Before we know it, the preseason will be coming to a close, rosters will be whittled down to 53 players, and the 2014 NFL regular season will be officially underway. This is truly an exciting time of year for the game's enthusiasts. Each team starts with a clean slate, and the sky appears to be the limit.
While the season begins with every team holding equal records, it certainly won't end that way. Eight NFL teams will accumulate big enough numbers in their win columns to finish the regular season as division champions, earning postseason berths.
We won't officially know which teams will finish the season atop their respective divisions for almost five months, but it's never too early to speculate.
Let's take a look at the projected winner for each of the league's divisions and highlight a few early locks to achieve the feat.
|AFC||East||New England Patriots||12-4|
|NFC||North||Green Bay Packers||11-5|
|NFC||South||New Orleans Saints||12-4|
Sean O'Donnell's Predictions
Locks to Win Division
New England Patriots
This year's version of the Patriots could potentially be far scarier than the 2013 edition that went 12-4 to win the AFC East.
Quarterback Tom Brady has a plethora of weapons at his disposal this season. Last season, Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen broke out as reliable pass-catchers who excel at creating yards. Factor in a healthy Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski—along with the more experienced Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson—and you have quite the formidable squad.
They've already been doing work during the preseason:
The team's weakness one season ago was its defense, finishing 26th in the league in total yards allowed. Well, Vince Wilfork returns to the middle of the line this season, and New England went out and got some talent at cornerback in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Don't expect this side of the ball to be the team's Achilles' heel this season.
The AFC East's three remaining teams are still works in progress. They are young squads with the talent to challenge New England in the coming years—just not quite yet.
Last season, the Colts finished with a record of 11-5—no other AFC South team finished with more than seven wins. Here's the telling fact: None of the other three squads in the division improved enough over the offseason to make up their respective margin of victories with the Colts.
Indianapolis still has one of the league's most prolific passers in Andrew Luck. He accumulated 3,822 yards and 23 touchdowns while tossing just nine interceptions last season. This year, he has a healthy Reggie Wayne and a determined Hakeem Nicks at his disposal alongside the speedy T.Y. Hilton.
The Colts were excited to announce the return of Wayne to action:
The Tennessee Titans could be the Colts' closest competition; however, quarterback Jake Locker still had yet to prove he can play a full NFL season, and the team's backfield is in flux. The offense simply isn't strong enough to keep pace with Indianapolis.
As for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans, a reliable signal-caller must be established before considering either team a legitimate threat.
This may be a bit of a surprise considering the Eagles aren't quite as deep and well-rounded as several other projected division winners. However, Philadelphia is still chock-full of talent and is fortunate enough to play in a weak NFC East.
In head coach Chip Kelly's scheme, expect the Eagles offense to thrive once again this season. Nick Foles was extremely efficient last year, and with Jeremy Maclin back in the fold—along with the additions of rookie Jordan Matthews and veteran Darren Sproles—Philadelphia's passing attack should take a step forward.
We certainly can't overlook the presence of running back LeSean McCoy, either. Last year's rushing leader was the only NFL back who averaged over 100 yards on the ground per game. He gives Philadelphia an extremely versatile offense.
NFL.com analyst Gil Brant has been impressed with what he's seen so far:
Thought @Eagles looked good on offense and better on defense compared to last year. Jordan Matthews looks like 2nd-round steal.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) August 22, 2014
Defense was the team's weakness last season, finishing 29th in the league in total yards allowed. Philadelphia didn't exactly upgrade this unit in a significant manner but will be able to outscore most opponents throughout the season.
As for the remaining teams, the Dallas Cowboys suffered too many losses on what was the league's worst defense from a year ago, the New York Giants are struggling to get their passing game back on track, and the Washington Redskins are an improved squad but only enough to accumulate a few more wins than the three they earned in 2013.