The NFL regular season is a story that breaks down into eight subplots involving four teams apiece. Yes, we're talking about the divisional dramas, each unique in their own way.
As we head into the 2014 campaign, which division is the most compelling?
There's no weak link in the loaded NFC WestThe NFC West is my choice. We need to be careful about letting the preseason influence this call too much, so I'm basing my answer on thoughts from before the preseason even began.
It starts with the Seattle Seahawks, who still have the core of their championship team intact. Oh, and they essentially added Percy Harvin, who missed all but three games (playoffs included) last season. He could give the offense some much-needed big-play ability at the wide receiver position. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson should continue to improve.
The San Francisco 49ers upgraded their receiving corps with the addition of Stevie Johnson. And, of course, the Niners remain strong on both lines, though their secondary concerns me. The Arizona Cardinals finished strong last year, winning seven of their last nine games. They should still be tough on defense, despite some key personnel losses (Daryl Washington, Darnell Dockett and Karlos Dansby). Carson Palmer can get better in his second year in the offense, thus improving the attack as a whole. Lastly, the St. Louis Rams have Sam Bradford back, and their offensive line is better with the addition of No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson. On the other side of the ball, St. Louis boasts a defensive line that is one of the best -- if not the best -- in the NFL, along with a strong group of linebackers.
This division is the league's strongest from top to bottom. That is why I think the NFC West provides the most compelling divisional drama.
Tightly packed NFC East offers electrifying offense ... and grotesque defenseThe NFC East is the most compelling division in the NFL. As I stated last week, this is the top offensive division in football right now. All four starting quarterbacks have made the Pro Bowl, and the division also boasts three spectacular runners (LeSean McCoy, Alfred Morris and DeMarco Murray) and a number of dynamic pass catchers (including Dez Bryant, Victor Cruz, Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson). Throw in Chip Kelly's innovative scheme, and the NFC East's offensive firepower is overwhelming.
Yet, defense within the division is atrocious. With the Cowboys' shoddy tackling and the inconsistent pass coverage displayed by the Eagles, Giants and Redskins, these defenses are hard to watch. That's why I'm curious to see how the division plays out this fall. Many of the top contenders in the NFC have rugged defenses that are equipped to snuff out the league's most explosive offenses. Thus, I wonder which team will emerge from the NFC East, and if it will have enough firepower -- on both sides of the ball -- to compete with the heavyweights in the conference.
While this division is currently known for potent offense, I believe the team with the top defense will claim the crown.
Seriously, is there any answer besides the NFC West?What's your deal? Of course the NFC West is the most compelling division, largely because it is the best division.
San Francisco and Seattle are arguably the NFC's top teams (again) -- with great defenses, young quarterbacks and two prolific coaches engaged in a long-running, ludicrous personal rivalry. Arizona SHOULD have been in the playoffs last year, and St. Louis merely has the game's best defensive line. Did we mention Bruce Arians wears a red beret and is one of the game's most likeable coaches? Or that the Rams broke a significant societal barrier in drafting Michael Sam? Or that every game amongst these division rivals is likely to play a very significant role in determining home-field advantage for the playoffs?
The NFC East was once this flush with talent and intrigue. But just like all those who moved west in search of gold, football fans looking for a bounty of riches should shift their gaze to the left coast.
Tasty subplots abound in starry NFC NorthThe NFC North is the most compelling division in the NFL this year. Across the board, the storylines are ripe:
Chicago Bears: They are certainly good enough to challenge the Packers. After the club let Josh McCown walk, will Jay Cutler live up to huge expectations in Year 2 of Marc Trestman's offense? Will the defense, with the Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen acquisitions, take some pressure off the high-flying offense? Does Alshon Jeffery take another step forward or a step backward in 2014?
Detroit Lions: The Lions have the talent to at least compete for a wild-card spot. That said, which Matthew Stafford will we see this year? Will the allegedly dominant defensive front finally put its stamp on games? Many people pooh-poohed the Jim Caldwell hire, but will his brand of leadership be more impactful than that of Jim Schwartz?
Green Bay Packers: What can a fully functional Packer offense do with Aaron Rodgers at QB, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb at wideout, and Eddie Lacy in the backfield? And we should remember that Rodgers wasn't the only Green Bay star to miss time with injury last year. Will Clay Matthews return to his dominant self?
Minnesota Vikings: How good is Teddy Bridgewater? Will he -- not Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles -- make the biggest mark among rookie QBs in 2014? Can Mike Zimmer turn the Vikings' defense into a top-10 unit? Despite closing in on 30, can Adrian Peterson turn in another monster season (somewhere around 1,800 yards and 15 scores)?
The NFC North could boast the game's best quarterback, running back and wide receiver -- all on different teams. It's almost like 1997 in the old NFC Central, when Brett Favre and Barry Sanders shared the NFL MVP award while Cris Carter caught a league-high 13 touchdown passes.
Let's not overcomplicate things here, peopleThe one with Johnny Football.
(Subject to change, should Tim Tebow sign in another division.)