The AFC North enters the 2014 season as one of the most wide open divisions in football. Las Vegas oddsmakers declined to take a stand and inserted the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals all at 8.5 or 9 wins. Cincy won the division last year but failed yet again to win a playoff game, losing at home to San Diego in the Wild Card round. The Ravens are now a full season removed from their Super Bowl win, which they followed up with a disappointing 8-8 season. Pittsburgh has now had two straight 8-8 seasons, doubly disappointing. Cleveland hasn’t finished over .500 since 2007 and had an offseason full of drama that rivaled the 49ers. Can Baltimore or Pittsburgh wrestle the division back from Cincy? Can Andy Dalton take the next step and win a playoff game? Will the Johnny Football circus eat the Browns season alive? Let’s take a look.
Ah, the NFC South. When the NFL envisioned a socialist land of parity, where every team deserves a chance at greatness, this is what they had in mind. Much like every union worker at the Springfield Power Plant is guaranteed an employee of the month award (yep, we got sucked into The Simpsons marathon this weekend on FXX), every team has won the division title over the past seven seasons. There’s also never been a repeat winner of the NFC South; last year the Falcons defended their title by limping to finish line with a 4-12 record. Carolina would take the title, and be joined in the playoffs by New Orleans. Since the Saints won the Super Bowl in January 2010, the NFC South is 3-7 in the playoffs. This year, Vegas sees this bunch as a pretty productive group with the lowest win total among the four teams set at seven. The biggest shake up in the division is definitely in Tampa, where another extremely active year in free agency was paired with the hiring of Lovie Smith as their new coach. The schedule rotation lands on the North, both NFC and AFC. Can Carolina become the first repeat winner of the division? Or does the rotating crown continue? Let’s take a look.
Eight wins was good enough to win the NFC North last season, now Las Vegas went ahead and installed three of the four teams at 8.5 wins or higher. The big story within the division was Aaron Rodgers breaking his collarbone and missing seven games. Somehow, the rest of the division couldn’t take advantage, allowing Rodgers to return week 17 for a miraculous win at Soldier Field. This game sent the Packers to the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record and the Bears home for the winter. The Lions and Vikings enter the season with new coaches, Jim Caldwell and Mike Zimmer respectively. Marc Trestman is in his second year with the Bears, further exhibiting the lack of job security an NFL coach has these days, as the North is another division with short tenured head coaches. If Jim Caldwell is getting another shot, we’re wondering how Mike Singletary doesn’t have another head coaching job. The NFC North draws the AFC East and the NFC South this season. There’s a lot of skill player talent in this division, can it produce two playoff teams this season? Let’s take a look.