A single draft can completely transform a team. Just look at what happened to the Oakland Raiders in 2014, when they got Derek Carr and Khalil Mack with their first two picks. A single draft can absolutely transform the entire league, let alone one team. However, we at the Stack decided to skip all that and say “before someone reaches on Lamar Jackson (hot take alert), who do we think is going to win each division?”
Enjoy, and don’t forget to call us haters and tell us how wrong we are in the comment section below!
Sports-Stack Round Table Pre-Draft Division Champion Picks
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Pittsburgh Steelers
This is a home-run, right? The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to take this division, and I can’t think of a counter-argument for it. The Cincinnati Bengals are a mess, the Baltimore Ravens are ancient, and while Cleveland Browns have made some improvements, and this draft could be huge for them, it’s hard to imagine going from 0-16 to division champions overnight because of the likes of Tyrod Taylor. The Killer B’s are still stylin’ and profilin’ in the black and yellow, so they take the AFC North again.
Martin McConnell (@martmcconnell24 ): The Pittsburgh Steelers
Big Ben might be close to done, but he’s not quite done yet. Armed with a steadily improving defense, the ever-electric Antonio Brown, and most importantly an absolutely wide-open division, the Steelers are primed to take the AFC North once again.
Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The Pittsburgh Steelers
To me, it’s still Pittsburgh and then everybody else. The Bengals haven’t done anything to lead me to believe they can mount a challenge, and the Ravens need to get some more blocking to help out Joe Flacco. The addition of Michael Crabtree helps at receiver, but Flacco needs to have more than just him to look to. And then, there’s the Browns…….so, even with the Le’Veon Bell situation looming large, the Steelers still sit in the best position.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Pittsburgh Steelers
The Browns have gotten a lot better on paper, but until they can actually prove that they can play well as a team I’m putting the Steelers here. Cincinnati and Baltimore seem to have regressed.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Pittsburgh Steelers
The Cleveland Browns are the only team in this division that have made quality moves to improve their team so far this off-season but, even so, it’s unrealistic to believe they have a chance to compete with “Sixburgh” for the divisional crown. The Steelers still have a top 5 offense and a defense who lead the League in sacks last season. Pittsburgh should not only dominate the AFC North, they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The Pittsburgh Steelers
Honestly, until the Browns turn that mess around (which they are well on their way to doing), the Pittsburgh Steelers may as well claim themselves to be the kings in the north – unless Jacksonville has something to say about it.
Michael Larson: The Baltimore Ravens
For the Ravens, it’s a surprising pick over the Steelers. The coaching of Tomlin shouldn’t be trusted. There is too much turmoil and not enough discipline within this locker room. There is talent, but this year the Steelers fall even shorter than before. The balanced offensive attack of the Ravens with their improving defense and the strong coaching of Harbaugh earns them a division crown.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Jacksonville Jaguars
This one is a bit tougher to predict, because while it seems like there’s an easy answer, it’s a little more complicated just beneath the surface. The Tennessee Titans are a solid young team that could make some progress, and we’ve already seen that a healthy Andrew Luck can elevate the Colts to contenders, but in reality, it comes down to two teams.
A healthy Houston Texans team could be terrifying. All sorts of pieces across that defense, and Deshaun Watson showed flashes last year when healthy. If they could just get it all together, they could be a force to be reckoned with. However, at the end of the day, the Jacksonville Jaguars have the NFL’s best defense, and even with Blake Bortles under center, they should win the South yet again in 2018.
Martin McConnell (@martmcconnell24 ): The Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags have a loaded defense, and they’re only getting better as they enter their collective prime. This team has Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye in the secondary, a firm front seven, and a great running offense in Leonard Fournette. Blake Bortles looks to re-write his narrative. Barring a great comeback performance from Andrew Luck and the resurgence of the Colts, Jacksonville will win in the AFC South for the second year in the row.
Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The Jacksonville Jaguars
This is tricky, but as it stands right now I still give the edge to Jacksonville. Everybody else in the division still has lots of question marks, mainly the health of Andrew Luck and DeShaun Watson. That alone leads me to favor the Jaguars right now, especially because they return the best defense in a division that will enter next season with lots of questions at quarterback.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Jacksonville Jaguars
I wanted to put the Texans here, but they need to prove that they can stay healthy as a team to be able to win the division. Jacksonville is coming off a season where they dominated the AFC South and it’s almost impossible to not put them here.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Houston Texans
*Unpopular opinion alert* The Jacksonville Jaguars had an incredible 2017 and there hasn’t been any signs that they’ll be worse in 2018 (unless you consider Blake Bortles still being the quarterback an issue) (I do). BUT! The Houston Texans, with Deshaun Watson at quarterback, looked incredible last season. Assuming J.J. Watt will come back healthy and (actually) play a full season again, this defense looks monstrous with the addition of Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary. Don’t be surprised if the Texans take the AFC South hostage and even wreak havoc in the playoffs.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have the best team in the division, and none of their competitors added enough talent in free agency to scare them off the top yet. The Jaguars have never won consecutive AFC South titles, (they won the division for the first time in their history last season) look for this year to be the year.
Michael Larson: The Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson threw 19 touchdowns in 6 games. He also threw 8 interceptions. The success of the Texans rests on his shoulders. The team has added a playmaker in the secondary with Tyrann Mathieu. Bill O Brien has not had to worry about his defense for years, and neither will Watson. Brien can focus on the development of Watson and his chemistry with the team. Blake Bortles should not be trusted until completely proven otherwise. The Texans are the best pick for this division.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The New England Patriots
Is it a year starting with 20? Will football be played on a day ending in Y? Then it’s hard to imagine anyone but the devil’s dynasty, the New England Patriots, finishing atop the NFL’s least interesting division yet again. Please, someone, prove me wrong.
Martin McConnell (@martmcconnell24 ): The New England Patriots
The Pats now have two first-rounders, two second-rounders, and recently traded for even more young talent. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Super Bowl runner-ups are likely to make a return to the big game, and they’ll most likely win the AFC East first.
Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The New England Patriots
Even though the New York Jets have made a couple of nice additions, this division still belongs to New England. They have the best quarterback and head coach in the division, and until those pieces are gone, the hierarchy in that division won’t be changing.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The New England Patriots
Until Bill Belichick and Tom Brady retire the Patriots are winning this division year in and year out. The Jets are starting to close in, though so this prediction was tougher than you would think.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The New England Patriots
If Buffalo hadn’t gotten rid of Tyrod Taylor, I would have seriously considered picking them for an upset to take over this division. Realistically, the Patriots are still head and shoulders above the rest of this division. As long as “Tom Terriffic” is still slinging the pigskin for the red and blue, they’re going to continue to dominate the AFC East and stand in the way of any other AFC team trying to get to the Super Bowl.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The New England Patriots
A non-factor in terms of discussion, Brady and the Patriots will be winning the AFC East until they decide they don’t want to anymore. Nobody in the division is close to challenging them over 16 games.
Michael Larson: The New England Patriots
As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are at New England, the Patriots should be the favorites. Losing key pieces means this team will struggle out of the gate. But a division crown is still almost guaranteed.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Los Angeles Chargers
As Sports-Stack’s resident member of the Raider Nation, this absolutely gutted me. I wanted so desperately to pick my team to win the division, go undefeated, and win the Super Bowl. But I just have a ton of questions. Coach Gruden has been away from the sideline for a long time, does he still have it? Can Carr bounce back and return to form? And what is this defense going to look like? I’m sorry, I had to be a professional and use my brain, not my heart.
On paper, the Los Angeles Chargers have it all. They’ve got talent on both sides of the ball, and if they could just get it together for once, they could be a really scary team in the AFC. Just think about the late-season run they had in 2017.
Martin McConnell (@martmcconnell24 ): The Oakland Raiders
One of the hardest divisions to predict, the AFC West will go to the Oakland Raiders in 2018. Jon Gruden will almost certainly be coaching with a fire. Derek Carr and the offense should have a bounce-back year, and the Raider Nation will march into the playoffs.
Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The Oakland Raiders
Tricky, again. I don’t like the moves the Chiefs have made this off-season. Same with the Broncos. And I’ve never been high on the Chargers, mainly because Philip Rivers is too streaky. So, right now, I lean towards the Oakland Raiders. I think getting Jon Gruden in that building will do wonders, and I fully expect Derek Carr to return to his previous, non-2017 form. If the Raiders can draft well and get another free agent piece or two in place, there’s no doubt in my mind they’ll reclaim a spot atop the AFC West.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have won this division many times in Andy Reid’s tenure with Alex Smith at quarterback. They have a good defense and a good supporting cast, they don’t need excellent quarterback play and they’ve proven that. Taking that pressure off of Pat Mahomes will allow him to flourish.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Los Angeles Chargers
If I get fired from the Stack, this will be why. The Raiders are probably the more popular vote here, I’m just not convinced Gruden will have success in year one. The AFC West is pretty wide open as each team seems to be just a few pieces away from being really good. The Chargers just have the most potential for 2018 in my opinion. The Chargers defense didn’t receive a lot of attention in 2017 but the fact of the matter is both of their defensive ends combined for 22 sacks alone as the unit finished 5th in the League in sacks. Offensively, they didn’t score a lot of points last season but they had the number one passing offense.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The Los Angeles Chargers
Many questions need answering before we can know who the best out west is… Can Case Keenum succeed without Minnesota’s defense? Is Patrick Mahomes the quarterback that Andy Reid needs him to be? Can Jon Gruden still win it in the NFL? If the Chargers are able to add the right pieces during the draft, then they will have enough firepower on both sides of the ball to make a run at the division title.
Michael Larson: The Oakland Raiders
The AFC West is tough to pick. The Chiefs are relying on Patrick Mahomes to take the reigns, the Broncos think Case Keenum will work his same magic as last year, and the Chargers have no spirit playing at a soccer field with no crowd. The Raiders still have the best offensive and defensive player, when both are healthy, in Derek Carr and Khalil Mack. They also have the best offensive line in the division by far, still. The added energy of Jon Gruden will jump start this team.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Minnesota Vikings
This was actually a tough call. Is it Minnesota’s division to lose or will Aaron Rodgers return to form and reclaim the North? I had to really sit down and think about it, and here’s what I’ve come up with. The Minnesota Vikings are a better team as the roster goes down. Sure, Aaron Rodgers is still the second best quarterback in football, and the addition of Jimmy Graham could be interesting, but the Vikings just have more talent across the board. The Viking offense should be good in 2018, but it’s that defense that will win them this division.
Martin McConnell (@martmcconnell24 ): The Minnesota Vikings
The NFC North is no longer in the hands of Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings have one of the most complete rosters in football, especially on the defensive side. They made it to the NFC Championship last year with Case Keenum at quarterback. Imagine what they’ll do with Kirk Cousins.
Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings didn’t have to make a move and I would have still probably picked them to return to the top of the NFC North again this year, but then they went out and signed Kirk Cousins and now I’m officially convinced. In no way am I saying Cousins is better than a guy like, say, Aaron Rodgers, but overall the Vikings were already a better team than the Packers were, and that was with them getting mediocre play at quarterback. And while the Bears can make some noise this year, they won’t make enough noise. The Lions? Don’t get me started. So, it’s the Vikings to lose in the North.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Minnesota Vikings
Presumably upgrading a quarterback bodes well for Minnesota’s chances to repeat as division winners. Not losing any parts of last year’s defense doesn’t hurt either.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Minnesota Vikings
There’s really no surprise here. Not saying the Bears, Lions, or Packers are bad teams, just the the Vikings are way ahead of them. This is a team that fell just one game short of a trip to the Super Bowl with a backup caliber quarterback. Now, Minnesota landed the darling free agent quarterback, Kirk Cousins, and solidified their defensive line with Sheldon Richardson. This Vikings team is a legitimate Super Bowl contender coming into 2018 and should own the NFC North with ease.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The Green Bay Packers
The league is a better place when Aaron Rodgers is healthy. The league is even better when Aaron Rodgers is competitive. Whilst the Packers haven’t got the best roster in the division, I expect Rodgers to win his team more games than the Vikings manage with Kirk Cousins.
Michael Larson: The Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have the best defense in the NFL and made the NFC championship with Case Keenum leading the offense. With Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray as the running back combo, three excellent weapons in Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph, Kirk Cousins should have an easy time making a deep playoff run.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints are my NFC Champions in 2018. After so many years of Drew Brees airing it out to absolutely nobody while they couldn’t run the ball or stop opposing offenses, they’ve finally found some balance. They have talented young pieces all over the board, and a bonafide future Hall of Fame quarterback looking to break records and add to his trophy case. Just watch this team, I’m telling ya, they’re gonna be a major threat.
Martin McConnell (@martmcconnell24 ): The New Orleans Saints
Last year, the Saints showed just what they could be when Drew Brees didn’t have to do everything. Alvin Kamara is a stud. After a tremendous rookie campaign, Marshon Lattimore looks to make a jump in year two. Drew Brees has maybe one or two good years left in him. Don’t waste them, New Orleans.
Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The New Orleans Saints
I love the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South this year. They were the most complete team in that division a year ago, and the talent that was brought in last off-season will be even better now with a year under their belts together. Patrick Robinson and Demario Davis joining this off-season certainly doesn’t hurt either. And while a team like the Atlanta Falcons could and should have a bounceback year, losing players like Dontari Poe, especially to division rival Carolina, and Adrian Clayborn certainly doesn’t help. If the Falcons can do what the Saints did last off-season in the draft, they could make some noise. And of course, Carolina is right there too, but it feels like the Saints are a more complete team right now. Nonetheless, this should be the most competitive division in the NFL this season.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple) The New Orleans Saints
All of the starting offense is returning to the Big Easy, and they added a couple of new faces on defense. They also signed Cameron Meredith to an offer sheet which would be a sneaky good edition to the wide receiving corps.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Atlanta Falcons
Anyone that knows me knows I’m a Falcons fan so this immediately is written off as a homer’s take. Maybe it is but in all honesty, this really comes down to two teams. The Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints. This really could go either way and, for the fan’s sake, I hope the schedule committee makes the week 17 game a divisional matchup between these rivals. Both teams are impressive on offense, Atlanta didn’t fair too well in the first year under Steve Sarkisian but the talent is still there. New Orleans fielded the offensive rookie of the year, Alvin Kamara and as long as Drew Brees is the quarterback, you just can’t count the Saints out. I believe Atlanta’s high speed defense will be the deciding factor that lands them the NFC South crown, but it won’t be easy.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The New Orleans Saints
If the Atlanta Falcons can recapture some of their 2016 form, then you will be hard pressed to find a better team in the NFC. However, the New Orleans Saints are a young team with a dynamic run game and lethal defense. If they can add someone to stretch the passing game (like Mike Gesicki) in the first round, they will be the pick of the bunch in the South.
Michael Larson: The New Orleans Saints
The Saints have a loaded offense. Drew Brees is back and hasn’t missed a beat. The Falcons have faltered with the loss of Kyle Shanahan, as expected. The Panthers still have defense issues and Cam Newton is not improving. This is the Saints division once again.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The Philadelphia Eagles
If you travelled back in time and told me that any of the four NFC East teams won the division, I’d believe you. The Giants are coming off a year where they had unfortunate injuries and brutal coaching, but could still be competitive, especially if they fix that offensive line. The Redskins just swapped out Kirk Cousins for Alex Smith, and while that seems like a lateral move to many, he could provide some stability on that offense and help guide the team. And the Dallas Cowboys could be contending for the Super Bowl or the first overall pick and neither would surprise me at this point.
But at the end of the day, you’ve gotta stick with the defending Super Bowl champions and that horrifying defensive line that just seems to be getting better by the minute. Even if Carson Wentz isn’t healthy when the season starts, Nick Foles seemed to do a pretty decent job holding down the fort, and the champs will repeat… at the divisional level, anyway.
Martin McConnell (@martmcconnell24 ): The Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII over the New England Patriots without their starting quarterback. Carson Wentz is coming back, and they’ve added another big defensive piece in Michael Bennett. This one might just be a lock.
Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are coming off of the first Super Bowl in franchise history and have only gotten better this off-season by picking up Haloti Ngata and adding Mike Wallace. We won’t talk about Michael Bennett because that situation is tricky. And while the Cowboys should bounce back after a lackluster 2017 season, this division still feels like it is there for the Eagles to take again, especially with the Redskins letting go of Kirk Cousins (sorry, but he’s better than Alex Smith). I do like some of the moves the Giants have made this offseason, especially the addition of Nate Solder, but if they get off to a slow start, the pressure will be too much to overcome.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Philadelphia Eagles
Fresh off of a Super Bowl the Eagles take this division again. After winning a championship with your backup quarterback and not losing many pieces on defense it’s a pretty easy prediction. It isn’t like the rest of the division got much better either.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Philadelphia Eagles
I want to believe in Dak and Zeke, I really do. I just don’t believe the Cowboys can compete with the defending Super Bowl champs. Philly went out and signed Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata to an already stacked defensive line and they’ll be getting their star quarterback, Carson Wentz, to start the title defense in 2018. Winning a Super Bowl is difficult in itself and repeating the following year is almost impossible, but don’t count these Eagles out just yet. Another Super Bowl could very well be in their future and the NFC East should be a lock.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The Philadelphia Eagles
Nobody has gone back to back in the NFC East since 2004, and ironically, it was the Eagles (who claimed 5/6 titles from 2001-’06). The Eagles reloaded in a major way this off-season, and there’s no team in the East close enough to knocking the Superbowl 52 Champions off their perch.
Michael Larson: The Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys and Eagles will be going at it all year. The Eagles improved even more during this offseason and will be neck and neck with the Cowboys. However, Ezekiel Elliott is arguably the best running back in the NFL and is behind the best offensive line. He will be extra motivated very much like Tom Brady’s revenge season. The Cowboys barely take the division crown from the Eagles.
Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL): The San Francisco 49ers
Why not, let’s go ahead and buy into the hype, shall we? That’s what’s crazy about this division, it’s had a dramatic off-season. The Seahawks decided they didn’t like any of their coaches and players, cleaned house for the most part, and then didn’t really go after anyone. Either they’re saving up for a big move, or they’re getting ready to have a wild off-season next year with all the compensation picks and cap space.
The Arizona Cardinals let the Honey Badger go, but they paid Sam Bradford $20 million and honestly, I have no idea what this team is doing. I think David Johnson is good, and Chandler Jones has consistently been one of the NFL’s most underrated pass rushers, but this team has no hope.
The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers are the teams that will be fighting for this division, and I went with the hot hand. The 49ers would be the talk of the town is, but they get the tenth pick in each round of the draft, and if they really knock it out of the park, they could be dangerous.
Martin McConnell (@martmcconnell24 ): The Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams are absolutely loaded. They’ve got an offensive mastermind for a coach, one of the best running backs in the league, a now-electric quarterback, and the best defensive player in football. Additionally, they just wrapped up a trade for Brandin Cooks, adding yet another piece. The Seattle Seahawks are coming down from their dominance, and now it is LA’s time to rule the NFC West.
Conner Fleegle (@McFleegle): The Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams surprised a lot of people by rising up and grabbing the division out of Seattle’s hands a season ago. But what’s even scarier is the fact that the Rams have loaded up so far this off-season, and the news that the Rams have signed Ndamukong Suh only adds to that fact. Seattle seems poised to take another step backwards, and the losses of Richard Sherman, Sheldon Richardson and Jimmy Graham only adds to that. The real question will be if Jimmy Garoppollo can lead the 49ers on a charge for 16 games, and how well will Sherman do in his new San Fran home? Time will tell, but right now it’s the Rams and then it’s everybody else.
Ryan Seiple (@Ryan_Seiple): The Los Angeles Rams
So far so good for the Rams. They’ve added Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Ndamukong Suh to bolster the defense while being able to retain Lamarcus Joyner. They’ve also countered the loss of Sammy Watkins by adding Brandin Cooks. Watch out for the Rams to not just take the West, but take the NFC.
Christopher Bolden (@Bolden7): The Los Angeles Rams
I like what Kyle Shanahan is doing in San Francisco and I’m eager to see how the Jimmy Garappolo experimene pans out. I just don’t see anyone taking this from the Rams. Los Angeles was a real contender last season and with Jared Goff steadily improving, as well as Todd Gurley being a beast on the ground, this offense could, and should, be a top three unit in 2018. On defense, the Rams add corners Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib as well as Ndamokung Suh to work alongside Aaron Donald, arguably the best defensive tackle in the League. Add that to the fact that the defensive mastermind Wade Phillips is their coordinator, and you’ve got a nightmare for any offense that has to go against them. The Rams should take the NFC West with ease and could very well find themselves playing for the Lombardi this season.
William Frost: (@willfrost_): The Los Angeles Rams
If you’d have told me three years ago that the Rams and the 49ers were going to battle it out for the division title I would have laughed you out the room. With the 49ers probably another year away from competing, the division is LA’s to lose. Whilst the quarterback’s in the West are impressive, LA have more than enough talent on defense to make life tough opposition.
Michael Larson: The Los Angeles Rams
The LA Rams have loaded up. The defense is nasty with their cornerback duo of Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters and defensive line of Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. With Wade Phillip’s coaching the defense, once again, Sean McVay doesn’t need to touch their schemes and can focus on continuing the improvement of Jared Goff and getting Todd Gurley the ball. The Seahawks and 49ers have no shot to take this division from the Rams.