Who to Watch in Each NFL Division
We’re approaching Week 3 of the NFL Preseason which means there’s only one more to go before...wait, what? There’s only three this year?! But there’s an extra game in the regular season?
Sorry you had to read that, I’m just still in disbelief that the NFL had to undergo the most ridiculous scheduling change in the history of professional sports. But that’s not their biggest issue…
ANYWAYS, onto the point of this blog. Since we are ever so close to regular season football, it’s time to start looking around the league and taking notice of guys who will play a big role in the upcoming 2021-2022 season. Of course, players like Brady and Mahomes will greatly shape the outcomes we see on the field, but what about some of the non-superstars who can change the direction of their respective teams (or even divisions)? Let’s go through each section of the great football league that is the NFL and highlight one player who should influence this season.
AFC North: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Yes, I know. Ole’ Big Ben has pretty much been put out to pasture at this point. But, what makes him so important to the path of the AFC North is that his performance will be a big key for any Pittsburgh success this year. We know the Ravens are going to be good, and we know the Browns are going to be good (that still feels weird to say). The question is whether or not the Steelers will compete as well. If Ben is healthy and the roster produces at its talent level, then we will see a three-team race in this division. If the 39 year-old is off his game, the towels won’t be the only terrible thing at Heinz Stadium.
AFC South: Julio Jones, Tennessee Titans
This division winner traded for the best receiver in the game and people acted like nothing happened. We know Jacksonville and Houston are in full rebuild-mode, and I’m not super high on the Colts. Basically, this is Tennessee’s division to lose, and they only got better from a year ago. We know their defense can be great and we’ve all witnessed the majesty of King Henry running the football, so the only question is what is the ceiling of this team? If Jones plays like the football-catching god that he is, then that ceiling is through the proverbial roof.
AFC East: Cam Newton? Mac Jones? New England Patriots
There’s some question here because we don’t truly know who will be the starter for the majority of the season, but whichever QB Bill Belicheck rolls with automatically grabs this slot. Again, there’s not necessarily a ton up in the air in this division. The Jets are gonna Jets it up, the Bills will win the division, and the Dolphins, while very solid, are not quite there yet (I think). The only team with any drama is New England, and it all comes back to the signal callers. We can be assured that the Patriots will be well-coached with an elite defense, so the only real doubt for them is how well they can throw the football. Newton last year looked rough at times, and Jones has yet to take an NFL snap. It should be interesting to see who takes command of the offense and what they’re able to do with a very solid team.
AFC West: Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Yeah yeah, the obvious answer would be Mahomes, but we know he’s otherworldly. The guy I’m interested in watching is Herbert who will be going into his second year as head of the Chargers’ offense. In his rookie season, the Oregon product was magnificent, playing years ahead of time and leading an injury-riddled, special teams deficient L.A. squad to a commendable 7-9 record. If the Bolts are healthy this year and don't set another record for losses by one score or less, Herbert could be the fuel to a promising playoff fire.
NFC North: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
C’mon now, how could I not go with Rodgers? Similar to the Titans in the AFC South, this division is absolutely Green Bay’s to lose. Sure, the controversy between Justin Fields and Andy Dalton in Chicago is interesting, but neither of those guys is gonna overtake the Double Check man. While Rodgers has reportedly settled down and agreed to play this year out, there’s no denying tensions are high within the organization and the pressure is even higher. If the California native turns in another MVP-caliber season, Green Bay will have another (yes, another) shot to take the NFC crown. But, things could get ugly quick here, so Packers fans need to remember to just r-e-l-a-x RELAX.
NFC South: The Starting Quarterback, New Orleans Saints
Yes, this is the second division I’m doing this for, but whoever this guy ends up being will have a huge impact on both the Saints and the division as a whole! We know Brady is gonna dominate in Tampa Bay, and we know both Carolina and Atlanta are non-threats. The team that has dominated this division for the past half-decade just lost their quarterback to the Hall of Fame, and with a week to go until kickoff they have yet to name his replacement. Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill offer two very different skill sets, but whoever gets the nod will be stepping into some Shaq-sized shoes. There’s still big expectations with a Super Bowl level roster, the only question is if they have a competent leader to get them there.
NFC East: Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
No, I’m not just saying this after watching Hard Knocks...this division was an absolute mess last year, and somehow the friggin’ No Names came out on top. There’s a severe lack of talent here, and as much as it pains me to say it, the Cowboys easily have the best shot to take advantage and win the division. Of course, we saw this team go last season without Prescott, and the results were ugly. Still, we have seen him healthy in the past, and he has led them to the playoffs. If he can come back to full form in 2021, the Cowboys might still be playing in 2022.
NFC West: Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
Last but not least is my man Jimmy G. Two years ago, the Niners were a quarter away from winning the Super Bowl. Last year, they were about 10 games away. Injuries absolutely wrecked this roster, including Mr. Garoppolo who played only six games before going down with an ankle ailment. When healthy, San Francisco has a Super Bowl roster, and that includes Jimmy leading the offense. If he can stay on the field and put up productive numbers, the Niners should ascend towards the top of the NFC.