If you want to be a contrarian and argue that a division other than the AFC West is the toughest in football, that’s fine. You’d just be wrong.
The question isn’t if the AFC West is the best division in football, it’s if it’s the best we’ve seen in recent memory. The team picked to finish fourth by most people, the Las Vegas Raiders, went 10-7 last season and then added Davante Adams and Chandler Jones in the offseason. The AFC West is loaded.
Where do the other seven divisions fit in? Let’s rank the divisions by how tough they’ll be this season.
The Indianapolis Colts are the favorite, and not considered a Super Bowl contender by many. No other team might make the playoffs if the Tennessee Titans take a step back after trading A.J. Brown. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans could improve but they were bottom-five teams last season so they have a long way to go. It’s just not a great division.
Everyone in the world seems to think the Dallas Cowboys will regress. What if that happens and the Philadelphia Eagles don’t get much better? The Washington Commanders and New York Giants haven’t been good in years and there’s no great reason to believe they’ll be all that much better this season. Yet, we’ll see these teams on national TV all season.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are considered the runaway favorite, but they have some issues starting with the offensive line. The New Orleans Saints are relying on Jameis Winston to come back healthy off a torn ACL, and not revert back to turnover-machine Winston. The Carolina Panthers might be better than expected but they’ve been bad under Matt Rhule, and the Atlanta Falcons could be in the discussion for the NFL’s worst team.
The strength of this division depends on the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions taking steps forward. It could happen. The Green Bay Packers probably will be good again, though transitioning without Davante Adams. On the other end, the Chicago Bears could have a really long season. Maybe the Vikings and Lions can make it a division race with the Packers.
The Buffalo Bills are Super Bowl favorites for good reason. They’re loaded. The New England Patriots are being dismissed after making the playoffs last season, and go look at how the Bill Belichick Patriots have fared when everyone is counting them out. The Miami Dolphins were offseason darlings again, acquiring Tyreek Hill among others, and maybe this is the year that all pays off. The New York Jets should be better with a solid young core, but they’ve taken on some injuries already.
It was a tough call between No. 2 and No. 3. This could be a really good division. The Baltimore Ravens will bounce back after injuries wrecked their 2021 season. The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off a Super Bowl appearance with a great young core led by QB Joe Burrow. The Cleveland Browns dealt with all the Deshaun Watson drama, but they have a very good roster and Watson will be back after an 11-game suspension. And while the Pittsburgh Steelers have QB questions, it won’t be much worse than Ben Roethlisberger’s last season and there’s a lot to like around QB, including coach Mike Tomlin and his streak of non-losing seasons.
The Los Angeles Rams are Super Bowl champs, but the San Francisco 49ers beat them twice last season and led by 10 points in the fourth quarter of the NFC title game. Those games should be great this season, especially if Trey Lance is the real deal for San Francisco at QB. It’s also hard to count out the Arizona Cardinals, a playoff team last season. The problem could be the Seattle Seahawks, who have looked awful this preseason. Maybe this is one spot too high for the NFC West if the Seahawks crater.
What other division in recent memory had a quarterback group like this one? Patrick Mahomes will be in the Hall of Fame some day, Russell Wilson will too, Justin Herbert is off to a great start in that direction and Derek Carr is an underrated player who holds most Las Vegas Raiders career passing records. The Kansas City Chiefs have owned the division but the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers loaded up this offseason. And don’t discount the Raiders, with new coach Josh McDaniels. All four teams have the talent to make the playoffs, with the problem being that they all have to play each other twice. Every single AFC West game this season should be a blast. It’s an outstanding division from top to bottom.