The NFL preseason is finally here, with the regular season just around the corner. Although positional battles will persist through the preseason and some minor pieces may be added, most NFL rosters are set. Finally, we are at close enough proximity to the season to start evaluating the best teams from each division.
AFC East: New England Patriots
As has been the case for over a decade, the New England Patriots are favorites to win the AFC East. Quarterback Tom Brady is entering his age-41 campaign, though he is showing no signs of slowing down. Brady has thrown for multiple touchdowns and/or over 300 yards in 30 of his past 36 games.
The best tight end in football, Rob Gronkowski, plans to be healthy. Julian Edelman will rejoin the team after serving a four-game suspension. Meanwhile, Chris Hogan will serve as Brady’s go-to wide receiver, following the trade of Brandin Cooks.
First-round selection Sony Michel will play a role in the running game, alongside veteran Rux Burkhead and James White. The Patriots defense will continue to have legendary coach Bill Belichick at the helm, in addition to the return of linebacker Dont’a Hightower. In all, the upcoming season is one where Patriots fans can feel confident, again.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
If Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are all healthy, which they presently are, it’s very difficult to beat the Steelers. When those three players were active the past five seasons, the Steelers have a 39-17 record. In addition to these offensive weapons, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is likely to continue his ascent. Tight end Vance McDonald remains a steady pass-catching option.
Although there are concerns regarding the Steelers’ defense, as there was last year when the team allowed 28 points per game after Week 13, the offense should make up for it in a fairly weak division.
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Houston Texans will certainly pose a threat in the AFC South, with the return of quarterback Deshaun Watson, though it’s likely that the Jacksonville Jaguars’ ferocious defense will capture the division. The Jaguars will have one of the season’s easiest schedules and a returning cast of defensive weapons. Leonard Fournette is at risk of recurring ankle issues, though he is an undeniable talent when healthy. Although the team loses wide receiver Allen Robinson, the additions of Donte Moncrief and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins should help bolster the receiving cast, alongside Dede Westbrook and Marqise Lee.
AFC West: Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers tend to underachieve, failing to achieve double-digit wins the past nine years. Still, the veteran presence of quarterback Philip Rivers should combine with a solid defense and offense to propel the team into becoming division winners. Last year’s team was unfortunate to go 3-5 in one-score games, meaning there should be a positive regression in store for a roster that’s even more experienced and talented. As long as Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon remain healthy alongside Rivers, the Chargers should have their best season in a decade.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
As the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins continue to find their footing, the Eagles are coming off a Super Bowl win. They are the clear favorites to win the NFC East. Quarterback Carson Wentz may have lingering health issues, though the Eagles proved last year they could get it done with backup quarterback Nick Foles as well. Still, Wentz expects to be ready for week one, putting the Eagles and their impressive defensive and offensive strengths in a great position to again compete for the Super Bowl.
There’s no doubt that Wentz and other players with potential injury concerns are intent on effective offseason workouts. Professional athletes eat lots of protein and tend to work out in short sessions. Workout sessions do not exceed 60 minutes typically, since hormones that help build muscles tend to dwindle after one hour. Athletes also do not weight train more than two days in a row, though they are constantly trying to top their last workout with gains. Excellent form, exercise variance and conservative treatment of injury are prudent strategies for athletes.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
The Packers and Vikings rivalry will continue to persist, especially as both these teams appear very evenly matched. The Packers have the quarterback edge with Aaron Rodgers, though the Vikings certainly are no slouch at the position after signing Kirk Cousins. The return of Dalvin Cook will also bolster the Vikings, though there’s no player in the NFL with more of a dramatic effect on a team than Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers have a suspect pass rush and questions on the offensive line, though the return of Rodgers may be enough to secure the Packers their division. The Vikings could very well end up with the division instead, though if Rodgers is healthy throughout the season, then the Packers seem like favorites.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
The battle between the Saints and Atlanta Falcons is close, especially now that Julio Jones is at camp for the Falcons. Regardless, an improved Saints defense and the continuing emergence of Alvin Kamara is reason to believe the Saints are in great position. Drew Brees remains a very accurate quarterback, ranking second of 34 qualifiers in PFF’s Accuracy Rating on 20-plus-yard passes. He should connect with Michael Thomas, Kamara and Ted Ginn all season.
NFC West: Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are likely to win the NFC West on the continuing improvement of quarterback Jared Goff and tier-one running back Todd Gurley, who proved last year that he was among the NFL’s finest at the position. A potent-but-young 49ers team, an aging Seahawks team and in-development Cardinals squad do not have the comprehensive pieces of the Rams, whose addition of wide receiver Brandin Cooks gives further big-play potential. The team has a difficult schedule, though talented coach Sean McVay and his Rams remain the favorites in the NFC West.
The upcoming NFL season looks to be another great one, full of exciting teams and divisional battles that will satisfy any football fan.