Posted September 03, 2013

Cover-Two: Predicting NFL division races

AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West
Seahawks or 49ers? The battle for the NFC West crown will certainly be one to watch.

Seahawks or 49ers? The battle for the NFC West crown will certainly be one to watch. (John W. McDonough/SI)

The road to Super Bowl XLVIII starts Thursday. Which teams will make the postseason? Which won’t? Chris Burke and Doug Farrar forecast the order of finish in every division.

NFC East

Chris Burke:
1. New York Giants
2. Dallas Cowboys
3. Washington Redskins
4. Philadelphia Eagles

Four years in a row now, this division race has come down to the last weekend of the season. I expect no less in 2013, because at least the top three teams — in my mind, the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins — are pretty interchangeable. That the Giants close at home vs. Washington is not the only reason I’ve bumped New York to the top here, but it’s in the mix. If the Redskins surrounded RGIII with as much talent at receiver as the Giants and Cowboys have with Eli Manning and Tony Romo, respectively, I’d be a lot quicker to jump back on their bandwagon.

Doug Farrar:

1. Washington Redskins
2. Dallas Cowboys
3. New York Giants
4. Philadelphia Eagles

Even if Robert Griffin III misses time this season, I still think the Redskins are the division’s best team. The Cowboys are set to make tracks on offense, but I’m not sure about Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 conversion. The Giants are long on fundamentals but relatively short on skill players. While the Eagles may have the league’s most exciting offense in fits and starts, that defense will struggle mightily.

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NFC North

Burke:

1. Green Bay Packers
2. Chicago Bears
3. Detroit Lions
4. Minnesota Vikings

There are a lot of uncertainties in this division, but Aaron Rodgers is not among them. The Packers’ QB is the NFC North’s best player at its most important position, so it’s hard to bump Green Bay down as long as he’s around. The Bears, Lions and Vikings all could be in that second-place slot. If Chicago’s new offense clicks, that’s a team that could make a deep playoff run.

Farrar:

1. Green Bay Packers
2. Chicago Bears
3. Detroit Lions
4. Minnesota Vikings

It’s my belief that people are sleeping on the Packers, especially on a defense that could be much-improved in 2013. The Bears are a very talented team going through a change in organizational mindset, and there’s a lot resting on Jay Cutler’s shoulders. The Lions will blow one opportunity for every two their talent gives them. The Vikings? I see a defensive regression and Christian Ponder’s implosion.

NFC South

Burke:

1. Atlanta Falcons
2. New Orleans Saints
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4. Carolina Panthers

What this pick basically comes down to is this: I don’t know how the Saints, Buccaneers or Panthers are going to get enough defensive stops, particularly when facing Atlanta, to knock the Falcons out of the top spot. The team with the best shot, Tampa Bay, has the most unsteady situation at quarterback — an issue that presents a host of other problems.

Farrar:

1. New Orleans Saints
2. Atlanta Falcons
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I think the Saints will go through the 2013 season like the Patriots went through ’07 — pissed off at the NFL, and showing it every week with an explosive offense. The Falcons are more consistent on both sides of the ball, but the defense looks a bit iffy. Though I might be underselling the Panthers, especially their front seven, I’m not sure about Cam Newton or the secondary. The Bucs won’t be bad, but they’re in a brutal division and I think they’ll cut the cord with Josh Freeman after this season.

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NFC West

Burke:

1. Seattle Seahawks
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. St. Louis Rams
4. Arizona Cardinals

What more is there to say about the Seahawks and 49ers right now? They both should be Super Bowl contenders, behind superstar quarterbacks. Just don’t count out the Rams. I nearly picked the West to be a three-playoff team division, but thought the in-fighting would be too fierce for that to happen. Arizona, meanwhile, could be leaps and bounds ahead of its 2012 self — yet may not be favored in a game all year.

Farrar:

1. Seattle Seahawks
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Arizona Cardinals
4. St. Louis Rams

Welcome to the Terrordome. The Seahawks and 49ers have many strengths on both sides of the ball; I’m just a bit more positive about Seattle’s offensive playmakers and I want to see how healthy Justin Smith is before going all in on San Francisco’s defense. Look for Carson Palmer to enjoy a small renaissance in Arizona — not enough to make the playoffs, but enough to leapfrog the Rams.



AFC East

Burke:

1. New England Patriots
2. Miami Dolphins
3. Buffalo Bills
4. New York Jets

If the Bills had a more settled situation at quarterback, I’d elevate them into second place as a wild-card contender. Maybe EJ Manuel makes me eat my words here, but I think that position will keep them from a real breakthrough. Though Miami has the talent to get to the playoffs in a weaker AFC, it still doesn’t have enough to topple New England.

Farrar:

1. New England Patriots
2. Buffalo Bills
3. Miami Dolphins
4.New York Jets

This division hasn’t been so unsettled since Tom Brady blew out his knee at the start of the 2008 season. The 2013 Pats aren’t world-beaters after an offseason they’d like to forget, though I believe they have enough in the tank to take the division again. I won’t be entirely sold on the Dolphins until I see how the Ryan Tanehill-Mike Wallace connection plays out. The Bills, however, seemed to be a functional quarterback and some offensive targets away from a nice run, and I think they now have both. The Jets? Quel désastre.

AFC North

Burke:

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. Cleveland Browns

This is such a difficult division to call, because there are so many variables. Will any Cincinnati receiver emerge opposite A.J. Green? Can Troy Polamalu play all 16 games? Will Baltimore be able to overcome the absences of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in the locker room? In the end, I think the top three teams all finish at nine wins or above.

Farrar:

1. Cincinnati Bengals
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Cleveland Browns

Many props to the Super Bowl champs, and I do think they have long-term replacements for the obvious losses on defense. It’s just that I think the Bengals are going to be that much better this season. The newly-re-signed Geno Atkins is the best interior lineman not named J.J. Watt, and there’s enough on the roster even with Andy Dalton’s limitations. The Steelers seem to be in a re-tooling program right now. Defensively, the Browns might be the division’s best … we’ll see how that whole Brandon Weeden thing works out.

AFC South

Burke:

1. Houston Texans
2. Indianapolis Colts
3. Tennessee Titans
4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Nothing that happened this offseason convinced me that the South is in store for any real changes. The one potential flip-flop could be Tennessee over Indianapolis — the Titans’ run game ought to be much more dangerous in 2013. Houston upgraded where it needed to upgrade, solidifying its hold on this division.

Farrar:

1. Houston Texans
2. Indianapolis Colts
3. Tennessee Titans
4. Jacksonville Jaguars

After years of near-misses, I think the Texans finally have the talent and focus to make a serious dent in the conference, which is why they’re my pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Indy’s Andrew Luck won’t be as explosive as in his rookie season, but he’ll be more efficient in a Stanford-like offense. I like some things the Titans are doing, though Jake Locker may be what holds them back at this point. The Jaguars are rebuilding intelligently, but it’s a pretty big process.

AFC West

Burke:

1. Denver Broncos
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. San Diego Chargers
4. Oakland Raiders

The top of this division appears set in stone, as does the bottom. What happens in the second and third spots, between Kansas City and San Diego, could be very entertaining. And that’s especially true if one of those two teams makes a run at 9-7 or so, enough to stick in the playoff chase. Even though the Chiefs should be much improved, I think they’re legitimately a year away from being a true contender, leaving the Broncos relatively unchallenged.

Farrar:

1. Denver Broncos
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. San Diego Chargers
4. Oakland Raiders

The Broncos win this by default — Peyton Manning has never had such a receiver trio as Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. While I do agree with those who see a major reversal of fortune for the Chiefs, Alex Smith’s limitations will keep them out of any worst-to-first considerations. The Chargers have a lot to fix, though they’ve got the right people to do it. As for the Raiders? Well, I feel for GM Reggie McKenzie. It will be a rough season for a team woefully bereft of talent.

28 comments
dennis
dennis

After last year's false accusations, the Saints have every right to be mad and motivated to get even. Yes, they will indeed be attacking full speed and not letting up. And the scary part is they have even more weapons than the '07 Patriots had. And, the Saints defense is already better than the 2011 version that went 13-3. They'll be a top the pecking order very quickly.

Nunya0101
Nunya0101

I can accept when people have differing opinions, but their arguments should at least be based on sound logic and a clear understanding of the situation. Regrettably, Chris Burke's analysis of the NFC East fails on both counts.  While he does admit that he sees the top 3 teams (Giants, Cowboys, Redskins) as being pretty interchangeable, his rationale for the ranking is as follows:  "If the Redskins surrounded RGIII with as much talent at receiver as the Giants and Cowboys have with Eli Manning and Tony Romo, respectively, I’d be a lot quicker to jump back on their bandwagon."

His analysis would have you believe that either the Giants or Dallas won the division last year with a superior WR corp, and that the Redskins didn't do enough to upgrade at receiver this year to change the balance of power. Of course, the reality is that the REDSKINS won the division last year -- with an injured/depleted receiving corp -- while Dallas and the Giants are returning the same WR corp.  In winning the division, the Redskins swept Dallas and should've swept the Giants were it not for a late defensive breakdown on a busted coverage. They did so with their play-making TE (Fred Davis) and 3rd down pass-catching back (Roy Helu) out most of the year, their #1 WR out for 6 games and at less than 100% the rest of the year and their #2 WR (Josh Morgan) playing hurt all year (had 3 surgeries after the season).  In fact, when the Redskins beat Dallas in week 17 with the division title on the line for both teams, they did so on the strength of Alfred Morris' 200 yards rushing, with RG3 clearly not healthy and only passing for 100 yards on the day.

So, Burke, maybe, just maybe, the key to the division crown isn't all just about the WR corps, and if you want to make an argument for any division opponent finishing above the Redskins in the standings, at least try not to forget who actually won the division last year and take into consideration what the conditions actually were.  If anything, considering the Redskins won the division with an injured/depleted receiving corp, the question should be: what have the other teams done to upgrade to compete with them, especially since they'll be at full strength now?

BrianGeraghty
BrianGeraghty

Burke and Farrar should really lose their jobs, as much as I hate Ponder the Vikings will not finish the season in last place nor will Green Bay win the division!

ackpffft
ackpffft

I disagree that Manning has never had a better receiver trio.   I think the trio of Harrison, Wayne and Stokley/(or Clark a year or 2 later)  was pretty impressive. Especially 2004-5 w/ three 1000 yard/10 TD receivers. 

Chris8
Chris8

Usually these articles are fun for what they are, but as soon as I saw Doug Farrar's name it was all but inevitable that this was going to be subpar.  Is Rex Ryan running SI now?  Why else would they collaborate with anyone who has anything to do with Yahoo and their oh-so-top-notch garbage?

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

Denver 1rst line  d couldn't stop run in preseason and without dummerville and von miller cant put much pressure on opposing QBs. Luckily for them division is terrible but i wouldn't put em down as prohibitive super bowl favs as so many are ; making them 8 pt favs  vs ravens in opener is crazy

JimCody
JimCody

More Seattle hype...

RipsNordic
RipsNordic

Isn't Doug Farrar that idiot from yahoo? I wonder what happened to his butt buddy Chris Chase. Now that guy was a doof.

therednorth1
therednorth1

One day I want to see Sports Illustrated put up its best writers against a dartboard and see who comes out on top.

LukePartridge
LukePartridge

Cover photo is Richard Sherman, not Marshawn Lynch. 


rodp236
rodp236

Boy, your dart board must be almost worn out.........................

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

"... but enough to leapfrog the Rams."

Not likely.  The Rams were good last year for a team with a new coach.  They did not lose to the Niners.  They put a scare into the Hawks in Seattle, and beat Seattle in St Louis.  The Rams will be even better this year.  So will AZ, but they wont be as good as the Rams.  Don't sleep on the Rams.

dan_gagnon21
dan_gagnon21

The Falcons D is iffy? The Saints had THE worst D in the league last year and hardly improved.

BenZuckerman
BenZuckerman

@BrianGeraghty Would you be willing to bet your job against theirs in terms of GB NOT winning the division?  You really think that Chicago, with a QB working with a new coach and a new system, and who has never lived up to his trade status, is really going to beat Green Bay?  Or are you talking about the Detroit Lions that went 4 and 12 last year?  Or the Christian-Ponder led Viqueens?  I think that the Packers have some legitimate questions this year, particularly in terms of their OL, but they look solid in most other areas, and AR is still the best QB in the league.

sirhcv
sirhcv

@Chris8 He is with SI now.  I have listened to his podcast for a long time with Greg Cosell and in my opinion, Doug Farrar is one of the most knowledgeable guys out there.  



sporra01
sporra01

@LukePartridge well done sir, well done. You are absolutely correct. I wonder why they didn't notice that the # on the right side of the back of his jersey could not resemble a 4 in any way possible. You only see a smidge of it, but it is obviously a 5. Hence, the Sherminator!!

itsthinking
itsthinking

@unitcaptain11 

I'm a Niner's fan, but you are absoluetely correct.  Why don't they hire you to work for MMQB/  I guess because you don't have a vagina.

Phllip
Phllip

@dan_gagnon21 Saints had the worst D and still stepped up to beat the Falcons..in my opinion, i don't think the Falcons upgraded drastically this year..their D still isn't the best and they've invested in some older players including Tony G..sure he's a great player but he's an aged player..teams are getting younger in the NFL..it'll be problematic for the Falcons in the post if they make it..especially against a team like the Hawks who are young

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

@dan_gagnon21  

Drew Brees made terrible decisions and throws last year too.  People who cover the NFL didn't want to admit it.  They love him too much.   When NFL writers don't know, they just go with whatever the accepted story of the day is.  This year, they all assume the Saints will be Superbowl contenders again just because Payton is back as coach. They should be better, but the D is still an issue, and Brees still makes some dumb plays.  Like he did in the playoff game in Seattle a few years ago, despite Coach Payton being present.

Charlie P
Charlie P

@sirhcv @Chris8 If Farrar were "knowledgeable", he certainly has an exceedingly difficult time translating that knowledge to his writing.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@unitcaptain11 @dan_gagnon21   unitcaptain11

Let's compare ONLY career playoff games between Tom Terrific and Drew Brees.

Brees completion % 66.84%

Brady completion % 62.34%


TD's and INT's

Brees  22 TD's against only 4 INT's in his career playoff games

Brady  42 TD's and 22 INT's 


QB Rating

Brees   103.9

Brady    87.4   again these stats are only for their career playoff games


Yards per attempt

Brees   7.60 yards

Brady   6.71 yards


I'm NOT trying to say that Brees is a better QB than Brady...  But what I AM trying to point out is that when it counts, like in the playoffs, Brees has actually performed much better in playoff games than Brady has...

Brees doesn't have Belichick though...

Brees has thrown MUCH fewer INT"s than Brady as a percentage and has completed a higher percentage of passes too so he's more accurate than Brady has been in the playoffs.

Brees isn't as bad or wild as you might think when the pressure is on...

Fedorg4s
Fedorg4s

@unitcaptain11 @dan_gagnon21 Brees is amazing period. He's a phenomenal QB and doesn't deserve blame for any of the Saints losses. What he does every time he hits the field would be enough to lead 90% of other teams to victory, but the Saints D is trash and he can never blow out teams despite dropping 400 yards and 4 tds and an occasional pick