8. AFC South
The division that has only needed nine wins to seize in each of the last two years quite comfortably checks in at the last spot of this list. The Texans have won the South outright with back-to-back 9-7 seasons, but it’s the Colts that have historically reigned supreme. In fact, it’s been five seasons since an AFC South team not from Indianapolis posted a double-digit winning season – Houston won 12 games in 2012. If any team has a chance of bucking that trend, it’s Tennessee who look to be on the rise after a strong offseason.
7. NFC West
Seattle enters as a strong favorite, having won at least ten games in each of the last five years. Pete Carroll’s squad has been as consistent as anybody in the league over his tenure with the team. The division’s best quarterback – Russell Wilson – is also entering the prime of his career. There has been some turmoil surrounding star cornerback Richard Sherman, but the Seahawks just don’t have a lot of competition here. Arizona is likely to improve on a disastrous year. However, their success hinges on the health of aging quarterback Carson Palmer. The Rams have a chance to put together a sneaky good year after disappointing in their return to Los Angeles — as their putrid 2016 offense has nowhere to go but up. San Francisco is a few years away from making any sort of impact.
6. NFC North
As long as Aaron Rodgers is still playing quarterback, the Packers are a viable threat each and every year. Green Bay’s porous defense from last year should improve after a defensive minded draft class, and the offense will get a jolt with the return of Jordy Nelson and addition of Martellus Bennett. Minnesota, on the other hand, was heavily reliant on their defense last year — which ultimately couldn’t make up for their uninspiring offense after starting 2016 with a 5-0 record. The Vikes have added Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook in the backfield, both providing extra security blankets for the King of Check Downs, Sam Bradford. Detroit has the potential to take a step back in the win/loss column, after having eight of their nine wins in 2016 being by seven points or less.
5. AFC East
New England has a legitimate chance to go 16-0 in the regular season. The reigning champs don’t have much of a rival in the division after winning the offseason (having added Brandin Cooks, Stephon Gilmore, Mike Gillislee, Dwyane Allen) following their stunning Super Bowl victory. Miami ended last year 9-2, but were outscored by their opponents by 17 points over the course of the season. Ryan Tannehill’s knee is a question now, and he hasn’t been the epitome of consistency while healthy. The Bills disappointed last year, but have a chance to usurp the Dolphins of their second place spot if their talented defense can start realizing their potential.
4. AFC North
Outside of Cleveland – sorry Browns fans – this division is wide open. The Steelers enter as favorites due to their offensive talent and recent track record. Adding impact players in JuJu Smith-Schuster, T.J. Watt and getting Martavis Bryant back will give them a nice boost on both sides of the ball. Baltimore and Cincinnati are the yin and yang of the division. The Ravens aren’t the most talented, but will always be well-coached, play stingy defense, and have a chance to win with a Super Bowl champion at quarterback. The Bengals at times are undisciplined even though they are tremendously talented. All three top teams could have double-digit wins this coming season.
3. NFC East
Now we start getting into the truly stacked divisions from top to bottom. Last season, the Eagles were just one win away from the entire division having at least a .500-win percentage. Each team posts talent across the board and could be a challenger if placed in another division. The Cowboys will return their elite offensive line and the sensational combo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Philly and New York added two of the top receivers in the league in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, respectively. Washington looks to be the only team that could take a major step back after losing Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson to free agency – although adding Terrelle Pryor should alleviate that a bit.
2. NFC South
The NFC South is a formidable group because of their elite quarterback play. If Newton can return to his MVP form and Winston can take another leap in his development, the NFC South has a chance to boast four of the ten best QB’s in the league next year – safe to say Brees and Ryan are already up there. The hierarchy changes from year to year, but as the reigning NFC Champions, it’s still the Falcons’ division to lose. Carolina and Tampa Bay made some key additions to their offensive skill positions, giving them a chance to be two of the most improved teams in 2017. And if Adrian Peterson returns to his 2015 form, the Saints can become serious contenders.
1. AFC West
It’s going to be mighty tough to earn a playoff bid in the AFC West. Kansas City and Denver are two of the best defenses, while Oakland and Los Angeles have two of the most explosive offenses. The Chiefs were the only one in the group that didn’t make a major addition in the offseason, but they arguably had the most talented roster on both sides of the ball to begin with. The Chargers’ Mike Williams and the Raiders’ Marshawn Lynch, newcomers to the division, could make an immediate impact for their respective clubs. Three of the teams were in contention for the playoffs for a majority of 2016, and with the Chargers’ improvements, this is shaping up to be a tight four team race throughout the year.
Image Source: SI.com