- Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
- Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
- Cleveland Browns (7-9)
Analysis: This is one of the toughest divisions in football (the other being the NFC West). This is easily a three-team division. What separates the Ravens, my Steelers, and the reigning division champ Bengals are their schedules. All three teams contend with the patsy NFC South and horrific AFC South this season, and all three should win at least six games apiece from those two divisions alone. The Ravens have the easiest conference games with Miami and San Diego, while my Steelers have the Jets and Kansas City, and the Bengals contend with New England and Denver (ouch!).
The Bengals are better than they were last year, but those tough two games will be the death of them in terms of repeating as division champs. Coach Marvin Lewis also has to prove that he could win without his top two lieutenants Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden, both of which are now first-time head coaches.
The Ravens and Steelers are going to bounce back in a big way. Baltimore now employs the fiery Steve Smith at wide receiver, who should help QB Joe Flacco tremendously. As long as Ray Rice focuses on regaining his form at RB instead of beating the hell out of women, Baltimore’s offense should rise again.
As for my Steelers, as long as Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrett Blount stays off the weed, Pittsburgh will be in good shape. They finally got younger on defense, and if they learn how to stop the run and get to the opposing QB like old times, all the better.
Poor Cleveland. Their top-10 defense’s efforts will be wasted by a moribund offense. At least the Browns made the right decision in benching Johnny Manziel. No use sending him out there to get himself killed without any offensive weapons to speak of.
- Green Bay Packers (10-6)
- Chicago Bears (10-6)
- Detroit Lions (7-9)
- Minnesota Vikings (6-10)
Analysis: Here is all you need to know about the NFC North – the Packers, Bears and Lions will score points at will on everyone, but their alleged defenses will give those points all back to the opposition. Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler will play at higher levels this season. It’s just that both of their teams (Green Bay and Chicago, respectively) will not be able to stop many teams.
Green Bay gets the nod here because its defense is slightly less horrific than Chicago’s.
The Lions are very talented, but get in their own way. Detroit is a highly penalized team, which means they have no discipline (see Ndamukong Suh). QB Matthew Stafford is very talented, but turns over the ball WAY too much for the Lions to succeed. That’s too bad because WR Calvin “Megatron” Johnson is perhaps the most unstoppable force in the NFL.
The Vikings got the right man in Mike Zimmer leading the team. He will bring some much-needed discipline and accountability to Minnesota. I like the way QBs Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater look in the preseason. The Vikes will be a work in progress and need to be more talented on both sides of the ball before they make any noise in this division.