Predicting the NFL division winners

This summer, NFL Nation reporters are answering the biggest questions for every team in divisional roundtables.

Friday's question: Who will win each division and how many teams from the division will make the playoffs?

Monday's question: Who will be the best newcomer?
Tuesday's question: Who is the rising star in each division?
Wednesday's question: Who is on the hottest seat in the division?
Thursday's question: Who will be the division MVP?

AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West

AFC East

Mike Rodak, Buffalo Bills reporter: It's tough to pick against the Patriots because they didn't win this division with Tom Brady at quarterback just twice since 2002. As we've seen in the 13 seasons since, it takes an injury to Brady -- which happened only in 2008 -- to derail the Patriots. Eventually, Brady will either slow down or retire and the Patriots will face stiffer competition for the division crown, but I don't see this being the year. As for how many teams qualify for the playoffs, it's hard to see three teams making it -- that has never happened in the AFC East since the NFL's division realignment in 2002 -- but I can see either the Jets or Bills squeaking into the postseason as a wild card. It would be the first time this division has sent two teams to the playoffs since 2010, when Rex Ryan brought the Jets through Gillette Stadium on his way to the AFC Championship Game.

James Walker, Miami Dolphins reporter: Ten wins weren't enough for the Jets to become the second AFC East team to get into the playoffs last year. But I have a feeling nine or 10 victories will be enough in 2016. Book the Patriots to win the division -- that's been the safest bet in football for most of the past 15 years. The difficult part is projecting which AFC East team will finish second. I expect the Jets to take a step back and the Dolphins to be a little better this season. Both teams could hover around .500. That leaves the Bills -- yes, the Bills -- to end the NFL's longest playoff drought and grab one of the two wild cards in the AFC. Their quarterback play was underrated last year, and Tyrod Taylor will be motivated in a contract year. The running game also is one of the best in the league, and Rex and Rob Ryan should get the defense on track. Barring major injuries, Buffalo has the potential to be a surprise team in the conference.

Rich Cimini, New York Jets reporter: For the sixth straight year, there will be only one playoff team from the AFC East -- yeah, them again. We're talking about the Patriots, of course. They'll win the division by at least two games, with the Jets and Bills staying in the wild-card hunt until the end. At some point, the Jets, Bills and Dolphins will have their day. But not yet.

Mike Reiss, New England Patriots reporter: Jets receiver Eric Decker recently shared his belief that the division is "up for grabs" with Tom Brady's four-game suspension, and perhaps this is the year the Bills, Dolphins or Jets finally wrestle control of the AFC East away from the Patriots. But until I see more decisive answers at quarterback for those teams, I can't pick them. As for the playoffs, with the strength of the AFC North and what I project as a bounce-back season for the Indianapolis Colts, I project a traffic jam for the wild-card spots that will leave the AFC East on the outside looking in with just one overall playoff team.

AFC North

Jeremy Fowler, Pittsburgh Steelers reporter: Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will push each other until Week 17, with the Bengals getting the edge by one game. The Ravens will finish above .500 but will miss the playoffs by a game, leaving two divisional teams at home for January and the other two -- hopefully -- facing off in an AFC wild-card rematch. The Steelers' offense will be better and their defensive rebuild is nearly complete, but I just like the Bengals' overall balance a little better. Andy Dalton never got to finish what he started a year ago, and the franchise is eager to end the little-brother complex that Pittsburgh would love to see continue. The losses of Heath Miller and Martavis Bryant could cause the Steelers to start the season a bit slowly.

Coley Harvey, Cincinnati Bengals reporter: We'll go with the last part first. A lot of the playoff question hinges upon what happens with the Ravens. If they can get back to the form that led them to the playoffs in 2014, then we'll see a three-team playoff representation from the AFC North just like in 2014. At this stage, there's no question the Steelers and Bengals belong in the playoff discussion. After all, the division champion has come down to those two teams in each of the past three seasons. In each of those years, the runner-up has qualified for a wild-card spot. That said, those will be the only AFC North teams in the playoffs this season. As for the division champion? For the Bengals to repeat, they will need a complete buy-in into the lessons taught by the new members of their coaching staff. Cincinnati had to replace six coaches this offseason. Judging from how the Bengals worked at a more business-like, up-tempo pace during organized team activities and minicamp, they already have started getting used to their new coaches. Although it'll be close between them and the Steelers again this year, I'm picking Cincinnati to repeat and claim the division crown.

Jamison Hensley, Baltimore Ravens reporter: The Steelers will win the AFC North for the second time in three seasons, and the Ravens will rebound to make the playoffs after their worst season under coach John Harbaugh. This looks like Pittsburgh's year because it's hard to imagine the Steelers experiencing the same bad run of injuries again. Pittsburgh is going to simply outscore teams with the NFL's best triplets in Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. While the defense was a far cry from the Steel Curtain, the Steelers weren't as bad as many like to think. Pittsburgh ranked 11th in points allowed. The Ravens haven't generated much offseason buzz because most of their star players are injured. But Baltimore addressed two of the biggest areas of concern in the offseason, adding a leader in the secondary in Eric Weddle and a deep threat in Mike Wallace. The last time Baltimore missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons was 2004-05. The Bengals will miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2010 because they took a big hit with the changes at wide receiver and their coaching staff.

Pat McManamon, Cleveland Browns reporter: Pittsburgh would have run away with the division last season, but Le'Veon Bell missed 10 games and Ben Roethlisberger four. Even with injuries, the Steelers' offense was prolific; the 423 points scored by Pittsburgh was second in the AFC and best in the division. If Bell, Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown stay reasonably healthy, they all could put up big numbers and provide a young defense time to grow. The Steelers win this division, with the Bengals earning a wild-card berth by finishing second.

AFC South

Michael DiRocco, Jacksonville Jaguars reporter: I'm going with the Texans as the division champs. Even though I have reservations about Brock Osweiler, all he needs to be is an average quarterback and that should be good enough for the Texans to win 10 games. Houston seriously upgraded its speed on offense and receiver DeAndre Hopkins should be in the conversation for offensive player of the year. The Texans' defense is pretty darn good -- J.J. Watt, and all -- so the strides the team makes on offense make the difference. The Jaguars are a year away from being a serious division contender, and the Titans need at least another season. I don't buy the supposedly repaired Chuck Pagano-Ryan Grigson relationship in Indianapolis. That's going to implode at some point in 2016. No other teams but the Texans make the playoffs.

Tania Ganguli, Houston Texans reporter: The Texans will be much better than they were last season. While Osweiler will have some growing pains in the offense, it won't match the catastrophic turmoil they experienced at the position in 2015. Further, they'll expect to be more consistent on defense from earlier in the season. There, too, they'll have more stability. As such, even though the Texans' schedule will be significantly more difficult in 2015, they'll be able to defend their division crown. But the AFC South still has not reached a point where it is good enough to field a wild-card team. Only the Texans will make it to the postseason.

Paul Kuharsky, Tennessee Titans reporter: The Colts will return to the top of the division and show that Andrew Luck's pre-injury struggles in 2015 were a blip for him. Either the Texans will maintain some of their success from last season or the Jaguars will blossom with the final pieces they needed to reach a playoff level. The AFC South will have two playoff teams for the first time since 2012.

Mike Wells, Indianapolis Colts reporter: So much has been talked about Houston's and Jacksonville's offseasons, but it's hard to go against the Colts to win the division now that Andrew Luck is healthy. Luck had the worst season of his career in 2015, but you can't forget he led Indianapolis to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons with teams that weren't overly talented. The Colts made improving the offensive line -- their weak link during the Luck era -- a focal point of the offseason. Luck still has T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Dwayne Allen and Frank Gore at his disposal. Houston will also represent the AFC South in the playoffs. The Texans finally have a quarterback they can depend on in Brock Osweiler to lead the offense so they no longer have to rely strictly on J.J. Watt and the defense to carry them.

AFC West

Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos reporter: Until somebody shows they're ready to push the Broncos aside, the division belongs to Denver. It's won five consecutive division titles despite the best efforts of the others to stop the string. The Raiders, who finished 7-9 last season, including a win in Denver, have been the most aggressive in trying to unseat the Broncos. They have drafted impact players, led by Khalil Mack and Derek Carr, spent lavishly with piles of salary-cap room and have publicly professed their readiness to end their playoff drought. They also present, before any potential injuries on their roster or anybody else's in the division, the best chance to break the Broncos' streak. The Chiefs largely chose to stand pat while the Chargers, in the eyes of most personnel executives in the league, still have too many question marks on the depth chart. The Broncos have the core of their Super Bowl roster still in place, but have dealt with a healthy dose of Super Bowl hangover. The Broncos won 11 games by a touchdown or less on the way to the title -- a sign of a staff doing the right things with the game on the line. The Broncos still look like they can grind to a division title, while Denver and Oakland figure to be the playoff representatives.

Adam Teicher, Kansas City Chiefs reporter: This year's AFC West race looks as open as any since Peyton Manning took over as the Broncos quarterback in 2012. The Broncos, Chiefs and Raiders have legitimate reasons to believe they will win this year's division title. While Kansas City or Oakland could certainly break Denver's five-year hold on the AFC West championship, there's no clear and compelling case to be made that either team has covered enough ground from last year to do so. So I'll go with the Broncos to win a sixth straight division championship. Either the Chiefs or Raiders will join them in the postseason. I'll go with the Chiefs in a tough call.

Paul Gutierrez, Oakland Raiders reporter: The Denver Broncos are the defending champs and have a defense that many observers say reminded them of the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. The Oakland Raiders are a sexy pick to break through and not only get their first winning record since 2002 but also claim their first playoff berth since going to the Super Bowl that same season. And the San Diego Chargers seem to have more important things on their mind like whether they are staying put in Mission Valley or moving to Los Angeles to join the Rams in Inglewood. Quietly, though, the Kansas City Chiefs ran off an 11-game winning streak last year, including a 30-0 blowout of the Houston Texans in the playoffs, and did it without running back Jamaal Charles, who tore an ACL in Week 5. He should be back to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Alex Smith, even if the defense is weakened by the departure of cornerback Sean Smith to Oakland. Which brings us back to the Raiders. Look, they are throwing more than flirtatious glances at Las Vegas as a potential future home so let's go with the gambling theme here by proclaiming that three teams from the AFC West will go to the NFL's postseason tournament -- the Broncos, Chiefs and Raiders. And while defense won the Broncos a championship last year, it will also win them a division in 2016.

Eric Williams, San Diego Chargers reporter: I like the Chiefs to overtake the Broncos and win the AFC West for the first time since 2010. Kansas City has a consistent performer at quarterback in Alex Smith along with a good defense. With the Broncos going through a change at quarterback, 2016 should be the time for Andy Reid to take his team over the threshold and win an AFC West title. The Broncos and Raiders should compete for a wild-card spot, with the Broncos advancing to the postseason and Oakland finishing above .500 for the first time since advancing to the Super Bowl in 2002.

NFC East

Dan Graziano, New York Giants reporter: The NFC East hasn't had a repeat champion since the 2003-04 Eagles, and that's not changing this year. Dallas comes roaring back from last year's pothole and edges out defending champion Washington in a tight two-way race. But for the first time since 2009, two teams from this division reach the playoffs. Washington shows that last year wasn't a total fluke and snags a wild-card spot.

Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Eagles reporter: As much as it galls Eagles fans, I think the Cowboys are in position to win the division title this season. Dallas won it in 2014, then fell apart in 2015 because of injuries to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. If Romo and Bryant are healthy and Ezekiel Elliott is the player everyone expects, the Cowboys immediately become the class of the division. I do think there's a decent chance that Washington could get in as a wild card. The other divisions have strong teams at the top, but there is room for the NFC East runner-up in the playoffs.

Todd Archer, Dallas Cowboys reporter: There has not been a repeat division winner in the NFC East since the 2003-04 Eagles, so that would seem to rule out the Redskins. The Eagles and Giants have new head coaches, and they sometimes need time to find their footing. That leaves the Cowboys. They are not your typical 4-12 team. Tony Romo is healthy. Dez Bryant is healthy. They drafted Ezekiel Elliott. They have the best offensive line in the division. There are several defensive questions, but the offense can negate many of the defensive inefficiencies. The Cowboys won the division in 2014 with that formula, and they will do it again. And they will be the only NFC East team to qualify for the postseason. Matching up with the AFC North and NFC North will not allow the second-place team to make it as a wild card.

John Keim, Washington Redskins reporter: I know it's easy to dismiss Washington because there hasn't been a repeat division champion since 2003-04, but I don't want to rely on that stat alone as a reason to rule someone out. This division isn't exactly the strongest, so if the Redskins stay healthy then, yeah, I think they'll repeat. I can easily see three teams winning the division if certain things break right -- right now, the only team I'm dismissing is Philadelphia. My fear with Dallas is Tony Romo's health. Can he play all 16 games? Could the Cowboys survive, say, a two-game absence? Right now, I'd say no -- although I think he'll be the MVP of the division, I do not think he'll play all 16 games. Also, I don't see an improved defense in Dallas. I have no idea if Ben McAdoo will be a good head coach or not, so while I think New York blew a shot last year, I can't assume that he'll make the difference. I have no idea. To me, the Redskins have the fewest questions. I like the addition of Josh Norman and the potential impact of Junior Galette. I don't think Kirk Cousins is a great quarterback, but I also don't see him falling off big time -- he understands the talent he has around him (as long as he keeps using it, they're good). There's a strong, professional mindset among these players that is healthy. They have questions, too, and I don't see them as prime Super Bowl contenders yet, but in a still-recovering NFC East? They're as good as anyone. My take: They'll win a tiebreaker over Dallas, but both make the postseason. (Of course, the truth is I flipped a coin).

NFC North

Rob Demovsky, Green Bay Packers reporter: This isn't 2001, when the old NFC Central sent three teams to the playoffs: Chicago at 13-3, Green Bay at 12-4 and Tampa Bay at 9-7. Nor is it 2012, when the Packers (11-5), Vikings (10-6) and Bears (10-6) all had double-digit wins. This looks like a two-team race again. Last season, the Vikings ended the Packers' run of division titles at four straight, but the Packers still seem like the team to beat. Even the Las Vegas oddsmakers agree. The Packers will take back control of the NFC North, but the Vikings will join them in the postseason.

Jeff Dickerson, Chicago Bears reporter: Green Bay wins the division. The road to the NFC North crown still goes through northern Wisconsin because of Aaron Rodgers. But Minnesota is a close second. The Vikings have the NFC North's best defense, and of course, Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 1,485 yards in 2015. I still question the rest of Minnesota's offense, but Teddy Bridgewater is a steady, if not spectacular, quarterback. The Bears will win more than six games. But Chicago's defense still lacks enough playmakers to hang with the NFL's elite. And Jay Cutler is the ultimate wild card. Cutler thrived under former offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who is now the coach of the Dolphins. Can he play as well for new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains? That's tough to say. Chicago looks like a team destined to be .500. And the Lions, who lost Calvin Johnson, did not make enough offseason moves to challenge Green Bay or Minnesota. I think both the Packers and Vikings qualify for the postseason.

Ben Goessling, Minnesota Vikings reporter: I believe there are only two teams from the NFC North that are good enough to make the playoffs, and I think both of them will: The Packers and the Vikings will both be back in the NFC field come January, and they'll once again battle for the division title. Who wins it? I'm going to go with the Packers, based on a belief they'll be somewhat healthier than they were last year -- which could be wrong, given how often they seem to be among the league's most injury-ravaged teams -- and a schedule that rated as the league's easiest before the season. But I think the division will once again come down to a battle between the Packers and Vikings, and I see both teams going north of 10 wins to reach the playoffs. It could be one of the two high-profile matchups between the teams -- the Week 2 Sunday night tilt to open U.S. Bank Stadium or the Christmas Eve matchup at Lambeau Field -- that tips the division.

Michael Rothstein, Detroit Lions reporter: I'm higher than most on the Vikings, as I believe they are the best team in the NFC. The Vikings' defense should be the best in the division. Minnesota has the best running back in the league and a potential star in Bridgewater. The makeup of the Vikings is strong, and as long as Peterson continues to play at a level close to what he's reached in the past, the Vikings have a good shot of going back-to-back in the division. Two teams will make the playoffs from the NFC North: the Vikings and Packers. It will come down to the final two weeks of the season to decide which team wins the division and which ends up on the road in the first round. They are two of the top five teams in the NFC, so both should be positioned well for the playoffs. Detroit and Chicago could have paths to the playoffs as well, but both franchises would need things to break right for them.

NFC South

Jenna Laine, Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter: While losing Josh Norman hurts the Panthers defensively, they're still the most complete team in the division and should win the NFC South again in 2016. The Saints have had a surprising number of injuries already, which will hurt their chances, and the Bucs and Falcons have made some improvements but are not quite where Carolina is yet. I see the Panthers taking the division outright, and I think the Falcons or maybe even the Bucs (depending on how the transition to Mike Smith's defense goes) could sneak into the playoffs with a wild card.

Vaughn McClure, Atlanta Falcons reporter: Carolina, behind a great coach in Ron Rivera and stars Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly, will win the division for the fourth consecutive season. It will be extremely difficult for the Falcons and Saints to keep pace, particularly with Atlanta tied for the league's toughest schedule and New Orleans having the fourth-toughest schedule based on last season's records. Of course, you can still have success in the division while dropping some non-division games, but it will be a tall task regardless. The Falcons, Saints and Buccaneers can only hope the Panthers stumble out of the gate while facing the Broncos and Vikings in Weeks 1 and 3 leading into division play. If the Falcons can average close to 30 points, maybe they'll have a chance to compete for a playoff spot. That's a big "if" though. The NFC South last had two playoff qualifiers during the 2013 season, when the Panthers and Saints both lost in the divisional round.

David Newton, Carolina Panthers reporter: The Panthers remain the most complete team not only in their division, but in the entire NFC. Most of the starters return from a Carolina team that went a regular-season best 15-1 and reached the Super Bowl last season. The only offseason setback was the loss of Norman, but the staff has shown the past three years it can survive with what many would call a makeshift secondary because the Panthers' defensive front seven is one of the best in the NFL. The return of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin should make Newton and the offense even more explosive. But the biggest reason to pick the Panthers to win a fourth straight division title is Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans aren't good enough defensively to do much better than an 8-8 record. Because of that, and because I see at least six other NFC teams -- Seattle, Arizona, Green Bay, Minnesota, Washington and Los Angeles -- are better than anybody else in the NFC South, I can't see a second South team making the playoffs.

Mike Triplett, New Orleans Saints reporter: I'd love to go out on a limb, but instead I'll go with Carolina for the fourth straight season. So much for the NFC South's old habit of crowning a new champ every year from 2002 to 2013. I do expect the Panthers to fall back to the pack a bit after a 15-win season. But with such a good balance of offense/defense, pass/run and Newton/Kuechly, I still expect double-digit wins. As for the rest of the division, I wouldn't be shocked to see any of the other three teams sneak into the playoffs. But I'll predict the Saints, Falcons and Buccaneers all fall just short with eight to nine wins. Of the three, I still think New Orleans has the highest upside because of Drew Brees and an offense that can outscore anybody on any given week -- if only the Saints can get that defense into the top 30 for a change.

NFC West

Josh Weinfuss, Arizona Cardinals reporter: The Cardinals are primed for another deep run in the playoffs if they stay healthy. They didn't lose a player who scored an offensive touchdown or caught a pass from quarterback Carson Palmer, giving the offense a veteran swagger. If the Cardinals were able to put up record-breaking numbers last season, imagine what they'll be able to do with even more experience in the offense. And on defense, they added one of the elite young pass-rushers in Chandler Jones. The division is theirs to lose. And following right behind the Cardinals will, again, be the Seattle Seahawks, giving the West two teams in the playoffs. Even though Seattle is still figuring out its offensive line and how to run the ball after Marshawn Lynch, it has enough experience at quarterback with Russell Wilson and at wide receiver with Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett to keep the ball moving. And then there's that defense up in the Pacific Northwest. Not much else needs to be said. The Seahawks will be good again this year, but it might take them a few games to find their footing rushing the ball and blocking up front. While that happens, however, the Cardinals will run to an insurmountable division lead.

Nick Wagoner, Los Angeles Rams reporter: The NFL is a fickle league and there's generally a lot of turnover among playoff teams from year to year. But I just don't see the Rams or 49ers pushing the Cardinals or Seahawks for NFC West supremacy. In fact, I'm of the belief that Arizona and Seattle are not only the two best teams in the NFC West but also the two best teams in the NFC heading into 2016. Both the Cardinals and Seahawks will return to the postseason and whatever changes to the playoff teams happen will come from other divisions. Deciding between those two teams as the winner of the NFC West is a difficult proposition. Football Outsiders projects Arizona to win it in part because the Cardinals get to face New England without Tom Brady (assuming his suspension holds up) and Seattle doesn't. That one game could make the difference. But I'm going to go the other direction and pick Seattle. As always, injuries play a huge part in these projections, but the Seahawks, with Jimmy Graham and some key defenders back healthy, look ready to reclaim the NFC West crown in 2016.

Michael Wagaman, San Francisco 49ers reporter: The Cardinals knocked the Seahawks from their perch atop the division last season, and although they flamed out in the postseason, there's a good chance they'll return. Seattle has improved and will be in the running for a wild card but Arizona has plenty of talent and a solid defense to keep in front of the Seahawks. The Rams will definitely be better and could be a playoff contender in a few years, just not now. The 49ers? They're just trying to get back to the break-even point.

Sheil Kapadia, Seattle Seahawks reporter: This will be a two-team race like last year. The Rams have some talented pieces, but they will need time to get going with rookie quarterback Jared Goff. The 49ers have talent in the front seven, but there is very little to work with offensively, and coach Chip Kelly must prove that he's not just going to try to use the same blueprint he trotted out in Philly. It will come down to the Seahawks and the Cardinals. Both teams have impressive talent on both sides of the ball, defined identities and proven, veteran quarterbacks. Look for both squads to be among the NFC's elite in 2016. The Seahawks win the NFC West, but the Cardinals get in as a dangerous wild card.