Every NFL team enters the season with dreams of winning a Super Bowl. But before anyone gets too ring-crazy, a more straightforward endeavor beckons: winning a division title. For some, this objective is clearly challenging enough. Here is the team with the longest active division-title drought in each NFL neighborhood (dry-spell durations in parentheses):
Yes, you know where we're going with this debate ... You must choose one of the above teams to snap the drought in 2014 and win a division title. Who do you roll with?
Detroit's potent offense inspires hope, but can the secondary hold up?To me, given the teams listed above, it comes down to Detroit or Tampa Bay. And I'm going with the Lions over the Buccaneers because of Matthew Stafford.
Detroit has all of the pieces in place to have a top-ranked offense, including a quarterback who's averaged 4,885 passing yards over the past three seasons. The Lions boast weapons at every offensive position, which makes them very tough to defend. On the other side of the ball, the defensive line has the potential to be stout. The secondary is this team's weakness, especially the cornerback position. I don't consider Detroit to be the division favorite, but in the context of this question, the Lions stand out.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay should have a strong defense. If the Bucs get improved O-line play and better-than-solid quarterbacking, they could win their division. While Josh McCown is the current starter at QB, I'd keep an eye on Mike Glennon to see how he progresses in the preseason. The second-year man got off to a nice start in the preseason opener, completing 11 of his 19 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown.
Bills have the pieces to end Patriots' AFC East reignSeveral of the teams here will be improved ... but, of course, that's not the question. The Lions, Jags, Bucs and Rams are all on the upswing, but none will threaten for divisional supremacy.
The Bills, on the other hand, have a legitimate shot at the AFC East title in 2014. I recognize Tom Brady's gang tends to have the division wrapped up by the time Halloween arrives each year, but Buffalo's defense looks scary enough to at least delay the (seemingly) inevitable this time around. For all the New England QB's virtues, Mr. Bündchen has a significant kryptonite: He becomes quite mortal when defenders join him in the pocket. As it happens, the Bills' front four (with talented former first-rounders Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes, plus human forklift Kyle Williams) excels at getting in the offensive backfield.
More heralded is the bounty of offensive playmakers the Bills have. Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan have gotta be envious of/nervous about what Buffalo will run out this year. If EJ Manuel can just do a good (enough) job of getting the ball in the hands of Messrs. Watkins, Spiller, Woods, Jackson & Williams ... look out.
With offseason reinforcements, Lions cannot be overlookedThe Lions make the most sense to me because I can't envision a scenario in which the Cowboys overcome their league-worst defense. The rest of the teams, including the Rams, have major question marks at quarterback.
Although the Packers deserve to be heavy favorites to repeat as NFC North champions, all bets are off if Aaron Rodgers misses multiple games with an injury again. After spending the majority of last season with an overmatched Kris Durham as the No. 2 option the passing game, the Lions have added reliable Golden Tate and athletic rookie tight end Eric Ebron to a suddenly dangerous aerial attack. Throw in a solid offensive line and a three-headed backfield, and this offense has top-five potential.
Browns have a chance with Mike Pettine directing vicious DSince I must choose one ...
I choose Cleveland! Yes, Cleveland! (Not that I'm making the Browns my official AFC North pick, but there's a chance!!)
I think Cleveland goes 8-8 this year with a fantastic defense under new coach Mike Pettine. (For my expanded thoughts on said defense, click here.) The Browns significantly improved the run game with the offseason additions of Ben Tate (free agency) and Terrance West (draft). And lastly, I'm a big fan of Johnny Manziel in Kyle Shanahan's offense.
If Jim Caldwell can tidy things up in Detroit, watch outThe Detroit Lions are the team that I would roll with in this debate. Jim Caldwell inherited a playoff-ready team with the talent to knock off heavyweights in the NFL. Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson comprise an explosive threesome that spearheads a potent offensive attack. If Stafford can cut down on the turnovers and get timely contributions from Golden Tate, Eric Ebron and Joique Bell, the Lions can score 30-plus points a game in spectacular fashion.
On defense, the Lions simply need their vaunted D-line to live up to the hype. Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah are capable of wreaking havoc at the point of attack, creating turnover chances for what could be an opportunistic secondary.
If Caldwell can get the Lions to avoid the silly penalties that plagued the team under his predecessor, he could have Detroit wearing the NFC North crown at season's end.