NFL Power Rankings 2011: Ranking Every Division from Worst to First
Last season, we saw a team from the miserable NFC West make the playoffs by default, while other 10-win teams were left in the cold. The whole thought of Super Bowl contenders sitting at home during the postseason while a team with a losing record remained alive had some crying foul.
While Seattle's wild-card victory over the Saints put the realignment murmurs to rest, we learned that now more than ever, which division your favorite team plays in can make all the difference in the world.
This isn't college football. A win, is a win, is a win and every victory is a good one. Being in a competitive division doesn't do anything for a team except make it harder to infiltrate the playoffs.
Just ask the 2008 New England Patriots, who went 11-5 and missed the playoffs.
The criteria for this list is simple. The projected sum of total wins from all four teams is the only factor that will weigh into this slideshow. The best division will have the most total projected wins as a whole, the worst will have the least.
An elite team can't carry a division, just as one miserable division can't bring it down. Being well-rounded helps, but having the most tightly knit division certainly doesn't make it the best.
Here are the rankings for every division in football, starting with the bottom of the barrel.
No. 8 NFC West
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Total Projected Wins: 26
It's impossible to rank the NFC West any higher than dead last. It improved as a group, but how could it not?
Rams Projected Wins: 8
The Rams failed to surround Sam Bradford with more weapons. Mike Sims-Walker is grossly underrated, but as a whole the Rams have the worst group of receivers in the NFL. Bradford makes them look adequate, but he and Steven Jackson are everything to that offense. Still, the Rams could easily take the division with 8-9 wins.
49ers Projected Wins: 6
The 49ers have a brand new head coach, an underachieving offense and new faces all over the place on defense. The Alex Smith experience will be making its seventh appearance, as fans still wait for a breakout year.
Seahawks Projected Wins: 6
The Seahawks are going with Tarvaris Jackson, a move that is reminiscent of the Cardinals pegging Derek Anderson as the starter. They picked up Sidney Rice, but with Jackson's best attributes being that he's started before and knows the offense, the Seahawks aren't scaring anyone.
Cardinals Projected Wins: 6
Cardinals fans are thinking Kevin Kolb might be the franchise QB they haven't seen since Kurt Warner. Having never played a full season and still having a lot to prove, this upgrade doesn't come without serious risk.
No. 7 AFC West
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Total Projected Wins: 28
The AFC West is the hardest division in football to figure out. The Chargers always get off to a slow start, the Raiders will look great one week and terrible the next, the Chiefs don't show up on the road and it's hard to decide how long it's going to take John Elway to fix the mess Josh McDaniels created.
Raiders Projected Wins: 9
The Raiders could have the best run game in the league next year. Darren McFadden is the most underrated running back in the NFL and could be a top-five rusher this year if he stays healthy. The Raiders lost Nnamdi Asomugha, but Stanford Routt and a healthy Chris Johnson are still a great tandem.
Chiefs Projected Wins: 8
This is generous. The Chiefs had an incredible year last year in Charlie Weis' offense, but his departure is going to take some of the magic away. Jonathan Baldwin's character concerns have already been justified and this team won't be seeing the playoffs again next year if they can't improve on the road.
Chargers Projected Wins: 7
Ron Rivera leaving the Chargers isn't going to cripple the defense, but the defense as a whole is going to see a decline in production. The Chargers struggle year in and year out in the beginning of the season. Philip Rivers' heroics won't be enough to pull the Chargers through down the stretch this year.
Broncos Projected Wins: 4
One outstanding rookie and a scheme change aren't going to be able to undo the string of terrible moves McDaniels made. The Broncos are still going to be terrible against the run and lack an identity on either side of the ball.
No. 6 NFC East
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Total Projected Wins: 29
And the award for most overrated division of the year goes to...the NFC East! The NFC East is known as the most well-rounded division in the game. The division is commonly referred to as the NFC Beast, but this year is going to be littered with disappointment for every single team in the division.
Eagles Projected Wins: 10
The Eagles have more hype than any team going into this season. The huge offseason acquisitions may have the general public convinced they can take it all, but a closer look may suggest otherwise. Can Michael Vick play a full season? Will their high-octane offense stumble as it did in the postseason? The Eagles made huge upgrades, but they aren't invincible. Ten wins sounds fair.
Cowboys Projected Wins: 8
The Cowboys had a terrible season last year. With Tony Romo coming back, some expensive dead weight being ousted and Jason Garrett undergoing his first full season, people are excited in Dallas. The same issues remain, though. They have the same sort of hype many teams do when the interim coach wins at the end of a bad season. They have to prove they deserve to be considered a playoff team.
Giants Projected Wins: 6
This could easily be Tom Coughlin's last season in New York. The Giants are in turmoil and nobody seems to be taking notice. Injuries, an unhappy Osi Umenyiora and Steve Smith bouncing to the Eagles make this the worst Giants team in recent memory.
Redskins Projected Wins: 5
Rex Grossman seems to think the Redskins are going to win the East. Good for you Rex. Unfortunately, Mike Shanahan could be the next legendary coach to make a comeback in D.C. and fizzle. They have patches of talent, but the Skins are miles away from competing.
No. 5 AFC South
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Projected Wins: 30
The AFC South has been brutal over the years, but it's hard to see it keeping up that level of production this season. The division is wide open and with huge question marks surrounding every team, it's going to be an interesting year for all teams involved.
Texans Projected Wins: 10
The Texans have been a popular sleeper team for the last few seasons, but this seems to be their year. Wade Phillips is implementing the 3-4 and taking over a stacked front seven and up and much-improved secondary. We all know how explosive the offense is. With the Colts vulnerable, this is their year.
Colts Projected Wins: 8
When Peyton Manning is not at 100 percent, the Colts have no chance. He masks a porous offensive line, an aging defense and makes would-be average receivers like Pierre Garcon and even Blaire White look decent. He's been knocked out of the opener, but if Manning isn't at full strength in Week 2, the Colts can't win.
Jaguars Projected Wins: 7
Maurice Jones-Drew has the ability to put the Jaguars on his back and will them to victory. They are underrated against the run and Marcedes Lewis has established himself as one of the best red-zone threats in the league. With the quarterback situation where it is, the Jags still shouldn't see .500.
Titans Projected Wins: 5
Matt Hasselbeck is better than most people anticipate, but he's fragile. Jake Locker will undoubtedly be seeing action this season and it's not going to be pretty for the rookie. A new regime and a suspect defense are going to bog down the team, no matter what Chris Johnson is able to accomplish against a stacked box all season long.
No. 4 AFC East
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Total Projected Wins: 32
How can a division with two Super Bowl contenders slip all the way down to No. 4? While the Patriots and Jets are great, the rest of the division poses a cause for concern. With teams on both ends of the spectrum, this division becomes middle of the road.
Patriots Projected Wins: 13
The Patriots win in the regular season. They are almost unbeatable at home and Bill Belichick finds a way to make to make it work. They've added two guys who don't exactly fit the Patriots mold in Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco. If either one performs up to their potential, TB12 is going to have no problem racking up 13 wins this year.
Jets Projected Wins: 11
The Jets didn't have quite the impact this offseason that they did last offseason. Even so, they have the potential to be the No. 1 rushing team and the No. 1 defense in any given year. The Jets are the in-your-face team everybody wants a piece of. They put a target on their back on purpose and evoke upset losses too frequently to give them more than 11 wins here.
Bills Projected Wins: 6
The Bills could get Andrew Luck this season, but six wins seems like a more likely scenario. They've got the most underrated quarterback in the league in Ryan Fitzpatrick and they found themselves in a number of close games last year against elite teams. The Bills aren't there yet, but their stock is up.
Dolphins Projected Wins: 2
Looking over their schedule I don't see where these wins are going to come from. The Dolphins have defensive pieces that are stellar, the best left tackle in the league and a top-flight receiver. That's it. The team overachieved last year and failed miserably to address its quarterback woes. Luckily, (pun intended) the Dolphins will find the answer in the draft in April.
No. 3 AFC North
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Total Projected Wins: 33
The AFC North is considered by many to be the best division in football. With two hard-nosed and consistent juggernauts leading the way, this is certainly one of the most feared divisions in football. Unfortunately, it has a high-risk enigma and a complete bottom-feeder dragging it down to the third best division in football.
Ravens Projected Wins: 12
The Ravens could have the best defense in football. With future Hall of Famers Ed Reed and Ray Lewis leading the way, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Haloti Ngata holding down the trenches, an improved secondary and a ferocious pass rush, the Ravens defense is going to make it easy for Ray Rice and Co. to outscore the opposition.
Steelers Projected Wins: 10
The Steelers are lamenting a Super Bowl loss. They had a historic run defense last year, but with teams now hearing Mike Wallace loud and clear and their offensive line still in question, they'll fall just shy of the Ravens this year. Big Ben not being suspended to kick off this season will be great for team morale, but the Super Bowl hangover could make it tough on the Steelers this year.
Browns Projected Wins: 7
The Cleveland Browns are one of the oddest teams in the league. They can look great against the best the NFL has to offer and go MIA the very next week. This team is going to improve leaps and bounds when it cashes in on the picks it obtained in the Julio Jones trade. It's just going to take a couple years.
Bengals Projected Wins: 4
The Bengals fell apart this offseason. Marvin Lewis got an extension, they lost their top two receivers from 2010, Johnathan Joseph left in free agency and their franchise quarterback has made it clear he would rather not play than play for Cincy. Aside from talent here and there on defense, the only thing fans have to be hopeful for is a solid draft that brought in Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.
No. 2 NFC South
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Total Projected Wins: 38
The NFC South is always a mystery. The worst team in the division often rebounds to make a playoff run the very next year and it's almost impossible to pick a winner. With the Buccaneers surprising as they did in 2010, this division has become one of the strongest in the NFL.
Falcons Projected Wins: 12
Okay so the Falcons "downgrade" to 12 wins. They added Julio Jones, which is going to make it even harder for defensive coordinators to prioritize against the most complete offense in the NFL. Even so, a small regression is inevitable, especially given the stellar competition they face next season.
Saints Projected Wins: 12
The Saints could be Super Bowl-bound this year. They are under the radar once again, given their heinous postseason performance last year. After beefing up their defense this offseason, the Saints are a team who could put together some magic once again and make a deep run behind Drew Brees. The addition of Mark Ingram gives their high-octane offense a completely new dimension, forcing defenses to account for the run more than in years past. This team is even stronger than the one that won it all in 2009.
Buccaneers Wins: 9
The Bucs were able to muster 10 wins last year, putting them on the map and forcing the NFL to take notice. LeGarrette Blount has a real shot at winning the rushing title this year as the feature back, and Josh Freeman is one of the best young quarterbacks in the game and this team will be able to put together another winning season. The loss of Barrett Ruud won't be nullified by rookie talent up front. Nine wins seems more than fair.
Panthers Wins: 5
Cam Newton is going to be good for two more wins on his own. The Panthers completely dropped the ball last year, but a new look at head coach and a leader like Newton should put the Panthers on the fast track towards recovering, as is customary for the last-place team in the NFC South.
No. 1 NFC North
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Total Projected Wins: 40
The NFC North has two teams who will likely square off again this year in the NFC Championship, one of the fastest rising teams in the league and even their worst team is only slightly sub par. Serious contenders at the top, a dark horse and a seemingly average team on the bottom make the NFC North the best division in the league.
Bears Projected Wins: 13
The Bears invested in weapons for Jay Cutler and took a lineman in the first round. They brought Pro Bowler Brandon Meriweather into an already top-flight defense and aren't going to back down to the Packers. Green Bay may have won it all, but even a healthy Packers team is going to struggle against the under-appreciated Bears.
Packers Projected Wins: 12
The Packers caught fire last year and they had serious weapons on IR. Their injury issues lingered all the way into the Super Bowl when Charles Woodson went down, so the thought of them being healthy is downright frightening. Even so, repeating is incredibly difficult to do. They didn't win the division last season and while they won't be squeaking into the postseason, this team is at its best in the postseason.
Lions Projected Wins: 9
If Matthew Stafford can stay healthy the NFC North could send three teams to the playoffs. Calvin Johnson is a matchup nightmare and the Lions finally have an identity with Ndamukong Suh literally beating the opposition into the ground. Nobody wants to play the Lions. Once Nick Fairley is at full strength, interior lines in the NFC North are going dread taking on Suh and Fairley.
Vikings Projected Wins: 6
Donovan McNabb was disrespected and embarrassed last year. He's in a better situation with a coach he has a rapport with in Leslie Frazier, better weapons to get the ball to and the best running back in the league behind him. He doesn't have to be the star in the offense, which is going to do wonders for him while he mentors Christian Ponder. An aging defense is cause for concern, but Adrian Peterson can carry this team to six wins.