Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Recapping the NFL Season ... Division Style

The 2011 NFL season is over and we are now in postseason mode. So let's look back at the past year through the eyes of each division. Half of the divisions were won by one game or less. And, since we all know the BCS is the greatest system of determining a champion that has ever been created, let's use it to see who should be each division's champion.

1-AFC NORTH: Great season for the AFC North, who saw three of its four teams qualify for the postseason. The Ravens and Steelers each finished 12-4 and are, along with the Patriots, among the favorites to win the AFC. Cincinnati surprised many by going 9-7 and making the playoffs as well and showing that the future is really bright in Cincy. No, it wasn't a great year in Cleveland but the Browns, at one point, were 4-6.

Going forward, this division looks like they are stacked. Sure, Baltimore and Pittsburgh's defenses are aging but these are two solid organizations who do well at acquiring talent.

BCS CHAMPION: Ravens. Yeah, B-more and Pitt tied atop the division. But Ravens, along with the Packers, were the only NFL teams who went 6-0 in their division and 8-0 at home.

2-NFC SOUTH: Two teams, the Saints and Falcons, made the playoffs and both are riding pretty high. N'Awlins set all kinds of passing records and may be the most fun team to watch. The Carolina Panthers showed that their future is bright with an amazing season by rookie Cam Newton. Steve Smith was Steve Smith again. Tampa was a disaster but this was a 10-win team a year ago.

Let's see, a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Josh Freeman moving forward? Not too bad.

BCS CHAMPION: Saints. New Orleans won the division by three games and outscored opponents by a NFL-best 208 points. They also finished strong, winning their final 8 games.

3-NFC NORTH: The Packers finished 15-1 (loss to the Chiefs?) and are stacking for the next several years. Aaron Rodgers has emerged as one of the best QBs in the league. Matt Stafford is nearly getting to the level in Detroit and the Lions made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. No fluke here as the Lions were many people's sleeper team at the start of the year. The Chicago Bears were in the running for a playoff bid before injuries, especially to Jay Cutler, did them in. The Vikings season was bad, but they have some pieces in place.

Hopefully the Packers and Lions will become the offensive version of the Ravens and Steelers for years to come.

BCS CHAMPION: Packers. 15-1 season, undefeated in division and highest point differential. Easy.

4-AFC EAST: Weird season. New England sits atop the AFC with a crazy efficient offense but this defense is among the worst in the league. The rest of the division was very average at best. The Bills started 4-1 before losing 9 of their last 11 games. The Dolphins started 0-7 before winning 6 of their last 9 games. The Jets, easily, had an extremely disappointing and streaky season. They had two separate 3-game winning streaks and two separate 3-game losing streaks.

Who knows what this division will become? The Pats, despite their defense, still is in elite territory. The Jets are better than what they showed this season. The Bills and Dolphins are very talented but it just doesn't seem all there.

BCS CHAMPION: Patriots. Won the division by 5 games, won their last 8 games and, despite a poor defense, dominanted opponents.

5-NFC WEST: This was a joke of a division last season, but they stepped up a bit this year. The 49ers just cruised through and won the division handily, making many to believe the division to be poor. But the Cardinals (8-8) and Seahawks (7-9) found their way in the playoff race down the stretch. Neither team is really set for long term success but it is something to build upon. St. Louis stunk it up and have cleaned house.

San Francisco looks like they are back and are a very strong candidate to get to the Super Bowl. The others have a lot of work to do to compete on that level.

BCS CHAMPION: 49ers. They won the division by 5 games.

6-AFC SOUTH: Just a completely puzzling division. With Peyton Manning out for the season, the Houston Texans were heavy favorites to win the AFC South. They did, but saw their team decimated by injuries. They used four QBs and barely got anything from Andre Johnson this year. Still, they won and showed that they are deeply talented. The Colts were the worst team in the league, will get the No. 1 pick Andrew Luck, but have sort of cleaned house. Who knows if Manning will be back in Indy?

The Titans nearly snuck into the playoffs; the Jaguars did alright behind MJD. Both have young QBs to head down the road.

7-NFC EAST: This division isn't filled with bad teams, but this is a very disappointing season. The Giants started 6-2 and finished 3-5. Dallas was all over the place but did start 7-4 before losing 4 of their last 5. The Dream Team Eagles might actually be the biggest disappointment in the NFL this season, but did win their last 4 games to break even at 8-8 (and finished a game back of the division title). The Redskins finished in last place again, but did start 3-1 (uh, and finished 2-10).

The Cowboys and Eagles are better than this. Heck, the Giants are too. This division should be better next year. The Redskins offense is a mess but, sadly, that was by design. They rebuilt a horrible defense last offseason and plan to do the same to the offense this one. We'll see.

BCS CHAMPION: Eagles. They finished stronger than anyone, were 5-1 against the division (no one else finished over .500) and easily had the highest point differential.

8-AFC WEST: I'm not a Tim Tebow hater at all, but remember that this division was won by a team whose QB can't pass very well. Seriously look at the division this season. Everyone finished 8-8 except for the 7-9 Chiefs. Everyone was 3-3 within the division. Kyle Orton started the season as the Broncos starter and ended it as the Chiefs starter. The Raiders planted Carson Palmer as the starter and, in 10 games, tossed 16 interceptions.

Of the four teams, only the Chargers scored more points than their opponent (+29). Division champion Denver were outscored by 81 points this season.

Going forward, this division is in disarray. The Tebow experiment will continue into next year but he has to expand his passing if it is to be successful. Oakland gave up a ton for Palmer so he's in, but with the passing of Al Davis, who knows how the franchise will continue to run. Kansas City doesn't know who their QB is (Orton or Matt Cassell) and they've already fired their coach. San Diego could fire both their coach and/or GM.

BCS CHAMPION: Chargers. San Diego was the only team to outscore their opponents this year. They finished 4-1 and crushed Baltimore. No one else deserves it.

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