With 13 weeks of the 2016 NFL season in the books, it’s time to rank the divisions from worst to first.
Thanks to the rise of the Oakland Raiders in the 2016 NFL season, the AFC West has become quite the powerhouse. The same cannot be said for the NFC West, which boasts just one team with a winning record.
These division rankings, however, aren’t solely based on record, because that would be far too easy. Contrary to what Bill Parcells says, you aren’t what your record says you are. If that were the case, the 2011 iteration of the New York Giants would never have won the Super Bowl.
Plus, football fans nowadays are smart enough to have transcended coach-speak, since we have stats like “strength of schedule” readily available. Chances are, though, you deserve to be 3-9 if you are 3-9. And if you are 9-3, well, you’ve probably done a few things right this season.
These division rankings are based on a blend of record, talent, and statistical brilliance. Even if it feels like some of the divisions have very little of any of that, here are the power rankings of each NFL division after 13 weeks of action.
Dec 4, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) walks off the field following the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
8. AFC South
As eloquently as I can put it, this division freaking stinks. I’m honestly ashamed that we’ll have to see one of these mediocre teams soaking up a postseason spot, which will likely be stolen away from some deserving non-AFC West team like the…okay, most of the teams in the AFC are mediocre.
Still, we saw what the Brian Hoyer-led Houston Texans did in the postseason last week and we can only hope that the Texans don’t make it again. I know, to the victor goes the spoils and all, but I have no interest in watching Brock Osweiler throw interceptions to Marcus Peters or Reggie Nelson.
The AFC South has three 6-6 teams and the hope is that the Tennessee Titans pull out the division crown. Watching Marcus Mariota go to work in his second season has been an absolute joy and he’s moved ahead of Jameis Winston in that No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle. It’s remarkable how much better he’s playing when the Titans finally realized that Andre Johnson stunk, whereas Kendall Wright and Rishard Matthews are pretty damn underrated.
As for the Indianapolis Colts, they need to miss the playoffs so that Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano get canned, losing the jobs they are clearly not good at. I’m not 100-percent sure Jim Irsay will wise up and make that decision, but I can only hope. Andrew Luck deserves better, especially after the brilliant season he finally put together. If you were one of the five people nationwide who actually watched Week 13’s Monday Night Football game, you probably took notice. You also probably got fooled into thinking that Dwayne Allen is a good player again.
Dec 4, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis looks on from the sidelines in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 32-14. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
7. AFC North
Before the season, we thought the AFC North would be strong. The Baltimore Ravens beefed up on offense by adding Kenneth Dixon and Mike Wallace to an offense that would get Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman back to full health. Currently in the division lead, the Ravens haven’t disappointed, but the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals have.
If this isn’t Marvin Lewis‘s swan song, then he might as well be as unkillable as Jeff Fisher. Except, of course, he’s actually been a successful coach in this league and isn’t closing in on becoming one of the NFL’s losingest oaches in history. That said, the Bengals are 4-7-1, and there can be no more excuses for Lewis. Cincinnati doesn’t do anything particularly well, and they have no identity on offense with Hue Jackson gone.
Speaking of Jackson, he’ll hope to avoid being the next one-and-done Cleveland Browns head coach. The thought of Jackson being fired is inconceivable, but remember what happened to Rob Chudzinski? There are plenty of unstable owners in the NFL, but none of them can hold a candle to Jimmy Haslam.
By virtue of their explosive offense, the Steelers are the scariest team in the NFL. And yet…this is a team that lost 30-15 to the Miami Dolphins and 34-3 to the Philadelphia Eagles. At 7-5, the Steelers haven’t been the team we expected.
There are plenty of crazy stats in the AFC North, but did you know that the Ravens are 4-0 in the division? Buoyed by a strong defense that boasts sleeper Defensive Player of the Year candidate Eric Weddle, Baltimore is 7-2 in the conference. That looks impressive, but you could also say that they are 1-5 outside of the AFC North and 0-3 outside of the AFC.
Dec 4, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls (34) is hugged by a team mascot as he heads to the locker room after a game against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks won 40-7. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
6. NFC West
The NFC West has just one team with a winning record and, while the Seattle Seahawks are the second-best team in the NFC, they once scored just five points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Oh, and they also lost to the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. Make no mistake, Seattle is an incredible team, but they are just 4-3-1 against other NFC squads.
I’m not even sure I want to address the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers, because there’s really nothing to see here. Honestly, I wouldn’t even bother watching either team. The Rams best player on offense is Kenny Britt and the 49ers don’t even have an offense. Chip Kelly’s version of garbage time is giving Carlos Hyde carries and benching a quarterback who attempted just five passes. Because, you know, your other options have been so much better this season and Colin Kaepernick‘s psyche could really use some more negative feedback.
Coming into the season, we thought the Arizona Cardinals offense would be one of the best in the league. With Kurt Warner, Edgerrin James, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston, this team has the kind of offensive firepower to make the Super Bowl. Sorry about that. The above came from a scouting report I exclusively obtained from Jeff Fisher.
But yeah, the Cardinals offense was supposed to be great. Instead, the only wide receivers who have shown up this season are Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. Yes, one of the NFL’s three 1,000-yard rushers has been a markedly better receiver than Michael Floyd, JJ Nelson and the high school kid posing as John Brown.
The Cardinals are 5-6-1 and their starting quarterback is second in the league in fourth-quarter interceptions. Ryan Fitzpatrick is first. Congrats again on making the Super Bowl on paper.
Dec 4, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) celebrates as he leaves the field following a win against the New Orleans Saints in a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Lions defeated the Saints 28-13. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
5. NFC North
Joe Blow: A quarterback in the NFC North will be a bonafide MVP candidate this season. Joe Bro: Yeah no kidding, we all know about Aaron Rodgers.
Well, who knew Matthew Stafford would be the best quarterback in the NFC North? And who knew that the Detroit Lions would be leading the division at 8-4 in Bob Quinn’s first season as the general manager?
Not me. I thought the Lions would be a thoroughly mediocre team, stuck behind the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. Like many, I thought Jordy Nelson‘s return to health would spark the Packers. Instead, the “highly successful” Mike McCarthy’s ego has been in the way and Dom Capers has somehow allowed Sam Shields to become the most important cornerback in the NFL.
Everyone wants to know what’s wrong with the Packers. So naturally, Aaron Rodgers gets blamed for not playing like an MVP for two-straight seasons. Whenever people pin the blame on the elite quarterback, I am reminded by all those “Tom Brady is washed” takes from a few years ago. Chances are, there’s something more at play.
The Packers are 23rd in points per game allowed and 31st in net yards per pass attempt surrendered. Eddie Lacy is the team’s leading rusher,and he hasn’t played since Week 6. But yeah, tell me how much Rodgers is the problem.
You can say the same for the people lazily pinning the Minnesota Vikings woes on Sam Bradford. This is a team whose passing game doubles as their running game as they average just 9.7 yards per completion. Thanks to a myriad of injuries, the Vikings offensive line stops pass rushers with the effectiveness of a university PSA stopping binge-drinking. The line doesn’t do jack and you almost feel bad that they have to go out there and try every week.
Dec 4, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn leaves the field after being defeated by the Kansas City Chiefs at the Georgia Dome. The Chiefs won 29-28. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
4. NFC South
Don’t look now, but the Atlanta Falcons are 7-5 and tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC South after starting the season 4-1. Blowing division leads isn’t foreign to the Falcons, since they finished 8-8 last season after starting things 5-0. Just ask the San Francisco 49ers about how often the Falcons blow leads.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are on a four-game winning streak and they’ve picked up some impressive wins along the way. Despite the fact that their offense essentially runs through Mike Evans, the Bucs picked up key wins over the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, and Seahawks. That’s impressive.
What isn’t impressive is the Carolina Panthers’ 2016 season. There’s no need to blame Cam Newton for what’s happening in Carolina, because his MVP season is the reason why the Panthers made the Super Bowl in 2015 in the first place. I think we forgot just how much Newton masked the flaws in the Panthers offense last season, while also forgetting that one of the best defenses of all time did expose them in the end.
The Panthers didn’t make any real offseason adjustments either. Instead, they added no pass rushers, made their defensive backs even worse, and elected to go with the status quo on the offensive line. But they were applauded for going “best available” with another defensive tackle in the first round.
New Orleans isn’t out of the hunt at 5-7 and we have to give Dennis Allen credit where credit is due. The Saints defense is 30th in points per game allowed and 30th in net yards per pass attempt allowed, but at least they aren’t dead last. Now that’s called giving Drew Brees a chance.
Dec 4, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase directs his team during the second half against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore Ravens defeated Miami Dolphins 38-6. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
3. AFC East
Bill Belichick could decide to start all 16 games at quarterback for the New England Patriots and the NFL’s version of Ric Flair would still wipe the floor with this division. Granted, the Patriots have actually lost a division game this season (gasp), though the caveat is that it came with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. If we are going to play the records game, the Patriots are 10-2 and one of only three undefeated road teams.
You could put Belichick on your “Coach of the Year” shortlist every year, but make sure you have Adam Gase on that list, too. Gase has been as good as advertised (disclaimer: I was one of the people who advertised him) and he put together a six-game winning streak before the Baltimore Ravens upended the Fins last week.
At 7-5, Miami is in the playoff hunt, but we all know the Dolphins will go as Ryan Tannehill goes. Since Tannehill is the NFL’s most high-variance quarterback, your guess is as good as mine.
You know who hasn’t been a high-variance quarterback in the AFC East this year? Yeah, Tom Brady. You know who else, though? Ryan Fitzpatrick. I can’t remember a quarterback being this consistently bad for a long time.
The New York Jets look like idiots right now. They basically flunked out on future planning and I’m not even sure they cared about the future this offseason. I mean, their elite college scouting netted them Christian Hackenberg in the second round…yikes.
So why are the AFC East ranked so highly? First, most of the other divisions are putrid. Just read what I said about them. More importantly, the Bills are okay, the Dolphins are pretty good, and the Patriots are fantastic.
Dec 4, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) throws a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
2. NFC East
I’m not even mad that the Dallas Cowboys raging success has galvanized their massive fanbase to flaunt their arrogance, because they have every right to be proud. Dak Prescott already looks like a top-ten quarterback, Ezekiel Elliott is the truth, and the offensive line is the best I’ve seen in my lifetime.
The Cowboys are 11-1 and there is no question that they are the class of the NFC East, the NFC, and the NFL as a whole. They have overcome challenge after challenge, whether it was a last-gasp victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers or a Thanksgiving Day win against the Washington Redskins. Ever since Terrance Williams‘s gaffe cost them in Week 1, the Cowboys have not lost. They are this year’s 2015 Carolina Panthers.
The other teams in the NFC East aren’t half-bad either. The Redskins can do some damage on offense, since Kirk Cousins has about 20 different weapons to throw it to. I mean, when Vernon Davis is balling again, you know something’s brewing.
Right now, the 8-4 New York Giants are second in the division, even though they have an expected win-loss record of 6-6. The Giants have been lucky enough to overcome some serious struggles on offense earlier this year, but if anyone can get hot at the right time, it’s Eli Manning.
Dec 4, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) reacts after recovering a forced fumble against the Buffalo Bills in the fourth quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Bills 38-24. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
1. AFC West
If you have any arguments about the AFC West being the best division in the NFL, please send your complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The worst team in the AFC West is 5-7, the San Diego Chargers. Moreover, they and the NFC East are the only divisions in which all the teams have a positive point differential. Even the Chargers have impressive wins over the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, so no team in the AFC West is a cakewalk.
It has been particularly enjoyable to watch the Oakland Raiders go to work. No matter what other teams or critics have thrown at them, they’ve overcome everything in their path. A resurgent Carolina Panthers team and a finger dislocation to MVP quarterback Derek Carr? No problem. Carr will engineer a game-winning drive and Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack will seal the game by beating three blockers. If you don’t think the Raiders are legit, you are probably just jealous that their quarterback is better than yours and that their entire team is better than yours.
The Chiefs and Broncos are excellent teams, too. They put together an all-timer in Week 12 and, while it couldn’t hold a candle to the riveting 6-6 tie between the Seahawks and Cardinals, it was a pretty good game.
Look, who knew that Trevor Siemian wouldn’t be a tremendous liability? I used to joke that no quarterback could be a downgrade on 2015 Peyton Manning, but that statement rings true this season. The Broncos aren’t dominant and are third in the division, but they have the NFL’s best pass defense.
As for the Chiefs, they always seem to find ways to make you lose games. The Panthers, Broncos, and Falcons can all attest to this. Alex Smith hasn’t dropped 300 yards since Week 1, but he’s also not thrown multiple interceptions in a game this year. The Chiefs do not beat themselves and that’s what makes them such a scary team. There’s also the fact that they are 9-3. That helps. And as they are likely one of three teams from the AFC West slated to make the playoffs, there’s no doubt this is the NFL’s best division.