Last year, there was no question which division was the best in the National Football League. The AFC West was the only division in football last year to feature three teams with at least nine wins, and while five of the eight divisions were without one 12 win team, the AFC West was the only division with two. The Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs both won 12 games, the Denver Broncos won nine, and the San Diego, now Los Angeles Chargers won five. There are arguments for other divisions this year, but they’re all wrong. The AFC West is still the best division in football.
The AFC West Is Still the Best
The Other Guys
There are a couple of divisions that would like to challenge the AFC West for the title of NFL’s best division. The NFC South, AFC South, and NFC East are all brought up as some of the most competitive divisions and football, but that’s exactly the problem. While all of those divisions are competitive, they’re not the best.
The AFC South
The AFC South was won on a tiebreaker between two nine win teams last year, and neither team was dominant. The Tennessee Titans were sunk without Marcus Mariota, and the Houston Texans weren’t going to beat anyone but Connor Cook with Brock Osweiler under center. This off-season, Mariota has gotten healthy and the Titans have added good pieces, but they’re not viable contenders yet, and the Texans are just hoping DeShaun Watson is good enough to manage the team as a rookie.
The NFC South
Every team in the NFC South has the potential to be good. Drew Brees and his explosive New Orleans Saints could outscore just about anyone. Luke Kuechly and the punishing Carolina Panthers can stifle most offenses when healthy. Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, and the young Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a brilliant up-and-coming team, and Matt Ryan‘s Atlanta Falcons are the defending NFC Champions.
But outside of Atlanta, all of these teams have holes. The Saints don’t have a shadow of a defense, Cam Newton has proven he’s not an elite quarterback, and Tampa Bay’s potential means absolutely nothing until it transforms into production. The NFC South could be the best division in football, but it likely won’t be. Hype is just hype until kickoff in September.
The NFC East
There’s no question that the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants are going to be players in 2017. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, and more, these two teams have no shortage of star-power. However, both of these teams still have questions. Can the egos of Beckham and Marshall co-exist? And is Dallas really planning on trying to win with that secondary?
Kirk Cousins insists on maintaining his “too good to let go, not good enough to pay” play, and that’s just not enough to be competitive. His annual franchise tag cap hit is limiting the team, and at best, this feels like another eight or nine win season for the Redskins.
As Carson Wentz might be for the Philadelphia Eagles, he hasn’t proven it yet. The Eagles went out and got Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith for Wentz, so there’s no excuse for continued mediocrity in 2017.
The AFC Best
The starpower in the AFC West alone is unmatched. Derek Carr, Philip Rivers, Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Justin Houston, Eric Berry, Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, Tyreek Hill, Amari Cooper, Travis Kelce, Marshawn Lynch, Joey Bosa, the list goes on and on. And while it’s easy to talk about the explosive potential of the Oakland Raiders or the suffocating efficiency of the Kansas City Chiefs, a chain is only as strong as the weakest link. So who is the weakest link in the AFC West?
It’s easy to say the Los Angeles Chargers, as they did have the worst record in the division last year. They lost 11 games, but of those 11? Eight were decided by a touchdown or less. If you go back and look at how they lost some of those games, it’s just hilarious. A botched field goal here, a timely fumble there. The Chargers could’ve easily been a playoff team last year it they could’ve just gotten out of their own way.
The team has no shortage of talent. You look at the five win total from last year and assume they’re just a bad team, but they have plenty of potential. When healthy, their offense features Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, the rookie Mike Williams, Antonio Gates, and Hunter Henry. They may have been a joke last year, but this team has one hell of a punchline.
If the Raiders, Chiefs, and Chargers aren’t the weak link, is it the Denver Broncos? Two years removed from winning a Super Bowl with one of the NFL’s best defenses? Not to mention a receiving corps featuring Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders? They won nine games last year. Realistically, the only reason anyone could argue that they’re the worst team in the division is because the lack of a true franchise quarterback. They’re a quarterback away from being an elite NFL team.
So at the end of the day, the AFC West is still the best division in football, and it’s not even close. Other divisions might be as competitive, but none are as talented. If you disagree, go look at the hardest schedules in the NFL. You’ll see that the four hardest schedules belong to the AFC West, because they have to play each other.