Baltimore Ravens 11-5 (Last Year: 13-3)
The Ravens played extremely well last year. The defense brought them along for the first few weeks, then Steve McNair and the Ravens offense began to come around and actually perform. We all know what the Ravens defense is about, but the questions is always with the offense. McNair gave them a steady QB, and this past off season with the addition of Willis McGahee is a definite upgrade over Jamal Lewis. McGahee was an above average back in Buffalo, but with a solid offensive line in front of him this should be a career year for him. The reason for the drop off is that the offense and defense played a little too good last year, plus the Ravens had an easier schedule due to their horrid season 2 years ago. Losing Adalius Thomas to free agency will not hurt them as much as it would hurt most teams. They still have Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Bart Scott back there.
Best Fantasy Player: Willis McGahee - if anyone should appreciate having a decent passing attack and solid offensive line it's him. He "couldn't wait to get out of [Buffalo]," but he commented that some of the motivation to leave Buffalo was that there were no night clubs to go to, so we'll see how that goes. I'd look for 1,400 yards and double digit scores for Willis.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6 (Last Year: 8-8)
For me it was really a toss up between the Steelers and Bengals for this spot, but what it came down to is which team to I think matches up best against each other and the Ravens. I still cannot trust the Bengals D against hard hitting teams like the Steelers and Ravens. While the Steelers took a step back last year, new coach Mike Tomlin has seemed to get his team in some sort of order after there was a large backlash from the players since the team did not hire incumbent offensive coordinator or offensive line coach, Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm respectively. As I've mentioned before, Ben Roethlisberger no longer commands my hatred, and the rest of the offense has the possibility to be one of the best in Pittsburgh's recent history. The D will be anchored by wild man Troy Polamalu, and as long as the void left by Joey Porter isn't too great, then the Steelers should be in the running in the North. If they struggle then it could be the end for new mascot Steely McBeam. With that name, I hear he does porn in the offseason.
Best Fantasy Player: Willie Parker is healthy and should get more goal line touches. The sleeper year predicted for Santonio Holmes may be overblown, but he definitely gives the Steelers a deep threat, and if Tomlin sticks to his word and says they're going to open up the offense more than that is a good thing.
3. Cincinnati Bengals 9-7 (Last Year: 8-8)
Like I said, it is close between the Steelers and Bengals. No one in the division can match the Bengals offense, but their defense is lacking by a lot. So much that Carson Palmer, Rudi Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Ocho Cinco himself, Chad Johnson cannot overcome. With all the off season arrests and problems adding up, the Bengals have taken some steps back over the years, but they finally seem to have gotten their house in order. Maybe next year they will be better suited for a run in the conference.
Best Fantasy Player: T.J. Houshmandzadeh - long the second receiver to Chad Johnson, they have now become 1 and 1a. With Chris Henry suspended for the first couple games could open more end zone opportunities for the tall, rat-tailed wideout.
4. Cleveland Browns 3-13 (Last Year: 4-12)
WELCOME! That is what should be stamped on the forehead of the Cleveland Browns because they are the doormat of this division. Having been an absolute disgrace since returning to the NFL, the Browns made a good selection of OT Joe Thomas, but then mortgaged their future (to the Cowboys gain, sadly) to draft Brady Quinn as the QB of the future. Quinn may be able to become a functioning QB, but I just don't like the deal. Quinn fell for a reason and if he wasn't the QB for Notre Dame I wonder how much farther he would have fallen.
Best Fantasy Player: Kellen Winslow - has spent much of his career either running his mouth or getting injured, but if and when he stays healthy he shows what made him a great TE in Miami. He will need to step up and perform to keep these Browns barely afloat. With LB's covering him and most teams not caring about defense because they'll be up by 20 against the Browns, he could get some junk TD's throughout the year.
1. Green Bay Packers 10-6 (Last Year: 8-8)
I'm calling it, this is Brett Favre's last year. He's going to pull it all together for one last playoff run. The only way it isn't his last year is if he wants to do the old announce his retirement before next season and go on a retirement tour. Seriously though, I like the Packers this year. They have one of the best young defenses in the league and with Favre back there, you have a QB that can find some wins where only losses appear. Then again, recently Favre can do the exact opposite of that as well. Either way, I like the Pack's wideouts of Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, and rookie RB Brandon Jackson from Nebraska appears ready to jump right into the starting line-up. They could surprise the division.
Best Fantasy Player: Donald Driver - has been Favre's go to guy for the past few seasons and should reprise that role this year. He is certainly one of the more underrated receivers in the league, but he performs fantasy-wise.
2. Chicago Bears 10-6 (Last Year: 13-3)
The Bears are right on the edge of falling apart and I don't know if they are aware of it. Let's start with a defense that collapsed in the Super Bowl last year. Then there's Rex Grossman who is shaky already. He's going to cost them at least 2-3 games this year. The running game is up in the air with Cedric Benson taking over where there used to be a platoon of him and Thomas Jones. Benson hasn't proven himself as a #1 back yet, and with Grossman at QB, the Bears are going to ask a lot out of him. Devin Hester emerged as one of the most exciting players in the league last year, but will he repeat his performance? History says no. Even at WR, it seems like a big leap to predict Hester will be a contributor where so many other return men have failed (see: Dante Hall, Az-Zahir Akim, Michael Lewis (the milkman), Desmond Howard) the list goes on. I could see the Bears being 8-8 or even 7-9, but I'm going to side with caution and give them a 10-6 record.
Best Fantasy Player: Adrian Peterson - not the rookie, but the one currently second on the Bears' RB depth chart. I think Benson will not deliver or he'll get hurt and Peterson will be able to step in. He is averaging over 4 yards per carry in his career and could have a decent fantasy year.
3. Detroit Lions 5-11 (Last Year: 3-13)
Everyone is waiting for the Lions to turn it around, and while it will probably happen eventually, peole have certainly stopped holding their breath. After drafting their 4th straight WR with a 1st round pick, the Lions appear to have something going for them. I think you had to take Calvin Johnson if you were the Lions. Your past mistakes like Charles Rogers and Mike Williams should not dissuade anyone from taking a talent like Johnson. With that said, had the Lions taken say Troy Polamalu and Shawne Merriman instead of those two bums, well the Lions could be a little better off to say the least. Under offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the offense should be running on all cylinders. Jon Kitna can perform in this system and if Kevin Jones or Tatum Bell can operate at RB, then the Lions should be able to improve a little.
Best Fantasy Player: Roy Williams - can take advantage of Calvin Johnson getting some attention, and in this offense can certainly fulfill the Torry Holt role Martz implemented in St. Louis.
4. Minnesota Vikings 3-13 (Last Year: 6-10)
While it may not be apparent, the Vikings are a year away from being a very good team again. They have the key components in place on the offensive line, running back, and have one of the best defensive lines in the league. What they're missing is a veteran QB and receivers that can catch the ball. While those may seem like two major things, they're not impossible to find. This year, they're in trouble. Being too young is a problem in Minnesota, but with the talent at most of the key positions, they're a great Tavaris Jackson game away from beating nearly anyone in the NFC.
Best Fantasy Player: All Day - one of the best nicknames in football goes to Adrian Peterson. While he will split carries with Chester Taylor, his explosiveness and ability to find the endzone will eventually get Peterson the job. The only concern is Peterson's injury past. While he has no recurring injuries to knees or anything, he has been hurt frequently.
Tommorow: The West