NFL Schedule 2013: Breaking Down Most Exciting Division Rivalries

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIApril 19, 2013

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 23:  Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks looks downfield to pass against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field on December 23, 2012 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The majority of divisions in the NFL are too difficult to predict with any kind of certainty ahead of the 2013 season.

Next week's draft will go a long way in shaping the pro football landscape. Having said that, there are a few divisions that appear to have two clear-cut contenders that should provide entertaining rivalries throughout the year.

Here is a breakdown of the most intriguing divisional clashes based on what has occurred thus far this offseason.

Note: For the complete schedule, check out

AFC East: Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots

Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland certainly wasn't shy about pulling the trigger in free agency. The defense has been bolstered by linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler along the front seven, while ex-Atlanta Falcons CB Brent Grimes provides fortification to the defensive backfield.

Speedy WR Mike Wallace, underrated wideout Brandon Gibson and solid pass-catching tight end Dustin Keller provide second-year QB Ryan Tannehill with some necessary new toys in the passing game, too.

That should allow Miami to at least somewhat challenge the Pats' perennial reign atop the division, assuming all the new Dolphin additions can mold together adequately.

The combination of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and quarterback Tom Brady should give New England yet another top-flight offense, and the pickup of Danny Amendola will help absorb the loss of prolific slot receiver Wes Welker.

A big key to the Patriots' success will be the health of stud TE Rob Gronkowski, who may need a fourth surgery to adequately repair a second break to his left forearm.

As explosive as New England is even without Gronk's services, it is clearly a much more dynamic attack with him in the fold.

The Patriots have been held back from ultimately winning a fourth Super Bowl under Brady and head coach Bill Belichick due to their defense, and the Dolphins' revamped playmakers could pose serious problems.

Week 8 will mark the first of two occasions these teams will square off, followed by another game in Week 15 that will in all likelihood have significant playoff implications.

There may not be a changing of the guard in the AFC East, but Miami should provide formidable competition to the team that has won 10 of the past 12 division championships.

NFC West: Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers

The argument could be made that these are the best two teams in football. Few were playing as well at the end of last season, as each seemed to peak at the proper time.

Even though the Seahawks and Niners sported two of the more talented rosters in the league in 2012, that hasn't stopped them from being proactive in pursuit of personnel upgrades.

This tweet from ESPN's Adam Schefter encompasses that assertion very well:

Seattle's offense received a big boost when GM John Schneider traded the team's No. 25 overall draft pick to the Minnesota Vikings to acquire superstar playmaker Percy Harvin. His versatility as a receiver, runner and returner gives the Seahawks arguably the most dynamic weapon in the NFL.

Ironically, the Seahawks also picked up ex-Viking Antoine Winfield as a slot corner to go along with stars Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner on the outside. They also have Pro Bowl safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

The Niners may have lost All-Pro FS Dashon Goldson, but the defense is otherwise intact, and the front office has a plethora of draft picks to utilize in a deep 2013 class.

Explosive QB Colin Kaepernick gets an added weapon in ex-Baltimore Ravens WR Anquan Boldin, and San Francisco is attempting to revitalize the career of former elite cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

With that influx of talent, both clubs figure to contend for the NFC West crown. A Week 2 matchup in Seattle will be a landmark early-season Sunday night showdown. The last game in CenturyLink Field was dominated by the Seahawks, 42-13.

But the defending NFC Champion Niners aren't likely to get beaten that badly again, and it will be interesting to see if Seattle's young nucleus can get past the formidable hurdle that their rivals present.

Amongst the divisional battles, this will arguably be the most physical and the most entertaining, particularly with the young quarterback battle between Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.

AFC South: Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans

When Peyton Manning was running the show in Indy, the Colts dominated the Texans.

The past two years have resulted in Houston's first two division titles, but Manning's successor, 2012 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck, drove his team to a shocking 11-5 record this past season.

That included seven game-winning drives (h/t and outstanding proficiency on third-and-long situations—despite lackluster pass protection.

Indianapolis brought in Luck's college offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton, to replace Bruce Arians as play-caller after Arians took the head job with the Arizona Cardinals. That should allow Luck to continue his promising development as one of the most highly touted signal-callers in recent memory.

Tons of salary cap space allowed reigning Executive of the Year Ryan Grigson to make plenty of roster upgrades for the Colts. Free agency alone netted the team two new projected starters on the offensive line, and five new faces occupying what should be an improved unit on defense (h/t

Legendary ball hawk Ed Reed signed with Houston this offseason, though, and that should automatically help what is already a loaded defense coached up by coordinator Wade Phillips.

If the Texans can add another quality receiver opposite Andre Johnson, their offense could become even more dangerous.

After Week 8 byes, these two clubs will tangle in a Sunday night affair with extra preparation time at Reliant Stadium. That comes just one game after Indianapolis hosts Manning, which should prove to be the most critical stretch of its season.

The final matchup happens in Week 15, and should have massive ramifications as to who will emerge with the AFC South crown in 2013.


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