The b-b-boys are back in town! This time with their preseason division championship predictions!
Sports-Stack Round Table Preseason Division Champion Picks
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Pittsburgh Steelers
Heading into the preseason, it’s really hard to imagine any other team in the division seriously contending. The Baltimore Ravens have questions on the offensive line and in the secondary, as well as with their coaching staff. The Cleveland Browns should be much better this year, but they’re still missing pieces. Meanwhile the Cincinnati Bengals are… the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers have a good line, a veteran quarterback, and the best receiver and running back in football. Easy.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Pittsburgh Steelers
Last year’s winners have done nothing on paper to get worse. While they did not get a long term deal done with star back Le’Veon Bell, they will still have his services for another year so the “Killer B’s” will play together for at least one more year. The offense lost Martavis Bryant but they countered the loss with second round pick James Washington, who was one of the best deep threats in all of college football during his career at Oklahoma State. The only true weaknesses the Steelers had were on defense, particularly against the run.
According to some reports the Steelers defense has been putting more of an emphasis on the run in camp and has reportedly been more impressive than the offense. On paper, the Cleveland Browns are much improved and should contend for the divisional crown, and the Baltimore Ravens are bringing back one of the league’s best defenses; but until these teams can put an improved product on the field, the Steelers are the pick.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Pittsburgh Steelers
I like what Cleveland is putting together but there’s still no evidence (yet, at least) that they can compete with the Steelers. Baltimore and Cincinnati are just too inconsistent to consider a legitimate contender for the division crown. Pittsburgh should win the division with ease and secure a top three seed in the playoffs.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The Pittsburgh Steelers
I don’t particularly like the Pittsburgh Steelers as contenders, but the rest of the division is that far off that they shouldn’t have any trouble retaining their status as AFC North champions. The Baltimore Ravens hopes hinge on how well Joe Flacco play, whilst both the Bengals and the Browns don’t have the pedigree or the talent to make a serious run at the division title. Whilst the Cleveland Browns look to be making all the right noises, are people seriously touting a team who have gone 1-31 over the last two seasons as a team who can chase down a perennial Super Bowl contender over 16 games? Please.
Michael Larson: (Twitterless): The Pittsburgh Steelers
The AFC North has little competition to the Steelers. Although Pittsburgh has constant locker room troubles, they will be okay to beat out the Ravens and Bengals who are too old and not talented enough to take down the Steelers and the Browns are just too young. Cleveland might be making the right moves for the future but Pittsburgh will remain division champs.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Jacksonville Jaguars
The AFC South is actually interesting. The only team that is completely out of the hunt is the Indianapolis Colts because they just don’t have the talent. If healthy, Andrew Luck is extremely dangerous, and I love the Quenton Nelson pick, but they’re just not in it. Next up is the Tennessee Titans, who made the playoffs last year and only got better during the off-season. However, I’m not sure I buy Marcus Mariota as a quarterback that can lead his team to the division title, so I’m passing on them as well. The Houston Texans are a bonafide playoff team when healthy… but their ability to stay healthy is a huge question.
So instead, it’s Jalen Ramsey’s Jacksonville Jaguars that will prove defense wins [division] championships as they take the AFC South for the second year in a row. The only thing holding the Jacksonville Jaguars back wears number five and lines up under center.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Houston Texans
Another curveball! Originally I picked the Jacksonville Jaguars to repeat atop the AFC South, but after a whole offseason of thought I believe the Texans have what it takes to dethrone them. Houston has a defense that is returning perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate JJ Watt, and Jadeveon Clowney, who is starting to form into one of the leagues better defenders. One thing Houston had to improve was their pass defense, which ranked 24th in the league.
On paper, the addition of Tyrann Mathieu should help that issue. On offense they have two players who were having fine rookie campaigns that were cut short by injury, Deshaun Watson and D’Onta Foreman. Foreman will be excellent to boost the running game and any passing game would benefit from having a receiver like Deandre Hopkins. I think the Texans can win the South.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Jacksonville Jaguars
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The Jacksonville Jaguars
Despite the growing competition in the division, the Jaguars roster is decidedly better than it was when they were ten minutes from the Super Bowl last season. Andrew Norwell will only improve an offensive line which paved the way for the number one rushing attack in the league last season. Whilst rookies Taven Bryan and D.J Chark will both have key roles to play throughout the year. If key players like Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue and All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey continue on their current trajectory, this defense can put themselves in the conversation of all-time units. Whilst Blake Bortles might not blow anyone away this season, he will be able to do enough to put the Jaguars in position to make another deep playoff run.
Michael Larson: (Twitterless): The Houston Texans
The AFC South has 4 teams that could all take the division. The Colts have the best quarterback, the Titans have the best line, and the Jaguars have the best defense. But the Texans have the best team. With Deshaun Watson at the helm and defensive stars Whitney Mercelius and JJ Watt back in the mix, the Texans take the division from the Jaguars, but there will be a wild card team, possibly two within this division.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The New England Patriots
Is there really another team in the AFC East that can challenge the Patriots? I mean honestly, is anyone else even close? Unless Tom Brady and Bill Belichick really, really hate each other? The Evil Empire eviscerates the east yet again in 2018.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The New England Patriots
While Bill Belichick and Tom Brady remain with the organization the expectation is that they will win the division and contend for a Super Bowl. Nothing about this offseason has changed that fact. The Patriots always find a way to win, no matter what is thrown their way. Belichick has a game-plan for every team, every situation it seems like. When they make a mistake, they never make it again.
To quote Jeff Goldblum’s character Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.” The Patriots find a way. No matter how much the other teams in the division may have improved or changed in the offseason, the Patriots are always favored to win this division and everyone should expect that until Belichick and/or Brady retires.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The New England Patriots
This is easily the weakest division in the AFC, if not the entire NFL. As long as Brady and Belichick are in New England, it’s a no-brainer that the Patriots will casually stroll through the division and yawn their way into the playoffs.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The New England Patriots
Bill Belichick is still coaching and Tom Brady is still under center. Next
Michael Larson: (Twitterless): The New England Patriots
The Jets are poised to take this division when Tom Brady retires but the AFC East will be run by the Patriots once again. There would be no surprise from a 6-0 season from New England within their division.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Oakland Raiders
After the draft, I had the Los Angeles Chargers taking the AFC West, and as the site’s resident Raider, I was devastated. Several months, and a few gallons of Gruden Kool Aid later? I’m back on my Raider ish. They’re healthy, they’re motivated, and #ClapBackCarr is gonna run wilder than Hulkamania in 1989 brother. Gruden is going to get the most of this offense, and it’s going to be a ton of fun to watch. The Chargers are banged up already, the Broncos haven’t been relevant since Peyton Manning retired, and, well, Pat Mahomes can’t even practice without throwing a dozen interceptions.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Denver Broncos
Last year the Denver Broncos did well enough to finish 5-11 and last in the division. They still had a stout defense, but their quarterback play held them back. They upgraded at quarterback with Case Keenum, who thrived in Minnesota with a strong defense and running game. The Broncos have a strong defense, and the personnel to put together a strong run game. Watch out for the Broncos to bounce back from last season.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Oakand (?) Raiders
This is the toughest pick for the AFC, hands down. Any of these four teams could realistically win the division but Oakland seems to have a slight edge on the rest. They have the best defensive player in the league and a young quarterback who is on the path to becoming elite. Add the energy from Gruden and this should be a fun team to watch that should be able to claim the division. Either the Chargers, Chiefs, or Broncos should claim the final wildcard spot.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The Denver Broncos
Probably the most interesting division to call because no one roster is a clear favourite to win this division, and it could realistically be won by a team hovering around 8-8. Yet all four franchises can make a genuine claim to the top spot. If Patrick Mahomes can use that huge arm efficiently, then the Chiefs should be able to win enough games with the sheer number of weapons they have on offense. Whilst the Chargers probably have the most complete roster in the division, but I fully expect their season to be derailed by injuries (as it is almost every year).
If Khalil Mack was anywhere near the Oakland Raiders camp, they would have more reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season, but at the rate things are going the Denver Broncos look to be the most well-rounded roster in a division full of question marks. Denver have shown their ability to win games with average quarterback play and a top tier defense, which is exactly what they look to have coming into 2018. Whilst their secondary might not be as talented as it was in 2015, Von Miller and Bradley Chubb will be looking to establish themselves as the best pass-rushing duo in football. So I expect the Broncos defense to shut down their division rivals enough times to claim the AFC West crown.
Michael Larson: (Twitterless): The Oakland Raiders
The AFC West has been run by the Chiefs but that will dramatically change thanks to a huge turnover on the defensive side and a young quarterback who might not be ready. The Chargers have talent but injuries have crippled them already and their offensive line is dreadful. The Raiders have the best offensive line, quarterback and defensive player in this division. With the additions made in the draft and free agency, along with the energy and coaching of Jon Gruden, the Raiders take back the division.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Minnesota Vikings
A lot has been made about whether Kirk Cousins can step in with the Vikings and replicate the success that Case Keenum had with the team last year, but I think it’s irrelevant. The strength of this Vikings team is, was, and will continue to be, the defense. The Green Bay Packers have Aaron Rodgers back, but their secondary is a mess and I think they’ll miss Jordy Nelson more than they know. The Chicago Bears are a good young team with a lot of potential, but potential is meaningless until it becomes production, and unless Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson both come out of retirement, the Detroit Lions don’t have a chance.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings did nothing between pre-draft and now to get worse. They already had a great secondary with the likes of Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith. They did the quarterbacks of the NFC North no favors by drafting Mike Hughes with the 30th overall pick. Case Keenum was no slouch last season but Kirk Cousins is most certainly an upgrade. With a combination of Cousins now throwing to the likes of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and the vaunted defense making little to no changes; look for the Vikings to repeat as champions of the NFC’s Northern division.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Minnesota Vikings
I know, I know, Aaron Rodgers is coming back and I am out of my mind. Don’t forget, though, Minnesota was close to a superbowl appearance last season WITH A BACKUP QUARTERBACK!!! Kirk Cousins only makes this team more dangerous and they should easily take the division as well as a top three seed in the playoffs. Also, I don’t believe Green Bay makes the playoffs.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The Green Bay Packers
When you have arguably the best quarterback in football on your roster, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be winning your division. More excitingly for fans in Green Bay, this year the Packers credentials go further than just the man under centre. Having doubled up on cornerbacks early in the 2018 draft, three of their last four top draft picks have been spent on the position in the last two years. Meaning their secondary should hopefully begin to become one of the bright spots on the roster.
Yes, Jordy Nelson is no longer with the team, but Rodgers will be able to exercise a back-shoulder fade clinic to superstar tight end Jimmy Graham on every trip to the red-zone. If the defense can improve on where they were last season, it will be hard to keep pace with Rodgers and company.
Michael Larson: (Twitterless): The Minnesota Vikings
The NFC North contains my bold prediction squad, the Chicago Bears. Many have them listed as the worst team in this division, but they are miles ahead of the Lions and have a better team than the Packers. The offensive line for Aaron Rodgers and terrible defense is going to prevent Green Bay from getting into the second slot in this division.
The Vikings are the best team with their defense, excellent coaching, offensive weapons, and their best quarterback since Brett Favre. The Bears have a top 10 defense and elite running game. They revamped the passing attack by bringing in Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel at WR. I’m betting that Mitchell Trubisky takes a Carson Wentz-esque jump in his second year and leads the Bears to a wild card spot.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The New Orleans Saints
The Saints are actually my pick to win the entire NFC and maybe even the Super Bowl. The balance of an elite quarterback, some young talent, and veteran leadership, they’ve got all of the tools to make a serious run. I have some doubts about the Atlanta Falcon coaching staff, the evolution of Cam Newton, and just about everything outside of Mike Evans in Tampa Bay.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Carolina Panthers
I originally had the New Orleans Saints winning this division, but after the draft and some thought I would like to change my pick and hop on the Panthers NFC South bandwagon. On offense, they have retained Greg Olsen whom remains a good receiving threat, obtained Torrey Smith to be a deep threat, drafted receiver DJ Moore in the first, and signed CJ Anderson who will present a nice 1-2 punch with second-year back Christian McCaffrey. On defense the Panthers weren’t that active, but one name they did add was Dontari Poe who will anchor the defensive line, which is very important considering the running games of the rest of the division, particularly the Saints, Dontari Poe may be the most valuable acquisition of the offseason. Watch out for the Panthers this year.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Atlanta Falcons
Let me preface this by saying New Orleans is extremely dangerous and could easily be the pick here. If any defense can keep up with them, though, it’s the athletic group that Dan Quinn has assembled in Atlanta. Matt Ryan is coming into his second season under Sarkisian and they’ve added an extra weapon in Calvin Ridley. This Falcon offense should return to their 2016 form and claim the division as well as a top four seed in the playoffs. New Orleans is no doubt going to be the fifth seed.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The New Orleans Saints
Despite being in one of the toughest divisions in football, the Saints finished 5-1 in the NFC South in 2017. Add to that the offensive and defensive rookie of the year, it would take an awful lot to knock New Orleans off of the top spot. Alvin Kamara felt as though were it not for the ‘Minneapolis Miracle’ the Saints had enough firepower to breeze past the Eagles in the NFC title game – and it’s hard to disagree with the logic. Despite the fact everybody in the division improved during the off-season, it doesn’t look as though any one roster has done enough to usurp the current division champions. Provided that Drew Brees continues to show no signs of ageing in 2018, the Saints have enough on both sides of the ball to remain kings in the NFC South.
Michael Larson: (Twitterless): The New Orleans Saints
The Atlanta Falcons haven’t recovered from their Super Bowl choke, and might not ever. The New Orleans Saints are clearly the best team in this division thanks to some impressive drafting in last year’s draft. Alvin Kamara is the perfect running back for this offense and Michael Thomas has the second best numbers at his position since he joined the league. Drew Brees isn’t finished yet, look out for a strong playoff push from these division champions.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Philadelphia Eagles
I don’t see any way that the Philadelphia Eagles can possibly blow this. They have arguably the NFC’s best defense, two talented quarterback, and enough pieces on offense to score points. The New York Giants might be able to make some noise if their defense can make some magic and Saquon Barkley is as good as advertized, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Philadelphia Eagles
How can you not pick the defending champs here? Not because they’re defending champs, but because they legitimately got better. They won the Super Bowl with a backup quarterback, but now they will be getting their MVP caliber signal caller back. They may have lost speedy deep threat Torrey Smith, but they’ve filled that void with Mike Wallace, who is still very fast. On the defensive side, they have a line deeper than the Marianas Trench.
The line was already incredibly deep, then they proceeded to add Michael Bennett and Josh Sweat, who, if healthy could have been a high first round draft pick. Retaining Nigel Bradham kept the linebacking corps in tact, and even though they lost cornerback Patrick Robinson, the secondary remains relatively the same as last season as well. That is, except for one addition; 2017 first round pick Sidney Jones. If Jones can live up to his first round pedigree Eagles fans will be forgetting all about Patrick Robinson. The Eagles are an easy pick here.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Philadelphia Eagles
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The Philadelphia Eagles
If you want to argue against the reigning Super Bowl champions, be my guest. Not only are the Eagles the current world champions, but they have had one of the best off-seasons for a Super Bowl winning team in recent memory. Stacking up the front-seven and adding pieces all over the offense, Doug Pederson is going to have even more at his disposal in the upcoming season. No matter how much fun an offense with OBJ and Saquon Barkley may be to watch, there isn’t a team in the NFC East anywhere close to knocking off the Eagles.
Michael Larson: (Twitterless): The Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles surprised many with their Super Bowl run, but they are on everyone’s radar now. Unfortunately for everyone else, they got better. Adding Michael Bennet and Haloti Ngata to a defensive line that already has Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Timmy Jernigan, Chris Long and All-Pro Fletcher Cox is just overkill.
They will not miss the loss of Vinny Curry. Carson Wentz’s health is critical but the experienced backup Nick Foles can take the reigns if needed. The Cowboys dont have the firepower on defense to compete yet and Dak Prescott needs to prove that he is better than average. Don’t mention the Giants or Redskins.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Los Angeles Rams
I still have my doubts about how the 32 year old Sean McVay can handle a locker room full of so many personalities, let alone the contract dispute with star defensive lineman, Aaron Donald, but this team is too stacked to fail. Top to bottom, this team doesn’t really have any holes. I don’t buy the San Francisco 49er hype, the Seattle Seahawks are a dumpster fire, and the Arizona Cardinals are somehow both too young and too old.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Los Angeles Rams
The Rams only got better this off-season. They signed star back Todd Gurley to a new four-year deal and swapped out Sammy Watkins for Brandin Cooks. Don’t even get me started on the defense. They may have lost top corner Trumaine Johnson, but they countered that with the additions of ballhawks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. Then, they proceeded to sign Ndamukong Suh, who will form a scary interior defensive tackle duo with Aaron Donald, assuming they decide to pay him. Watch out for the Rams, they will be one of the top teams in the NFC.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Los Angeles Rams
I love what Sean McVay has done to this Rams team. This looked like a Super Bowl caliber team last season and has only gotten better. The Rams should easily claim the division. Seattle or Arizona will be the sixth seed in the playoffs.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The Los Angeles Rams
The LA Rams looked like one of the scarier teams in football last season under Coach of the Year Sean McVay, and the team might be twice as talented heading into 2018. Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters all bring AllPro talent to the defense, whilst former first round pick Brandin Cooks could break out as the final piece of a ‘big three’ on offense alongside Jared Goff and reigning Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley. The Seahawks appear to be in disarray and the 49ers aren’t as close to competing as the media will have you think. If the Rams can make peace with Aaron Donald before week one, the rest of the league – not just the division, will officially be put on notice.
Michael Larson: (Twitterless): The Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams have sacrificed their future for the present and it could easily pay off. Like the Eagles, the Rams overcharged their defensive line by bringing Ndamukong Suh together with Aaron Donald (if he joins the team) and Michael Brockers. Their secondary is completely new with cornerbacks Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, and Sam Shields. However, this could easily blow up in their face as well. Brandin Cooks hasn’t done much to earn $88 million, the offensive line is getting old with Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan at ages 37 and 33, and the Rams lost key offensive coordinators. The Rams should win this division but the 49ers are getting good and doing it the right way. Jimmy Garappolo will shut down doubters. Look for San Francisco to make their own playoff push and possibly earn a wild card slot in this tough conference and division