There were tons of additions and subtractions to NFL teams across the league this offseason. Many of these moves will significantly impact the divisional standings throughout the year. In this series, we’ll take a look at each division, and where each team in it will end the season.
Check out the Division Predictions of the other NFL divisions:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Predicted Record: 8-8
Put me in the camp of “I’m on board.” The might be in last place in the division, but I honestly think most Bucs fans would take it. They were 2-14 last year, after all. I think the addition of Winston not only makes the Bucs competitive, but it actually elevates the division to certainly the best-quarterbacked, and possibly the deepest and most talented division in football. Their defense still has some growing to do, the running back situation is murky at best, and – like I said – they live in a rough neighborhood. And for all those reasons, hoping for better than .500 is a stretch, but I think they can get there on the backs of some gigantic, athletic, talented receivers and a young, dynamic new signal-caller. They are going to win in some shootouts and be fun to watch, which in and of itself is an improvement over their recent history.
The Two in the Middle
Carolina Panthers – Predicted Record: 9-7
The Panthers didn’t do anything to get worse, and based on recent history, you have to trust their ability to improve through the draft. This is, however, a team that seems to have definite high and low points in their season every year (they went winless for seven straight weeks last season). As you go through their schedule and try to predict wins and losses, you begin to realize it’s truly a futile exercise. I am totally and utterly convinced that they will win games I expect them to lose, and vice-versa. I love Kelvin Benjamin and Jonathan Stewart as fantasy options, and Cam is Cam – not always the most consistent, but lots of upside and exciting to watch. I just don’t know if that and Greg Olsen is going to be quite enough offense to get them to the postseason.
New Orleans Saints – Predicted Record: 10-6
I know, I know, Drew Brees lost all his weapons. But here’s the thing: the wide receivers that went away are – without being too mean about it – replaceable. In the best seasons Brees and the Saints have had, back in 2009-2011, the receivers doing the work were Reggie Bush and then Darren Sproles, Jeremy Shockey and then Jimmy Graham. Marques Colston was there, and Meachem and Henderson and others all pitched in – and they have the pieces in place to do the same thing this year. But those guys didn’t make Brees great. This year, with Ingram and Spiller, their running game is going to be a weapon, not a decoy, and they will hopefully have the dynamic playmaker coming out of the backfield Payton has utilized so well in the past. Cooks might be the most talented wide receiver Brees has played with over this entire stretch, and in a division that’s going to be full of high-flying offenses and high-scoring games, I know which QB I trust the most to make the plays you need when you need them most.
The Top Dog
Atlanta Falcons – Predicted Record: 12-4
I think Thomas Dimitroff might have had the best of both worlds come through when he traded the farm for Julio Jones back in 2011. He landed a player who, every Sunday, has the potential to be the best wide receiver in the NFL, the best player on the field, helping his team win games. But in addition to that, he got a perspective on how risky a trade like that really is. A few injury scares and Super Bowl-less seasons later, and all of a sudden the Falcons are building in a new way, from the inside-out. Improvements to their line are only going to allow their skill position players to thrive, and between Julio Jones, Roddy White, Matt Ryan and a backfield absolutely loaded with talent, they are going to be able to score with anyone. And when you start with seven or eight home wins, getting to twelve happens faster than you expect.