Winning the division is what many NFL teams see as the first step towards a Super Bowl. Which current champs are most likely to retain their crowns?
AFC West: Denver Broncos
They went to the Super Bowl last year on the backs of the greatest offense in modern NFL history. The Denver Broncos are bringing most of that unit back and also made considerable additions to their defense with Demarcus Ware and Aqib Talib. Kansas City and San Diego remain prime threats, but did not improve enough to shift the balance of power in West.
2014 Outlook: Broncos retain
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
Having the best quarterback in the division often makes winning the title so much easier. The Indianapolis Colts knew that with Peyton Manning and now they know it again with Andrew Luck. He is far and away the best of the AFC South. Granted, the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans have strong rosters to make a run at him and the Colts, but his growing experience and late-game heroics will prove too much.
2014 Outlook: Colts retain
AFC East: New England Patriots
It’s like an old record player stuck on repeat. The New England Patriots haven’t lost a division title in the NFC East since 2008 when Tom Brady injured his knee and was lost for the year. As long as he remains under center for the Pats they are favorites in that division. Teams like the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all have solid rosters building that will make life tough, but none of them know how to win with any consistency.
2014 Outlook: Patriots retain
AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals
From a pure roster standpoint, none is deeper and more formidable than the Cincinnati Bengals. They have offense and they have defense and it is almost all young and growing. On paper it looks like a Super Bowl contender, but with no playoff victories it’s hard to give them a pass in that AFC North division, especially given the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens lurking in the background.
2014 Outlook: Bengals dethroned
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks
Winning in the toughest division in the NFL often prepares a team well for a championship run. The Seattle Seahawks furthered that belief by winning the murderous NFC West and riding it to a Super Bowl crown. Most of their roster is back and intact, but the division is back too, and perhaps stronger than ever. San Francisco remains the primary threat while Arizona and St. Louis improved considerably in the off-season.
2014 Outlook: Seahawks retain
NFC South: Carolina Panthers
It is really the only division that actually has a curse attached to it. Since its inception in 2002, the NFC South has never once seen a repeat champion. That does not bode well for the Carolina Panthers, who rode their dominant defense and Cam Newton to a 12-4 record in 2013. While rivals like New Orleans and Tampa Bay got a lot better, Carolina largely marched in place. That doesn’t bode well for their chances.
2014 Outlook: Panthers dethroned
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
Chip Kelly was the revelation everybody thought he would be, turning the Philadelphia Eagles into an offensive powerhouse. That and the surprising emergence of Nick Foles at quarterback proved enough to go 10-6 and claim the NFC East. Now Foles is returning, as is most of the roster. Did the Eagles have a productive enough off-season to offset what Dallas, Washington and New York accomplished?
2014 Outlook: Eagles dethroned
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
For three-straight years the Green Bay Packers have stood atop the mountain of the NFC North. As stated before, having the best quarterback makes that possible and Aaron Rodgers may be the best in the entire NFL. However, the Packers’ hold on the crown has looked a little weaker each season going from 15-1 in 2011 to 11-5 in 2012 to 8-7-1 in 2013. Meanwhile the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears continue to show less and less fear of the Packer mystique.
2014 Outlook: Packers retain