The Bills have many, many obstacles to overcome if they’re ever going to end this long stretch of futility. The overall lack of talent on the roster is the biggest one. But another problem Buffalo is facing is that the AFC East is a very strong division. The Patriots and Jets are two of the league’s most talented and well-coached teams, and the seem to field decent teams most of the time.
I was thinking about this today while I was at my horrible day job, and it got me to wondering: the AFC East is definitely tough, but is it the strongest division in the NFL?
Here’s my little power poll of each division. I’ll start with the worst division and work my way up. Think I’m wrong? Let me know in the comments and/or vote in our poll at the end of this article.
8 ) NFC West (Seattle, St. Louis, San Francisco, Arizona)
There can be reasonable debate about the best division in the league, but there should be no argument about the worst. The NFC West is football’s version of Triple-A ball until further notice. Division champion Seattle finished 7-9 last season – a record that included a 3-7 mark against non-NFC West teams. And don’t even start with the “But Brad, they did win a playoff game!” argument. Yeah, they did beat the Saints in the playoffs. Then they lost to the Bears, giving them a 4-8 record against non-NFC West teams. That record still sucks. As a division, NFC West teams posted a putrid 13-27 against non-divisional opponents. Overall, the NFC West went 6-26 on the road. Ouch.
Could the division improve any in 2011? Maybe. The Rams are on the rise, and should be pretty decent if they can keep QB Sam Bradford on the field. San Francisco could possibly rise up with the new coaching staff, but I think they’re a year away. I don’t see how Seattle’s going to be any better than they were in 2010. Arizona desperately needs a QB if they ever want to do much better than five wins.
7) AFC South (Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Houston)
This wasn’t a great division last year (18-22 in non-division games), and it could be worse in 2011. Indy is Indy, and will be okay as long as Peyton Manning is. But I don’t think you’ll see them win more than 10 or 11 games. Everyone else could be pretty bad. I think Jacksonville’s 8-8 was a bit deceiving last year – they gave up 61 more points than they scored – and the Jaguars will take a step back in 2011, which will lead to a Jack Del Rio firing. Tennessee is rebuilding, and it’s going to be a few years. Houston should have cleaned house this offseason. This team, as constructed, just doesn’t seem to be able to get over the hump. Time to bring in a new coaching staff in Texas. Overall, I just don’t think there’s any real threats here to unseat a not-great Colts team.
6) AFC West (Kansas City, San Diego, Oakland, Denver)
The AFC West brought us one of the weirdest stats ever in 2010 – Oakland finished 6-0 in divisional contests but somehow finished third in the division by going 2-8 against everyone else. I don’t see them finishing 8-8 again unless new coach Hue Jackson is a miracle-worker. Kanlsas City is decent, but I’m don’t think they’ll be able to any better than last season’s 10-6 mark. I just don’t think Matt Cassel is all that good. San Diego REALLY should have fired Norv Turner. Too many demons and bad memories surround the franchise as long as he’s around. They’ll choke somewhere along the way. The Broncos will need a few years to dig out of the bottomless pit of despair that was the Josh McDaniels era. Certainly no great teams in this division either.
5) NFC North (Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit, Minnesota)
There’s a really clear line of separation between the top five and bottom three divisions, as the NFC North is way better than the AFC West. All four teams have a shot to be decent this year. Green Bay is going to be awesome. If you don’t have them #1 in your pre-season power poll, you’re wrong. Behind them lies three pretty interesting squads. Chicago actually won this division in 2010, but it was a bit of a fluke. Plus, will there be any fallout from the Jay Cutler mess in the NFC Championship game? Detroit is on the rise, but it’ll be one more year before they’re real contenders. Plus, they have a lot riding on injury-prone Matt Stafford. Minnesota is old and desperately needs a quarterback. Is rookie Christian Ponder the answer?
I might have this division ranked too low, as all four teams could be really good. But there’s also a chance everyone but the Packers totally collapses. Should be a very fun division to watch.
4) NFC East (Philadelphia, N.Y. Giants, Dallas, Washington)
This division tends to be a bit overrated. Everyone talks about how great it is, but there really haven’t been a ton of great teams from this division in recent years. And last year, the NFC East went just 20-20 in non-division games. However, Philly and the Giants will be very competitive again, and will probably battle it out for the division title. I’m not buying Dallas until they prove something. The end of last year doesn’t mean jack. Washington is a mess. Terrible owner, overrated coach, bad quarterback situation. That team might be bad for a long, long time.
3) AFC North (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati)
You can make a case for any of the top three divisions being the strongest in the league. The Pittsburgh-Baltimore combination is a pretty good one at the top of the division. Two very well run franchises that always seem to have talent. No reason to think both teams won’t be very strong again in 2011. This division is dragged down to #3 by the Ohio teams. Cleveland is cursed as a sports city. I wholly expect Colt McCoy to blow out his knee on the first play of training camp this year. I will pick the Browns to suck until they prove otherwise. The Bengals…oh, the Bengals. They’re going to be terrible. Maybe poor Marvin Lewis will finally be fired and put out of his misery. As long as Mike Brown runs that team, they aren’t going to be good with any consistency. And if Carson Palmer retires, who plays quarterback? This could be a more brutal year than usual for long-suffering Bengals fans.
2) NFC South (Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Carolina)
Reasonable people can definitely argue that this division should be #1. The NFC South had the best record in the NFL against non-divisional opponents (24-16) despite Carolina going 2-8 in those contests. The top three teams are definitely good. So why are they #2? Four reasons. First, I don’t think the Falcons are quite as good as their 13-3 record indicated in 2010. They’ll like step back to around 10-6. Second, Tampa Bay definitely overachieved last year. I do think they’ll be VERY good…in 2012. Quarterback Josh Freeman is awesome, but the Bucs will come back to Earth a bit in 2011 before really making huge strides the following year. Third, Carolina is still going to suck. The only thing that saves them from the worst record in the league again is the disaster that will be the 2011 Cincinnati Bengals season. Fourth, I’m an outrageous homer, which means the number #1 division is:
1) AFC East (New England, N.Y. Jets, Miami, Buffalo)
Here’s the deal – New England and the Jets are going to be very good again. If Miami gets some decent QB play, the Dolphins will win around 6-9 games again. Buffalo will most likely be pretty decent. 8-8 is certainly possible. All in all, no real bottom-feeders if Buffalo and Miami are okay. The Pats and Jets will challenge for the title. Add it all up, and that’s one strong division.
So that’s what I think. Am I complete moron? Which division do you think is the strongest?