The NFC West and AFC North have battled for division supremacy throughout this season, even though a dark horse has emerged as Christmas approaches. The AFC West has entered the chat for the top division in football, having all four teams at .500 or better through 15 weeks.
The AFC North is the other division with all four teams .500 or better, with all four teams separated by a game in the standings. The NFC West currently has three teams with eight wins -- all of which are in prime position to make the playoffs.
The battle for the top division in the NFL is heating up with three weeks to play. Which of the three powerhouses have the top spot heading into Week 16?
8. AFC South
Last week's ranking: 8
The AFC South deserves some credit for having two eight-win teams in the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts, but the combined five wins from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans are why this division can't move up in the rankings. Not even the Colts' win over the New England Patriots was enough to catapult the AFC South, as the Titans fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers the next day.
The AFC South is a league-worst 12-24 in out-of-division games (.333 win percentage) and 22-34 overall (.393), also the worst in the NFL.
7. NFC South
Last week's ranking: 7
Quite the week for the NFC North, with a pair of wins against first place teams in its out-of-division games. The Detroit Lions had a massive upset of the 10-win Arizona Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers held off a late rally by the Baltimore Ravens on the road.
The NFC North has two teams in the postseason right now, even though the division is just 15-22-1 in interdivisional games (.408) and 24-31-1 overall (.438). This isn't a good division, but can boost its stock if Minnesota can upset the Los Angeles Rams this week.
Green Bay is certainly holding up its end of the bargain.
6. NFC East
Last week's ranking: 6
Hard for this division to move up or down when all the games in Week 15 were divisional matchups. The NFC East will be doing the same in Week 16 as the division has just two out-of-division games left on the schedule (both in Week 17).
The Dallas Cowboys are a contender for home-field advantage in the NFC while the Philadelphia Eagles are on the cusp of a playoff spot. If the NFC East gets two postseason teams, Dallas and Philadelphia are the best bets (Eagles had a huge victory over Washington in Week 15).
The NFC East is 20-22 in out-of-division games (.476) and 27-29 overall (.482). This division has mostly overperformed in 2021.
5. NFC South
Last week's ranking: 4
Not exactly a banner week for the NFC South after the Carolina Panthers were blown out by the Buffalo Bills and the Atlanta Falcons were dominated by the San Francisco 49ers. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were also shut out by the New Orleans Saints!
This division is hard to get a read on through 15 weeks, especially with all the injuries to Tampa Bay and New Orleans -- the latter emerging back into postseaosn contention. The Saints can boost the prestige in this division with a win over the Miami Dolphins this week.
The NFC South is 20-20 in interdivisional games and 28-28 overall, an even .500 on the year.
4. AFC East
Last week's ranking: 5
New England's loss to Indianapolis didn't hurt this division, not after Buffalo got back on track with its win over Carolina and Miami getting to .500 after beating the New York Jets. The AFC West does have three teams with seven wins, which was crazy to consider a month ago.
This week's showdown between Buffalo and New England is huge for the division, same with Miami and New Orleans. The AFC East is 18-20 in out-of-division games (.474) and 27-29 overall (.482).
3. NFC West
Last week's ranking: 1
One week at No. 1 --and the NFC West falls back to the No. 3 spot. Why such a tumble? Ask the Arizona Cardinals.
The division leaders lost to a one-win Lions team, which is the first time in NFL history a 10-win team lost to a one-win (or fewer) team by double digits. That's a bad look for a division that has three eight-win teams -- the only division in the league that can stake that claim.
Not even the San Francisco 49ers convincing win over the Atlanta Falcons could keep the NFC West at No. 1, nor the Los Angeles Rams win over the Seattle Seahawks. This division can make a statement this week, as the Cardinals, Rams, and 49ers all play .500 or better teams in interdivisional games.
The NFC West is a league-best 23-13 in out-of-division matchups (.639) and 33-23 overall (.589). This is the only division with two 10-win teams.
2. AFC North
Last week's ranking: 2
The AFC West has all four teams sitting at .500 or better, as all the teams are separated by a game in the standings. This is the most competitive division in football, yet has just one playoff team at this juncture.
The Pittsburgh Steelers earned a big win over the Titans and the Cincinnati Bengals earned a huge victory over the Denver Broncos on the road. If the Cleveland Browns for Baltimore Ravens could have found a way to win in Week 15, the AFC North would have reclaimed their throne as the best division in football.
The Steelers and Browns can make a statement for the division this week if they can beat the Chiefs and Packers (Pittsburgh plays Kansas City and Cleveland plays Green Bay). The AFC North is 22-17-1 (.563) in interdivisional games and 30-25-1 overall (.545).
1. AFC West
Last week's ranking: 3
The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers had the game of the week in the NFL, as the Chiefs' overtime victory gave this division enough prestige to bolt it up to the top spot. Kansas City and Los Angeles are two very good teams in a division that has all four teams sitting at .500 or better through 15 weeks.
The Las Vegas Raiders victory over the Cleveland Browns on the road was also huge for the division and the Denver Broncos took the Cincinnati Bengals to the wire. All four teams in the division have showed they can compete with any team in the league at various points throughout the year, which is why the Chiefs' seven-game win streak has been impressive as they catapulted to the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The AFC West is 24-16 in out-of-division games (.600) and 32-24 overall (.571), both trailing only the NFC West. The Chiefs-Chargers thriller from Week 15, really boosting the division as it continues to have all four teams in the playoff hunt with three weeks to go.