- Joined ESPN in 2011
- New Jersey native and author of two published novels
The NFL’s divisional structure remains one of the great bastions of parochialism. Relative leaguewide parity and routine interconference matchups make it a 1-to-32 league, but teams and fan bases still lock in, first and foremost, on the goal of beating out the other teams in their divisions. The schedule necessitates it. Teams play each of the other three in their division twice a year. The rules say a division gets at least one playoff team no matter how bad it is. All politics, as the saying goes, is local.
The fun part is that not all divisions are created equal. Last season, the AFC North put three teams in the playoffs, while the NFC East didn’t have a single team finish .500. The Packers and Chiefs were the only teams in their respective divisions to finish over .500. The 49ers were the only team in the NFC West to finish under.
The relative strength of each of the eight divisions lends texture to the playoff race. You might think San Francisco, given improved injury luck, has the best chance of any of the 2020 last-place finishers to win its division this season, and you might be right. But a still-loaded NFC West offers obstacles to that accomplishment that don’t confront a 2020 basement dweller like, say, Philadelphia. It’s one thing to finish last. It’s another to finish last and be only 2½ games out of first.
So with the NFL season a little over three weeks away, we thought it would be fun to rank the divisions from best to worst. As a starting point, we used ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) ratings of all 32 teams, but we adjusted off those in some spots for reasons we explain below:
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