NFL Division Rankings

Ruchir PandyaCorrespondent IJuly 2, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Offical Super Bowl XLIII and NFL logo signage is seen prior tothe Arizona Cardinals playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers inSuper Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

There has been much debate as to which division is the strongest. 

Here, then, are the eight divisions ranked from toughest to weakest, and the reasons why.


1.  NFC East 

Top-to-bottom, no other division has the depth that the NFC East does. 

It would not be a shock to see all four teams go .500 in divisional play. All of these teams are playoff contenders.

In fact, fans of all four teams have reason to believe their team can win the NFC East crown. While the Giants and Eagles may be the favorites of most experts, the Redskins and Cowboys are right there. 

Think about this: The Eagles advanced the farthest of any NFC East team, yet they were swept by the last-place Redskins, who finished 8-8. 

An 8-8 record was good enough to win the NFC West, but in the East, it was last place. 

I would be shocked if two teams from the East did not get into the playoffs, and it could easily be three. 

No teams have any downright weaknesses, though each team has some question marks (O-Line for the Reskins, secondary for the Cowboys, wide receivers for the Cowboys, and injury concerns for the Eagles). 


2.  AFC South 

Again, all four teams can be considered playoff contenders this year. 

After losing Marcus Stroud—which killed their run defense—the Jaguars have restocked their offensive line, and Jack Del Rio will always keep them competitive. Maurice Jones-Drew is set to explode. 

The Texans are young, explosive on offense, and improved on defense, and are a chic pick for the postseason. 

The Titans had the best record in the AFC last season and, despite losing Albert Haynesworth, they still have a solid defense that will give them a chance to win a lot of games. 

And finally, you have the team that has dominated this division in the past, the Indianapolis Colts

Three years removed from their last Super Bowl, the Colts are no longer the best team in football.  But the offense is still elite, and while the run defense can use some help, the Colts can outscore pretty much anyone.


3.  AFC East

This division has the preseason Super Bowl favorite New England Patriots at the top. 

The Jets also have a lot to like, with a tough front seven, flashy new quarterback, and a solid offensive line. 

Meanwhile, the defending division champs from Miami have been overlooked, but return a strong defense with a Wildcat offense that baffled so many teams. 

And how could we forget the Bills, who added a speedy pass rusher in the draft, an explosive pass-catching tight end, and of course, Terrell Owens

Another conference that could have four playoff contenders.


4.  NFC South

Besides Tampa Bay, any of these teams could win the division. 

In a division that has traditionally been dominated by tough defenses, this year they have three offenses that will put up lots of points on the board. 

Atlanta now boasts a rising star at quarterback (Matt Ryan), a true No. 1 wide receiver with great hands (Roddy White), size, and speed, a physically gifted and explosive running back (Michael Turner), and the best tight end (Tony Gonzalez) in the history of the NFL

Not to be outdone, the New Orleans Saints have Drew Brees, a top three NFL quarterback, and this year all his weapons are finally healthy. 

I anticipate a big year from that offense, with Lance Moore, Marques Colston and Reggie Bush having close to 1000 yards receiving or more each and Bush and Pierre Thomas forming a formidable thunder and lightning rushing combination. 

Lastly, the Carolina Panthers won the division last year, and the defense should be stronger.  A vertical passing attack featuring diminutive but speedy Steve Smith balances nicely a powerful rushing attack featuring big, bad Jonathan Stewart and the explosive DeAngelo Williams. 

The NFC Championship could easily go through the NFC South.


5.  AFC North

Amid all the other big moves that happened, the Pittsburgh Steelers pretty much stayed pat. 

An improved offensive line and the confidence from last year's run should make them Super Bowl contenders. 

The Baltimore Ravens should be tough once again as Joe Flacco continues to improve, but it's their defensive quarterback (Ed Reed) who should win them at least two games all by himself. 

The Cincinnati Bengals could be a sleeper team this year, with a great quarterback, deep receiving corps (if Ochocinco is M-I-A, there are guys waiting to step up), and a defense that looks a lot better than the Bengals traditionally have. 

And even the Browns are only two years removed from a 10-6 season, and whoever wins the quarterback battle should have a productive year.  I expect Braylon Edwards to bounce back nicely. 


6.  NFC North

Cutler, Rodgers, Stafford, and...Favre?  This will be the story of the year in the NFC North.  Besides the Lions, it's easy to see any of these teams coming out on top. 

The Chicago Bears have added arguably the most talented quarterback in the league in Jay Cutler, and the defense is solid as usual. 

The Green Bay Packers come off a season in which they really underachieved, and Aaron Rodgers seems to have a chip on his shoulder because of Brett Favre's shadow. 

Lastly, the Vikings won the division, and whether or not they add Favre, that defense can shut down anybody, not to mention the fact that they have the best running back in the game in Adrian Peterson

The Lions will not go 0-16, and hope is on the horizon for this franchise.  Look at it this way: the Lions will definitely improve on last year (and they certainly can't do any worse). 


7.  NFC West

This division should be more competitive than last year. 

I like the Cardinals a lot.  The passing attack should be dominant, but look out for Chris "Beanie" Wells to give the Cards a thumper running back that can wear defenses down 

Wells will force coordinators to pick their poison between leaving Larry Fitzgerald in one-on-one coverage or letting Wells and Tim Hightower chip away with four, five, and six yards at a time. 

Meanwhile, their defense should easily be top 15 (maybe top 10), led by playmakers like Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. 

The Seattle Seahawks have three linebackers with Pro Bowl talent and, with a healthy Matt Hasselbeck, should be respectable again. 

And if the San Francisco 49ers figure out their quarterback situation, they have enough surrounding talent to make a serious run at the playoffs. 

St. Louis figures to have a rebuilding year, but don't be surprised to see San Francisco and Seattle make some noise this year.


8.  AFC West

The worst division in football. 

The San Diego Chargers are a trendy Super Bowl pick, and the defense should bounce back with the return of Shawne Merriman. 

Playoff contenders end there, though. 

Denver's team has been run straight into the ground.  They fired a Hall-of-Fame coach, and hired an offensive coordinator who rode the talent of Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker to a head coaching position. 

Jay Cutler is gone, the defense is still a mess, and I would not be surprised at a 3-13 season. 

Oakland is still Oakland, and Kansas City is on the right track but still a year away from being a serious contender.



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