There are divisions that are noted for their defenses and then there are the divisions where you are expecting every game within the division to be a shoot-out. Either way, you want to know who is in and who is out.
Remember within a division the teams will see each other at least twice. It is good to know if the matchup will be advantageous or should your fantasy fortunes look the other way. And when they are playing out of division do they have an advantage?
Here are the sleepers, busts, and breakouts in each division. Although it must be admitted that some divisions have no clear-cut busts, and some have nothing but breakout potential.
This was a division that was dominated by the New England Patriots. Oh, how the times have changed.
SLEEPER: NEW YORK JETS
The Jets won free agency and the draft. And yes, the game is played on the field, but they have collected more than enough to improve yet again. In free agency, the Jets acquired tight ends, Tyler Conklin and CJ Uzomah, CB D.J Reed, DT Solomon Thomas, and DE Jacob Martin. In the NFL 2022 Draft, the additions of RB Breece Hall, WR Garrett Wilson and CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner will improve both offensive and defensive sides.
Last season they were 4-13 in head coach Robert Saleh’s first season. That is two wins more than his predecessor.
The Jets aren’t getting any help with their schedule, Sharp Football Analysis has them with the fifth hardest strength of schedule and a win total of 5.5 games. But that’s why they play the game.
BUSTS: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
I know it is against all the rules of nature to go against Bill Belichick, but when you lose Josh McDaniels and replace him with Matt Patricia there is reason to worry.
BREAKOUTS: BUFFALO BILLS
This is too easy. The Bills are not only the best team in this division but arguably the best team in the league.
The Bills are currently the favorite at +600 to win the Super Bowl.
It is appropriate that the division is in the West because every game promises to be a shoot-out.
SLEEPER: DENVER BRONCOS
BUSTS: KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
It isn’t that I believe they will have a losing record. It is just the belief that the division has caught up with them. That and the loss of Tyreek Hill who had 24 touchdowns in the last two season and possesses the speed and playmaking ability that will be hard to replicate. Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid will compensate but Mecole Hardman, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling aren’t Hill.
BREAKOUTS: LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Have y’all forgotten the Raiders were in the playoffs last season? That was with all the internal turmoil including the loss of the head coach and speedster wide receiver.
Now offensive guru Josh McDaniels is the head coach and Derek Carr’s friend and perhaps one of the top three wide receivers in the game, Davante Adams joins Hunter Renfrow, Josh Jacobs, and Darren Waller.
This looks good.
A division once known for its defensive superiority is having quarterback issues.
SLEEPER: PITTSBURGH STEELERS
After 18 seasons the Steelers will have a new quarterback under center. It will start with Mitchell Trubisky and could end up with Kenny Pickett. The defense that was once dominant gave up a league-high 143.8 rushing yards per game last season. And they still made the playoffs (thanks Brandon Staley).
Besides everyone is counting them out and well…Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season. It won’t start now. (PS Yes, this may be a hopeful homer pick).
BUSTS: CLEVELAND BROWNS
Pay a quarterback $230 million fully guaranteed. Have said quarterback be suspended for 11 games in the season. Oh, and this quarterback hasn’t played a snap since 2020.
This isn’t a winning formula.
BREAKOUTS: BALTIMORE RAVENS
Lamar Jackson is playing for a contract. Last season he only played 12 games and he still managed to throw for 2882 yards while rushing for 767 yards.
The defense is elite. Even with the plethora of injuries they suffered last season, they were second in rushing yards allowed (84.5). Yes, they were 32nd in passing yards allowed per game (278.9) but that can be attributed to the losses of Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, and Deshon Elliott in the secondary and Derek Wolfe and L J Fort on the line.
This is the division of upheaval. New coaches, new quarterbacks and then there is Tennessee.
SLEEPER: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
I so want to believe that Trevor Lawrence’s 59.6% completion rate and 12 touchdowns 17 interceptions was a product of bad coaching.
Either way, Doug Pederson is a step up and that makes the Jaguars better than last season. Even if it is just the moral victory of stability.
BUSTS: TENNESSEE TITANS
The Titans have Derrick Henry. They lost AJ Brown. And Ryan Tannehill is trending down, after his untimely interceptions in the playoff game. But even during the season, his stats were falling. His 7.0 yards per attempt was his lowest in the last three years, his 21 touchdowns were the least amount in the last three years and his 14 interceptions doubled the amount he had the year before.
BREAKOUTS: HOUSTON TEXANS
This is a division that could have the most surprising turnaround. Yet, it is also one of the more stable divisions.
SLEEPER: NEW YORK GIANTS
Okay, so all isn’t completely stable. The new coach is the “quarterback whisperer” Brain Daboll. Now he has one year to make Daniel Jones worthy of a new quarterback. It is true his stable of wide receivers does not inspire confidence and the release of Evan Engram makes rookie Daniel Bellinger TE1. But if Saquon Barkley, year removed from his ACL injury can give a glimpse of rookie Barkley then I’m saying there’s a chance.
BUSTS: DALLAS COWBOYS
Yes, they might win the division (this isn’t the most loaded division) but do you trust any of the coaches to steer them through the playoffs?
BREAKOUT: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
The Eagles acquired AJ Brown during the draft. That was an immediate upgrade to their receiving corps. Their quarterback Jalen Hurts improved his completion percentage from 52.% to 61.3% and along the way he rushed for 782 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.
And according to Sharp Football Analysis, they have the second easiest schedule predicting 8.5 wins (The New York Giants have the easiest schedule per Sharp but only 7.1 predicted wins).
SLEEPER: SAN FRANCISCO NINERS
Not sure if a team that was one bad throwaway from the Super Bowl is a sleeper but here, we are. The Niners will put Trey Lance under center. It can also boast Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and a good rotation of running backs.
On the defensive side, you have a defensive line that is top tier. The linebackers, Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair have little trouble controlling their field holding opponents to 311.8 total yards a game (4th) and running backs to 98.7 yards per game (6th). The defensive line is deep with most notable Nick Bosa who had 15.5 sacks last season.
The point is the offense isn’t a liability and the defense can win you games.
BUSTS: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
In this division, there can be no other. The Seahawks not only jettisoned quarterback Russell Wilson but they also lost linebacker Bobby Wagner. The defense is switching to a 3-4 and the offense will go with Geno Smith to start the season.
None of that feels right.
BREAKOUT: LOS ANGELES RAMS
Not sure if the reigning Super Bowl Champs can be a breakout? Can They? The only other choice is the Arizona Cardinals and well DeAndre Hopkins is out for six weeks, quarterback Kyler Murray is a better play caller than head coach Kliff Kingsbury and the late season collapse is a thing.
So, ta da…Rams win!
SLEEPER: DETROIT LIONS
Anyone who has watched this season of Hard Knocks has to believe.
But back to reality, PFF analyst Mike Renner has the offensive line ranked third. The offensive weapons include tight end TJ Hockenson (TE15, 83 targets, 61 receptions four touchdowns 2021), Amon-Ra St. Brown(WR21, 119 targets, 90 receptions, 5 touchdowns 2021), fresh from Jacksonville DJ Chark and hopefully Jameson Williams. And we know the defense may not win games, but we are sure they will not lose them.
BUST: GREEN BAY PACKERS
Lose the best receiver in the game and what do you get? A disgruntled overpaid quarterback.
The defense may be able to win them a couple of games, but it won’t be enough.
BREAKOUT: CHICAGO BEARS
Matt Nagy was the Urban Meyer of the NFC. It just took longer to realize it. Now the Bears are playing under head coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. Both understand that playing to a players strength might be a way to go.
There was a glimpse of the possibilities in the third preseason game this year. In that game quarterback Justin Fields passed for 156 yards on 16 attempts. He also had three passing touchdowns while rushing for 11 yards on two carries. It was preseason but still.
It was refreshing to see an offense designed for a player instead of an offense designed and player be damned.
SLEEPER: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
The Saints lost head coach Sean Payton. And that’s about it. Every other coach is still in New Orleans…continuity. Quarterback Jameis Winston is presumably healthy. Wide receiver Michael Thomas could make an appearance sometime this season. Rookie wide receiver Chris Olave brings added hope. But perhaps most important is a defense that ranked in the top half in every statistical category is mostly intact with its defensive coordinator still at the helm.
The Saints offense remains a slight question mark (will Dennis Allen unleash Winston, or will he reign him in) but the defense is good enough to win games.
BUST: CAROLINA PANTHERS
On the plus side the defense is pretty good.
BREAKOUT: TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
This is an assignment by default. I think Atlanta will be better than last year but still dwell in the bottom of this division.
The Buccaneers will have a struggle with the offensive line and a not so mobile quarterback, but the quarterback has shown he has overcome stiffer odds.
There really is no secret to predicting who is going to break out and who will shit the bed each season. Injuries can’t be foreseen, and the human element is always a crap shoot.
All we can do is look at the stats and hope for the best and don’t forget it is a game that real people play.
Good Luck and Yaa Football is Back.