NFL Analysis


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Ranking Each NFL Division Winner's Chances to Repeat in 2024

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid with quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) against the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the great attractions of the NFL is the turnover in division champions and playoff teams from one season to the next. It gives every team and its fan base hope for upcoming success.

Only half of the eight division winners in 2022 repeated in 2023. The Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defended their division crowns last season, while the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions supplanted the Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings, respectively.

Overall, there were six new playoff teams last season. From 2021 to 2022, there were four new division champs and seven new playoff teams — half the field.

In the NFC East, it’s been 20 years since there was a repeat champion in the division (Eagles 2003-2004).

The draft and the bulk of free agency are concluded. Here are my confidence ratings for the chances of the division champs from 2023 repeating.

8. NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It was a close call to pick the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over Dallas as the least likely to repeat as division champs. The Bucs have won the NFC South three straight years but they’re due to pass the torch because they should have two teams in close pursuit instead of one for the Cowboys.

The Bucs will be pushed hard by the New Orleans Saints, who finished with the same 9-8 record in 2023, and the Atlanta Falcons, who added quality starting QB Kirk Cousins to a talented team.

The Buccaneers won five of their last six regular-season games in 2023 to win the division and had an impressive playoff win against the Eagles before losing at Detroit. They made good moves by re-signing QB Baker Mayfield after his solid season and bringing back two other key free agents — WR Mike Evans and LB Lavonte Davis. They also reached a long-term deal with franchised safety Antoine Winfield Jr.   

The offense and defense ranked No. 23 last season, so neither was overly impressive. The Bucs added several potential starters via the draft, led by first-round offensive lineman Graham Barton.

The Saints' offense and defense were in the top half of the league last season. New Orleans won four of its last five games, including closing wins over the Bucs and Falcons. QB Derek Carr had a good season, and he needs to lead the way for the Saints to beat out the Bucs and Falcons. New Orleans is at Tampa Bay in the regular-season finale, and that could decide the race.

Atlanta had a quality defense (ranked 11th) last season but quarterback issues derailed its playoff hopes. Thus the $180 million deal for Cousins, who has an excellent supporting cast on offense. But the curious drafting of QB Michael Penix Jr. at No. 8 overall when the Falcons could’ve picked a top pass rusher seems like a missed opportunity to help the team immediately.

The Carolina Panthers added a lot of talent in free agency — especially on the offensive line with guards Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis — to help QB Bryce Young after his poor rookie season. Jadeveon Clowney will help on defense after Carolina traded star edge rusher Brian Burns. But the Panthers have a long way to go before they move from 2-15 to division title contention.

Could the NFC East see another change in the guard from Dak Prescott (left) and the Dallas Cowboys to Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles in 2024? (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

7. NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

It’s likely to be another season-long race between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, with the Eagles my pick to regain the title they won in their Super Bowl season of 2022.

Dallas has contract issues galore with its three biggest stars (all Pro Bowlers) seeking new deals — QB Dak Prescott, WR CeeDee Lamb and DE/LB Micah Parsons. 

The Cowboys needed a 7-2 regular-season finish, along with a late-season collapse by the Eagles, to claim the NFC East. But scars remain from the home wild-card loss to the Packers, in which Green Bay led 27-0 in the first half when Prescott threw two costly interceptions, and Jordan Love, Romeo Doubs and Aaron Jones carved up the Dallas D.

The Eagles looked like world beaters as they started 10-1, but they handed the division to the Cowboys with losses in five of their last six regular-season games before getting blown out in the wild-card round at Tampa Bay.

QB Jalen Hurts must return to his 2022 MVP runner-up form when he was a big part of the Eagles’ run to the Super Bowl. Hurts went from six interceptions in 2022 to 15 last season. He’ll be helped by his great wide receiver corps and RB Saquon Barkley, who will be an excellent addition if he can stay on the field. The O-line must overcome the retirement of Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce.

Philadelphia’s defense fell from No. 2 in 2022 to No. 26 overall and No. 31 against the pass, but the team drafted promising corners Quinyon Mitchell and Cooper DeJean in the first two rounds to help shore up the pass defense.   

The Giants were a 2022 playoff team but floundered in 2023 with QB Daniel Jones’ ACL injury a big contributor along with a lousy offensive line (85 sacks allowed). The Commanders turn to second-overall pick Jayden Daniels at quarterback and several free agent additions on defense (led by LB Bobby Wagner). Both teams will continue to look up at Dallas and Philadelphia, who could decide the NFC East in their Week 17 meeting in Philly.  

6. AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens earned the AFC’s top seed last season, but they’re in perhaps the league’s best division. All four teams finished with winning records in 2023 and appear well-stocked for the coming season.

Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cleveland made the playoffs, and the Cincinnati Bengals would have been there if star QB Joe Burrow had not missed the last seven games because of a wrist injury. The Bengals won the AFC North in 2021 when they were a Super Bowl team and in 2022 with a healthy Burrow; they have added talent on defense via free agency and the draft.

Reigning MVP Lamar Jackson leads the Ravens. They re-signed star DT Justin Madubuike, added RB Derrick Henry and drafted some talented prospects. But they suffered significant free agency losses, including Pro Bowl LB Patrick Queen, top pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, team interceptions leader Geno Stone (now in Cincinnati), and WR Odell Beckham Jr., along with several starting O-linemen.

The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers should be fine defensive teams and could challenge for the division title if they get strong play from their quarterbacks — Deshaun Watson in Cleveland and either Russell Wilson or Justin Fields in Pittsburgh.

This is a four-team race with the Ravens and Bengals ultimately battling for the division title. I think Cincinnati can return to the top spot with its fourth-place schedule aiding its cause, but only if Burrow stays in the lineup.

QB Josh Allen might be the difference maker in the battle between the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins for AFC East supremacy. (Jamie Germano/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle/USA TODAY NETWORK)

5. AFC East: Buffalo Bills

Despite losing several starters due to salary cap issues, the Buffalo Bills still have QB Josh Allen to lead the way and have won the AFC East four consecutive years, so they are the favorites.

They must effectively replace their starting wide receivers after the departures of Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis. Early second-round pick Keon Coleman is a key addition, and second-year tight end Dalton Kincaid (73 catches last season) will again be heavily counted upon.

Buffalo should again be pushed by the Miami Dolphins, who had the same 11-6 regular season record as the Bills but lost the tie-breaker when they fell to Baltimore and Buffalo in the final two weeks. The Chiefs then routed Miami in the wild-card round. 

QB Tua Tagovailoa fizzled down the stretch after a hot start, and he needs to stay healthy and be more consistent — especially at crunch time late in the season — as he seeks a huge new contract. It’s a shame the Bills and Dolphins play twice in the first nine weeks rather than meeting later.

If Aaron Rodgers stays healthy, the New York Jets also should be a contender for the division title or a wild-card berth. They have a revamped offensive line that will try to better protect Rodgers and solid skill-position talent. New York also brings a top-five defense.

It will be strange not to see Bill Belichick manning the New England Patriots sideline. The team is in rebuilding mode under new coach Jerod Mayo and first-round QB Drake Maye once he steps in for Jacoby Brissett.

4. AFC South: Houston Texans

Last season’s most surprising team has only gotten better through the addition of a pair of four-time Pro Bowlers — edge rusher Danielle Hunter and wide receiver Stefon Diggs via free agency and trade, respectively. They join a team led by last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year — QB C.J. Stroud, who should be even better in his second season.

The Houston Texans added a solid back in Joe Mixon to run behind a fine offensive line led by Pro Bowl LT Laremy Tunsil.

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts finished last season with winning records, only one game behind Houston, so it should be a competitive division. Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence is seeking a big season as he looks to get his contract extended. Colts QB Anthony Richardson returns as a dual-purpose threat after playing only four games in his rookie season before a shoulder injury knocked him out.

It’s no longer the Derrick Henry show in Tennessee. The Titans have an offensive-minded head coach in Brian Callahan and added talent on both sides of the ball. They upgraded the offensive line as they look to rebound under second-year QB Will Levis. He will be aided by free agent WR Calvin Ridley, who joins DeAndre Hopkins as receiving threats. Tony Pollard steps in for Henry, and L’Jarius Sneed will help at corner. 

The Titans could be the sleeper team in the AFC South but it will be hard for them to catch the Texans.

Quarterback Jared Goff was one of three stars on offense that the Detroit Lions re-signed to mega deals as the team hopes to stay ahead of the rising Green Bay Packers. (Junfu Han/USA TODAY NETWORK)

3. NFC North: Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions broke a 32-year drought in playoff wins with their great postseason run to the NFC title game. That came after winning their division for the first time in 30 years. They signed lucrative extensions with QB Jared Goff, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown and OT Penei Sewell to keep three of their offensive stars long-term. The NFL’s third-ranked offense from last season is loaded with talent. 

Detroit addressed its issues at cornerback with the drafting of Terrion Arnold and Ennis Rakestraw in the first two rounds, and coach Dan Campbell gets his team amped up each week. 

The Lions should hold off the rising Green Bay Packers. The Packers fell three games short in the division last season but finished on a roll. QB Jordan Love led the way to six wins in their last eight regular-season games. Green Bay then walloped the Cowboys in the wild-card round before nearly upsetting the 49ers in the Divisional round. The Lions and Packers will meet in Weeks 9 and 14.

The Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears have plenty of talent but are also likely to be chasing the Lions as they break in rookie quarterbacks — J.J. McCarthy in Minnesota (if/when he wins the job from Sam Darnold) and first-overall pick Caleb Williams in Chicago. 

San Francisco 49ers' Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey and Brandon Aiyuk
San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) celebrates a big play with wide receivers Deebo Samuel (19) and Brandon Aiyuk (11) after the 49ers. (Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports)

2. NFC West: San Francisco 49ers

The San Franciso 49ers were a fourth-down stop away from beating the Chiefs in overtime in the Super Bowl before falling 25-22. Coach Kyle Shanahan’s team is basically intact with QB Brock Purdy, Offensive Player of the Year Christian McCaffrey and, barring any trades,  a star-studded receiving corps.

The 49ers are loaded on both sides of the ball. They added a first-round wide receiver to the mix in Ricky Pearsall but will miss solid DT Arik Armstead. San Francisco should rule the NFC West for the third straight season.

The Los Angeles Rams rebounded from a down 2022 season to return to playoff status with a 10-7 record, two games behind the 49ers. The Rams must replace a Hall of Famer on defense with the retirement of Aaron Donald. Keeping QB Matthew Stafford and WR Cooper Kupp healthy is the key to the Rams’ playoff hopes, but winning the division seems more difficult.

Mike Macdonald takes over from Pete Carroll as Seattle’s coach, and the Seahawks hope that Geno Smith will return to the level he played at in 2022 when they were a playoff team after barely missing out last season despite a winning record.

The Arizona Cardinals look to be a team on the rise talent-wise, with quality additions via free agency and the draft. They need QB Kyler Murray to stay healthy and click with elite first-round receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.

1. AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs have won their division eight consecutive years, so it’s easy to say they have the best shot of repeating as division champs after they won the AFC West by three games over Las Vegas and Denver last season.

The higher aspiration for coach Andy Reid and the best player in the league — QB Patrick Mahomes — is to win an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl.

They’ll have a great deal of help from their excellent supporting cast led by All-Pros Travis Kelce and Chris Jones. Re-signing Jones, drafting speedy WR Xavier Worthy and adding a quality receiver in Marquise Brown are three critical moves to help the Chiefs’ cause. They must replace a solid cornerback after trading L’Jarius Sneed, but having Mahomes is the most important factor in keeping the Chiefs on top of the AFC West.

The Los Angeles Chargers have the second-best quarterback in the division, Justin Herbert. They also upgraded their coaching, hiring Jim Harbaugh to replace the shaky Brandon Staley. If their revamped wide receiver corps comes through, the Chargers will push for a wild-card spot.

They could finish ahead of the Raiders and Broncos, who have less talented quarterbacks, Aidan O’Connell or Gardner Minshew in Las Vegas, and first-rounder Bo Nix, who is likely to emerge in Denver.