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There is pretty good parity in the NFL these days. As the old saying goes “Any Given Sunday.” Or Monday. OK, Thursdays too, and you can toss in the occasional Saturday if you want to be technical. With perhaps the exception of the AFC East where the Patriots continue to dominate, most of the other divisions appear to be up for grabs. Sure, there are early-season divisional favorites like the Steelers and the Rams, but those teams are hardly locks. Both have tough competition within their divisions, and neither team’s schedule is exactly a cakewalk.
So, which division is the best? Which one is most exciting? Which one has the most heated inner-divisional rivalries? Let’s take a look at them all starting from the worst division and making our way to the best.
Combined Record: 33-31
It was all the way back to 2008 that Tom Brady missed the entire season after being injured in a Week 1 game versus the Chiefs. It was also the last time that someone other than the New England Patriots won the AFC East. You would then need to go back to the 2002 New York Jets to find the only other time someone other than the Pats has taken the AFC East regular-season title.
Well, it seems like the Patriots are shoe-ins to do it again this year too. The most exciting thing about the AFC East from a competition point of view is the battle for second place and the off-chance that the second place team might sneak into the post-season like Buffalo did last year, and the Dolphins did in 2016.
Combined Record: 30-34
Just a couple of years ago, the AFC West was one of the toughest divisions in the league, but the landscape in that division appears to have drastically changed. The Broncos have struggled, the Chiefs are in a position to take a bit of a step back, and who knows what to expect out of the Raiders now that they've traded their best player? It looks like it might be a good year for the Chargers to set the pace in the division as they did between 2006 and 2009.
It doesn’t look like it will be much more than a two-horse race in the AFC West this year. Of course, all of that could change if the Raiders have a big bounce-back season. With their season win total set at 8, the bookmakers aren’t counting on it.
Combined Record: 34-30
The NFC West might be a little better if the Seahawks didn’t look like they were going to regress so quickly. With the rise of the Los Angeles Rams, it doesn’t seem like there are any teams in the division that will give them a good run for the title. The Niners will be far better than in recent years, but they don’t look like they are on the same level as the Rams. The Seahawks are looking like they might be able to be a playoff bubble team at best while the Arizona Cardinals are in for a rough ride.
It’s too bad that the resurgences of Los Angeles and San Francisco didn’t happen a couple of years earlier because that would have made the NFC West one of the most exciting divisions in the NFL.
Combined Record: 27-37
How does a division that features a pair of 4-12 teams in 2017 rank this high? Well, the AFC South could be the division with the most parity in 2018. The Jacksonville Jaguars took a giant leap forward last year, and the Tennessee Titans also improved enough to squeak into a Wildcard spot. Yes, Indy and Houston were pretty bad last year but consider that Andrew Luck is back for the Colts and the Texans return healthy versions of DeShaun Watson and JJ Watt. Luck single-handedly makes the Colts better, and it is within the realm of possibility that the Colts could be a Wildcard contender. If things go right in Houston, they will also be right in the thick of things in the AFC South.
Combined Record: 32-32
If you like the unpredictable, then the NFC East is the division for you. Nothing is like it seems going into a new season. There are usually plenty of surprises in store in that division. Either a preseason favorite tanks or a team that was given little respect going into a season gets hot. If you hate the Patriots, then you should love the NFC East. All three times that Tom and Bill’s Patriots have lost in the Super Bowl, it has been an NFC East team to beat them. And as underdogs no less!
Philadelphia and Dallas look like they will lead the way but New York has a history of shocking the football world and the Redskins can’t be completely discounted either. It should be a fun division to watch in 2018.
Combined Record: 34-30
It was tough to put the NFC North in this spot as it will likely be one of the most hotly-contested divisions this year. The Packers have reigned supreme in recent years, having captured 5 division titles in the last seven years. However, the sudden emergence of the Minnesota Vikings, who took the division last year, makes this division interesting. Add in a team like Detroit who has been pretty solid over the past few years, and you have a competitive division. Things would be even more entertaining in the NFC North if the Chicago Bears could take a step forward with new coach Matt Nagy at the helm. It might not be too likely, but it is possible that the NFC North does what the NFC South did last year and have 3 of its teams go to the playoffs.
Combined Record: 29-35
The Pittsburgh Steelers might have been the dominant team in this division over the past several years, but Cincinnati and Baltimore have been worthy rivals. It was the Ravens who were the last AFC North team to win a conference title when they did it in 2012. Pittsburgh won it all in 2008 while the Bengals have at least been a playoff team in 6 of the last nine years. Of course, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Baltimore have been fortunate to have a mid-major team like Cleveland to feast off of on a regular basis.
Pittsburgh seems like the early favorite to win the division title again, but the Ravens and Bengals could also find themselves in the post-season if they get a few good bounces.
Combined Record: 37-27
While an NFC South team hasn’t won a Super Bowl since the Saints in 2010, the South has represented the NFC in 2 of the last 3 Super Bowls. What makes this division so exciting these days is they have three serious Super Bowl contenders in Atlanta, New Orleans, and Carolina. Each of those teams made the playoffs last year and each appears to be legitimate contenders again this year. Every game these teams play has to count, and this goes double when they face division rivals.
With the exception of Tampa Bay, each NFC South squad features an outstanding quarterback, explosive running games, and stout defenses.