Welcome to the 2020 NFL divisional power rankings. If you're wondering why we're ranking divisions, it's because we love to rank things here at CBSSports.com. As a matter of fact, over the past few weeks, we've been ranking each division by who has the best group of players at each position. For instance, in our ranking of quarterbacks, which you can read by clicking here, the NFC South earned the top spot thanks in large part to the fact that Drew Brees and Tom Brady both play in the division.
Brady's move to Tampa was the biggest signing of the offseason and although it moved the NFC South to the top of our divisional quarterback rankings, it had absolutely no impact on the our overall divisional rankings. Despite the addition of Brady, the NFC South is ranked in the same spot that it was in a year ago.
As for the AFC East, it actually moved UP a spot even though Brady is no longer in the division. So how did that happen?
Let's get to the rankings and find out.
8. NFC East
This division was so bad in 2019 that even NFC East fans were willing to admit it was bad.
NFC east trash this year :))— DepressedCowboysFan (@DaviddaveC) December 6, 2019
The majority of NFL fans on Twitter also agreed that the NFC East was bad, which is notable, because people on Twitter generally never agree on anything.
What is the worst division in football right now?— It's Titans Time (@itsTitansTime) May 12, 2020
NFC East - Eagles, Cowboys, Giants, Redskins
AFC East- Bills, Patriots, Jets, Dolphins,
AFC South - Titans, Colts, Texans, Jaguars
If you need a quick refresher on how bad the division was last year, just consider this: Every team had a losing non-divisional record, no team hit double-digit wins and three of the four coaches in the division got fired. Also, Washington, a team that went 3-13, somehow tied for the second-best record in non-divisional games, going 3-7 (The Cowboys also went 3-7 while the Eagles led the division with a 4-6 record).
Overall, the NFC East finished with a 12-28 non-divisional record last season, which was the worst record for any division since 2016 when the NFC West also finished 12-28. The NFC East's record was also just two losses away from tying the 2008 NFC West for the worst record of any division since divisional realignment in 2002.
Unfortunately for the NFC East, it doesn't look like things are going to get much better in 2020. Let's start off with the fact that we're in the middle of a global pandemic. Due to coronavirus, the NFL canceled OTAs and mini-camps this year, which hurts some teams more than others. The teams impacted the most are the ones with new coaches who will be trying to install new offensive and defensive systems, and as you read above, three of the division's four teams will be going into the season with a new coach. Basically, the players in Washington, Dallas and New York are going to be getting a crash-course on their new play books during training camp, which kind of feels like a recipe for disaster.
Eventually, this division will get better, but this probably won't be the year where that happens.
NFC East out-of-division record in 2019: 12-28 (4-12 vs. NFC North, 5-11 vs. AFC East, 2-2 vs. NFC South, 1-3 vs. NFC West
2020 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC West and AFC North
7. AFC East
After ranking as the worst division in the NFL last year, the AFC East has actually moved UP one spot, even though it lost Tom Brady. Apparently, Brady was holding the division back. The biggest reason the AFC East moved up is because it dominated the NFC East last season, going 11-5, which means there was no good argument for ranking the AFC East behind the NFC East.
Although the division lost Brady, the Patriots have replaced him with Cam Newton, and if he's healthy, the Patriots might not miss a beat in 2020. You know what, now that I'm thinking about it, let's check-in on Twitter and see how confident Patriots fans are feeling about the signing of Newton.
Cam Newton winning MVP, Super Bowl MVP, & Comeback player of the year all in the same season with the pats this year 🤷🏾♂️🤷🏾♂️🤷🏾♂️— M🇩🇯 (@_MOUB) July 12, 2020
Not overly optimistic at all.
The thing about the AFC East is that it could actually be wide open this year. If Newton isn't healthy, that could open the door for another team to win the division for the first time since 2008. Of course, even if Newton is healthy, the division could still be a dogfight this year and that's because every team seems to have gotten better.
In Miami, coach Brian Flores has overhauled nearly his entire defense, so the Dolphins should be better. In New York, the Jets went 6-2 over their final eight games last season and if that momentum carries over into 2020, they could be a surprise team in the division. Of course, Adam Gase is their coach, so it's also completely possible that the Jets will fall flat on their face coming out of the gate, kind of like they did last year when they started the season 1-7. As for Buffalo, the Bills have quietly built one of the best defenses in the NFL and the team will be looking to win the division after earning a wild-card berth in two of the past three years. Even though Brady is gone, this is arguably the deepest the division has been in nearly 10 years.
AFC East out-of-division record in 2019: 22-18 (11-5 vs. NFC East, 7-9 vs. AFC North, 2-2 vs. AFC South, 2-2 vs. AFC West
2020 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC West and AFC West
6. AFC North
The AFC North was the hardest division to rank this year and that's because every team seemed to get better, but every team also seems to have one major question mark. The Ravens had the best record in the NFL last season, but when it comes to winning playoff games, they have as many postseason victories as the Bengals and Browns over the past five seasons (AKA zero). The Steelers have a dominant defense and should be good, but Ben Roethlisberger's health is still a giant mystery. The Steelers didn't do anything to upgrade at backup quarterback, which means they're putting all their eggs in the Ben Roethlisberger basket, which is a plan that blew up in their face last season.
As for the Browns, they always seem to be one competent head coach away from competing for a division title, and GUESS WHAT? They now seem to have that competent coach, which means this might actually be the year where they end their nearly three-decade drought without a playoff win (Fun fact: Bill Belichick was the Browns' coach the last time they won a playoff game).
At the bottom of the division, there's the Bengals, who finished with the NFL's worst record last year at 2-14. The good news for the AFC North is that it doesn't seem like there's any way that the Bengals could possibly be any worse this year than they were last year. With Joe Burrow and a revamped defense, it won't be surprising if the Bengals win some games this season that no one expects them to win.
AFC North out-of-division record in 2019: 18-22 (6-10 vs. NFC West, 9-7 vs AFC East, 2-2 vs. AFC South, 1-3 vs. AFC West)
2020 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC East and AFC South
5. AFC West
If these rankings were based solely on how good the best team in your division is, then the AFC West would probably be ranked first this year, but that's not how things work around here. For our divisional rankings, we take into account all four teams, which definitely doesn't work out in the AFC West's favor.
Yes, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl last season, but no other team in the division even had a winning record, making the AFC West the only division in the AFC that produced three teams that finished under .500. Although the Broncos, Raiders and Chargers all got better on paper this offseason, they're still stuck in the same division as Kansas City, which is bad news, because those three teams have combined to go 3-27 against the Chiefs since the start of the 2015 season. If you thought that number was ugly, here's an uglier one: The Raiders have gone 0-14 against playoff teams under Jon Gruden.
Thanks to the Chiefs, the AFC West has turned into the most predictable division in football. The Chiefs have won the division four straight times and they're a heavy favorite to do it again in 2020. Of course, the Chiefs aren't perfect. One reason the division is ranked so low is because the AFC West's top team actually struggled against non-divisional teams in 2019. The Chiefs went just 6-4 outside the division, and just as a reminder, only one of the losses came while Mahomes was injured.
The good news for the AFC West is that Patrick Mahomes is going to be in the division for the next 12 years, which means the division likely won't be falling down any farther in our future rankings.
AFC West out-of-division record in 2019: 19-21 (8-8 vs. NFC North, 6-10 vs. AFC South, 3-1 vs. AFC North, 2-2 vs. AFC East)
2020 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC South and AFC East
4. AFC South
When it comes to parity, no division has been crazier than the AFC South over the past few years. Since the start of the 2017 season, the AFC South is the only division that has sent all four of its teams to the playoffs. The AFC South has also put two teams in the AFC title game over the past three years, which is the most of any AFC division over the span.
After producing two playoff teams in 2019, it wouldn't be completely surprising to see the the division produce three playoffs teams in 2020. Although the Texans continued their annual tradition this year of making at least one head-scratching offseason move, they still have Deshaun Watson, which is all that matters. The Texans have made the playoffs in every year that Watson has been healthy, which makes them a favorite to repeat as division champs.
Of course, there's also a chance that the Texans will miss the playoffs altogether due to the strength of the division. In Indianapolis, the Colts now have Philip Rivers, who will be playing behind a decent offensive line for the first time in his life. OK, maybe it won't be the first time, but the Colts line will be a substantial improvement over what Rivers played behind last year.
Philip Rivers goes from having the 30th ranked line (#Chargers) in the league (with additions of Turner and Bulaga) to having the #1 offensive line in football (#Colts). Can't wait to see what he can do free from the Spanos Curse. #SpanosSucks https://t.co/LKyr07uJFW— Joseph Robba (@jrobba) July 12, 2020
These rankings are all about how deep a division is and the AFC South has three teams that should be playoff contenders in 2020. Besides the Texans and Colts, the Titans also could be a dark horse contender this year. A team coming off an AFC title game appearance isn't usually labeled a dark horse, but it seems like people are already overlooking the Titans, who will be returning the core of their offense, including Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry.
As for the Jaguars, although they were bad last year, they had the best record of any last place team in the NFL. The Jags also have a quarterback in Gardner Minshew, who should be better in 2020 after learning the ropes of the job as a rookie last season.
Here's a fun fact about the division: The AFC South was the one division that dominated the Chiefs last year. The Chiefs went 1-3 against the AFC South last year and 11-1 against everyone else. The Colts, Texans and Titans all beat the Chiefs during the regular season, and the wild part is that all three wins came while Patrick Mahomes was on the field.
AFC South out-of-division record in 2019: 20-20 (6-10 vs. NFC South, 10-6 vs. AFC West, 2-2 vs. AFC East, 2-2 vs. AFC North)
2020 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC North and AFC North
3. NFC North
If these rankings were based on the top-three teams in each division -- or if the Lions didn't exist -- you could probably make the argument that the NFC North should be in the two-spot in these rankings. However, the Lions do exist, which is why this division is ranked third overall.
Ironically enough, the Lions probably had the best offseason of any team in the division. Not only did they add multiple potential starters with players like Jamie Collins, Desmond Trufant and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, but Matthew Stafford should also be 100% healthy when the season starts. Of course, saying the Lions had the best offseason isn't really saying much, because the other teams in the division practically handed them the title. The Packers botched the draft, the Vikings let half their defense walk in free agency and the Bears decided not to upgrade at quarterback despite going into the offseason knowing that they needed to make an upgrade at quarterback (And no, Nick Foles does not qualify as an upgrade. That's a lateral move at best).
What this all means is that the NFC North should be a crapshoot in 2020, which makes sense, because this has been one of the most unpredictable divisions in the NFL over the past few years. No NFC division embraces parity quite like the North. For one, this is the only division in the NFL that has produced three different winners over the past three seasons. Also, the NFC North is one of just just two divisions that has sent all four of its teams to the playoffs over the past four years (The AFC South is the other).
The one other thing about the NFC North is that it was one of only two divisions in the NFL that had three teams finish .500 or better last season (The NFC West was the other).
NFC North out-of-division record in 2019: 22-17-1 (12-4 vs. NFC East, 8-8 vs. AFC West, 2-2 vs. NFC South, 0-3-1 vs. NFC West)
2020 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC South and AFC South
2. NFC South
If the divisional power rankings were based only on quarterback play, the NFC South would probably be ranked No. 1. Not only does this division have Tom Brady, but it also has Drew Brees. Oh, and it's probably worth mentioning that 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan is also in the division.
It's probably a good thing that Brady has been added to the division, because, let's be honest, the NFC South was getting kind of predictable. As you may or may not have noticed, the Saints have won the division for the past three years. However, things should be slightly more competitive in 2020 and that's because the Buccaneers and Falcons should both be better after they both finished 7-9 last season.
In Tampa, all Brady has to do is NOT PULL A JAMEIS WINSTON BY THROWING 30 INTERCEPTIONS and that should automatically make the Buccaneers better. The Bucs could have potentially won nine or 10 games last season if Jameis hadn't been throwing an interception on every other offensive possession. The good news for the Bucs is that Brady hasn't even thrown 30 interceptions in his past four seasons combined. The other thing with Brady is that he's actually going to have some offensive weapons this year, which is something that he had definitely been lacking over the past few years in New England.
As much as I like the NFC South, if there's any part of this ranking that could end up blowing in my face by the end of the season, it's definitely this one. It's pretty easy to imagine a scenario where the wheels fall of the wagon for this division. The Panthers are trying to learn an entirely new system put in by new coach Matt Rhule, which can't be easy to do during the middle of a pandemic. With Tampa Bay, there's always a chance that Brady won't be able to pick up the Bucs offense as quickly as Bruce Arians would like. After all, he's been in the same offense for the past 20 years, so learning something new might not come as quickly as we all think. In Atlanta, the Falcons have a long history of letting their fans down, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see that happen again and the Saints losing a playoff game in some sort of wild finish seems to happen every season, so why should 2020 be any different?
I almost just talked myself into moving the NFC South to a lower spot on this list, but you know what, I'm not going to do it. It's sticking at No. 2.
NFC South out-of-division record in 2019: 20-20 (6-10 vs. NFC West, 10-6 vs. AFC South, 2-2 vs. NFC East, 2-2 vs. NFC North)
2020 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC North and AFC West
1. NFC West
This division is so stacked, it's almost unfair.
The NFC West dominated the NFL last year, and it won't be surprising if it happens again in 2020. The worst team in the division last season was the Arizona Cardinals, and they arguably had the best offseason of any team in the NFL. Not only did they trick to the Texans into taking David Johnson's contract in a trade -- at least I think they tricked them, because that's only explanation that makes sense -- but they also convinced Houston to send DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona.
The NFC West has consistently been producing some of the best teams in the NFL. Over the past six years, all four teams have played in at least one NFC title game. To put that in perspective, only one other division has even produced three conference title teams in that same span (AFC South). The reason that fact is notable is because it feels like any of the NFC West's four teams could end up back in the NFC title game this year. Not only did the Cardinals have a big offseason, but the 49ers will likely be one of the favorites to win the NFC this year, well, as long as they make it to training camp in one piece, which isn't exactly a given right now.
Since @JohnLynch49ers last spoke to the media:— Grant Cohn (@grantcohn) July 12, 2020
Deebo Samuel broke his foot
Richie James broke his wrist
Unnamed player got Covid
Raheem Mostert requested a trade
George Kittle still has not signed an extension
Would be nice to hear from the @49ers general manager soon.
That's not good.
During the NFC West's dominating 2019 run, the four teams combined to go 26-13-1 in non-divisional games, which was the best record of any division since 2016, and the crazy thing is, the NFC West might do even better in 2020. The division is matched up against the NFC East and AFC East this year, which are the two worst divisions in our rankings.
If the NFC West is good, it could end up making some history this year. With the NFL playoffs expanding in 2020, it will now be possible for a division to send ALL FOUR of its teams to the playoffs, and if any division can pull that off this year, it feels like the NFC West would be the most likely one to do it.
NFC West out-of-division record in 2019: 26-13-1 (10-6 vs. NFC South, 10-6 vs. AFC North, 3-1 vs. NFC East, 3-0-1 vs. NFC North)
2020 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC East and AFC East