If you were hoping that this would be finally be the year where the Patriots' stranglehold on the AFC East came to a crashing end, you might want to just go ahead and give up on that hope, because it doesn't look like it's going to happen, and that's because the Patriots are likely going to have zero competition in 2018, thanks to the fact that they'll be playing in the worst division in the NFL.
That's right, the AFC East has officially reached rock bottom, at least according to the 2018 version of our divisional power rankings. Although the Patriots are expected to contend for a third straight AFC title, it's hard to picture anyone else in the division doing any damage in the NFL.
For every step forward the Patriots took this offseason, it seems like the Jets, Dolphins and Bills took three steps back. The biggest and most glaring difference between the Patriots and the other three teams in the AFC East is that New England actually knows who its starting quarterback is going to be this year. With less than six weeks to go until the start of the regular season, it's still a total mystery about who will be under center in New York or Buffalo. Although the Dolphins know who their quarterback will be (Ryan Tannehill), there's still some mystery surrounding him and that's because it's been more than a year and a half since Tannehill has taken a regular season snap.
Basically, it's good thing the Patriots gave us all this offseason drama, because when it comes to the AFC East and who's going to win it, there's rarely ever any in-season drama.
So where did every other division end up in our rankings this year?
Let's find out.
8. AFC East
It's a good thing Tom Brady's Facebook documentary ," because if it had been called "Tom vs. the AFC East," it would've been boring and predictable and no one would have watched it. The Patriots have won an NFL-record nine straight division titles, and at this point, it seems that the only thing that might end that reign is if Brady or Bill Belichick decides to retire.
A big reason the AFC East is ranked dead last in our division rankings is because it feels like the Patriots are the only team with a shot at the playoffs. So yes, that means six weeks before the season starts, we are totally writing off the Bills, Jets and Dolphins.
Although the Bills made the playoffs last season, it's hard to see them getting back in 2018 after losing their starting quarterback (Tyrod Taylor) and 60 percent of their starting offensive line (Richie Incognito, Cordy Glenn, Eric Wood). Not to mention, there's still a chance that this LeSean McCoy situation or two. Those losses are ugly, but the Dolphins might have actually lost more talent, with Ndamukong Suh, Mike Pouncey and Jarvis Landry all leaving Miami through free agency or trade. Surprisingly, the Jets might be the most improved team in the division, but when you're as bad as the Jets were last year, it's almost impossible not to improve.
The NFL loves the idea of parity, but unfortunately for the league, the AFC East is the division where parity comes to die. RIP parity.
By the way, we'll find out pretty quickly if the AFC East is as bad as we think it is, because the division is matched up against the AFC South (ranked as the second worst division) this year.
AFC East out-of-division record in 2017: 21-19 (6-10 vs. NFC South, 9-7 vs. AFC West, 2-2 vs. AFC North, 4-0 vs. AFC South)
2018 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC North and AFC South
7. AFC South
If there's any part of this ranking that's going to be thrown back in my face multiple times by the end of the 2018 season, it's probably the fact that the AFC South is this low. However, there are several reasons why a division that sent two teams to the playoffs last year is ranked as the second worst division in the NFL.
For one, this is a divisional ranking and the AFC South has been absolutely atrocious when playing against other divisions over the past few years. In 2017, the four teams in the AFC South combined to go 15-25 in non-divisional games, which was the worst record of any division in the NFL. It wasn't just 2017 either, the AFC South has had a losing record in non-divisional games nearly every year for the past decade. The last time the AFC South had a winning record in non-divisional games came all the way back in 2009 when Peyton Manning was still playing for the Colts. To put that in perspective, since 2014, every other division has had at least one winning record against non-divisional opponents.
The AFC South has also more question marks than pretty much every other division this season. If the Texans are good this year, their training staff should win the team MVP award and that's because Houston's success is going to depend on the health of guys like Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt. Although Watson looked good last year, he's only started six career games, so there's no guarantee he's going to be a star in 2018. As for Watt, he's coming off his second serious injury in two years and hasn't played a full season since 2015. Of course, Watt now looks like the Incredible Hulk, so it won't be surprising at all if he makes it through the season and destroys everyone in his path.
As for the other three teams, the Jaguars are going to have a target on their back after getting to the AFC title game last year and both the Colts and Titans will be dealing with the learning curve that comes with hiring a new coach. Not to mention, the Colts will likely be starting a quarterback who hasn't played a regular season game since the 2016 season.
That's a lot of question marks for a division that always seems to struggle. Basically, for the AFC South to be great this year, everything is going to have to go right, and everything never goes right in the NFL.
AFC South out-of-division record in 2017: 15-25 (10-6 vs. AFC North, 4-12 vs. NFC West, 0-4 vs. AFC East, 1-3 vs. AFC West)
2018 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC East and AFC East
6. AFC North
If these rankings were based on the top-three teams in each division -- or if the Browns didn't exist -- the AFC North would probably be ranked a lot higher here. However, the Browns do exist (if going 0-16 counts as existing), which means we have to punish the AFC North accordingly.
The Browns were literally the only reason the AFC North struggled in non-divisional games last year. As a division, the four teams combined to go 17-23 in non-divisional games, and the Browns definitely didn't help things by going 0-10 (The Steelers, Ravens and Bengals combined to go 17-13).
Although the Browns seem to get better on paper every year, someone seems to be throwing that piece of paper into a giant bonfire, because the improvements never seem to translate to the field. However, maybe this year will be different. The Browns have added a quarterback (Tyrod Taylor), a receiver (Jarvis Landry) and a running back (Carlos Hyde). Although those moves were impressive, this "Office" spoof is still the Browns' best move of 2018.
Of course, even if the Browns are bad again, the rest of the division should be good. In Baltimore, Joe Flacco will be playing for his job, which is good news for the Ravens, because the only time he seems to play well is when he's under an absurd amount of pressure (See: 2012 playoffs). As for the Bengals, someone finally talked Marvin Lewis into adding some offensive linemen, which means Andy Dalton is actually going to have some protection. On the Steelers' end, with Le'Veon Bell likely after this season, everyone there is well aware that the Super Bowl window is closing fast. After struggling through 2017, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see the AFC North produce three playoff teams in 2018.
AFC North out-of-division record in 2017: 17-23 (6-10 vs. AFC South, 6-10 vs. NFC North, 2-2 vs. AFC East, 3-1 vs. AFC West)
2018 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 higher? Well, you have a whiz-kid head coach who went 11-5 in his first year (Sean McVay), you have a quarterback who's never lost a start in his career (Jimmy Garoppolo) and you have a QB-Coach combination in Seattle that's been to two Super Bowls together over the past five years. The NFC West also went an insane 12-4 against the AFC South last season.
Of course, the argument for putting them lower is that the 49ers defense will be taking plenty of question marks into 2018 and Jimmy Garoppolo can't go undefeated forever, no matter how handsome he is. The Seahawks have been losing players left and right. As a matter of fact, if you were to call Seattle's defense a shell of its former self, that would arguably be an insult to shells. In Arizona, the head coach and quarterback both retired, which isn't an ideal situation for any team.
On the other hand, the Rams built an all-star team this offseason, they have no weaknesses and after they win the Super Bowl, we'll probably have to move the NFC West up in the rankings next year. For now, the NFC West is in the fifth spot, and that's mostly by principle: The division didn't have a winning record against any other NFC division in 2017.
NFC West out-of-division record in 2017: 22-18 (7-9 vs. NFC East, 12-4 vs. AFC South, 1-3 vs. NFC North, 2-2 vs. NFC South)
2018 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC North and AFC West
4. AFC West
The AFC West is the highest-ranked division in the AFC and that's because it feels like the one division in the conference where any team could finish .500 or above, or even win it, and yes, that includes the Broncos, who went just 5-11 last year.
Every team in the division seemed to add at least one major upgrade. The Raiders added Jon Gruden, the Broncos signed Case Keenum and the Chargers seemed to make all the right moves this offseason, even if star receiver Keenan Allen seemed to hate some of them.
The two biggest moves from the Chargers came in the form of signing offensive lineman Mike Pouncey and drafting defensive back Derwin James.
Ironically, the team with the biggest question marks heading into 2018 is the team that won the division last season. If you're scoring at home, the Chiefs traded away their starting quarterback (Alex Smith), their best defensive back (Marcus Peters) and lost their offensive coordinator to the Bears (Matt Nagy). You could also argue that they overpaid for Sammy Watkins. Of course, the Chiefs have made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, so we're going to give Andy Reid the benefit of the doubt in all of this and pretend that he knows what he's doing.
AFC West out-of-division record in 2017: 18-22 (7-9 vs. AFC East, 7-9 vs. NFC East, 1-3 vs. AFC North, 3-1 vs. AFC South)
2018 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC West and AFC North
3. NFC East
If you want to start a debate that might turn into a bar fight this weekend, just go up to a group of people and ask them who the best quarterback in the NFC East is. The one reason we're ranking this division so high is because it feels like the NFC East has the best group of quarterbacks of any division in the NFL, behind only the NFC South.
Although Eli Manning has struggled over the past few years, the Giants have been him in a position to succeed in 2018 by drafting a running back and beefing up their offensive line. If Manning can't figure things out this year, that probably means it's time to retire.
On the Redskins' end, they added Alex Smith, which is good news for coach Jay Gruden because Smith is basically a more talented version of Andy Dalton. That's only notable because Gruden spent three years with Dalton in Cincinnati (2011-13) and turned him into a serviceable quarterback. If Gruden can turn Dalton into a playoff quarterback, there's no telling what he'll be able to do with Smith.
As for Dak Prescott, he's in the most tenuous position this year, and that's because he doesn't really have anyone to throw the ball to. Although the Cowboys have added Allen Hurns and Tavon Austin, they definitely still don't have a true No. 1 receiver, which isn't good news for Prescott.
With Carson Wentz, the guy just won a Super Bowl and the Eagles rewarded him by adding Mike Wallace. Of course, Wentz isn't completely healthy yet, which is why it's hard to decide who the best NFC East quarterback is going into 2018 (We could also throw Nick Foles into the conversation, but we won't).
Although the NFC East didn't take the top spot in our rankings, it does feel like the only division in the NFC that could legitimately be won by any team. (Sorry Bears, we're not giving you a chance in the NFC North. Sorry, Bucs, we're not giving you a chance in the NFC South and sorry Cardinals, we're not giving you a chance in the NFC West).
NFC East out-of-division record in 2017: 20-20 (9-7 vs. NFC West, 9-7 vs. AFC West, 1-3 vs. NFC North, 1-3 vs. NFC South)
2018 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC South and AFC South
2. NFC North
The NFC North arguably has the best quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) and the best defense in the NFL (Minnesota), which instantly puts it into the conversation for best division.
The only thing holding this division down over the past few years has been the Bears, and for once, it looks like they might be ready to turn things around. Not only did the Bears hire an offensive-minded mad scientist as their coach (Matt Nagy), but he hired another mad scientist to help him run the offense (former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich). This would basically be the same thing as putting Guy Fieri and Gordon Ramsay on the same cooking show. I have no idea what would happen in that situation, but I would definitely want to watch.
As for the Lions, although you can't buy a Super Bowl, they did the next closest thing: They signed LeGarrette Blount. Blount has won two Super Bowls in a row -- with New England (2016) and Philadelphia (2017) -- and probably wouldn't have signed with the Lions if he didn't at least think they were playoff contenders. The hiring of Matt Patricia also brings some serious Super Bowl experience to Detroit.
On the Packers' end, they also made some pretty high profile additions. Not only did the Packers sign Jimmy Graham, but they finally made a switch at defensive coordinator by hiring Mike Pettine. And then we have the Vikings, who signed Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson.
If we were ranking divisions based on who had the best offseason, the NFC North probably would've taken the top spot. Unfortunately, that's not how we're ranking things here, so they'll have to settle for the second spot.
NFC North out-of-division record in 2017: 22-18 (6-10 vs. NFC South, 10-6 vs. AFC North, 3-1 vs. NFC East, 3-1 vs. NFC West)
2018 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC West and AFC East
1. NFC South
After sending three teams to the playoffs in 2017, the NFC South basically gets the top spot by default. Sending three teams to the playoffs is almost unheard of in the NFC: Before last year, no NFC division had pulled off the feat since 2007 (NFC East).
The crazy thing about the NFC South's performance last season is that the division basically came two plays away from sending two teams to the NFC Championship. If Falcons from the Eagles' two-yard line in the final minute of that game, then we get the Saints hosting the Falcons for the NFC title.in the Saints-Vikings game and if the
Let's also not forget that this division has produced the NFC's Super Bowl team in two of the past three years. Oh, and this division also features two of the past three 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 this century (three times).
Although it's going to be hard to top what this division did last season, it might actually happen, and that's because you could argue all three of these teams got better. The Saints finally Torrey Smith) and the Falcons are finally starting to look comfortable in the system that was implemented last year by new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Of course, if Julio Jones misses any , then you can just forget all the nice things we said about the Falcons and go ahead and write them off.(Marcus Davenport). Cam Newton finally (
You may or may not have noticed that we have yet to mention the Buccaneers, and that's by design. With and , it's probably going to be Tampa's fault if the NFC South doesn't finish the 2018 season as the best division in football.
NFC East out-of-division record in 2017: 25-15 (10-6 vs. NFC North, 10-6 vs. AFC East, 3-1 vs. NFC East, 2-2 vs. NFC West)
2018 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC East and AFC North