The 2009 Toughest Division in the NFL Debate – The NFC East is the Beast of the NFL

August 31, 2009

Read Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan’s arguments for which division in the NFL will be the toughest in the 2009 season.

We are less than two weeks away from the start of the NFL season. The anticipation is building. Some starting positions have been decided, while others are still up for grabs. Once those are all settled the teams can focus on the season and made that seventeen week push to the playoffs. Some will have more difficult roads than others, due in large part to where they play – which division. For example, the NFC West and AFC West appear to be down once again. But several other division races are sure to be exciting up until Week 17. After evaluating all of the divisions, I have decided that the NFC East is the overall best division in the NFL.

One element that makes this race interesting is that all four teams are in cities that are in the top 10 in television markets. These teams do not lack for attention and it sure helps that all four are competitive. I am not sure that you can look at any other division and realistically say “Any team in that division can make the playoffs.” Last year, the four teams all had at least a .500 record. The only other division that could say that was the NFC South.

The Philadelphia Eagles, who made the playoffs last year as a wild card and advanced to the NFC conference championship, return a strong nucleus. Granted, some of the stars like quarterback Donavan McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook are getting older. But they added some potential playmakers by drafting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy. Plus, you may have heard that they also picked up a backup quarterback. Some guy by the name of Michael Vick.

The New York Giants, the reigning division winner, struggled down the stretch without Plaxico Burress. I am not convinced they have addressed their offensive concerns in the offseason. Running back Derrick Ward left via free agency. The wide receiving core is young and inexperienced. Not to mention that last season’s defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, left to become head coach of the St. Louis Rams. With that said, the Giants are just two years removed from a championship, and they still have to be considered a threat to win the division. Eli Manning also has a new contract, so he will be itching to prove his worth and prove the critics wrong who say the Giants overpaid.

The Dallas Cowboys are America’s team, and this year they are America’s team without society’s newest reality TV star Terrell Owens. This is a big year for head coach Wade Phillips, too. Missing the playoffs is a real possibility, especially in this division. You know general manager Jerry Jones will be looking for a scapegoat if the Cowboys do not make the playoffs in their first year of playing in beautiful new Cowboys Stadium. Fortunately, plenty of weapons return. The key to the Cowboys is whether or not wide receiver Roy Williams can step up and become the number one receiver the Cowboys expect him to be. The playoffs are a realistic goal.

The Washington Redskins, after getting off to a very strong start, limped to a 2-6 finish. We all know Redskins owner Daniel Snyder refuses to sit still, and he proved us right again by giving an extremely big contract to defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Perhaps no quarterback in the league is facing more pressure than Jason Campbell. After flirting with acquiring Jay Cutler and trading up to draft Mark Sanchez, the Redskins decided to stick with Campbell who is entering a contract year. Campbell is popular in the clubhouse, but it is his responsibility to get the Redskins back to the playoffs. Finishing 8-8 was the worst record in the division, which says a lot about the strength and the parity in the division.

All four of these teams can realistically make the playoffs. Can any other division say that? Maybe the AFC East. Maybe!! But the NFC East has a much stronger case and overall, from top to bottom, the teams are better. The division is the class of the NFL!

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The 2009 Toughest Division in the NFL Debate – Introducing the Tough and Challenging NFC North

August 31, 2009

Read Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer’s arguments for which division in the NFL will be the toughest in the 2009 season.

The toughest division in the NFL this season has nothing to do with 2008, and everything to do with 2009. An influx of talent, and necessary culture of change for the better, must be unmatched in any other division. With the topsy-turvy “what have you done lately” nature of the NFL, the secret to forecasting the toughest division in the NFL lies with the division with the most untapped potential. That division, without question, is the NFC North.

Rather than rookies peppering the new talent landscape in the NFC North, the new players come with tremendous experience and physical ability. Taking that into consideration, along with the fact that we are naming the TOUGHEST division, how can anyone argue against a division that includes premier linebackers Brian Urlacher and A.J. Hawk? The NFC North is synonymous with toughness, and 2009 is no exception.

The Chicago Bears focused their offseason on a single position, and vastly improved their outlook for 2009 by remaking the quarterback position. Jay Cutler offers control (as he exhibited in the third preseason game IN Denver), talent, and leadership. General manager Jerry Angelo also brought in future hall of fame left tackle Orlando Pace to protect Cutler’s blind side and also get more push on the left side in goal line situations. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner has also tailored the offense to Cutler’s liking, giving him plenty of long ball opportunities (to avoid the desire to force one) while also creating excellent check downs to running backs Matt Forte and Kevin Jones. The Bears have great special teams, too. Oh, then there’s the defense. While they were riddled with injuries in 2008, the entire defense returns healthy. Perhaps most importantly, the Bears are avoiding indecision and transition now. Eliminating former quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman are big helps, but also getting rid of perpetually injured strong safety Mike Brown was important. Certainty and consistent are the friends of winning teams.

Speaking of which, perhaps the team with the most upside and potential for 2009 is the team with the least movement in the 2008-2009 offseason. The Green Bay Packers got better by playing together and getting more comfortable on both the offensive and defensive sides. They have needed no big offseason acquisitions, no splashy trades, no tough losses to free agency. They were steady from a personnel standpoint. Normally this brings words like “plateau” and “status quo” to mind. But the Packers will improve. They have quarterback Aaron Rodgers, in my opinion the best draft pick from 2005 draft. All he did was throw for over 4,000 yards last season with strong and steady wide receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. The running back position is more solid for 2009, too, with five capable running backs on the roster. Starter Ryan Grant is now a proven force in the league, but Brandon Jackson proved he is an excellent third down back and running option. Youngsters Kregg Lumpkin and rookie Tyrell Sutton are a good potential thunder and lightning type combination, and DeShawn Wynn has the type of balance and explosiveness all general manager’s seek.

The Minnesota Vikings were already strong on defense and special teams last season (how is this the first season where special teams coordinator is regarded as an “official” coordinator??). The offense needed to improve and become more consistent. It has, thanks to the late preseason acquisition of quarterback Brett Favre. Though some in the clubhouse have not welcomed Favre with open arms, his style and success will change all of that. Once open receivers are hit, along with the balance of running back Adrian Peterson, a good offense becomes a potentially big play offense. Playmaker Percy Harvin adds excitement to the mix, as well, improving the overall team speed and explosiveness. The defense was good last year and will remain good, frustrating good running games with the Williams brothers in the middle and creating havoc in the passing game with pass rush specialist Jared Allen.

And then there is the Detroit Lions. I will not insult anyone by saying they will be tough. But, three top notch teams in a division is pretty darn good. At year’s end, they will be better than any other division – this season’s version of the AFC East.

You may have read this entire article and still ask yourself, “How in the world can this moron pick a division that contained a 0-16 team as the toughest?” Simple – momentum. How can the Lions get any worse? That cannot. And there is a good chance they will be good. New coaches, fresh perspective, easy schedule, and low expectations. It is a good formula for surprising in the NFL. They will just have to get past the rest of their division, and that will be no easy task.

The reality and parity of the NFL dictates that it is impossible to forecast or predict anything. Making an unconventional, bold pick is the surest way to be labeled a moron in the preseason, and get forgotten when it actually happens. As I have pointed out before, bold is my middle name. I do not shy away from making a courageous proclamation. Especially when I feel I am right.

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The 2009 Toughest Division in the NFL Debate – The East Coast Excitement Continues in 2009!

August 31, 2009

Read Sports Geek and Loyal Homer’s arguments for which division in the NFL will be the toughest in the 2009 season.

It’s football week at The Sports Debates! And what better way to kick it off than to take a look at which division in the NFL is going to be the toughest, most competitive in the league?

Sports Geek is arguing for the NFC North, and Loyal Homer is arguing for the NFC East.

As for Bleacher Fan, I asked myself the following three questions to try and determine which will be the division to watch in 2009:

  1. 2008 Performance (Was it a competitive division top-to-bottom last year?)
  2. Personnel (Did all of the teams within the division get better in the offseason?)
  3. 2009 Schedule (Will the season provide a strong enough test for the division?)

There was only one division that I could answer ‘YES’ to all of the questions, and that was the AFC East.

2008 Performance

Going into the 2008 season, many expected the NFC East to be the toughest division in football. The New York Giants were reigning 2007 Super Bowl champs, and the Dallas Cowboys were a very popular preseason pick to represent the NFC in 2008. Also in the mix were the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, both with potential to upset the balance of power in the division. Top to bottom, the NFC East appeared to be the division to watch.

The 2008 season, however, proved those expectations wrong. Thanks to quarterback issues, the Cowboys and Eagles both had periodic struggles (Dallas collapsed after Tony Romo’s injury and Philadelphia had a minor mid-season controversy after benching Donovan McNabb). In Washington, the Redskins ended up being the most unpredictable team in football. They were able to win in Dallas, defeated the NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals, and won both games against the Eagles (who also reached the NFC Championship game), but lost to the St. Louis Rams (who finished the season at 2-14), the Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1), and the San Francisco 49ers (7-9).

Instead, the AFC East ended up as the most exciting to watch. Entering week 17 of the season, the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots were both tied at 10-5, with the New York Jets one game behind at 9-6. There were many different playoff scenarios for the division. It was entirely possible that all three teams could finish tied at 10-6. It was also possible that ALL THREE teams could make the playoffs, or only ONE of the three could make the playoffs. Making the division race even more exciting was the fact that the Jets were scheduled to play the Dolphins that week.

When the dust settled, the Dolphins (who just one year prior finished with a league-worst 1-15 record) ended up clinching the division by defeating the Jets 24-17. The Patriots, who finished 2008 with a very impressive 11-5 record DESPITE losing Tom Brady in week 1, still somehow missed the playoffs, becoming the first 11-win team in over 20 years not to reach the postseason.


All four teams have upgraded in the offseason. The most notable signings for each team are:

  • The Patriots expect to bring quarterback Tom Brady back this season (although a shoulder injury at the hands of Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth last weekend has some questioning his current health).
  • The Jets feel confident that they can successfully work their highly rated draft pick out of Southern Cal, quarterback Mark Sanchez, into their offense.
  • In Buffalo, the big news of the offseason was the signing of Pro Bowl wide receiver Terrell Owens
  • The Dolphins resigned their former Defensive Player of the Year, Pro Bowler Jason Taylor, after he spent the last season in Washington.

2009 Schedule

The AFC East will be facing off against the AFC South and the NFC South in 2009. While those divisions include a couple teams which could provide for easy pickings (primarily the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars), the majority of teams on their schedule are expected to perform very well this year. In 2008, the Jaguars were the only team to finish below .500, and four of the eight teams finished with more than 10 wins: the Tennessee Titans (13-3), Carolina Panthers (12-4), Indianapolis Colts (12-4), and the Atlanta Falcons (11-5). All four of those teams also reached the playoffs last season, and should provide some stiff competition for the AFC East in 2009.

When you break down all of the factors that make for exciting football to watch (talent, expectations, and challenges), the AFC East has it all. I expect the division race to once again go all the way to the last week of the season, and once again expect to see multiple teams also in the Wild Card hunt. In 2009, the best football will be played in the toughest division in the NFL – the AFC East!

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