Holler: Predicting the NFL by division

The uncertain beast that is the NFL is a hard one to predict, but we’ll take our best shot.

With the long dormancy of NFL games that count about to officially end Thursday night when the Seattle Seahawks host the Green Bay Packers and the championship banner in unfurled, it’s time for predictions to be made.

While a lot of Vikings fans are drinking the Kool Aid, I’m tempering my enthusiasm in the first year and with a brutal opening schedule. The reality of the NFL is that the difference between great teams and good teams isn’t that much, and the difference between decent teams and bad teams is even less.

Had 2013 games been 59 minutes long, the Vikings would have finished 10-6, hosted a playoff game and Leslie Frazier would still be in Minnesota, not in Tampa Bay. Instead, they went 5-10-1 and change is in the air.

I have a glass poured in front of me, but I’m not ready to drink it just yet. Do I think the Vikings have the chance to win 10 games? Yes. Am I predicting them to win 10 games? Not just yet.

With that out of the way, here are our 2014 predictions for who rises to the top and who sinks to the bottom. We even go so far as to make the wins and losses match up.

AFC EAST: PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH – 1. New England (12-4); 2. Miami (8-8); 3. Buffalo (7-9); 4. New York Jets (6-10). It’s hard to imagine anyone but the Patriots dominating this division because, quite simply, nobody else has an elite quarterback. The Patriots are losing some of their dominance, but they aren’t dead yet.

AFC NORTH: PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH – 1. Cincinnati (10-6); 2. Baltimore (9-7); 3. Pittsburgh (8-8); 4. Cleveland (5-11). It’s going to be one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL because the divisions boasts a lot of players with championship rings. But the Steelers and Ravens are both getting old as a team and they’re slipping back in terms of being dominant for 60 minutes. The Bengals won’t run away with the division, but it’s theirs to win. Cleveland will go with Johnny Football when their fan base revolts and the results may be revolting more times than not.

AFC SOUTH: PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH – 1. Indianapolis (11-5); 2. Tennessee (7-9); 3. Houston (7-9); 4. Jacksonville (3-13). Another division, same issue. Andrew Luck is an elite QB getting better. The Jaguars and Titans hope they have the answer, but neither is a polished product. The Texans don’t have a clue, but have enough defense to contend with the addition of Jadeveon Clowney to man up opposite J.J. Watt.

AFC WEST: PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH – 1. Denver (12-4); 2. San Diego (10-6); 3. Kansas City (8-8); 4. Oakland (5-11). If Peyton Manning stays healthy, another trip to the Super Bowl is more than possible. It’s probable. The Chargers have a good thing going, but don’t have the horses to be anything more than a wild card. Too many changes on the O-line will hurt Jamaal Charles. If Charles is stopped, so is K.C.’s offense. The Raiders are a train wreck. Spoiler alert!

NFC EAST: PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH – 1. Philadelphia (10-6); 2. New York Giants (8-8); 3. Dallas Cowboys (7-9); 4. Washington (6-10). Chip Kelly is on to something, but few teams are going to be more combustible than the Eagles. They could go 12-4. They could go 6-10. There is no division in the NFL where first-to-worst and back again is an annual ritual like it is here. The offensive nickname could win … or finish last. Dallas doesn’t have the defense to win enough 41-38 games. The G-Men rise and fall like a heart monitor. First? Maybe. Last? Maybe. 8-8? Probably.

NFC SOUTH: PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH – 1. New Orleans (11-5); 2. Atlanta (7-9); 3. Carolina (6-10); 4. Tampa Bay (5-11). The case of the haves and the have nots. Carolina and Tampa Bay have defenses that are capable of dominating. But they have offenses that are likely a year or more away. Atlanta went from the penthouse to the outhouse last year and that stink may be a year away from the Fabreze working. The Saints have too much offense to not run away with this division.

NFC WEST: PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH – 1. San Francisco (12-4); 2. Seattle (11-5); 3. Arizona (7-9); St. Louis (4-12). As hard as it is to admit, had the Rams had Sam Bradford, they could make the playoffs. Without him, St. Louis is going to struggle to win games with a 13-10 score. This division is all about the Big Daddies. The 49ers have more offense and Seattle is going to have a bull’s eye on its back every game. That’s enough for the Niners to ride the lightning bolt in the NFL’s best division.

NFC NORTH: PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Green Bay (11-5); 2. Chicago (10-6); 3. Minnesota (8-8); 4. Detroit (6-10). The Packers have taken a step back because they’ve allowed too many of Aaron Rodgers’ security blankets to get away. They have one last ride left in the current crew. Make the most of it, boys. The Bears defense is too Jurassic to make a Super Bowl run, but its offense will make some noise. Detroit is Detroit and it will find a way to squander talent. The Vikings will have to roll the division to win the division. The difference between being 11-5 and 6-10 is razor thin. 2013 taught the remaining Vikings from the old regime what that was all about. There isn’t a team in the division without flaws. The Packers need to go injury-free. The Bears need to add extra training tables to keep everyone important on the field in November and December (much less January).

In the end, come Christmastime, these predictions may prove to be brutally flawed. But now that W’s and L’s make a difference, it’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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