Sorry, East Coast biased fans that deify the NFC East every year, but the North is the best division in each conference. They will prove it by placing three teams each with over a .500 record like their more-ballyhooed counterparts, but with a better overall record.
The Baltimore Ravens earn the top spot in the AFC, fighting their way to the brink of another division title if Terrell Suggs returns before the end of the season. The Cincinnati Bengals would make the playoffs in any other AFC division, but lose out to the Buffalo Bills thanks to the much easier AFC East schedule.
The Chicago Bears will make one more great push to challenge the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. Their bolstered offense will more than make up for their aging defense—remember they were 7-3 before Jay Cutler went down—and help them grab the top wild card spot.
The New Orleans Saints received good news Friday that their players won their appeal and will be allowed to play. However, this is not over. There is a good chance that some time will be lost for the three suspended players, and at the very least Jonathan Vilma will miss some time recovering from injury.
Even without players suspended, the losses to the coaching staff will hurt. There will be a transition to the new defense that teams no longer have to fear for personnel or punishing style of play. Thus, I am staying with my original pick of the Atlanta Falcons winning the South and the Bears taking the higher wild card seed.
The Packers will beat out the San Francisco 49ers for the first seed by virtue of Sunday's season-opening win (24-23—UPDATE: Niners won 30-22, and should capture the top seed now). The Philadelphia Eagles will earn the third seed and the Falcons the fourth.
The New England Patriots earn the top spot in the AFC, with the Houston Texans a close second. The Pittsburgh Steelers take the third seed despite a loss to the fourth-seeded Denver Broncos in Week 1.
Now that the playoff matchups can be determined, what should we expect in each game?