I posted these on Twitter earlier in the week, but I figured I'd expand on it. I'm not big on making week-by-week predictions on the blog anymore, but you can follow me for the occasional pick and plenty of bad jokes and snark.
Here are my division picks, with some commentary.
1. NY Giants
The Giants are still the best. The Eagles are not far behind, and I think without the ridiculous hype surrounding them, they will improve. Dallas showed me something Wednesday, but Tony Romo hasn't really put it together since the 2007 season when they had TO, and even that team flamed out when it counted the most. Love RG3, but I don't think he makes Washington a contender right away.
1. Green Bay
Sorry, everyone, but the Packers still have to be considered the division favorites. An improved defense makes them a more complete team, but unless Cedric Benson works miracles in the backfield, they won't approach 15-1. Chicago needs to show the secondary it will take to slow down the Packers and Lions. The Lions have to keep their heads straight and play defense. Minnesota is better, and could make a run for third place if Detroit falters. But the Vikings aren't nearly as talented as their division brethren right now.
1. New Orleans
4. Tampa Bay
Bounty scandal or not, the Saints are the best team in this division. Definite Super Bowl threat. Carolina's defense is a huge key for the Panthers. The pieces exist on offense. Atlanta is highly overrated by many. There's just no reason to trust Mike Smith or Matt Ryan at this point. If Josh Freeman puts things together, Tampa Bay could surprise with new coach Greg Schiano, who did an amazing job as a college coach at Rutgers.
1. St. Louis
2. San Francisco
It's a hunch, pure and simple. Jeff Fisher, an improved secondary, and a healthy Sam Bradford should mean good things for the Rams, despite an insane roster turnover. San Francisco takes a step back because Alex Smith is still Alex Smith. The 49ers weren't evaluating Peyton Manning for no reason. Seattle has a rookie at quarterback in Russell Wilson. I love Wilson, but his targets are shaky, as is the defense. Arizona won't be any good until the quarterback problem is dealt with.
1. NY Giants
2. Green Bay
3. New Orleans
4. St. Louis
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Green Bay over NY Giants
1. New England
3. NY Jets
While the Patriots still don't have a good defense, it's good enough. It isn't as good as Buffalo's, and that's why the Bills pass the Jets in the standings. The Jets just have too much drama and not enough skill talent around Mark Sanchez. As anyone who gets HBO can attest, the Dolphins just don't look to be any good.
The Ravens are running a no-huddle, which means Joe Flacco better be good. I like his chances. Pittsburgh wants to run the ball, and the Steelers are counting on a healthy Rashard Mendenhall, something that might be too much to ask for at this point. The Bengals will slide back a bit, and the Browns will move forward, making for a really, really interesting Battle of Ohio for third place. Oh, wait.
I expect the Texans to roll through this division, with only a small challenge from the Titans. Tennessee needs Jake Locker to be ready, but luckily he can give the rock to Chris Johnson. The Colts will surprise, but don't have enough horses -- no pun intended -- to contend for a playoff spot. Jacksonville is in flux, with a running back who held out and a quarterback who looked completely overwhelmed last year.
2. San Diego
3. Kansas City
All four were close last year, and I think the top three will be this time around. Was a tough pick, but I went with the team that has the best quarterback. So yeah, I'm banking on Peyton Manning being healthier than some allege he is. The Chargers will be improved and could sneak into the playoffs. We remember how bad Romeo Crennel's teams looked in Cleveland, right? Well, I don't see it getting much better in Kansas City just because he's a nicer guy than Todd Haley. Oh, and as much as I've grown to really like the Raiders, this isn't going to go well in the short term.
2. New England
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Baltimore over Houston