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2021 NFL Divisional Power Rankings: NFC West takes top spot, Cowboys in the basement with rest of NFC East

Now that the month of July is here, that means the dead part of the NFL offseason is officially upon us and although things can get kind of boring during that period, we’ve decided to spice things up and we’re doing that today with some divisional power rankings. 

If you’ve ever wondered which division is the best one in the NFL, you won’t have to wonder much longer because we’re going to answer that question for you. Some divisions — like the NFC East — are easy to rank because, well, let’s be honest, it was the worst division last year and it doesn’t look like things are going to be much better this year. 

On the other hand, there are some divisions that are nearly impossible to rank, cough, NFC North. No one knows if Aaron Rodgers is going to be playing for the Packers this year, which is one reason why it’s tough to rank that division. 

So how did everything shake out?

Let’s get to the rankings. 

8. NFC East

I’m not sure what rock bottom is in the NFL, but the NFC East was definitely trying to find out last season. This division was so bad in 2020 that even NFC East fans were willing to admit that their favorite division was horrible. 

If you need a quick refresher on how bad the NFC East was last year, just consider this: Washington won the division with a losing record (7-9). Overall, the NFC East finished with a 10-29-1 non-divisional record last season, which was tied with the 2014 NFC South for the worst non-divisional record since the NFL realigned the divisions in 2002. Also, the NFC East combined to go 23-40-1 overall, which was the second-worst overall record ever for a division (The 2008 NFC West went 22-42). 

Unfortunately for the NFC East, it doesn’t look like things are going to get much better in 2021. The Eagles are still a mess and they have a first-year coach in place who’s going to have to clean things up. The Giants should be better, but that’s going to come down to whether Daniel Jones can take the next step. The Cowboys will be getting Dak Prescott back, but who knows if that will actually help. In the four games where Dak was healthy last year, the Cowboys went 1-3. As for Washington, the Football Team still has a strong defense and they upgraded at quarterback, so they could be better, but not enough to move the NFC East out of the basement.  

Eventually, this division will get better, but this probably won’t be the year where that happens. 

NFC East out-of-division record in 2020: 10-29-1 (1-3 vs. NFC North, 2-2 vs. NFC South, 4-12 vs. NFC West, 4-11-1 vs. AFC North)
2021 out-of-division schedule:
Four games vs. NFC South and AFC West (One game vs. AFC East)

7. AFC South

This might be the most top heavy division in the NFL this year. On one hand, you have the Colts and Titans, who should both be playoff contenders. On the other hand, you have the Jaguars and Texans, who might end up finishing the season with the two worst records in football.

Right now, Houston is a total disaster. The team has a quarterback who doesn’t want to play for them, but they can’t trade him due to his legal issues. With Deshaun Watson’s status up in the air, the Texans will likely be turning things over to Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. In Jacksonville, the Jags should be better — because it’s not possible to get much worse after a 1-15 season — but with a rookie quarterback and first-year coach in Urban Meyer, this doesn’t feel like a team that really has a chance to finish the season above .500.  

Although the Titans and Colts are both expected to be good this year, this division could end up as the worst one in football if either of those teams falter, which isn’t completely out of the question. The Colts have no idea what they’ll be getting in Carson Wentz and the Titans defense will need to be better than it was last year. 

AFC South out-of-division record in 2020: 15-25 (8-8 vs. NFC North, 2-14 vs. AFC North, 3-1 vs. AFC East, 2-2 vs. AFC West)
2021 out-of-division schedule: 
Four games vs. NFC West and AFC East (one game vs. NFC South)

6. NFC North

The NFC North was the hardest division to rank this year and that’s because no one has any idea if Aaron Rodgers is going to be in it. If Rodgers is playing for the Packers, you could probably make the case that this division should be ranked fifth or maybe even fourth, but with Rodgers status up in the air, we’re dropping them all the way to sixth. 

Outside of the Packers, no other team in this division finished above .500 last year. The Bears were on the cusp of being good, but their quarterback situation always seems to hold them back and this year might not be any different. Coach Matt Nagy has been insisting that Andy Dalton will be the team’s Week 1 starter, which actually might be for the best, because the Bears are playing the Rams. If the Bears start Justin Fields in the opener, he might take so many hits from Aaron Donald that it will scar him for life. 

In Minnesota, the Vikings should be better after beefing up their defense. The defensive line alone will have four players this year who didn’t play a single snap for the team last year in Danielle Hunter (injured), Sheldon Richardson (2021 free agent signing), Dalvin Tomlinson (2021 free agent signing) and Michael Pierce (Opted out in 2020 due to COVID). As for the Lions, they’re still the Lions and they’re a big reason why this division is ranked so low. 

NFC North out-of-division record in 2020: 21-19 (8-8 vs. NFC South, 8-8 vs AFC South, 3-1 vs. NFC East, 2-2 vs. NFC West)
2021 out-of-division schedule: 
Four games vs. NFC West and AFC North (one game vs. AFC West)

5. NFC South

If these rankings were based solely on how good the best team in your division is, then the NFC South would probably be ranked first this year and that’s because they have the defending Super Bowl champions. However, 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 NFC South’s favor.

Although the Buccaneers feel like a lock to make the playoffs, the same can’t be said about any other team in the division. The Saints actually won the NFC South last year, but it’s hard to see them repeating as champs and that’s mainly due to the fact that their starting quarterback is either going to be Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill.

The Panthers (5-11 last year) and Falcons (4-12 in 2020) should both be better, but even if both teams improve by three wins, they’ll still be under .500. This feels like a division where every team except for the Buccaneers is probably going to finish with somewhere between six and nine wins.  

NFC South out-of-division record in 2020: 20-20 (8-8 vs. NFC North, 8-8 vs. AFC West, 2-2 vs. NFC East, 2-2 vs. NFC West)
2021 out-of-division schedule: 
Four games vs. NFC East and AFC East (one game vs. AFC South)

4. AFC East

For most of the past 20 years, the AFC East was basically just the Patriots beating up on three bad teams, but that all changed in 2020. With Tom Brady no longer in New England, the Patriots domination finally ended and because of that, the AFC East is now a much more well-rounded division.  

The Bills used to be the laughing stock of the division, but now, they’re laughing at everyone else after a 2020 season where Josh Allen led them to the AFC title game. Since hiring Sean McDermott in 2017, the Bills have been steadily improving every year and heading into Year 5 of his regime, they now feel like an actual Super Bowl contender, which is something that no one has been able to say about the Bills in more than 25 years. 

Although the Patriots got knocked off the top of the divisional perch last season, they’re not going away. During the offseason, Bill Belichick basically went out and signed anyone he could get his hands on in hopes of wrestling the division title back from Buffalo. 

As for the Dolphins, thanks to their 10-6 finish last season, this feels like a division that has at least three playoff contenders. Some day the Jets will turn things around, but until that day comes, it will be hard to rank this division any higher (The Jets haven’t made the playoffs since 2010, which is the longest active streak in the NFL without a postseason appearance). 

AFC East out-of-division record in 2020: 20-20 (8-8 vs. NFC West, 7-9 vs. AFC West, 4-0 vs. AFC North, 1-3 vs. AFC South)

2021 out-of-division schedule: Four games vs. NFC South and AFC South (one game vs. NFC East)

3. AFC West

It’s not easy to rank the AFC West and that’s mostly because it’s almost impossible to gauge how good this division is outside of Kansas City. Look, we know the Chiefs are unstoppable and they proved that last year during the regular season. Not only did they go 14-1 in games where their starters played, but they went UNDEFEATED (10-0) against non-divisional opponents (To put that in perspective, only three other teams have pulled that off over the past 10 years: 2012 Falcons, 2015 Panthers and 2016 Cowboys). 

The problem with the rest of the division is that none of them finished above .500 last year, which makes the AFC West the only AFC division that had three teams finish at .500 or below. On paper, all three teams should be better this year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I mean, on paper, I think I look like Brad Pitt, but no one actually thinks that in real life. 

The Broncos have a strong defense and some talented skill players, but they don’t have a quarterback. The Chargers have talent everywhere, but we have no idea if their first-year coach can actually coach. As for the Raiders, their defense was bad last year and they didn’t do much to improve it. 

That being said, it does feel like feel like all three teams could compete for a wild-card this year. I mean, if this woman can make the Raiders logo out of rice, then surely the Raiders can compete for a playoff berth. 

AFC West out-of-division record in 2020: 22-18 (8-8 vs. NFC South, 9-7 vs. AFC East, 3-1 vs. AFC North, 2-2 vs. AFC South)

2021 out-of-division schedule: Four games vs. NFC East and AFC North (one game vs. NFC North)

2. AFC North

Of all the divisions in the NFL, only one of them sent three teams to the playoffs last year and that was the AFC North, which has consistently been one of the best divisions in football. As a matter of fact, over the past 10 years, there have only been five instances where a division sent three teams to the playoffs and the AFC North has accounted for three of those (2011, 2014, 2020)

Last season was a banner year for the division and there’s a chance that things are only going to get better for everyone in 2021, well, except for maybe the Steelers. On the Browns‘ end, Cleveland has finally found a competent coach in Kevin Stefanski, which means the Browns could take a big step forward. The Browns already took a huge step forward with Stefanski — they won their first playoff game since 1994 — but now that they’ve tasted victory, expectations are even higher in Cleveland. 

As for the Ravens, they’ve been nearly unstoppable on offense with Lamar Jackson and that will likely continue this season. The Steelers are the team with the biggest question marks in the division and those questions mainly revolve around whether Ben Roethlisberger can make it through an entire season unscathed. If he can, there’s no reason the Steelers can’t return to the playoffs.  

The worst team in the AFC North is the Bengals, but they might not be the worst team much longer.  With Joe Burrow returning from his ACL injury and a revamped defense, it won’t be surprising if the Bengals win several more games than they did last year.

With the NFL playoffs now open to 14 teams, it will now be possible for a division to send ALL FOUR of its teams to the playoffs, and if the Bengals can improve, the AFC North might be able to make history in 2021. 

AFC North out-of-division record in 2020: 26-13-1 (11-4-1 vs. NFC East, 14-2 vs. AFC South, 1-3 vs. AFC West, 0-4 vs. AFC East)
2021 out-of-division schedule: 
Four games vs. AFC West and NFC North (one game vs. NFC West)

1. NFC West 

The NFC was arguably the best division in football last year and the reason they’re still at the top this year is because you can make the argument that every team in the division has gotten EVEN BETTER heading into 2021. 

The worst team in the division last season was the 49ers and when a team two years removed from a Super Bowl berth is your worst team, that is a pretty strong argument that you have one of the best divisions in football. The 49ers got rocked by injuries last year, but with everyone healthy in 2021, this is a team that should be a Super Bowl contender. 

The only other team that didn’t finish above .500 in the NFC West last season was the Cardinals, but that could change in 2021 after their explosive offseason. Arizona went out and signed everyone, including J.J. Watt, A.J. Green and Malcolm Butler. They also added some protection for Kyler Murray in the form of center Rodney Hudson

Of course, the biggest move in the division came from the Rams, who traded for Matthew Stafford, who should be a huge upgrade over Jared Goff. In four seasons with Goff, Sean McVay averaged 10.75 wins per season, so don’t be surprised if he tops that number with Stafford. 

As for Seattle, as long as Russell Wilson’s relationship with the team doesn’t implode, the Seahawks should be a playoff contender like they have been in every single season since 2012 when he took over the starting job. . 

If there’s one division in the NFL where it feels like any of the four teams could end up in a conference championship game, it definitely feels like this one. 

NFC West out-of-division record in 2020: 24-16 (12-4 vs. NFC East, 8-8 vs. AFC East, 2-2 vs. NFC South, 2-2 vs. NFC North)
2021 out-of-division schedule: 
Four games vs. NFC North and AFC South (one game vs. AFC North)




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