Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers directs the best team in the best division
The National Football League has long stressed parity as one of its cornerstones.
Everybody gets about the same amount of money from the gigantic TV deals the NFL keeps striking and everybody has a chance to compete.
Well, looking at the relative strengths of the eight NFL division, parity is all over the place.
The real issue here is that it’s hard to tell where parity ends and mediocrity begins.
There are only two divisions with a cumulative winning record. There are four divisions within a game or two of .500. There are two divisions that can’t keep from tripping over themselves.
The cumulative won-loss record isn't the only judge of a division’s strength—factors like strength of schedule, the quality of the four starting quarterbacks, the ferocity of the home field factor and the division’s depth (or lack of same)—have to be considered.
Here’s what we have come up with:
Broncos' Tim Tebow is emblematic of AFC West's troubles
There is little unanimity in the NFL over anything, but there aren't many who are willing to shill for the AFC West.
Coming into this week, the division’s overall record is just one game under (.500), but the division reeks of mediocrity.
Oakland and Denver share the top billing in the West, and between the death of Raiders’ patriarch Al Davis and the unknown factor that is the Broncos’ Tim Tebow, there isn't a team among the four that scares anybody.
The other two teams, the Chargers and the Chiefs, aren't terrible, but they are also not very good. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is averaging almost two interceptions per game and the Chiefs, behind injured QB Matt Cassel, are one of just eight teams averaging fewer than 200 yards per game through the air.
You want an easy win? Your best bet is to pick on an AFC West team.
First-year coach Jim Harbaugh has the 49ers on the move
At 16-20, the NFL West has the second-worst record in the divisional race.
But it does have this season’s surprise team, the San Francisco 49ers, and the rise of the 8-1 49ers gives the division something to cheer about.
Is San Francisco hearkening back to its glory days under new coach Jim Harbaugh? It’s hard to make that judgment based on nine games. The 49ers’ defense has become a force in the NFL, which is something you would not have guessed after seeing this team miss the playoffs last year.
At quarterback, Alex Smith is not drawing raves, but is directing the San Francisco offense well enough, and Frank Gore is moving the ball on the ground with the best of them.
It’s hard to look at the rest of the division without holding your nose.
Between them, the Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams have just eight wins. It’s all about the quarterbacks. Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson, the Cardinals’ Kevin Kolb and the Rams’ Sam Bradford all have QB ratings between 77.8 (Kolb) and 72.6 (Bradford), clearly not striking fear into the opposition.
Arian Foster has Houston on the move
The AFC South never expected to be in this sad shape, owning the worst overall record (15-23) in the divisional derby.
But they never expected to see the Colts roster pillaged the way it was when Indy lost its star quarterback Peyton Manning. Just two years ago, the Colts were running off 14 consecutive wins. Now, it’s 10 losses and counting.
The Texans have proved to be the class of the division behind the power running of Arian Foster and a nasty defense.
The Titans aren't bad at 5-4 behind quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, but the 3-6 Jaguars, despite winning two of their last three, still have problems in the passing game.
LeSean McCoy can't do it all by himself for the Eagles
This is a division with some history to it. The Giants, Cowboys, Eagles and Redskins have all spent considerable time ranking among the NFL’s best.
The trouble is, none of those teams is there now.
The Giants might be the closest, owning the division lead at 6-3, but beyond quarterback Eli Manning, there are question marks. The Giants haven’t run the ball well, and both the pass and rush defenses are suspect.
The Cowboys have had to struggle mightily to get to 5-4, and through it all there are questions if Tony Romo is losing favor as the Dallas quarterback. The defense isn’t bad, but neither is it good enough to scare anybody.
Led by LeSean McCoy, the Eagles have as good a ground attack as you could wish, but with Michael Vick in and out of the lineup at quarterback, you never know what you’re going to get with the Eagles.
As for the Redskins, Rex Grossman’s offense hasn’t been up to expectations. Or, even worse, maybe it has.
Fred Jackson has the Bills eying big things in 2011
The AFC East came into this week with three teams at .500 or better and an 18-19 overall record, but there are issues yet to be solved.
The Tom Brady-led Patriots have the third-best offense in the NFL, but the 2011 season has proven that the New England defense is porous, which doesn’t bode well for the Pats in the playoffs.
The Bills got off to a fast start behind the league's top rusher in Fred Jackson and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, winning four of the first five times out. But the Bills haven't beaten a team with a winning record since a 34-32 win over New England in Week 3.
The Jets, one of the NFL's perennial mysteries, go out this week with a 5-5 record and give no indication that they are ready to play up to their talent level.
And the Dolphins at 2-7 are just one of those "So What?" teams.
Matt Ryan has the Falcon offense on the move
If you were to go quarterback shopping, the NFC South would be the place to look.
They have the NFL's leading yardage producer in Drew Brees with the Saints.
Panthers rookie Cam Newton, despite having cooled off after an epic debut, still ranks seventh.
The Falcons' Matt Ryan had guided Atlanta to three straight wins before throwing for 351 yards the last time out in a tough 26-23 loss to the Saints.
And in Josh Freeman, the Buccaneers have someone with promise, the last three games notwithstanding.
All that being said, the NFC South teams are not without their issues. The Falcons are the only team in the division ranked in the top half of NFL defenses, and the Bucs (29th) and Saints (30th) have had trouble stopping everyone.
Ray Lewis makes the Ravens' defense one to fear
It's not so much that the four teams in the AFC North have combined for a 22-15 record coming into this week—it's that the North teams just beat you up.
The Ravens (first), the Bengals (fourth), the Browns (fifth) and the Steelers (sixth) all rank among the elite defenses in the NFL this year.
The Steelers have some good pieces on the offensive side of the ball as well, with Rashard Mendenhall at running back and Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
The Ravens can move the ball behind quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice.
In rookie Andy Dalton, the Bengals have an up-and-coming prospect who had guided the team to five consecutive wins before getting that streak snapped the last time out.
Only the Browns, who have yet to find a ground game, don't offer a serious offensive challenge.
Matt Forte's bruising rushes make the Bears a team to reckon with
By themselves, the Packers are good enough to make this the NFL's strongest division.
With the NFL's top-rated passer, Aaron Rodgers, and a rushing defense helped by opponents having to throw repeatedly in attempts to get back into games, Green Bay seems to be in a class of its own.
The Lions and the Bears are a pair of 6-3 teams with interesting prospects. Detroit, despite their turnover problems early against Carolina on Sunday, has a solid offense led by quarterback Matthew Stafford. And Chicago moves the ball behind running back Matt Forte, the third-leading rusher in the NFL, and QB Jay Cutler.
The thing about the North is that the worst team in the division, the 2-7 Vikings, have been good enough to be in position to have as many as six wins, but Minnesota has managed to make enough mistakes late in games that quarterback Donovan McNabb was pushed out of his job to be replaced by Christian Ponder. But the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, who is as dangerous as any, although he missed time on Sunday after an ankle injury.