New England 11-5
New York 7-9
Sure, there will be anxious moments in September -- there almost always are in the most martyr-riffic region in the U.S. -- but New England will tread water early and dominate late. Miami has trenchy goodness and an eternally improving offense, but the crest of that hill isn't high enough to get it done. New York's offense is going to be better than expected, in that they will be tolerable, and Buffalo will be a hot mess. The bottom of this division, as always, proves that if you don't have a QB, or an ability to scheme around that, you are absolutely sunk in the NFL.
Pittsburgh 10-6 (Wild Card)
Baltimore 9-7 (Wild Card)
The conference bloodsport division will do what it usually does; destroy each other in the regular season and kill off any chance that anyone here will go deep in the playoffs. I liked Pittsburgh before pre-season injuries made things difficult, but now the coin flip goes back to Cincy, who have the best balance and most to prove. But honestly, picking one of these three teams without having an injury report before December is pointless. The Factory of Sadness stays where they always go, despite the division's best offensive line, because QB matters. A whole lot.
The Season of Luck begins with the league's most pinball-riffic offense clinching their division by Thanksgiving, and coasting to top seed status. It's not that they are that good -- they never are, really -- but the home field and offense will mask the defense for a very long while, and Frank Gore gives them 3-down competence in the backfield when they need it. The Titans will be the feel-good story of the conference, as rookie QB Marcus Mariota will be the sensation, along with beastly WR Dorial Green-Beckham, but the rest of the team won't be quite ready to get it done. Houston will continue to squander JJ Watt's career, while Jacksonville will be the tough luck loser. They're building something, but it's not ready yet, and the downside of the NFL now is that slow build doesn't look good enough anymore.
San Diego 9-7
Kansas City 8-8
The Broncos are trying to do the Last Years of Elway Replay by shifting to a better running game, and while Late Era Peyton Manning is a fine approximation of the QB, it's an open question whether CJ Anderson can pull off the Terrell Davis part of the equation. The regular season won't answer the question, because the rest of this division just isn't enough of a threat. San Diego draws the second slot with their usual mix of world-beating mixed with inexplicable, while the Chiefs squander talent with risk-adverse QB play and the worst game management in the league. Oakland will be better, but not good enough, and if you mistake them for the Jaguars, that's pretty spot on.
AFC Rookie of the Year: Mariota
AFC MVP: Luck
AFC Wild Card: Baltimore over Cincinnati, Denver over Pittsburgh
AFC Divisional: Indianapolis over Baltimore, Denver over New England
AFC Conference: Indianapolis over Denver
New York 8-8
What a train wreck this division is going to be. Dallas had a chance to pull away, but suffered a massive loss in CB Orlando Scandrick, just about the last guy they could have afforded to lose. Philadelphia will get off to a hot start, then fall apart as soon as the injury-prone start falling off, because this roster is paper-thin on the offensive line, and it will have a domino effect on the skill players. Besides, we all know what happens when they need Mark Sanchez has to win games. New York has tools all over but lacks the line, and DC is, well, DC. None of these teams would win more than the NFC North or West, of AFC North, but since they are in major media markets, we'll hear about them all year.
Green Bay 11-5
Green Bay took a serious hit with the loss of WR Jordy Nelson, but they were far and away the class of this division before that, and the drop won't be felt before the playoffs. Minnesota is on the rise behind QB Teddy Bridgewater, but the defense isn't far enough along yet. Detroit could be a lot better than this, particularly if the defense spends the year trying to prove they didn't need Ndamokung Suh and Nick Fairly, but my guess is that they won't be able to use the motivation all hear, and Haloti Ngata won't hold up. Chicago is trying to win with Jay Cutler as their most important player for yet another year, which is a special kind of persistence. Especially with a worse situation at WR, and a defense that's still not up to franchise standards.
New Orleans 7-9
A low ceiling division of wildly flawed teams that beat the hell out of each other, the South is a tasty but entertaining mess. I like Atlanta to get it done because the defense is a hair better, the RBs are a lot better, and they have the division's best QB (shh). Tampa is an offensive line and QB experience away from being quite dangerous, especially with the conference's tallest and most athletic set of pass catchers, but it's too soon to be over .500. The Saints still have an unfair home field and some players that can fill up the stat sheet, but QB Drew Brees is going to miss TE Jimmy Graham a ton, and the defense doesn't win games, no matter how often we show Rob Ryan grumping around the sideline. Carolina brings up the rear due to injuries, but still has the conference's best front 7 on defense. They'll put up a lot of fight, and be the league's best fourth-place team. Woo, that.
Arizona 10-6 (Wild Card)
St. Louis 9-7 (Wild Card)
San Francisco 3-13
Seattle breaks the mold for Super Bowl losers despite a troublesome offensive line, because Graham helps overcome the still-lacking WR set, and QB Russell Wilson overcomes the gap. Arizona and St. Louis will fight them every step of the way, and if Rams QB Nick Foles can establish a rapport with WRs Kenny Britt and Brian Quick, they might break through. I'll pick the Cardinals because I think the defense is going to be better. Taking up the rear is the NFL's worst team, the Niners, who just have the stench of death on them now. Sure, there's still some good pieces here from the not so long ago glory rays, but I don't think you overcome this much self-sabotage.
NFC Rookie of the Year: Todd Gurley
NFC MVP: Wilson
NFC Wild Card: Dallas over St. Louis, Arizona over Tampa
NFC Divisional: Green Bay over St. Louis, Seattle over Dallas
NFC Conference: Green Bay over Seattle
Super Bowl: Green Bay over Indianapolis