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NFL

The NFL best divisions ranked from first to last

On NFL-season Eve we scan the horizon and take a look at each division, at who are the contenders and who makes up the numbers.

Update:
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 29: Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second quarter in the AFC Championship Game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on January 29, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.   Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Kevin C. Cox / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
KEVIN C. COXAFP

As the NFL season is primed and ready to go, we take a look at the strongest - and weakest - divisions in the league.

If you have paid even the slightest attention to the NFL over the past few seasons, it will come as no surprise that the top two divisions are both in the AFC. While last season saw the AFC West as the top dog coming into Week 1, this season sees the balance of power tipped to the North.

Also following the long downward trajectory of the past few seasons, the NFC South is the weakest division in the league, with a dearth of quarterback quality as the prime reason.

Here are our rankings from one to eight.

1. AFC North

The Cincinnati Bengals have been bridesmaids for two years now, and they are substantially the same team. Help in the offensive line came tantalizingly close with the acquisition of La’el Collins last season, only to see him start on the injured list this season. But Joe Burrow is as good a quarterback as we have seen in a generation, perhaps a better all-rounder than even Patrick Mahomes, and you have to feel that it is only a question of time before he finds a way to win it all. You can never be too sure however. After all, Dan Marino was better than Burrow and never managed to get a second bite at the apple.

Around the AFC North, the competition is every bit as talented, with the Ravens getting Lamar Jackson back and adding Odell Beckham Jr and Zay Flowers to the mix. The Browns will be counting on Deshaun Watson to up his game and push for the playoffs.

2. AFC West

As it includes the reigning Super Bowl Champions, it would be suspect for the AFC West not to feature here. And true to form, the Kansas City Chiefs are leading the pack this season as well. The Los Angeles Chargers are looking to challenge Mahomes and Kelce for that role, with Justin Herbert at the helm they feel confident that they can make the playoffs again.

The biggest shake-up in the division is the hiring of Sean Payton by Denver as the Broncos look to turn things around. The Raiders have let Derek Carr go and replaced him with Jimmy Garropolo, a quarterback who, for all the baggage that he may carry from San Francisco, at least knows how to get to the post season.

3. NFC East

The Philadelphia Eagles had a barnstorming back end of their season last year, upending the 49ers in the NFC Championship, and they are substantially the same, with Jalen Hurts the fourth highest graded quarterback in the NFL.

The Dallas Cowboys are talented enough to make a run at the Super Bowl but Dak Prescott will need to bounce back from a dire outing in 2022. The Giants and Commanders are two teams in the middle of a turnaround, and while they may not be able to make a run at the playoffs, they should be able to keep teams on their toes.

4. AFC East

The AFC East normally starts and ends with the Buffalo Bills, and while Josh Allen and company are still top of the heap, they have serious competition in the form of the Miami Dolphins. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are a one-two combination that can knockout any team in the league. Elsewhere, the Jets are hoping to squeeze the last remaining drop of football out of Aaron Rodgers, and in doing so push toward the playoffs. The New England Patriots, for the first time in many moons are looking like the runt of the litter in the division.

5. NFC West

The 49ers are poised to take the division if they can manage a quarterback discovery like last year. But with Brock Purdy still in his NFL infancy and Jimmy G now in Las Vegas, there is a big question mark over their durability at the position.

The Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals have fallen mightily over the past two seasons, and are an empty shell of the contenders that they once were. Kyler Murray is not likely to be ready for action any time soon. Challenging San Francisco at the top of the division is likely to be Geno Smith and the Seattle Seahawks.

6. NFC North

The Detroit Lions are looking at their best chance to win the division, a feat that they have never accomplished. And while they will need to lean heavily on their wide receivers, particularly Amon-Ra St Brown, they are in this position largely due to the deficiencies of other teams around the division. The Minnesota Vikings ended 2022 in a funk and while they have a true superstar in Justin Jefferson, they found a lot of trouble getting the ball into his hands. The Bears have reason to like their chances behind Justin Fields, but the Packers will be nervous with Jordan Love getting his first real chance to stretch his legs.

7. AFC South

Trevor Lawrence revived hope in Jacksonville of at least a push at the playoffs, and while his play is outstanding, he lacks some of the peripheral tools in the wide receiver and tight end positions to seriously threaten Mahomes or Burrow. The Texans and Colts are teams in full meltdown mode, flailing in their unrebuildability, while the Titans might feel that they are closest to a complete package. But this is going to be a season of trial and a lot of error.

8. NFC South

Oh how the mighty have fallen. The once-proud competition between Drew Brees and the Saints against Tom Brady and the Bucs are no more. Even Atlanta, a team perennially on the cusp, is weakened. Not one of the teams in the NFC South have a realistic shot at the Super Bowl, although the Saints will argue that they are outsiders. Acquiring Derek Carr to compliment Chris Olave and Michael Thomas, you could argue that they have at least a puncher’s chance. But realistically, the entire division is in full rebuild mode.