Sports Stack NFL Divisional Debacle Redux

Back in August, most of the Sports-Stack/BroSports writers got together and made their preseason predictions for who would win each NFL division. We’re officially halfway through the season now, and while a lot could still change, the NFL’s playoff picture is starting to take shape. Here’s who those same writers think will win their division after eight weeks.

Sports Stack NFL Divisional Debacle Redux

AFC

North

Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Baltimore Ravens (Cleveland Browns)

I thought Freddie Kitchens was the answer in Cleveland, I really did. But not only can he not manage his personalities, he can’t even manage the talent. The Browns are probably the most talented team in the division, but they just can’t consistently put a good product on the field. They are what the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars and 2017 Oakland Raiders were, the hype machine that ran out of gas.

Meanwhile the Ravens are playing fundamentally sound football in a bad division. It’s theirs to lose.

Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The Baltimore Ravens (Baltimore Ravens)

Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Baltimore Ravens (Cleveland Browns)

I’ll admit I expected a lot more from Cleveland and maybe that just wasn’t fair. Pittsburgh still has a shot but health doesn’t seem to be in their corner. Cincinnati is Cincinnati but I am curious how the quarterback change will affect things. Lamar Jackson is having a great season and I believe he leads Baltimore to the division crown. 

Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Baltimore Ravens (Who’s to say?)

Michael Larson (@Larstradamus): The Baltimore Ravens (Cleveland Browns)

The Browns were a big flop. Baker Mayfield as MVP? Goodness what was I thinking. He shot way too many commercials this summer. I honestly was picturing Moss-Brady with this Mayfield and Odell duo. This was poor judgement. Their schedule gets easier in the second half so they’ll finish with a respectable record. But this division is for the Ravens to take.

Martin McConnell (@Mart_M24): The Baltimore Ravens (Baltimore Ravens)

I just knew it. All the talent in the world, and thus far, my hometown Cleveland Browns have squandered the wonderfully open division in front of them. Despite Cleveland’s signature 40-25 win over the Baltimore Ravens, those same Ravens now sit comfortably atop the AFC North with a 5-2 record. 

The Browns are about to rip off some wins against an easy schedule for the second half of the year. It won’t be enough. Behind second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and Baltimore’s terrifyingly solid rushing attack, the Ravens take this one and beat out the Browns down the stretch. Maybe next year, Cleveland. For real this time. You just have to get it right by 2020.

South

Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Houston Texans (Houston Texans)

This division is a bit of a mess. Literally any of the four teams could surprise us all and take the title, but even without J.J. Watt, I love Houston’s upside too much to pick anyone else. Though incredible credit must be paid to Frank Reich for righting the ship after losing Andrew Luck mere days before the season started. Absolutely incredible.

Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The Houston Texans (Houston Texans)

Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Indianapolis Colts (Jacksonville Jaguars)

Tennessee is really the only team I’m confident doesn’t stand a chance here. Jacksonville seems to have found their QB in Gardner Minshew and the defense is still pretty good even without Ramsey. Indianapolis and Houston are the toughest decisions here though. Indy has the upper hand since they’ve beaten Houston once already but it still could be either of those two teams. 

Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Houston Texans (Houston Texans)

Michael Larson (@Larstradamus): The Jacksonville Jaguars (Jacksonville Jaguars)

The AFC South is a tough battle. The Colts haven’t lost as big of a step as we expected with the loss of Andrew Luck. They might be sitting undefeated if Luck hadn’t called it quits. The Jaguars have remained competitive with Gardner Minshew II leading as this years Rookie of the Year so far. The Titans somehow keep winning games and sit at .500 as well. The Texans took a big loss losing JJ Watt to an injury. I’m going to stick with the preseason pick of the Jaguars as the division winners.

Martin McConnell (@Mart_M24): The Houston Texans (Houston Texans)

Deshaun Watson is the truth, and then some. Watson’s been one of the AFC’s best quarterbacks this year, and among the best in the NFL as a whole. The Indianapolis Colts have surprised with Jacoby Brissett at the controls, rather than Andrew Luck, but the Texans should be ranked with the NFL’s elite throughout the second half of the season. Even if JJ Watt is injured (again), the Texans have the roster to maybe, just maybe, make a run at the Super Bowl.

Addendum: Man, isn’t the AFC South just so weird? Marcus Mariota isn’t even starting anymore, the Texans are one of the most complete teams in the NFL despite not having a general manager, and how could we forget Nick Foles getting injured to make way for Gardner Minshew? The Jaguars aren’t winning the division this year, but I have been fully swallowed up by the cult that is MinshewMania.

East

Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The New England Patriots (New England Patriots)

Wake me up when Tom Brady retires.

Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The New England Patriots (New England Patriots)

Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The New England Patriots (New England Patriots)

The Jets and Dolphins continue to be the joke of this division. I am impressed with Buffalo but I still don’t think they’re strong enough to take down this undefeated Patriots team. No questions here. 

Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): Satan (New England Patriots)

Michael Larson (@Larstradamus): The New England Patriots (New England Patriots)

The Patriots have started off on an undefeated season with a defense that has scored more touchdowns than notable offensive players like Alvin Kamara, Odell Beckham, Julio Jones and more. Tom Brady remains one of the best. Their second stretch of their schedule gets tougher, but a 16-0 season is not out of the question. Not sure how many are talking about that yet.

Martin McConnell (@Mart_M24): The New England Patriots (New England Patriots)

The Patriots are 8-0 and showing no signs of stopping. The Bills are a nice little team, and one of the league’s great surprises, but who are we kidding? The Pats are on their way to ring number seven. Next question.

West

Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Kansas City Chiefs (Los Angeles Chargers)

Man, I really thought this was going to be the year that Anthony Lynn’s Los Angeles Chargers made the leap, but sadly, they didn’t. There’s a part of me that really, really wanted to pick the Raiders to capitalize on Patrick Mahomes’ injury to steal this division, but I’m not that delusional. Patty MVP gets healthy and wins the west yet again.

Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The Kansas City Chiefs (Kansas City Chiefs)

Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Kansas City Chiefs (Los Angeles Chargers)

Just like the south, Denver is the only team I’m confident doesn’t stand a chance. Kansas City is still the favorite here but the lack of Mahomes has proven to cause problems for them. The Chargers and Raiders could be the 2nd best in the division but neither team seems to be playing consistently  and it really could go either way. I’m still taking the Chiefs here though since Mahomes will be returning soon. 

Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Kansas City Chiefs (Kansas City Chiefs)

Michael Larson (@Larstradamus): The Kansas City Chiefs (Kansas City Chiefs)

The Kansas City Chiefs should get Mahomes back quickly enough before they fall out of division contention. They have a few games to spare. The Oakland (for the last year) Raiders have looked impressive on offense. The defense looks just as unimpressive. They made no moves to improve the pass rush, secondary, or their linebackers. They will need a lot of luck to make the playoffs for their last year in Oakland.

Martin McConnell (@Mart_M24): The Kansas City Chiefs (Kansas City Chiefs)

The AFC West, huh? It feels like this is a divisional pick where the door was slightly ajar for just a moment but then was slammed shut as soon as we found out the extent of Patrick Mahomes’s injury. At the start of the year, Mahomes and the Chiefs were the most chalk pick I could make, and then he gets injured against the Denver Broncos and the Chiefs are forced to bring in…Matt Moore? Wasn’t he out of football?

But as I said, Mahomes’s injury is nowhere near as serious as some originally thought. The reports of Kansas City’s death have been greatly exaggerated. The Chiefs still have this one in the bag. The Raiders might have a shot if the Chiefs experience catastrophic failure and Mahomes has injury complications, but that’s a long, long, long shot. Kansas City takes this one again.

NFC

North

Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Minnesota Vikings (Minnesota Vikings)

Remember when I was hating on the Chicago Bears all preseason, and everyone mocked me? I said I didn’t trust Mitch Trubisky or Chicago’s offense, and everyone scoffed at me. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the Bears dead last in the NFC North?

I know everyone else is going to pick the Pack, but I really think the Vikings are a more well-rounded team, and they’re built to compete well into the colder months of the season.

Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The Minnesota Vikings (Chicago Bears)

Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Minnesota Vikings (Chicago Bears)

This division is crazy. The Packers aren’t the powerhouse they used to be and the Lions aren’t the joke they used to be. Chicago is a competent quarterback away from being a great team but Minnesota is heating up. Dalvin Cook is having a great year and Cousins seems to be finding his groove. I love the Bears defense but I think the Vikings take this one. 

Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Minnesota Vikings (The Green Bay Packers)

Michael Larson (@Larstradamus): The Green Bay Packers (Chicago Bears)

The NFC North is where my second bias fooled me. Mitchell Trubisky is bad and will never be good. The Bears haven’t gained 300 yards of offense in a game all year. That’s dreadful. The Packers could be the best team in the NFC. Aaron Rodgers has looked like vintage, pre-injured Aaron Rodgers. The Packers defense is making stops for the first time since they won the Super Bowl in 2010.

Martin McConnell (@Mart_M24): The Green Bay Packers (Chicago Bears)

We all make mistakes sometimes. Mine was saying that the Chicago Bears were going to win the Super Bowl behind their defense this year. Even though the Bears do have a vaunted, scary-good defensive unit, their offense is abysmal. Mitch Trubisky is just the start of it, as Chicago’s offense has looked absolutely putrid under Matt Nagy this year. 

The Green Bay Packers are 7-1, showing no signs of slowing down, as Aaron Rodgers looks to once again bring Wisconsinian dominance to the NFC North. Rookie head coach Matt LaFleur has been fantastic and just the offensive mastermind the Packers needed after firing Mike McCarthy. Aaron Jones has broken out this season, becoming one of the league’s hottest running backs in recent weeks. The Packers are rolling, and they will wreak cheese-themed havoc on whatever poor souls come to Lambeau Field for the rest of the season.

South

Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The New Orleans Saints (New Orleans Saints)

Duh? The rest of this division is a dumpster fire, and even losing Drew Brees for a few weeks couldn’t derail the NFC’s best team. Sticking with my original pick.

Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The New Orleans Saints (New Orleans Saints)

Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The New Orleans Saints (Atlanta Falcons)

Atlanta might be the biggest disappointment of the 2019 season and very likely could end the season at 1-15 maybe 2-14 and have the number one pick. The Panthers have possibly the best offensive player in the league but that’s about it and the Buccaneers are just laughable. New Orleans went undefeated with Teddy Bridgewater under center and they get their future HOF quarterback this week. The Saints take this division with ease. 

Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The New Orleans Saints (The Atlanta Falcons)

Michael Larson (@Larstradamus): The New Orleans Saints (Atlanta Falcons)

The Saints are 7-1 and they’ve been missing Drew Brees for most of the season. They will win their division with ease and contend for a Super Bowl once again. But can they make it? They’ve fallen just short the last two years. Was it bad luck, or is something missing?

Martin McConnell (@Mart_M24): The New Orleans Saints (New Orleans Saints)

Drew Brees injured his hand. Teddy Bridgewater comes in, and the Saints don’t so much as miss a beat during the month and a half he was gone. New Orleans, perhaps, is the most dangerous and consistent team in the NFC, and their closest competition is barely over the .500 mark. NOLA’s going to keep rolling, maybe to another NFC Championship berth.

East

Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Dallas Cowboys (Dallas Cowboys)

Half of this division is a horrible mess, leaving just the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles to compete for the crown, and I just don’t trust the Eagles. Beating up on Josh Allen and teams that can’t pass the ball is one thing, but the Eagles can’t seem to win the games that matter. Meanwhile the Cowboys almost have the opposite problem, they play the good teams well, but can’t do anything against the bad opponents.

Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The Dallas Cowboys (Philadelphia Eagles)

Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Dallas Cowboys (Dallas Cowboys)

This division is crazy as well but for different reasons. If the playoff seeds were just best teams, regardless of division, I don’t think any of these teams would make it. I haven’t seen anything from Washington, New York, Philadelphia, or Dallas that really just jumps out to me but if I had to pick I’d say Dallas sneaks by to take this division. 

Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Philadelphia Eagles (Philadelphia Eagles)

Michael Larson (@Larstradamus): The Dallas Cowboys (Philadelphia Eagles)

Eagles were the pick to start the year when I couldn’t bring myself to pick the Cowboys. My bias struck for the first time here. This team is old on the offensive line, the secondary is worse than last year, and the team still has no consistent running game. Unfortunately, the talent of Carson Wentz cannot overcome these circumstances. The Cowboys made a defensive addition that will strengthen their pass rush and their offense has clicked for most of the season. They aren’t Super Bowl contenders, but they’re the best team in NFC East.

Martin McConnell (@Mart_M24): The Philadelphia Eagles (Philadelphia Eagles)

Just a few short weeks ago, I was ready to change this pick to the Dallas Cowboys. They have since been smacked right back down to mediocrity and head coach Jason Garrett’s seat is returning to its familiar warmth. 

The Eagles are set to win this war of attrition. The Redskins have no hope, the Giants have slightly more hope but not nearly enough to propel them to a division title, and the aforementioned Cowboys are falling apart. At 4-4, coming off a win against the Buffalo Bills, the Eagles should be able to hit their stride in the second half of the season.

West

Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Seattle Seahawks (Los Angeles Rams)

My vendetta against Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers is damn-near personal at this point, but I just don’t buy them. They, like the New England Patriots in the AFC, just haven’t played anyone yet. I think Seattle makes a late-season push, like they always do, to capture the NFC West.

Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The San Francisco 49ers (Los Angeles Rams)

Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The San Francisco 49ers (Los Angeles Rams)

I don’t think anyone really expected much from Arizona with a first year QB and coach but even fewer people expected the 49ers to be undefeated. Russell Wilson is playing at an MVP level and the Rams defense is haunting offenses week after week. This could really go to Seattle, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. At the end of the day, I trust Kyle Shanahan more than i trust Jared Goff  and I think the 49ers shock the world. 

Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Los Angeles Rams (Los Angeles Rams)

Michael Larson (@Larstradamus): The San Francisco 49ers (Los Angeles Rams)

The 49ers are the third Super Bowl contender out of this conference. Kyle Shanahan is indeed a good head coach. The defense is second only to the Patriots. Their rookie first round pick Nick Bosa is in contention to win both Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Adding Emmanuel Sanders gives them a reliable wide receiver and adds a threat to their play action offensive attack. Fabulous work by Shanahan.

The Rams have fallen short due to their running woes. Todd Gurley might have really fallen off a cliff. It doesn’t even look like the Rams are trying to save his legs for the second half and playoffs. He just looks like he’s a step slower. Jared Goff is not good enough to carry this team. Lastly, the MVP favorite for me is Russell Wilson. The Seahawks are in the race and it’s all on the arm of Wilson. He has played excellent football in the first half of this season.

Martin McConnell (@Mart_M24): The San Francisco 49ers (Los Angeles Rams)

Ah yes, and now we come to the story of the entire league. The Buffalo Bills at 5-2? Surprising. The Atlanta Falcons only having one win? A little confusing. Somewhat eyebrow-raising. But the San Francisco 49ers being the last undefeated team standing in the NFC? Unreal.

The 49ers, led by a jaw-dropping defensive unit and likely Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa, are one of the most complete teams in the league. Not only are they 7-0, but they’re looking good doing it. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has put together one hell of a group in the Bay, and the 49ers should rattle off one more win before they really even get tested in Week 10 against the Seattle Seahawks. Good job, Shanahan and friends. You’ve made me a believer.

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