this has to do with their lack of offense. Quarterback Blake Bortles has been a major disappointment so far in his young career. With the selection of Leonard Fournette, can a run heavy offense push them onward, or are the Jaguars doomed to the cellar once again.
Finally, the Colts have just struggled recently. Quarterback Andrew Luck has put up some nice numbers, but he’s been injured or just inconsistent. Running back Frank Gore has had a wonderful career, but he’s been going downhill for some time now. The team has tried their best to load the team with talent, but have failed to keep up with the other teams of the league.
Wide receiver TY Hilton led the league in receiving yards, but the team still needs to see their other players contribute. Losing tight end Dwayne Allen to the Patriots won’t help that. Bringing in rookie safety Malik Hooker along with linebacker Jabaal Sheard and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins will both be huge improvements, but the defense still lacks any semblance of starpower.
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