Way too Early Division Winners

Way too Early Division Winners

Well, we’re a quarter of the way through the season. Sort of, with the season’s expansion to 17 games, we no longer have a quarter mark or the halfway point, record-wise. But Week 4 is as close as we can get to the 1/4 mark, so I think its’ time to predict the division champions. We have some results that can indicate who can win their division and make the postseason.

AFC East

ESPN had the Buffalo Bills as the #1 team in their latest Power Rankings. I don’t buy into that; the Bills have benefited from playing the Dolphins, the Football Team, and the Texans, and those teams are a combined 4-8.

However, I see the Bills as the team to win the AFC East; the rest of the division simply has too many problems.

The Dolphins have a good defense, but the offensive side of the ball is where their problems lie. Brissett is a good backup, but as was shown by the Colts, not a franchise QB. At 1-3, with Tua out until Oct. 17, the Dolphins are simply going to miss the playoffs this season.

The Jets are, well, the Jets, and the only reason they beat the Titans this weekend is that Julio Jones and A.J. Brown are out. The Patriots do have the potential to earn a wildcard spot as they have a good defense, and Jones seems to have rebounded after throwing three interceptions against the Saints.

But, the Bills seem to be the most complete team, and with a two-game lead, I trust them to keep winning.

AFC North

I had initially thought that this would be the most challenging division in the AFC, but that title might have to go to the AFC West. Still, that is no slight against the North, more just a compliment to the
West.

The first team that can be discarded from contention is the Steelers; they simply do not have the offensive line quality to win games and protect an aging QB. The Bengals are 3-1 and have played quite well, but the fact that the Jaguars could keep it close should serve as a warning sign. I think Joe Burrow can be one of the QBs in the NFL (if he does not suffer an injury because he gets sacked as many times as last year), but the team is not yet ready.

At times this season, I have been impressed by the Ravens, namely by their wins against the Chiefs and Broncos. I have also been unimpressed by their survival against the Lions and their loss against the Raiders. The Ravens could legitimately be 2-2 right now, and I have yet to buy into the team.

The Browns seem to me to be the best team in the division right now. They are 3-1 with an excellent defense that can limit scoring and an offense that can score when needed but control the game by running the ball. As of right now, they are my pick to win the division.

AFC South

There are only two teams worth talking about in this division: the Titans and the Colts. The Texans and Jaguars are clearly in a rebuild mode. The Titans had been my favorite to win the division coming into the season: Julio Jones seemed to be a piece that would make the Titans defense one of the best in the league.

Thus far, the offense has been underwhelming. The main problem is that the Titans’ defense is insufficient to support them: they allowed the Jets 297 yards through the air and two touchdowns.

The Colts have their own set of problems too. Carson Wentz was brought in from the Eagles to become a franchise QB with a great supporting cast. The Colts have an excellent defnese, which, unlike the Titans, supports a slow start offense. Wentz and Co. finally seemed to perform well against the Dolphins, so they could be on the rebound.

So while I may not feel very confident in it (and only a few weeks after saying they were in trouble), I am taking the Colts simply because they have a solid defense.

AFC West

Wow. Just wow. This division has not played out at all as I had pictured it. The Chiefs at 2-2 are sitting in last place! And the upstart Chargers sit atop at 3-1 with crucial wins against the Chiefs and Raiders already under their belt!

This may sound crazy, but I will flip my pick from the Chiefs in the offseason to the Chargers. I had already had the Chargers as a solid playoff team, but I thought they would get there via the wildcard.

I think the Chargers’ defense has greatly benefited from their new head coach Brandon Staley. And Herbert looks the part of the dream franchise QB. I do not see the Broncos as a competitor in the division because I simply do not believe in the results we have gotten thus far.

Before the Ravens, the Broncos have played teams who are a combined 2-10. The Ravens were their first and only .500+ team. The Raiders are a good offensive team, and they do have a respectable defense.

I just do not think they are as good as their record would have you believe. They needed OT to beat both the Ravens and the Dolphins and could easily be 1-3 instead of 3-1. The Chiefs, of course, were one of the favorites to win the Superbowl coming into the season but have faded.

One of their most significant flaws last season was their rushing defense and their red-zone defense. Despite focusing on both in the offseason, neither has improved, and it has shown.
The Chiefs lost in close games to both the Ravens and Chargers. And if not for a lucky play or two, they could have lost to the Browns.

They could have ended winning their first game against the Eagles in Week 4. That is not to say I don’t think the Chiefs make the playoffs, they 100% should, but it may be on the road against the Chargers.

NFC East

Coming into the season, I thought this division would be more of a two-team race between the Cowboys and the Football Team. That prediction has not held up with the Football Team falling behind at 2-2 and the Cowboys at 3-1.

The Football Team has struggled on defense, although they were supposed to have one of the best units in the league (that is a column for another day). Their offense has also struggled, most notably the rushing game (it ranks 19th in yardage), but that was expected.

On the other hand, the Cowboys came into the league with the opposite expectations, having a dominant offense and a defense struggling to keep it together. And just like the Football Team, the Cowboys have not played as expected; their offense has been great, and their defense ranks 16th (up from 28th the season prior).

So with The Football Team at 2-2 and the Eagles and Giants at 1-3, I think the Cowboys can run away with this one.

NFC North

I certainly did not see the Packers losing their first game in a blowout to the Saints, but since then, they have played much better and have gone 3-0. I do not see anyone challenging the Packers for this division. The Lions are 0-4, and the Bears are 2-2, and the only time they looked good on offense was against the Lions (who are 0-4).

I think the Vikings might have a chance to catch the Packers because they have a good rushing offense which is a weakness of the Packers. My only problem is their record, and two games are a lot of ground to make up, considering they are trying to catch Aaron Rodgers.

NFC South

Coming into the season, I predicted that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would claim the NFC South and do so by a comfortable margin. However, the Carolina Panthers are off to a hot 3-1 start and tied with Tampa.

I do not think that is likely to continue, however. Missing CMC for an extended period harms the Carolina offense beyond the passing game. And I think the Cowboys’ offense exposed the Panthers’ defense after an elite start. The Panthers still have a shot at making the wildcard round, but winning the division is a stretch at best.

Just get rid of the Falcons. The Atlanta offense seems to be finding its’ identity, but their defense is still fairly bad. I saw that the Falcons needed to force a defensive stop in the closing minutes versus Washington and knew the Falcons had already lost.

The Saints are a legitimate puzzle. They played well against the Patriots, destroyed the Packers, and then lost to the Giants and Panthers. I think the Saints can be good, but not great.
So my pick has not changed from the offseason; I still like Tampa Bay to win the South.

NFC West

The NFC West is easily the toughest division in football. When your two worst teams are the 49ers who made the Superbowl just two seasons ago and the Seahawks, who were division champs the year prior, you know you have a brutal division.

Coming into the season, I had predicted the LA Rams would win the division crown, and up until last weekend, I felt more and more certain about that pick. Now, I legitimately have no idea; these teams are all simply too good.

I intend to write a column later talking about how I think the Cardinals offense can be slowed, but as with the Football Team, that is for another day. So, for now, I still am sticking with the Rams. They are thus far the only team to beat the Buccaneers, and I think the rest of the league can catch up to the Cardinals’ offense.

 


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