Predicting who will win a division in the National Football League is typically a very fun and enjoyable thing for fans to do. Something I have always enjoyed, however, is predicting who will most definitely NOT win their division.
So, who’s coming in last this year? Let’s find out.
AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals
The red-headed step-child of the AFC North has officially wasted 20 years of Cleveland being terrible and three years of the Ravens being mediocre missing out on the postseason. The Browns are gearing up for their most anticipated season since their return to the league, and the Ravens have a top defense and an up-and-coming offense. Pittsburgh is…well, Pittsburgh, unfortunately.
The Bengals just don’t have the talent the rest of their own division does. While Andy Dalton has proven capable (and a thorn in the Ravens’ side), his best target A.J. Green is going to miss the first few games of the season.
With the best offensive player on the team most likely out and recovering through the first quarter of the season, the Bengals have games against Seattle, San Francisco, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh. The only home game of those four is against the Niners. With a couple bona fide playoff contenders, and a couple potential up-and-comers, the Bengals can very likely start the season 0-4, leaving them in the dust of the rest of their division.
The O-line lost its starting tackle in rookie Jonah Williams for the year, and the unit as a whole doesn’t look very promising as the 27th ranked o-line according to Pro Football Focus.
The defense will probably be the main attraction with its players returning healthy, but this unit allowed the most yards per game out of any defense last season.
With Green hurt, there’s just not much to look at on the Bengals. The Steelers have Big Ben, the Browns have Myles Garrett, and the Ravens have Earl Thomas. Every team in the AFC North has a star. The Bengals just don’t seem to have one with Green out of the picture.
I’m not expecting the Bengals to be the worst team in football, but they will be the worst in the AFC North.
AFC East: Miami Dolphins
Now this is a team that has potential to be the worst in the NFL. When “Fitzmagic” is your game plan at QB from Week 1, there is a serious problem on your roster. Josh Rosen is clearly not ready but will probably be forced into action like he was in Arizona if Fitzpatrick falters.
Looking away from the QB room for now, there is a severe lack of talent on the Dolphins roster, and when you’re in the same division as the Patriots and up-and-coming Bills and Jets teams, a lack of talent is a problem. The Miami defense allowed the fourth most yards from scrimmage last season, and they didn’t really do anything to address that aside from moving on from Adam Gase to Brian Flores, a more defensive-minded coach.
The defense should, at the very least, improve slightly with the coaching changes, but the offense doesn’t look that much better. The receiver corps never quite recovered from Jarvis Landry’s departure, and with an offensive line as lacking as Miami’s appears to be (more on that later) the running tandem of Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage won’t be enough to help out Fitzpatrick and Rosen.
If Fitzpatrick starts Week 1, he runs straight into what could very well be the best secondary in the league in the Baltimore Ravens, and in Week 2 he goes up against a Bill Belichick defense. Fitzpatrick is simply a QB who turns over the ball too much. He threw multiple interceptions in his last three games in Tampa last season against Carolina, New York, and Washington. Should he do that against Baltimore and New England, the first two weeks against two good defenses could put the Dolphins in freefall as early as Week 3.
The offensive line unit protecting Fitz and/or Rosen is ranked dead last in the league by Pro Football Focus. Fitzpatrick is simply not good enough to make up for poor o-line play, and we’ve seen Rosen behind a poor o-line before. Neither option looks very good for Miami barring massive improvement from Rosen in his second season.
Every team in the AFC East but the Dolphins took steps forward this offseason. The Bills put good receivers and a veteran running back around their young QB and are expected to have a top ten defense. The Jets got better on both sides of the ball with signing Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley and have one of the best safeties in the league in Jamal Adams. The Patriots are still the best-coached team in the league and Tom Brady is going to be 42 playing like he’s 32.
There’s just no room for the Miami Dolphins in the AFC East except at the bottom.
AFC South- Tennessee Titans
Allow me to list off the QBs in this division:
Colts: Perennial MVP candidate Andrew Luck
Texans: National Champion Deshaun Watson
Jaguars: Super Bowl champion Nick Foles
The Titans just do have the proper talent taking snaps, despite a top ten defense in yards allowed, and a top five O-line according to PFF.
Marcus Mariota is the starter with Ryan Tannehill as the backup. Tannehill is a massive upgrade over the previous backup QB Blaine Gabbert but Mariota has simply not played up to his promise as the second overall pick four years ago. Even if he takes a step forward this year ,I think he’ll still be the weakest starting QB in the division and if he gets injured again the Titans’ odds look even worse with Tannehill under center.
The AFC South is simply a division of playoff contenders. Going up against what I consider to be three superior opponents for six games puts them in a tough spot. Things could go off the rails early, as they play Indy and Jacksonville in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively.
While some surrounding pieces are there for Tennessee, their QB could be their downfall.
(I would like to note that this is the choice I am the least confident in as anything can happen in the AFC South, and the Titans might just have the right pieces to finally make Mariota play up to his potential. But for now…I’m saying someone other than the Titans will win this division.)
AFC West: Oakland Raiders
Again, allow me to list off the QBs in this division:
Broncos: Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco
Chargers: Future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers
Chiefs: Defending MVP Patrick Mahomes
Raiders: Derek Carr
I feel so bad for the city of Oakland and its football team. Derek Carr deserves better than the team he’s been given. Specifically, on his o-line his rookie tackle Kolton Miller couldn’t protect him at all and the only bright spot on the entire line last season was his center Rodney Hudson.
The Raiders are pinning their run game on Alabama product Josh Jacobs with Doug Martin also on the roster, but with an offensive line as bad as Oakland’s, it’s tough to see them getting anything going especially when they have to go up against the Chargers and the Broncos twice.
I am expecting some improvement out of what was one of the worst defensive units in the league last season, but the best pieces they added are still very young, so it could be a few years before the D shows noticeable levels of improvement. There was no Khalil Mack waiting for them in this year’s draft.
The Raiders are simply a team that is rebuilding; the rest of the AFC West is made up of contenders. Derek Carr is the weakest QB in the division and unlike the Titans, the Raiders are not stocked with talent and good coaching.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Jon Gruden. However, the man is not putting together a team made to succeed in the modern NFL.
The teams that have been listed here are simply the weakest teams in their divisions. Did I make any choices you disagree with? Let me know you think the division losers will be in the comments below.