Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2019 divisional power rankings, where we’ll be ranking the NFL’s divisions from best to worst.
Remember, we’re ranking divisions here, not teams, which means that not even Tom Brady’s six Super Bowl rings are going to be able to save the AFC East in these rankings. As a matter of fact, the AFC East was hands down the worst division in the NFL last year. In non-divisional games, the AFC East went 16-24 against the other divisions, which was two games worse than any other division.
What I’m trying to say here is that the AFC East is ranked last.
So where does everyone else rank?
Let’s get to the divisional power rankings and find out.
8. AFC East
If these rankings were based solely on how good the best team in your division is, then the AFC East would probably be ranked first every year, but that’s not how we do things here. For our divisional rankings, we take into account all four teams, which definitely doesn’t work out in the AFC East’s favor.
During the 2018 season, the Patriots won their 10th straight division title, which basically means the AFC East has been the entertainment equivalent of watching Joey Chestnut going up against a 109-pound vegetarian in a hot dog eating contest. You already know who’s going to win, but you watch to see how ugly things are going to get.
Although it feels like the Bills and Jets both took a step forward during the offseason, the Dolphins took two steps back, which means the division is right back where it started and that’s at the bottom of our rankings.
The Jets might have added some talent in the former of players like Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley, but they also added a coach (Adam Gase) who spent the his past three seasons in Miami trying to win the AFC East, only to come up short each time. On the Bills’ end, it’s a good thing Sean McDermott’s contract isn’t tied to how often he can beat the Patriots, otherwise he would never get paid. During his two seasons on the job, the Bills have gone 0-4 against New England while being out scored by an average of 27-9. Yes, the Bills and Jets have both added talent, but talent doesn’t seem to matter when Bill Belichick can just easily outwit your coach every time you play.
As for the Dolphins, they deny that they’re going to try to tank this season, but maybe they should re-think that stance.
Some day, this division will get better, but that day probably won’t be coming any time soon. The good news for the AFC East is that things can’t be much worse than they were last year. During the 2018 season, the AFC East had the worst out-of-division record in the NFL, including an 0-4 record against the AFC North.
AFC East out-of-division record in 2018: 16-24 (7-9 vs. NFC North, 6-10 vs. AFC South, 0-4 vs. AFC North, 3-1 vs. AFC West)
2019 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC East and AFC North
7. NFC East
If the question mark is your favorite form of punctuation, then you’re going to be thrilled to read about the NFC East and that’s because this division arguably has more question marks than any other division heading into the 2019 season.
The thing is, it’s not just the teams that were bad last year that we have questions about, there’s also plenty of questions that need to be answered about the good teams in this division.
Are the Giants starting the right quarterback? Are the Redskins starting the right quarterback? Can Carson Wentz stay healthy? Will the Redskins be able to convince Trent Williams to play for them? Is the Ezekiel Elliott holdout ever going to end? Will Jay Gruden make it through the entire season without getting fired?
If you think the answers to those questions are no, no, no, maybe, no, yes and no, then we’re on the same page. Speaking of being on the same page, oddsmakers definitely seem to be in agreement on that Jay Gruden question.
It’s almost fitting that people in Vegas make those odds, because that’s where Jay Gruden could be headed next. If he does get fired, his brother would probably be more than happy to hire him for the Raiders‘ first season in Sin City next year.
Anyway, we’ll definitely find out how good the NFC East is in 2019 and that’s because the division is matched up with the best division in our rankings this year and the worst.
NFC East out-of-division record in 2018: 19-21(7-9 vs. NFC South, 6-10 vs. AFC South, 3-1 vs. NFC North, 3-1 vs. NFC West)
2019 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC North and AFC East
6. AFC South
The AFC South is the only division in the NFL that’s sent all four of its teams to the playoffs at least once over the past two years, but that’s not really going to help them in our ranking, because right now, the division is in total disarray, and that was before Andrew Luck decided to of the regular season.
Luck’s retirement has thrown the division into total chaos at the quarterback position. In Tennessee, Marcus Mariota has struggled so much during training camp that it’s almost like he’s trying to lose his job to Ryan Tannehill. The situation has gotten so ugly that random people on Twitter are now advising the Titans on how to handle their quarterback situation.
Of course, the Titans aren’t the only team in the division with quarterback questions. The Jaguars just handed the keys to their offense to a quarterback (Nick Foles) who’s never started for an entire season. Since his rookie year in 2012, the most games Foles has ever started in one season is 11. As Eagles fans know well, Foles’ specialty seems to be coming off the bench and leading his team to wins that don’t seem possible. Maybe the Jags should have kept Blake Bortles and let him start the first six games of the season just so Foles felt comfortable doing what he does best, which is coming off the bench.
As for the Texans, there’s not really any questions about the quarterback play in Houston, but there is a few questions about whether or not anyone can protect the quarterback. The Texans had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season and things aren’t expected to be much better in 2019, which isn’t good news for Deshaun Watson, who got sacked a league-high 62 times last year.
AFC South out-of-division record in 2018: 23-17 (10-6 vs. NFC South, 10-6 vs. AFC East, 1-3 vs. AFC North, 2-2 vs. AFC West)
2019 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC South and AFC West
5. NFC West
The NFC West might be the hardest division to rank and that’s because you could make a strong argument for putting it almost anywhere in these rankings. Want to put it lower? That would definitely be fair, if only because the NFC West was the ONLY division in the NFL last year that didn’t have a winning record against any other division. As a matter of fact, the NFC West went 1-3 against both the NFC East and NFC South.
On the other hand, you could certainly make the argument that this division should be ranked higher and that’s because it’s hard to imagine the west’s two worst teams from last season — the 49ers and Cardinals — doing any worse in 2018. The Cards were so bad last season that they earned the No. 1 overall pick, but if Kyler Murray is half as good as Steve Keim thinks he is, then there’s no way the Cardinals won’t improve on their 3-13 record.
Of course, with the way that Keim has drafted over the past few years, maybe we shouldn’t take his word on what qualifies as a generational talent. As for San Francisco, if Jimmy Garoppolo can make it through the entire season without getting injured, there’s a good chance we’ll see them improve on their 4-12 record from last season.
NFC West out-of-division record in 2018: 18-22 (8-8 vs. NFC North, 8-8 vs. AFC West, 1-3 vs. NFC East, 1-3 vs. NFC South)
2019 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC South and AFC North
4. AFC North
After two straight years of being ranked near the bottom here, the AFC North is finally moving into the top half of our rankings and that’s because two things have happened this offseason that no one thought was ever going to happen: The Browns actually got better and the Bengals actually moved on from Marvin Lewis, which was arguably as big a shock to Bengals fans as Andrew Luck’s retirement was to Colts fans (OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but trust me, Bengals fans were shocked).
The truth is, we all thought that.
The hiring of Zac Taylor means that the Bengals will have an offensive-minded coach running the show for the first time in Andy Dalton’s career. Now, does that mean the Bengals are going to win the division? Probably not, but if they’re the worst team in the AFC North, you could make the argument that they’re the best “worst” team in any division, which shows you how strong the North is from top-to-bottom.
Although every team in this division has at least one big question — Can Taylor actually coach? Will the Browns implode under all the pressure? Can Lamar Jackson be successful for a full season? Can the Steelers offense function without Antonio Brown? — those questions likely won’t derail anyone’s season. If there’s one division in the AFC that feels like it could send three teams to the playoffs, it’s definitely the AFC North.
AFC North out-of-division record in 2018: 21-19 (9-7 vs. NFC South, 5-11 vs. AFC West, 3-1 vs. AFC South, 4-0 vs. AFC East)
2019 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC South and AFC West
3. AFC West
It’s not often that a division produces two 12-win teams, but that’s exactly what happened in the AFC West last season as the Chiefs and Chargers both rolled to a 12-4 record. Unfortunately for the AFC West, the other two teams were so bad that the division didn’t even crack the top-two in our rankings.
That being said, it’s not all bad news for the AFC West and that’s because it’s the highest-ranked division in the AFC. Although the Raiders and Broncos both had ugly seasons last year, both teams have upgraded.
On the Raiders end, Derek Carr’s production should get a major boost this year thanks to the addition of Antonio Brown. Of course, that’s assuming that Brown doesn’t end up retiring over his helmet and that his frost-bitten feet heal before Week 1. Although it feels safe to assume that he’ll be on the field for the opener, if we’ve learned one thing with Brown, it’s that you can never assume anything.
As for the Broncos. although the addition of Joe Flacco made , the hiring of Vic Fangio might have actually been their of the offseason. If Fangio proved one thing in Chicago last season, it’s that he has the ability to put together a defense that can win in spite of the team’s offense, which is good news for the Broncos, because that’s something that will probably have to happen multiple times this year if Denver is going to be good.
Of course, even if both of these teams turn out to be bad, the mere presence of Patrick Mahomes in the division justifies a No. 3 ranking for the AFC West.
AFC West out-of-division record in 2018: 22-18 (8-8 vs. NFC West, 11-5 vs. AFC North, 1-3 vs. AFC East, 2-2 vs. AFC South)
2019 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC North and AFC South
2. NFC South
I was almost afraid to rank the NFC South this high and that’s because if I’ve learned anything over the past four years, it’s that the football Gods hate this division with a passion and therefore will probably hate me for this ranking
Every year, this division gets hit with the most excruciating loss of the NFL season. In 2015, the Panthers ran through the regular season with a 15-1 record before getting thrashed in the Super Bowl. In 2016, that loss belonged to the Falcons, who blew a 28-3 second half lead to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. In 2017, the Saints made it to the divisional round of the playoffs before losing on the Minneapolis Miracle. One year later, the Saints were one game away from the Super Bowl, but New Orleans didn’t make it because the officiating crew in the NFC title game forgot what pass interference was.
Although Buccaneers fans haven’t had to sit through an excruciating loss like that over the past four years, they have had to sit through four years of Buccaneers football, so we can put them on this list, too.
Even though the Football Gods hate this division, that doesn’t mean the team’s aren’t talented. For one, this division features two of the past four MVPs (Matt Ryan and Cam Newton) and one quarterback (Drew Brees) who’s finished as runner-up for the MVP more times than anyone else ever (three times). Also, the division has produced the NFC’s Super Bowl team in two of the past four years.
For 2019, if Cam Newton is healthy and if Bruce Arians can turn around the Buccaneers, the NFC South might end up being the best division in football. The Bucs might have been bad last year, but don’t sleep on them this season.
If former Backstreet Boy Nick Carter thinks they’re going to be good, they’re probably be going to be good (Maybe).
By the way, the NFC South is just one of two divisions that has sent every one of its teams to the Super Bowl over the past 17 years. Since the NFL realigned its divisions in 2002, the NFC South and the NFC West are the only two divisions that have done this.
NFC South out-of-division record in 2018: 20-20 (9-7 vs. NFC East, 7-9 vs. AFC North, 1-3 vs. NFC North, 3-1 vs. NFC West)
2019 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC West and AFC South
1. NFC North
When Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback of the third-best team in your division, you know you have a strong division, and that’s exactly what the NFC North had in 2018.
Although Rodgers is the best quarterback in the division, the Packers aren’t really the best at anything else, which is a big reason why the NFC North is so balanced. The Bears have the best defense, the Vikings have the best receiving corps and the Lions, well, they’re the best at not winning the division.
Speaking of winning the division, the Bears did that with a strong defense last year and Lions coach Matt Patricia seems to be well aware of that, because he spent the most of the offseason upgrading the defense in Detroit. Thanks to the addition of Trey Flowers, the Lions now have a defensive front that includes Flowers, Mike Daniels and Damon “Snacks” Harrison.
New Packers coach Matt LaFleur must have also noticed how the Bears won the division, because he also beefed up his defense this offseason by adding multiple players, including OLB Za’Darius Smith, OLB Preston Smith, S Adrian Amos.
What this all means is that you shouldn’t be surprised if the final score of every NFC North game this year is 13-10. You also shouldn’t be surprised if the NFC North ends up being the best division in the NFL this year.
NFC North out-of-division record in 2018: 21-19 (8-8 vs. NFC West, 9-7 vs. AFC East, 1-3 vs. NFC East, 3-1 vs. NFC South)
2019 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC East and AFC West