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NFL Division Outright previews

A bit late to the party with games kicking off now, but this is American Football - more time for ad breaks than any sport known to man! Does make it great for trading though... Anyway, welcome back to my good mate Ian Steven, an American football tragic from way back. He found us a couple of decent winners during the Olympics, now he runs through the field in his favourite sport. Follow him on Twitter @deevo82.


NFL Division Outrights

AFC East

Easy one to start with. Patriots are the class of the division and are favourites for the Superbowl. Only criticism is that the Pats’ defense is not as elite as it has been in the past but their offense is a juggernaut with Tom Brady under centre and the phenom that is Rob Gronkowski at tight end.

The Bills will be a bit more competitive with a strengthened defense with glamour free agent Mario Williams in the fold. Their offense lacks sparkle and will end up five games behind the Pats. Ryan Fitzpatrick is not proficient enough under centre to take the Bills offense to the next level.

The Jets will have hype with Tebow in the fold and Mark Sanchez is coming under increasing pressure to run a turgid offense. It could well be a losing season for the Jets and the end of Rex Ryan’s tenure.

The Dolphins are clearly in a rebuilding phase and are completely discounted. Ryan Tannenhill will face a baptism of fire as a rookie quarterback.

Verdict: Patriots at a canter but odds of about 1/3 nowhere near worth it.

AFC North

One of the most competitive divisions in the NFL should with the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers knocking lumps out each other on a consistent basis.

The Steelers are the bookies favourite but early injuries to James Harrison and David De Castro plus the distraction of Mike Wallace not being in training camp could be their undoing. An early playoff exit to a Tebow-led Broncos team still resonates at Heinz Field and it will be interesting to see if they can rebound. Big Ben always makes plays to keep the Steelers competitive but he is injury prone behind a suspect offensive line.

The Ravens have tweaked their offense to work primarily from a no huddle set up which Joe Flacco is revelling in. The defense led by Ray Lewis will be reliable as ever and I can see the Ravens being a big threat deep into the playoffs.

The Bengals are young and dynamic with Andy Dalton and AJ Green in the second year of the partnership but they have not got a quality running game to fall back on. The defense will be strong and keep them in games but they will fall short down the stretch.

The Browns are regarded as one of the worst teams in the league and with a new owner in Jimmy Haslam, it is a make or break year for Mike Holmgren and Pat Shurmur. They will show improvement but struggle to win more than five games.

Verdict: Ravens to narrowly pip Steelers to the division. 2 points at 13/8.

AFC South

Houston could well have the best defense in the league this season with JJ Watt and Brooks Reed stars in the making. With Matt Schaub fully fit, the offense is one of the most dynamic in the league with Andre Johnson a potential hall of fame wide receiver and Arian Foster in line for a rushing title on the ground, 8/1 to win the Superbowl is a very tempting proposition but the key is keeping Schaub healthy.

The Titans will go with Jake Locker at QB and Chris Johnson insists he is back to the form of his 2,000 yard season. Tennessee are also strong on defense but a lack of receiving talent on offense means they will get bogged down a lot in games. 8-8 looks very likely.

The Colts have drafted Andrew Luck with the 1st overall pick and the son of a former NFL quarterback looks like the best player to enter the NFL since Peyton Manning. Luck’s skills won’t be enough to save the rebuilding Colts from a losing record, however. They may well have the worst defense in the league.

The Jaguars are a team in flux due to their commitment to play for three years in London. It seems that the people of Florida just don’t want to pay to watch the Jags play. Maurice Jones Drew is their only weapon and he only reported to the team one week before the start of the regular season. First pick in the draft next year is a distinct possibility.

Verdict: Houston to win the division at a canter and could get a first round playoff bye. 2/7 not worth the bet. Could be worth a punt each way to win the big one at 8/1.

AFC West

All eyes will be on the AFC West as Peyton Manning switches teams to Denver with concerns about his arm strength and durability of his neck. The Denver defense is all encompassing with Von Miller superb at outside linebacker. Jacob Tamme and Brandon Stokely provide a familiar safety blanket for Manning and Demaryius Thomas is prime for a break out year. When you factor in the homefield advantage the Broncos have at altitude, you would have to be a brave punter to bet against them.

San Diego will have their usual land grabbing passing attack with Philip Rivers under centre. Antonio Gates and Ryan Matthews need to stay healthy as the Bolts will ride on both players heavily as they aim for the playoffs but Norv Turner is under an immense amount of pressure due to the amount of choking during recent seasons. The defense might not have enough pass rush to prevent Manning picking them apart.

Kansas City finished last season strongly under Romeo Crennel, who now has the head coaching job on a permanent basis. The Chiefs were crippled by a host of injuries last season and if they can stay healthy, they could surprise a few teams. Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis should provide a powerful one-two punch in the running game. The key for the Arrowhead Stadium outfit will be the performance of high draft picks Dontari Poe, Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey on the defensive line, allowing linebackers like Derrick Johnson to make plays.

The Oakland Raiders play their first ever season without the late Al Davis involved. Carson Palmer and a healthy Darren McFadden should keep the Men In Black competitive but a porous secondary will be their downfall in a division that contains Manning and Rivers.

Verdict: Broncos should win the division with a late season charge once the weather turns wintery and the Chargers struggle. 4 points on Denver at 9/5.

NFC East

Andy Reid has been told to win or else so the Eagles are motivated, Their defense has the best pass rush in the league and they finished the season as one of the top units after a woeful start to the campaign. Philly’s finest have the most explosive offense in the league with Mike Vick, Desean Jackson and Lesean McCoy bursting with talent. The problem for the Eagles is keeping Vick healthy which was amplified by the best tackle in the league, Jason Peters, blowing out his Achilles in the offseason, leaving a shaky replacement in King Dunlap.

The Giants are the Superbowl champions but consistency has always been their issue. The difficulty of their schedule means they will have a hard time repeating combined with the fact their running game is woeful which is shocking for a Tom Coughlin offense. Jason Pierre Paul continues to be a beast on defense and could be in line for the Defensive MVP. The defense will ultimately keep the G Men competitive.

The Cowboys are always a conundrum as Tony Romo flashes genius at quarterback one minute and comic idiocy the next. DeMarco Murray looks like a good find at running back and the receiving core is laden with talent including Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Where Dallas falls down is on defense where DeMarcus Ware is guaranteed a Hall Of Fame berth already reaching 100 sacks, but he has little supporting cast to back him up.

Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III was a revelation in college football last season and he will immediately make the Redskins more dynamic but RG3 will have to take the weight of a poor offense of his shoulders. The Skins defense is very strong and will keep games tight with a few games won by field goals but ultimately the Skins won’t have enough talent to push the other three in the division.

Verdict: 9-7 might be enough to win the division and the Eagles should rise to the top if Vick stays clear of injury. That is a big “if” and there are too many variables to bet on a very tight division.

NFC North

The Packers are many people’s picks for the Superbowl due to their fluid offense run by Aaron Rodgers. Cedric Benson comes in at running back but he has too much tread on the tyres to be a major force. Clay Matthews remains a playmaker on defense whilst Charles Woodson makes the move to safety. Whoever comes top of this division may struggle to have a good enough record for a bye week in the playoffs due to how good some of the teams are.

Chicago should be a dominant force as Jay Cutler settles into an offensive system where he can prosper compared to the Mike Martz system where he was constantly under pressure. Matt Forte will be backed up well by Michael Bush at running back whilst the drafting of Alshon Jeffrey and the trade pickup of Brandon Marshall look to have finally presented Cutler with legitimate targets. Devin Hester remains an X factor on special teams and will always threaten to take one to the house. The defense is packed with talent and revolves around Brian Urlacher, who has just had knee surgery and is not fully fit yet. Julius Peppers is the blue chip player on the D line and could be a key player against offensive lines that are not elite in the NFC North.

The Detroit Lions may be the most exciting team to watch in this division. Matt Stafford is a strong-armed quarterback but is highly injury prone. Calvin Johnson may well be the best wide receiver in the league but lacks a good foil to take some of the heat off of him. The running game of Detroit is fairly barren so a lot of pressure will be on Stafford’s arm. The defensive line is the strong point of the defense with Kyle Van Den Bosch and Ndamukong Suh stand out players. Nick Fairley has disappointed so far despite being a high draft pick. The secondary is the glaring weakness of this unit which will lead to a lot of high scoring games.

The Vikings should occupy the basement in this division. Star running back Adrian Peterson has just came back from a serious knee injury and cannot be counted on to carry the offense. There is a lack of talent on both sides of the ball and can be discounted with a fair amount of certainty.

Verdict: The Packers are odds on at 1/2 but I think the Bears will win this division with some hard nose football. 3 pts on Bears at 9/2. Could well be Superbowl winners at 25/1 which is worth an each way flutter.

NFC South

The Saints have a juggernaut of an offense run by the 5,000 yard passer Drew Brees. The fallout from the bounty scandal has left the Superdome outfit without their suspended head coach Sean Payton for part of the season. Suspended players including Jonathan Vilma have been reinstated this week but are unlikely to figure in the opener as they have not practised. The Saints are such a well-oiled machine that they won’t miss a beat in the early part of their tough schedule and they should still top the division at the end of the season.

Atlanta will harass New Orleans all the way to the finish line with Julio Jones and Roddy White a deadly receiver tandem. They face the Saints later on in the season when the suspensions are finished and that could be key and the Saints could clean sweep Atlanta which will decide the division.

Carolina are the wild card in the division. Cam Newton had an astonishing rookie season and he will do well to match it in his sophomore season. The Carolina defense is not yet good enough to make a run at the division but the talents of Newton could mean the Panthers act as spoilers, especially with the last game of the season being against the Saints.

Tampa Bay look like cannon fodder as they attempt to rebound from a poor season last year when Raheem Morris was accused of being too close to his players and ultimately fired. Greg Schiano is a harder edged coach but it may take a couple of years to get the Bucs back to being competitive. They have some good, young players in Josh Freeman, Vincent Jackson, Mark Barron and Lavonte David but the depth of quality is not there yet.

Verdict: Saints are high-priced at 11/8 because of the uncertainty around the team due to the coaching suspensions. Atlanta are a good enough team to put too much risk into the bet so no bet in this instance.

NFC West

San Francisco are the heavy favourites for this division thanks to their breakout year in 2011 under Jim Harbaugh. Their defense were excellent last year and more of the same is expected with Patrick Willis the icon on that side of the ball. The addition of a motivated Randy Moss will help stretch the field on offense and open holes for Frank Gore in the running game. A weak division means that the 49ers could well end up as the top seed in the NFC.

Seattle should be much improved over last season with the impressive rookie Russell Wilson under centre. Seattle retain a power offense with Marshawn Lynch the focal point and have a young and tough defense to complement meaning Seattle should control a lot of clock and keep games tight. They do not have the talent to match San Francisco however but they could well be a good bet for a wildcard slot.

Arizona are in a state of perpetual quarterback flux with Jon Skelton winning the starting job from Kevin Kolb this week. They have one of the best players in the game in Larry Fitzgerald but Skelton does not have the consistent arm to get the blue chipper the ball. The Cardinals have a good defense and Patrick Peterson can turn games with his punt returns but the Cards will be inconsistent and will struggle to win more than seven games.

St Louis are in a rebuilding phase under Jeff Fisher. Sam Bradford is a good young quarterback but lacks a supporting cast other than the often injured Steven Jackson. Chris Long and James Laurinaitis are standouts on defense but another losing season looks to be likely before Fisher can turn the ship around.

Verdict: 8/15 on San Francisco is too short for any action in a division they look almost certain to win.


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