The road to the Super Bowl always starts in your division. With this in mind, it has become increasingly important to break down each division’s complexion, as this will help us better understand each team’s proverbial path to the playoffs.
However, the addition of a third wild card spot will likely help nullify some of the disadvantages associated with a tough division. Ipso facto, there is a good chance divisions such as the AFC or NFC west will produce three playoff teams this season, given the improvements all eight teams made this offseason.
In a time of mass uncertainty, projections rule the sports world, so below I will do my best to compartmentalize each division to better assess the current landscape of the National Football League.
1. NFC West
The NFL’s best division, the NFC West, features four teams destined for postseason contention. The San Francisco 49ers are currently the reigning conference champions and remain the odds-on favorites once again in 2020. They’re one of the most well-run teams in football, as the organization is adroitly built from top to bottom. General Manager John Lynch is one of the best in the business, while his head coach, Kyle Shannahan, is as clever as they come on the offensive side of the football.
Moreover, the three remaining teams in the division all trend in different directions for 2020, as the Seahawks, Rams, and Cardinals still appear to be Wild Card contenders this season.
The Seahawks are on the heels of another playoff disappointment last season, as they lost a tightly contested road game to Aaron Rodgers’ Packers in the Divisional Round. Russell Wilson carried this football team all year long, which has been the usual for the seven-time Pro Bowler since their last Super Bowl win back in 2013. Seattle should be no better, nor no worse, than they were last season, so it’s safe to expect another playoff appearance for Wilson’s Seahawks in 2020.
Lastly, the Rams and Cardinals hope to be back in the playoff picture this season, as a disappointing effort in 2019 has kept LA mostly under the radar throughout the offseason. These two teams will be as good as they come for a third and fourth place team, which is why this division will be so tough this year.
The NFC West has now become the deepest division in football, a main reason why they are ranked first in our divisional power rankings.
2. AFC West
There are many similarities between the two West divisions, as the Kansas City Chiefs adequately mirror their Super Bowl opponents from last season, the San Francisco 49ers.
Outside of KC, however, the AFC West features three more than capable teams in 2020. The Denver Broncos should be vastly improved this season, as John Elway retooled this offense dramatically this offseason. Drew Lock’s development will be pivotal for the franchise, as the pieces are in place for Denver to make a surprise run in a wide-open AFC.
Meanwhile, coming off a disappointing 2019, the LA Chargers seem destined for a bounce-back this season. They lost a handful of tightly contested one-possession games with Philip Rivers at the helm last year, which was unfortunate for a team with so much talent around him. Anthony Lynn’s group should be well-positioned to get back to the playoffs this season, as they’ll be a tough competitor all year long.
Lastly, you have the Las Vegas Raiders, who will have immense excitement surrounding them as they get familiar with their new host city. I still think this franchise is a year away from contending for a playoff spot; however, with an over/under set at 7.5 wins, they’ll be as pesky as they come for a team projected to finish fourth in their division.
3. NFC South
The NFC South is incredibly top-heavy, with both the Saints and Bucs having Super Bowl aspirations in 2020. This is the main reason why they’re ranked third in our divisional rankings, as they simply don’t boast the depth of the two divisions aforementioned.
While New Orleans and Tampa duke it out for a divisional crown, anticipate disappointing campaigns from Atlanta and Carolina this upcoming season, as both franchises look to hit the reset button. I don’t think either team will be a factor in a loaded NFC playoff picture, thus warranting a ranking below the likes of the AFC and NFC West.
4. AFC North
The AFC North comes in at fourth in our divisional rankings, as it featured the most exciting storyline of last season. Lamar Jackson’s historic MVP campaign will go down in the record books, as he took the league by storm before crumbling under the playoff spotlight. The Ravens remain a staunch Super Bowl contender, and figure to cruise to another divisional crown in 2020.
Meanwhile, the Steelers and Browns appear to be well on their way to Wild Card contention, as the return of Ben Roethlisberger will stabilize an offense that struggled a year ago.
As for the Browns, there’s absolutely no excuses this season. They have one of the strongest rosters in the entire NFL, and have provided quarterback Baker Mayfield with ample support via the draft and free agency.
These two franchises will be tough competition all season long for Jackson and the Ravens, and don’t be surprised if the AFC North emerges with a potential three playoff teams in 2020.
5. NFC North
Still a relatively strong division, the NFC North checks in at fifth in our power rankings. A storied division like no other, this will still be a dangerous group of teams in 2020. The Packers figure to be the favorites to come out of the North, but the Vikings and Bears can definitely contend for a playoff spot given their strong defenses.
Two years ago, this may have been the toughest division in football, but the Bears have struggled to get back to their old selves of 2017, as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is slowly on his way to being labeled an abject bust of a draft pick.
The Vikings should be solid, but don’t really scare anyone this year, as a plethora of free-agent losses have sucked the life out of this football team. A fringe playoff contender at best, it’s hard to consider this division that deep outside of Green Bay, as the Lions don’t figure to be any good once again in 2020.
6. AFC South
The AFC South just barely gets the edge above the NFC East this season, as a clear third contender, the Houston Texans, ended up being the coup de grâce in this difficult decision. While the Titans and Colts remain the frontrunners in my eyes, the Texans still have the ultimate x-factor in this division, Deshaun Watson. Although I anticipate regression out of Bill O’Brien’s group, it’s hard to count out a Watson-led team, as he’s shown time and time again his abilities to make something out of nothing.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are doing the best they can to spoil a once compelling AFC South, as they’ve already turned their attention to next year’s draft.
7. NFC East
The NFC East is the epitome of a two-horse race in the NFL, as the Giants and Redskins have bottomed out in recent years.
The Cowboys and Eagles are talented teams, no question, but they don’t exactly strike fear in their opponents’ eyes just yet.
This division still has a great chance of having two playoff teams, but that’s about all you can say right now.
It currently stands as the second-worst division in football, bar none.
8. AFC East
Last, and most definitely least, you have the AFC East. Tom Brady’s reign over the division is finally over, as this opens up a once predetermined playoff spot allotted to Brady’s Patriots. The Bills and Pats are the favorites in Vegas’ eyes, while the Jets and Dolphins remain rather steep longshots to finish atop the division.
The Bills actually have the makings of a playoff team, and they shouldn’t be taken lightly this year, however, the pressure of being the presumptive favorite could get to young quarterback Josh Allen, as his inconsistencies have hindered this Buffalo team.
The Patriots still have a great defense, but this really may be the worst offense in football. A .500 season is likely for Coach Belichick and New England, and I just don’t see how they can remain a serious threat in the AFC this season.
If the Jets or Dolphins can surprise some people, then this division might be a little better than I’m giving it credit for. Nonetheless, the AFC East is deservedly ranked last in our divisional power rankings, as there’s simply too much unknown surrounding all four franchises.