What Is the Toughest Division in the NFL For 2009?

Donna CavanaghCorrespondent IMay 31, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 11:  Brandon Jacobs #27 of the New York Giants stiff arms Stewart Bradley #55 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game on January 11, 2009 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The Eagles defeated the Giants 23-11. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

As each season looms, the debate over which division is the toughest intensifies.  We, at PossessionPoints.com, are no strangers to this debate and love to participate in it as well. Here is our preliminary overview of the NFL divisions. We hope it might help you decide who you think should be known as the “Toughest Division in the NFL”.

This year, we feel there are surprises on the horizon as the parity between NFL teams is on the increase.  For many people, parity is a bad word meaning mediocrity, but we view it as a positive. We believe fans will see more teams playing up or raising the bar in performance which could lead to some interesting game results down the road.

As of now, we still look at the NFC East and the AFC South as the division strongholds.  Most of the NFL experts and analysts seem to view the Giants and the Eagles as formidable threats on both offense and defense, and many of these experts have one of these teams taking the division and possibly going to the Super Bowl.  

While we do not argue this point, we do not want to count out Dallas or the Redskins. Both teams had their struggles last year, but both teams managed a .500 or better season. An injection of talent and the elimination of some team distractions may be enough to hoist one or both of these teams into the playoff arena.  With so much potential, this division definitely rates a vote as the toughest in the NFL.

In recent years, the AFC South has also become a force to be reckoned with.  It would not surprise us in the least to see the Colts, Titans or even the Texans make their way into the heart of the playoffs.  We know that the Colts have adjustments to handle with the retirement of Tony Dungy and offensive coordinator Tom Moore. However, their new head coach, Jim Caldwell, who has worked for Dungy since his Tampa Baydays, was the first choice of Dungy, and the Colts are trying to bring back Moore as a consultant for the team.  So, the adjustments may not be too difficult to handle.

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As for the Jaguars, we look at them as a team that has to prove a bit more before we list them in the same class as their division opponents.  However, they take nothing away from the threat that this division holds as they were a playoff team in 2007. If the Jaguars can forget 2008 and return to their 2007 form, the AFC South could well be the toughest division.

There is a sound argument to also view NFC South, the AFC East and the NFC South as contenders for the toughest division crown.  With the Panthers, Falcons and Saints in the NFC South, this division may be ready to let loose this season as they did last season. All the teams in the NFC South also had a .500 or better record in 2008.  

Now, Bucs’ fans, do not get upset, but we think it is Tampa Bay that may have a tough time bringing this division home.  The Bucs could find themselves playing a very long season this year.  

The AFC East gets a boost from the return of Tom Brady to the Patriots’ roster.  If the reports about his strength and agility are true, there is no doubt that the Patriots can be viewed as potential Super Bowl contenders.  We also assume that the Dolphins have the ability to repeat or beat their 2008 performance. Only the Bills at 7-9 were below .500 in this division last season.  

If the Patriots’ return to their 2007 dominance, they can make it more difficult for other teams in their division to get to a .500 or better season.

The Jets may join the club of teams that start rookie QBs with a new head coach. It worked for Atlanta and Baltimore last season, so why not this season? With so much potential waiting to be unleashed from these AFC East teams, this division might turn out to be the toughest of all.

We have to admit that we think the toughness of the NFC North is compromised by the presence of the Detroit Lions.  Yes, they have the No. 1 draft pick and yes, their future looks brighter.  But it is a long road from 0-16 to the playoffs, no matter what you are paying your new quarterback.  We do look for the Lions to improve, but we are doubtful of their ability to make the playoffs.  

With that said, the NFC North has some of the toughest competition around with the Bears, Packers and Vikings who are all capable of bringing home a division championship. The most likely suspects for the division title for us at this point are the Vikings or Bears who will no doubt benefit from the addition of Jay Cutler.

So, as of now, we see that five out of the eight divisions have a clear shot at winning the “toughest” moniker, but let’s see how the remaining three divisions – the AFC North and the AFC and NFC West fare.

We know that the AFC North includes not only the Super Bowl Champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers, but their strongest opponent, the Baltimore Ravens as well.  Both of these teams will most likely be playoff bound again. However, when your division includes the Bengals and Browns who both have a ton to prove this season, it’s hard to seriously see this division as the toughest. 

The AFC West has many questions to answer this year.  We do believe that this division is the Chargers to lose.  We do see improvements with the Raiders and Chiefs but these improvements are probably not enough to make this division the toughest in the NFL.  

The Broncos are now without Jay Cutler, and they also have a new head coach in Josh McDaniels. It is hard to tell if a team will gel with a new quarterback and a new head coach.  So, while we see a great deal of potential in this division, we think it is premature at best to say that this division is the toughest.

Last but not least is the NFC West.  Okay, the Super Bowl runner-up, the Arizona Cardinals are in this division, but we have to consider the Seahawks, who were perennial champs prior to last season, as a team to consider for the division crown.  We said before last season started, that the coaching situation would undo the Seahawks’ season and that proved true.  However, with Jim Mora on the sidelines for all of last year, the transition for this team should be complete.  We are looking for the Seahawks of old to make a return. 

In the NFC West, we also are anxious to see how the 49ers perform in their first complete season with Mike Singletary.  Will his high-motivation coaching tactics continue the success he saw with the 49ers last season?  Another team that could be on the upswing are the Rams.  If their new head coach Steve Spagnola can work the wonders with the entire Rams team as he did with the Giants’ defense, who knows what lies ahead?

Well, that is our preliminary look at the divisions and the positive and negative components of each.  Again, what surprises us the most about this season is the increase in parity that exists throughout the league.  In our view, parity can only add to the excitement of the game. We are anxious for the 2009 season already.

(If we were to rank the divisions in 2008 based on how teams did in our Performance Ranking the final ranking would be:

NFC East

AFC East

NFC South

AFC South

AFC North

NFC North

AFC West

NFC West)