Every fan knows that their division is the toughest. That's why we're called fans. We're fans of the game, our teams, and our divisions.
With regards to any one specific team, no true fan is a fan of an opposing inner-division team, with respect for a team or respect for an opposing player being somewhat of an exception to that rule.
But when an opposing division is compared to my division, the NFC South, as a fan like any other, I always tend to stick up for my division no matter how good or horrible it may be.
This year, the AFC just managed to squeak by the NFC with an overall record of 130-125-1, while the NFC fell just short (thanks mostly to the Detroit Lions) with a record of 125-130-1.
Adding to the fact that the AFC held a slight edge over the NFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers—an AFC team—won the Super Bowl.
I'm trying my own formula, using the regular season winning percentage of each team's division over a three-year period (2006-2008), and using that average as the winning percentage for 2009.
Here's a summary of what 2009 should hold for each division, and where they are ranked in the preseason.
8. NFC West
Last season, the Arizona Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.
A lot of that success was attributed to the great passing game from quarterback Kurt Warner to receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.
The Cardinals also had a decent running game with running backs Tim Hightower and Edgerrin James.
I don't look for Arizona to win their division this year; rather, the Seattle Seahawks will retake the NFC West.
The NFC West will have an overall winning percentage of 40.2, thus remaining in the outhouse.
7. AFC West
This offseason, Denver traded Jay Cutler for Kyle Orton—their biggest mistake in franchise history. This, along with hiring Josh McDaniels as their head coach after firing Mike Shanahan, is yet another huge mistake. The Denver Broncos will finish just above .500, while the Chargers once again represent the division in the playoffs.
Even though Denver made some nice acquisitions during free agency, it still won't cover the cost of losing Cutler for Orton, or Shanahan for rookie Josh McDaniels.
The Raiders should do better after signing quarterback Jeff Garcia to "backup" current starter JaMarcus Russell, and drafting outstanding wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey.
The AFC West will have an overall 43.3 winning percentage, keeping it one step over the NFC West.
6. NFC North
I will take the Bears to win the North, mainly because of their new franchise quarterback, Jay Cutler. So long Orton. Take a nap, Rex. Cutler will show everyone in the NFC North how loud the Bears roar.
The Packers and Vikings will win a game apiece against each other, while losing both their matchups against the Bears.
The Lions are a lost cause for at least one more year.
The NFC North will finish their regular season with a 46.9 winning percentage.
5. NFC South
Even though the NFC South didn't have a single team finish under .500 in 2008, the two previous years weren't as generous, seeing the division finish under .500 overall.
Jake Delhomme's shaky passing game and the coaching staff's lack of a running game was the demise that befell the Panthers in the playoffs.
I don't look at this year as a rebuilding one for the NFC South, and while statistically they rank fifth in the league, they will finish strong in the regular season, perhaps to the first or second-ranked division overall.
The Panthers will compete in the playoffs as a Wildcard, and the Falcons will win the division this year.
The Panthers will buck their trend of missing the playoffs after a winning season, while the Falcons, who didn't finish last in the division will finish first, while still denying the NFC South adage of last-to-first that the Panthers started last season.
The NFC South will finish with a winning percentage of .500 or better.
4. AFC North
Once again, I see the Steelers finishing strong in their division, with the Ravens nipping at their heels to finish at a close second.
The AFC North will finish with a 50.3 winning percentage.
3. AFC East
Even without their franchise quarterback, the Patriots still managed an impressive 11-5 record while just missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The Dolphins became the AFC East champions for the first time in almost a decade, while the Bills and Jets missed out yet again. The Jets were the heartbreakers, just missing out on a playoff berth with Brett Favre as their quarterback.
This year the Dolphins will settle back down, but I see them finishing second to the division-winning Patriots.
The AFC East will finish with a 52.6 winning percentage.
2. NFC East
Last season the NFC East looked to be the division to beat early on in the season. This season, I am predicting them to be the division to beat, yet again, only this time the NFC East looks to have solidified itself with a lot of solid playmakers on each team.
The NFC East will finish with a 57.6 winning percentage or better.
1. AFC South
It's difficult to predict the AFC South as the strongest division to start the season. The Colts lost head coach Tony Dungy to retirement and defensive coordinator Ron Meeks left for Carolina.
The Titans are still a one-dimensional run-first team with a mediocre-at-best quarterback situation. Kerry Collins was a great game manager for much of the season, since he had an excellent running game to rely heavily upon.
Gone from the Titans is Albert Haynesworth, an anchor on defense for the Titans.
I look for the AFC South to actually be a pretty tight division this year: Jacksonville will finish third, the Colts and Titans will finish first and second, and the Texans will finish fourth. I don't see any of these teams finishing worse than 8-8.
The AFC South will finish the season with a 59.4 winning percentage or better.
With the NFC South remaining a very competitive division within itself, I can see a very close competition between the Falcons, Panthers, and Saints to represent the division in the playoffs this season.
While I hold the Saints with a lot of respect, they have a lot of question marks still on their roster. One of their biggest question marks is still Reggie Bush.
The Saints lost workhorse running back Deuce McAlister to retirement, so their running game is a very big question mark in the preseason.
If the Saints can make a strong case for their running game and mix that well with the passing game they had last season, then the Saints could very well win the games to get the Wildcard from the Panthers.
The Buccaneers are in a rebuilding phase. They lost a lot of big-name veterans, but it's better for the Bucs' growth. I don't see them finishing any better than 8-8.
In order for the Panthers to remain competitive in the division, they'll need to stay healthy, Delhomme will need to be even more consistent than he was last season, and the Panthers defensive secondary will need to step their game up big time.
As far as Julius Peppers is concerned, newly drafted defensive end Everette Brown will actually be an improvement over Peppers, and if Peppers chooses to sit out the season, I really don't see much problem with Brown sharing some of the workload with Hilee Taylor, Charles Johnson, and Tyler Brayton.
Depth will also be added to the Panthers offensive line with the return of linebacker Dan Connor, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during the 2008 preseason. Even if he contributes primarily on special teams, Connor will bring speed and tenacity to the Panthers offensive line.
Everette Brown will bring a dimension to the pass-rush that Panthers fans have always wanted, but never got to fully see from Peppers.
There's still time for something to be done with Peppers, but I wouldn't count too much on anything at this point. I figure he will either be on the field or sitting out. Until he signs his franchise tender, there is no team that is seriously interested in him.
My prediction for Carolina: 10-6; Wildcard.