New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers
New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) walks off of the field before a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. (Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

Expert Analysis

April 10, 2024

5 min read

The Biggest Question Facing Each NFL Division Entering 2024 Draft

Most key free agent signings have happened, and offseason programs are beginning. The 2024 NFL Draft is only a few weeks away, and mid-April is a good time to analyze each NFL division's most significant questions and storylines. 

Things may change by September, but at this pre-draft juncture, here is my view of the NFL landscape, division by division.

AFC East

New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers. (Danielle Parhizkaran / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Can Aaron Rodgers Help Jets Overtake Bills and Dolphins?

The New York Jets only got four plays out of Aaron Rodgers before his torn Achilles ruined their 2023 season. He’s anxious to reestablish himself as an MVP-caliber quarterback who can lead the Jets to their first playoff berth since 2010 and their first AFC East title since 2002.

If the stars align in New York health-wise, the opportunity is there for them to overtake the Buffalo Bills, who have won the division four straight seasons and the Miami Dolphins, a playoff team the past two years. The New England Patriots should bring up the rear as they’re in rebuild mode with a new coach and likely a rookie at quarterback.

The Bills lost several key starters, with leading receiver Stefon Diggs the latest to leave. While the Dolphins have added several quality free agents, their defense will be without key players in DT Christian Wilkins and CB Xavien Howard.

>>READ: What's Next for Bills Without Diggs?

The Jets' defense, ranked No. 3 last season, is plenty strong. Besides the obvious need for Rodgers to stay healthy and play great, New York's offensive fortunes depend on its revamped offensive line performing well and protecting Rodgers.

Tyron Smith is a key signing at left tackle, but he missed 37 games over the last four years in Dallas. Another injury risk is WR Mike Williams, who is coming off a torn ACL. But if Williams stays on the field, he and Garrett Wilson will be a dynamic wide receiver pair. 

Finally, RB Breece Hall could have a tremendous year if things break right with the offensive line and the passing game.


Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs for a touchdown against Houston Texans defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98) during the fourth quarter of a 2024 AFC Divisional Round game at M&T Bank Stadium. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

Will Lamar Jackson Finally Lead Baltimore to the Super Bowl?

This division is full of quarterback questions: Can Joe Burrow stay healthy in Cincinnati? Will Russell Wilson or Justin Fields win the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting job? Will Deshaun Watson finally justify the enormous price the Cleveland Browns paid in draft-choice compensation to Houston?

But above all else, league MVP Lamar Jackson still must prove he can lead the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl.

Jackson remains a sub-.500 postseason quarterback with a 2-4 record, compared with his 58-19 regular season mark. In the 2023 playoffs, he had an outstanding performance in the divisional round blowout of the Texans, completing 16 of 22 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns. He added 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Jackson followed that with a down game in the AFC Championship loss at home to the Chiefs. He completed just 54 percent of his passes, had only one touchdown, was sacked four times and threw a costly fourth-quarter interception into double coverage.

Baltimore’s league-leading scoring defense will have Pro Bowlers Justin Madubuike, Roquan Smith and Kyle Hamilton back to lead the way. Perhaps the signing of Derrick Henry will be the final piece to help Jackson in his quest for Super Bowl success.

But the Ravens must first repeat as division champs in the NFL’s best division, which saw all four teams finish with winning records last season. 


Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud
Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) drops back to pass against the Baltimore Ravens in the first half of a 2024 AFC Divisional Round game at M&T Bank Stadium. (Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports)

Will Texans Make the Leap to Super Bowl Contender?

The Houston Texans won three of their last four regular season games in 2023 to claim the division title. They then trounced the Browns 45-14 in the wild-card round before the Ravens eliminated them. It was a huge step forward after Houston finished 3-13-1 in 2022.

The Texans have been a big winner in free agency and the trade market this offseason. Their moves have put them in the conversation as a potential Super Bowl contender because they’re led by an excellent coach in DeMeco Ryans and the Offensive Rookie of the Year in QB C.J. Stroud.

Houston parlayed the advantageous situation of having a star quarterback going into the second year of his rookie deal to make key additions. Those included $25 million-per-year free agent DE Danielle Hunter and $18.5 million trade acquisition Diggs. Hunter is a four-time Pro Bowler coming off a career-high 16.5 sacks and a league-leading 23 tackles for loss last season. Diggs, recently obtained from Buffalo, has five consecutive seasons with 1,000-plus yards receiving.

>>READ: Grading the Biggest Moves of the Offseason

Running back Joe Mixon came aboard in a trade with Cincinnati and was signed to a three-year, $27 million extension.

The Texans will be challenged by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who, last season, had the division under control until losing four of their last five games. The Indianapolis Colts also were in the mix and could be a contender, but the expectation is that Houston is the best team in this division. The big question is: Are they ready to challenge the top teams such as the Chiefs and Ravens for AFC supremacy?


Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Can the Chiefs Complete the Super Bowl Three-Peat?

It would be a first in the NFL’s Super Bowl era if the Kansas City Chiefs win their third consecutive Lombardi Trophy next February in New Orleans. The offseason work of GM Brett Veach and coach Andy Reid appears to have positioned the team to have an excellent chance at accomplishing that feat.

The record $30 million increase in the salary cap aided Kansas City's quest — along with having the game’s best player, QB Patrick Mahomes, on the team. It also helps that Mahomes is willing to restructure his massive contract every year. He did that in early March to free up $21.6 million in cap room.

The extra funds allowed the Chiefs to re-sign their best defensive player — first-team All-Pro DT Chris Jones — and gave Mahomes a weapon at wide receiver to upgrade a shaky group — Marquise Brown. The team also re-signed defensive starters in DE Mike Danna, LB Drue Tranquill and DT Derrick Nnadi.

As is inevitable with a top team tight against the cap entering the offseason, Kansas City lost some key players. The biggest was corner L’Jarius Sneed, who received the franchise tag before being traded to Tennessee for a 2025 third-round pick. SAF Mike Edwards and LB Willie Gay were other defensive starters who departed, but the Chiefs have the draft and remaining free agency to add players.

They also may seek veteran help at left tackle, where 2023 third-rounder Wanya Morris is the current replacement for last year’s starter Donovan Smith, who could re-sign.

Kansas City won the AFC West last season by three games over the Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos. The Los Angeles Chargers were far behind at 5-12; they hired Jim Harbaugh as their coach. The Chiefs will likely cruise to their ninth straight division title before seeking the unprecedented Super Bowl three-peat.  


Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) and coach Mike McCarthy after a touchdown in the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Nov. 5, 2023. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)


Talk about pressure. That’s what Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy and QB Dak Prescott must be feeling with their contracts expiring after the coming season. The playoff dud against the Packers (down 27-0 before falling 48-32 at home in the wild-card round) certainly didn’t endear them to owner/GM Jerry Jones and a demanding fan base.

Neither McCarthy nor Prescott has led the team to an NFC title game, much less the team’s first Super Bowl since 1995.

It’s rare for a coach with three consecutive 12-win regular seasons, including two division titles, to enter a lame-duck year, but that’s where McCarthy is. The Cowboys’ 1-3 playoff record in his four seasons at the helm is the problem. His shaky status makes things uncomfortable for him and his staff.

Prescott was expected to have his contract extended this offseason, but so far, he’s only done a minor restructure to reduce his cap hit to a still massive $55.455 million. His high cap number hindered Dallas’ ability to add talented players in free agency. The team also lost several starters, including often-injured LT Tyron Smith, RB Tony Pollard and C Tyler Biadasz on offense and rotational DE Dorance Armstrong and unsigned CB Stephon Gilmore on defense.

Extensions for Pro Bowlers CeeDee Lamb and Micah Parsons have not been completed, which could result in hold-ins.

Prescott had his best regular season in passer rating (105.9, to rank second in the league) in 2023, and he led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes. He was a second-team All-Pro and was second to Jackson in last season's MVP race.

Prescott has a 73-41 regular season record, but it's his 2-5 playoff record that is the biggest issue as he finishes his four-year, $160 million contract. He is seeking top-of-the-market money, which he’ll get in Dallas or elsewhere if he has a productive season that ends with more playoff success. Prescott also can’t be hit with the franchise tag. 

The first challenge for McCarthy and Prescott will be navigating their way to another division title with the Philadelphia Eagles reloading. The New York Giants and Washington Commanders appear to be less of a threat. If the Cowboys return to the playoffs as expected, the heat will be on — big-time — for McCarthy and Prescott to deliver a major playoff run.


Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love
Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) leaves the field after their wild-card playoff victory on Jan. 13. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Can Love Help the Packers Supplant the Lions?

Midway through the 2023 regular season, the Green Bay Packers were floundering at 3-6. First-year starting QB Jordan Love was nothing special at that point, with 14 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. 

The landscape flipped for Love and the Packers over the next nine games. Love dramatically improved his completion percentage and threw 18 touchdown passes with only one interception as Green Bay went 6-2 down the stretch to earn an unexpected wild-card berth. A key win came on Thanksgiving, a 29-22 upset in Detroit with Love passing for 268 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers. The Packers' defense forced three Jared Goff lost fumbles as part of its improved play. 

A three-point defeat in San Francisco followed Green Bay’s wild-card playoff upset in Dallas. That confirmed the idea that the Packers should battle the Detroit Lions (12-5 plus two playoff wins last season) for the division title in 2024. 

The Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears have plenty of talent but will be breaking in new quarterbacks (likely rookies). 

The Packers lost Aaron Jones, who had five consecutive 100-yard rushing games to end the season and is now in Minnesota, and they'll replace him with a younger and very productive back in Josh Jacobs. SAF Xavier McKinney is an excellent addition on defense. We’ll see if Green Bay can overtake a Detroit team that won the division by three games.

With a rapidly ascending Love leading the way, it’s certainly possible.


Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins
Then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks on from the bench during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. (Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports)

Is Cousins the Missing Piece for Falcons?

The Atlanta Falcons were a 7-10 team that finished two games behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints last season. Atlanta’s defense was playoff caliber (11th-ranked), but the subpar quarterback play was their downfall. The passing game ranked 22nd, and the duo of Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke ranked 27th in passer rating (17 combined interceptions). 

Enter the top available quarterback in free agency: four-time Pro Bowl selection Kirk Cousins. He turns 36 this year, and his 2023 season with the Vikings ended due to a torn Achilles in Week 8. He won his last three starts and had the third-ranked passer rating at 103.8 when he was hurt. The injury was the first major one of his 12-year career. 

Cousins has a solid O-line and talented skill position players in RB Bijan Robinson, WR Drake London and TE Kyle Pitts to support him. 

It’s easier said than done for Cousins to be the impetus for an Atlanta rise to the top of the division. He’s a top-10 caliber quarterback but has only one playoff win on his resume. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signed QB Baker Mayfield and Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans. The Bucaneers and coach Todd Bowles always seem to retool on defense and have star LB Lavonte David and All-Pro SAF Antoine Winfield Jr. back to lead the way. 

Derek Carr enters his second season as the New Orleans Saints' quarterback, which bodes well for them. The Carolina Panthers will be improved in Bryce Young’s second year because the team added a lot of quality free agents. 

But Cousins will be the focal point as he tries to lead the Falcons to their first division title since 2016.


Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald
How will the Los Angeles Rams replace future Hall of Fame defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99), who retired after the 2023 season? (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Can Rams Continue Ascent Without Donald?

Aaron Donald is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer as one of the greatest defensive players of all time. He’s a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and an eight-time first-team All-Pro with 111 career sacks.

He spent his entire 10-year career with the Los Angeles Rams, and his retirement leaves a huge void in their defense. 

He had an excellent final season with eight sacks, 23 quarterback hits and 16 tackles for loss to help the Rams return to the playoffs with a 10-7 record. That followed a disastrous post-Super Bowl season in 2022 with a 5-12 mark. 

The Rams need QB Matthew Stafford and WR Cooper Kupp to stay healthy and to have continued development from young stars such as WR Puka Nacua, RB Kyren Williams, DT Kobie Turner and LBs Byron Young and Ernest Jones. 

Los Angeles also added more protection for Stafford and remade (and they hope improved) its secondary by signing four quality players in free agency: G Jonah Jackson, SAF Kamren Curl and CBs Tre’Davious White and Darious Williams.

Along with coach Sean McVay’s able guidance, the Rams should give the San Francisco 49ers a fight in the division as Los Angeles remains a playoff team. The Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals are teams in transition who could make a move. But above all else in this division, the Rams will miss their best defender in Donald.