The Bears will regret firing Lovie Smith. The Vikings made the playoffs thanks to a ridiculous performance by Adrian Peterson which should not be repeated: even with Christian Ponder improving, expect them to go down. Yes, the Lions were undisciplined and underperforming in 2012, but they made perhaps the best acquisition of the year with Reggie Bush at running back. In any case, the Packers, led by Aaron Rodgers, should dominate this division.
The Bucs would be competing in nearly every other division, but it the NFC South, expect them to go last. The Falcons were a play away from the Super Bowl last year, but rather than motivating improvement, expect them to have the choker label stuck in their head. Cam Newton may not have had the Fantasy Football points last year like he did in 2011, but he's quietly developing into a smart QB with talent, and expect the Panthers to get a wild card. That leaves the Saints, who have the 2013 MVP at QB in Drew Brees, the return of the best coach in football with Sean Payton, and a talented team with a chip on its shoulder for feeling screwed by the NFL last year.
The Cardinals now have Carson Palmer, which should improve them, but they are still in a really tough division. The Rams have great coaching, great defense and an offense that is conservative but smart, but that won't be enough this year in the division either. In the end, I'll pick both the Seahawks and the 49ers to make the playoffs, with Seattle winning the division simply because Colin Kaepernick may not be so injury free playing his style over 16 games.
These teams are pretty much all the same: talented but not talented enough to be champions. This will be a learning year for the Eagles under a new system, while the Giants have done little to improve themselves. The team with the best upside is the Redskins, but as that upside is tied to RGIII and his health, I have my doubts this year. So I'm going with the Cowboys, simply because Tony Romo will be the most consistent in a mediocre division.
Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys
Wild Cards: San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints over Green Bay Packers
In theory, the Browns should eventually improve, but not this year. The Steelers are too old and too beat down to make another run. The Ravens will miss two of the greatest defensive players ever leaving their team. That leaves, by default, the quietly consistent Bengals as division winners.
The Jags and Titans: nope. The Colts and Andrew Luck should not be so lucky this year with a tougher schedule, though they could be a wild card given the overall weakness of the AFC. That leaves, by default, the talented but underperforming Texans.
This is one division which may be stronger than given credit. The Chargers, sadly, have fired Norv Turner way too late, and now their once immense talent has been sucked away. The Raiders may be a surprise this year, especially if Terrelle Pryor delivers. The Chiefs would be the surprise team to look for if every NFL expert wasn't declaring them to be the surprise team to look for. Still, the Broncos should be the class of the division under Peyton Manning once again.
Bills, Dolphins, Jets: moving on. For all the problems facing the Patriots, they still should coast in this division.
Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots
Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts
Denver Broncos over Kansas City Chiefs
New Orleans Saints over Denver Broncos
Bonus Pick: NFL Kickoff Opener
Baltimore Ravens (+9) over Denver Broncos
I just predicted the Ravens to miss the playoffs and the Broncos to make the Super Bowl, but nine points is still nine points. That's how much the Ravens were getting Sunday when I placed my bet, and though the spread has dropped to eight, it's still a good bet for Baltimore to at least keep it close.
To check Las Vegas odds, The Konformist recommends VegasInsider.com: