UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
NFL

Cover-Two: Predicting order of finish in each and every division

Cover-Two: Predicting order of finish in each and every division Photo: David Banks/Getty Images

With the 2014 NFL season right around the corner, prediction season is in full swing. Who will emerge from the talented and tough NFC West? Will the NFC North unseat the West as the toughest division in the league? Does anyone want to win the AFC South? Chris Burke and Doug Farrar make their division-by-division predictions below.

Previewing every NFL division | Sign up for our weekly fantasy football game

NFC East

Chris Burke

1. Philadelphia Eagles

2. New York Giants

3. Dallas Cowboys

4. Washington Redskins

This is a flawed division, almost to the point where you can cross it off when talking about potential Super Bowl teams. Philadelphia could be the exception, provided the defense gels. We failed to see much evidence it had during the preseason. Elsewhere, myriad issues exist -- Eli Manning's stumbling adjustment to the Ben McAdoo offense, Dallas' porous defense, RGIII's apparent regression. Add it all up and the East is going to have a tough time staying competitive (A bonus: the East draws another division that sets up as mediocre, the AFC South, in crossover action this year.)

Doug Farrar

1. Philadelphia Eagles

2. Washington Redskins

3. Dallas Cowboys

4. New York Giants

The Eagles seem a sure bet to win the East on the strength of their offense alone; the holes in and question marks about their defense will be a greater issue in the postseason. The Redskins have shored up their defense a bit, and I'm of the belief that Robert Griffin III's mechanical issues will resolve over time. Dallas could field the worst defense in NFL history, but it has an offense explosive enough to make the decline at least entertaining ... and the Giants look to be in a lot of trouble -- especially at the quarterback position, a longtime bastion of security for the franchise.

2014 NFL division preview: NFC East

Sports Illustrated's Don Banks previews the NFC East for the 2014 NFL season.

NFC North

Burke

1. Green Bay Packers

2. Chicago Bears

3. Detroit Lions

4. Minnesota Vikings

The Packers won the North with a paltry 8-7-1 mark last season. Could this division be football's best in 2014? It may be, depending on how quickly the Vikings turn the corner and if Jim Caldwell can keep the Lions from a Jim Schwartz-like implosion. Up top, Green Bay might be right there with Seattle and New Orleans as the NFC's biggest threats, now that Aaron Rodgers is back at full strength. Chicago has its QB back, too, and its offense may be even more deadly than Green Bay's in Year 2 of the Marc Trestman era.

Farrar

1. Chicago Bears

2.  Green Bay Packers

3. Detroit Lions

4. Minnesota Vikings

While you always have to like the Packers when Aaron Rodgers is healthy, I like Jay Cutler in Year 2 of Marc Trestman's offense a bit more, and Chicago's defensive line looks to be a rebuilt force. Green Bay's defense is a work in progress. I'm not sold on new head coach Jim Caldwell as the guy who can take the talented but relatively undisciplined Lions to a new level, and in fact, I wouldn't be completely surprised if the Vikings moved up to third in the division. I think that could have a lot to do with when Mike Zimmer decides to start Teddy Bridgewater -- the sooner, the better.

2014 NFL division preview: NFC North

Sports Illustrated's Don Banks previews the NFC North for the 2014 NFL season.

NFC South

Burke

1. New Orleans Saints

2. Carolina Panthers

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

4. Atlanta Falcons

Calling a runaway Saints win here. Carolina still has enough strength in its defensive front seven to stay in most games, thus allowing Cam Newton a chance on the other side of the ball. The losses on offense, however, look like they ultimately will be too much to overcome. Tampa Bay is a popular sleeper pick, and with good reason when one looks at the talent on that defense and at the skill positions. But something in the 8-8 range would be respectable -- odds are, Josh McCown is not going to repeat his near-flawless 2013. Atlanta will be fun to watch, in an Arena Football League sort of way.

Farrar

1. New Orleans Saints

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

3. Carolina Panthers

4. Atlanta Falcons

With an offense filled with weapons and a defense that's improved especially in the secondary, the Saints may be as loaded as they've been since their lone Super Bowl title. The Bucs scored big in free agency and in the draft, and Lovie Smith will be coaching a team that was much better than their 2013 record indicated. Lack of receiver depth and defensive regression will hit the Panthers, while the Falcons, sadly, don't look notably better than the team that took a nosedive last season. Julio Jones can only cover up so much.

2014 NFL division preview: NFC South

Sports Illustrated's Don Banks previews the NFC South for the 2014 NFL season.

NFC West

Burke

1. Seattle Seahawks

2. San Francisco 49ers

3. St. Louis Rams

4. Arizona Cardinals

Jim Harbaugh has his work cut out for him if he wants keep the 49ers neck and neck with Seattle. His team will be without defensive rock NaVorro Bowman for several weeks and without Aldon Smith for more than half the year. The Colin Kaepernick breakthrough San Francisco has been waiting for might need to arrive sooner rather than later. Either St. Louis or Arizona could sneak into the playoffs. The Rams' D-line gives them the edge here; Arizona's defense has issues of its own (Daryl Washington suspension, Darnell Dockett injury, etc.), so it will be hard-pressed to repeat a brilliant 2013.

Farrar

1. Seattle Seahawks

2. St. Louis Rams

3. San Francisco 49ers

4. Arizona Cardinals

The Seahawks are likely to improve in the passing game as they slide back a bit from their historic defensive performance last season, and that should be good enough for a tough division in which every other team has suffered considerable losses. Arizona's front seven has taken major hits with the losses of Darnell Dockett (injury), Karlos Dansby (free agency) and Daryl Washington (suspension). The Rams would be division contenders with a serviceable quarterback, which they lost when San Bradford was lost for the year with his own preseason injury. And the 49ers, as talented as they are, appear to be a team in turmoil.

2014 NFL division preview: NFC West

Sports Illustrated's Don Banks previews the NFC West for the 2014 NFL season.

AFC East

Burke

1. New England Patriots

2. New York Jets

3. Miami Dolphins

4. Buffalo Bills

Still do not see any real threats to the Patriots' supremacy, particularly with New England sporting what should be a top-10 -- and could be a top-five -- defense. As has been the case since about the Carter administration, Tom Brady provides New England with a sizable advantage at the game's most important position. That's not to say that the rest of the division is a wasteland. Miami probably should have been in the playoffs last year, the Jets have a shot at getting there this year and the Bills have brighter days ahead if EJ Manuel improves. But none of those squads is ready to unseat New England.

Farrar

1. New England Patriots

2. Miami Dolphins

3. New York Jets

4. Buffalo Bills

While their receiver situation is still up in the air, the Patriots may have the tight ends they need in Tim Wright and (cross your fingers) a healthy Rob Gronkowski. And the Bill Belichick/Darrelle Revis combo will be very impressive. The Dolphins have improved where they most needed to -- the offensive line -- and I think they'll compete for a wild-card slot. I'll give the Jets the advantage over the Bills because their quarterback situation is a bit more settled -- unlike the Bills, Rex Ryan's team has Michael Vick on call, and didn't have to spring Kyle Orton from pseudo-retirement to spackle over the fact that EJ Manuel is a long way away from prime time performances.

2014 NFL division preview: AFC East

Sports Illustrated's Don Banks previews the AFC East for the 2014 NFL season.

AFC North

Burke

1. Baltimore Ravens

2. Cincinnati Bengals

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

4. Cleveland Browns

Even as I submit these preseason picks, the AFC North stands out as problematic. The Browns, while they should be more competitive, are a year away on account of Josh Gordon's suspension (plus the lack of depth behind him) and their unsettled QB situation. Any of the other three teams could take the division or nab a playoff spot. If Baltimore's run game is really back on track behind O.C. Gary Kubiak, it will be a 10-win team. Cincinnati doesn't stand out as being any better than it was in 2013, and Pittsburgh still has too many question marks in the trenches.

Farrar

1. Cincinnati Bengals

2. Baltimore Ravens

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

4. Cleveland Browns

The Bengals will win this division again; from there, it's up to newly-paid Andy Dalton to finally prove that he can do anything in the playoffs. Baltimore should see a serious improvement in their formerly anemic run game with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, though the passing game may take a step back. This could be the year that the Steelers, unable to jump over .500 in the last two seasons, start to pay for a number of average drafts; the Browns might rank third here if they had any idea what to do with their quarterback position. Cleveland's defense is one to watch, though.

2014 NFL division preview: AFC North

Sports Illustrated's Don Banks previews the AFC North for the 2014 NFL season.

AFC South

Burke

1. Indianapolis Colts

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

3. Tennessee Titans

4. Houston Texans

Do the Colts have a flawless roster? Not even close. The offensive line has been thinned out by injuries, Robert Mathis is suspended for four games and they're still counting on Trent Richardson at running back. Despite all that, Indianapolis is the clear class of the AFC South right now, perhaps even more so than last year if Reggie Wayne bounces back from injury. Second through fourth place, throw a dart. Amazingly, the Jaguars might have the most reliable QB situation of the remaining teams.

Farrar

1. Indianapolis Colts

2. Tennessee Titans

3. Jacksonville Jaguars

4. Houston Texans

The Colts have the best shot at what looks to be the NFL's weakest division, and the Titans have just enough talent to come in second. The Jaguars may wind up as the AFC's surprise team this year -- general manager Dave Caldwell has made a number of astute moves in the last two years, and rookie quarterback Blake Bortles is the real deal. While Houston's defense will certainly see an uptick with Jadeveon Clowney, their unsettled quarterback situation will hold the Texans back -- and the newly-acquired Ryan Mallett isn't the answer.

2014 NFL division preview: AFC South

Sports Illustrated's Don Banks previews the AFC South for the 2014 NFL season.

AFC West

Burke

1. Denver Broncos

2. San Diego Chargers

3. Kansas City Chiefs

4. Oakland Raiders

How much will the Chiefs slip? That's the mystery here, in a division that should fall Denver's way again. Both San Diego and Kansas City made the postseason last year, but another three-team showing from the West might be too much to ask. Alex Smith deserved the contract extension he received. He is not, however, a QB that can roll without the help of a steady offensive line ... and Kansas City might not have that. Oakland remains in a rebuild, one it can jumpstart by playing Derek Carr.

Farrar

1. Denver Broncos

2. San Diego Chargers

3. Kansas City Chiefs

4. Oakland Raiders

With several new faces on defense, the Broncos could be even stronger than they were last year -- and they're clearly the lead dogs in this conference. Chargers head coach Mike McCoy will continue to find success with Philip Rivers; the question is whether John Pagano's defense can rebound at all from a disastrous 2013 season. Andy Reid's Chiefs will continue to be competitive, but may be hit by regression in several areas (turnover luck, special teams, favorable schedule), while the Raiders got a lot older this offseason without getting any better.

2014 NFL division preview: AFC West

Sports Illustrated's Don Banks previews the AFC West for the 2014 NFL season.

More NFL

SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.