Ranking NFL Divisions Heading Into The 2021 Season
In this edition of ranking NFL Divisions, my rationale is pretty simple. First, the quarterback play of the four teams in each division. Second, how many teams I expect to make the playoffs in said division. And finally, I look at personnel and coaching moves. As training camp gets started this week, I felt a division power ranking was much needed.
Ranking NFL Divisions- #1. NFC West
Teams: Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals
When it comes to NFL divisions, if you don’t have the NFC West at #1, I cannot take your list seriously. This is easily the best division in football with some of the best quarterback play. Russell Wilson, Matt Stafford, Kyler Murray, and Jimmy Garoppolo are all top-16 quarterbacks in this league when healthy. Since Wilson arrived in 2012, Seattle has only missed the playoffs once and has won more than nine games every season.
Sean McVay has made the Rams a consistent playoff threat and was winning ten games every year with Jared Goff under center. I do think the addition of Matt Stafford makes their offense more dynamic, but they lost Cam Akers to an Achilles injury and former OC Shane Waldron is with the Seahawks. They also lost DC Brandon Staley to the Chargers and key pieces on the defense, including John Johnson and Troy Hill. The Rams do have two of the best players at their respective position in Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, but an injury to either one could spell disaster.
Although the San Francisco 49ers had an injury-riddled 2020 season, let’s not forget that last time this team was healthy, they hosted the NFC Championship and found themselves just one Jimmy G completion from winning a Super Bowl. I do want to see how Kyle Shanahan deals with his first taste of major coaching turnover. Robert Saleh had been the defensive coordinator for 49ers for four years, and he now takes over as the Jets head coach. Saleh also took Mike LaFleur with him to New York, who was a Shanahan disciple and will now be the OC under Saleh.
The fact that the Arizona Cardinals are most likely going to finish in 4th place with the amount of talent they have just goes to show how elite this division is. Kyler Murray has shown flashes of being an elite quarterback, and he has incredible offensive talent around him. My biggest question mark is Kliff Kingsbury, who is definitely on the hot seat in 2021. I could see the Cardinals winning 8 or 9 games and finishing fourth while the other three teams make the playoffs. The NFC West is the best division in football, and that should be common sense by now.
Ranking NFL Divisions- #2. AFC North
Teams: Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals
Like the NFC West, the quarterback play in the AFC North is really good. Say what you want about Lamar Jackson’s passing ability. He wins 80% of his games, has made the Ravens a playoff team every year, and is the most dynamic athlete we have seen at the position.
The Cleveland Browns have a top-three roster in the NFL. On offense, they have an elite running back duo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, solid receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, and arguably the best o-line in the league. On the defensive side of the ball, Myles Garrett might be the best pure edge rusher in the NFL. They also overhauled their secondary by giving Denzel Ward some help and brought in Jadeveon Clowney. Baker Mayfield proved he can be an above-average game manager, and when he is on, this team is scary good.
The Pittsburgh Steelers may have the worst quarterback in the division and still won 12 games in 2020. Big Ben showed signs of regression last season and looked like a shell of himself. Pittsburgh’s roster other than quarterback is incredible. An elite receiving core, a ferocious front seven, and a ball hawk safety in Minkah Fitzpatrick. They also drafted Najee Harris in the first round, who could be the missing piece to this Pittsburgh offense that desperately needs a run game. Their offensive line scares me a little as they released David DeCastro and lost Alejandro Villanueva to the Ravens.
I love me some Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, but this team is not going to win a lot of games in 2021. The Bengals butchered their first pick this year by not taking an offensive lineman at #5. Burrow had a season-ending injury because the offensive line could not protect him. And if history has shown us anything, you can get sweet receivers in the second and third rounds of the draft. Take Penei Sewell, pair him with Jonah Williams, and the offensive line is much better, and Burrow is not running for his life. Zac Taylor is on thin ice heading into 2021.
Ranking NFL Divisions- #3. AFC East
Teams: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
The AFC East may not have the talent compared to the NFC West of AFC North, but this might be the best-coached division in football. Bill Belichick, Sean McDermott, and Brian Flores are elite defensive coaches, and Robert Saleh has been a great defensive coordinator for the 49ers. The obvious favorite to win the East is the Bills. Josh Allen looked like a top-five quarterback and MVP candidate in 2020 despite having to be an elite runner for the Buffalo offense. The biggest problem for Buffalo was their inability to consistently rush the passer, and they went out and drafted back to back EDGE rushers in the draft.
The Dolphins roster is constructed very well, with great players all around. Xavien Howard wanting out hurts their defense but other than, that this team does not have very many holes. It all comes back to the quarterback. I like Tua, but it is not arguable that this offense looked better when Ryan Fitzpatrick was in the game. Tua said he is a lot more comfortable with the playbook, and he was coming off a bad hip injury, but he did not look great in his rookie year.
Now to my Patriots. 2020 was a disaster as they had the most COVID opt outs, a bottom-five roster in the league, and a quarterback in Cam Newton who looked like a shell of himself. They went on a spending spree in free agency and retooled the entire roster. They had a solid draft that included Mac Jones, who I have my reservations about, but by all accounts, the kid has looked good so far. This division is not the same one Brady and Belichick dominated for 20 years, and while I think they could fight for a wild card spot, the Bills own this division for now.
What to make of the New York Jets? First time head coach, first time OC, rookie quarterback paired with an elite coaching division is a recipe for disaster. While they have surrounded Zach Wilson with more help than Sam Darnold ever received, I think they made a mistake drafting the BYU quarterback. Jets fans are in for another long season.
Ranking NFL Divisions- #4. AFC West
Teams: Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos
The AFC West may have the best team in the NFL with the Chiefs, but the other three teams have question marks. The quarterback play is elite. Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Derek Carr could compete with just about anybody for the best quarterback play in a division. The Chiefs overhauled their offensive line, and I have no doubt they will be fighting for the #1 seed in the AFC.
Justin Herbert just put together one of the best rookie seasons by a quarterback that we have ever seen despite Anthony Lynn being a bumbling idiot. Their offensive weapons are good, and they upgraded their o-line with Corey Linsley and Rashawn Slater, but my concerns are with the Brandon Staley hire. While he may be one of Sean McVay’s minions, he is a one time defensive coordinator and has little coaching experience in the league.
The Raiders have been a talking point here at Vendetta. Whether it is Derek Carr catching too much hate, Gruden messing up key personnel moves, or their atrocious defense, the Vegas Raiders have been in complete dysfunction the past three years. This offseason did not bode well for the Raiders as they lost key pieces on their offensive line and over drafted Alex Leatherwood in the first round of the draft. Outside of Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs, and Darren Waller, I have a lot of concerns about this team.
The Broncos, unlike the Raiders, have everything but the quarterback. Young receivers in Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, an ascending tight end in Noah Fant, and a stud rookie running back with Javonte Williams. The downfall for Denver is the QB, as Drew Lock stinks, and Teddy Bridgewater’s days as a starting quarterback are behind them. I was expecting the Broncos to pull the trigger on Justin Fields. While Pat Surtain is a day one starter at corner, quarterback has proven to be the most valuable position.
Ranking NFL Divisions- #5. NFC South
Teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons
The NFC South is very top heavy and has a lot of unproven teams. Obviously, Tampa Bay has the best roster in the league with the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady. They returned all 22 starters from the Super Bowl winning team and look like the clear favorite to come out of the NFC.
I know a lot of people are high on the Saints but are we sure Jameis Winston is going to be good with New Orleans? I like the offensive pieces that the Saints have assembled with Alvin Kamara but losing Michael Thomas for the first couple of weeks hurts their receiving core. I do like their offensive line with Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, and Ryan Ramczyk, but this team will go as far as Jameis takes them.
The Carolina Panthers had a disappointing 2020 season under first year head coach Matt Rhule. The Teddy Bridgewater experiment failed, which led to them trading for Sam Darnold in the offseason. Darnold has the tools to be a good QB in this league, and he is better off away from Adam Gase, but I’ll believe it when I see it. The offense is not in question when it comes to Carolina. They have solid receivers, while Christian McCaffrey and OC Joe Brady should be better in year two. It is the defense the worries me.
Atlanta fans strap in for another disappointing season. Yes, Kyle Pitts is the best tight end prospect we have ever seen, and Calvin Ridley is the most underrated receiver in the league, but Matt Ryan has regressed badly. Arthur Smith is a smart offensive mind, but like the Panthers, Atlanta’s defense is their kryptonite. Before Dan Quinn was fired that year, the Falcons were statistically one of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL. They did not make any big splashes in free agency and did not draft any defensive studs. Don’t be surprised if they are picking in the top-five again.
Ranking NFL Divisions- #6 NFC North
Teams: Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions
The NFC North has the chance to be ranked higher on this list by the end of this season. The Green Bay Packers headline this division as the Aaron Rodgers saga seems to have steeled down, for now. Matt LaFleur has won 26 games in his two seasons and hosted an NFC Championship in 2020. As long as Rodgers is still in Green Bay, the Packers are a threat in the NFC.
The Chicago Bears landed themselves a gem in Justin Fields. After butchering the Mitch Trubisky pick in 2018, Ryan Pace may have bought himself another year as general manager. Although Matt Nagy said Andy Dalton is the starter, I don’t see that lasting very long. The Bears have an above average defense and should win nine or maybe ten games as long as Fields is the starter.
What happened to the Minnesota Vikings last season? They found a young superstar receiver in Justin Jefferson, Kirk Cousins played well, and Dalvin Cook is an elite running back, but the defense was horrible last season. Mike Zimmer is a defensive minded head coach, so that falls on him. I expect the Vikings to bounce back in 2021.
As much as I am rooting for Dan Campbell and the Lions, Detroit might be in for another disappointing season. While they have put together a formidable offensive line, they downgraded at quarterback with Jared Goff and have limited offensive weapons. There is a chance this Lions team is battling for the number one pick in the 2022 draft.
Ranking NFL Divisions- #7 AFC South
Teams: Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars
The AFC South has two really good teams and two really shitty teams. The Titans have made the playoffs the past two years, and the Colts have assembled a really solid team on both sides of the ball. I think the Titans’ offense is going to take a step back with the loss of Arthur Smith. Todd Downing assumes the offensive coordinator role in Tennessee, and I don’t have a ton of faith in the former tight end coach.
The Colts won 11 games and made the playoffs in 2020 with Philip Rivers under center. If Carson Wentz can get back to his 2017 form, Indy should win this division and be back in the playoff mix. The defense is one of the league’s best with guys like DeForest Buckner and stud linebacker Darius Leonard.
The Houston Texans, along with the Lions and Eagles, will be battling for the first overall pick in 2022. First time head coach David Culley will most likely be fired after this year, and honestly, it won’t be his fault. Other than Deshaun Watson, who still wants out, this roster is just bad from top to bottom. They have no dynamic skill players on offense, and the defensive personnel is even worse. Even if Watson plays, this team only won four games with him under center in 2020. Houston, we have a huge problem.
The Jacksonville Jaguars finally have some life. They drafted Trevor Lawrence number one overall and he is going to have success in this league. The Jaguars’ team success will come down to Urban Meyer and this coaching staff. I have my reservations about the former Ohio State coach, but this roster is a lot better than last year. If the Jags win 6 or 7 games, that would be a huge success after having the number one pick.
Ranking NFL Divisions- #8 NFC East
Teams: Washington Football Team, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles
It seems like I am beating a dead horse by ranking the NFC East as the worst division in football, but they have earned their spot. The one bright spot in this division is the WFT, but they only won seven games last season. I don’t really get the Ryan Fitzpatrick signing as you have young dynamic players on both offense and defense. All this team needs is a quarterback and they will own this division.
I will never understand the hype surrounding the Cowboys. Every year, the media gases up Dallas and makes them out to be some contender in the NFC, only for them to royally disappoint. The offense has never been the problem in Dallas, it is the other side of the ball that had plagued their success. Mike McCarthy made a huge mistake hiring Mike Nolan in his first year, and now they brought in Dan Quinn. Other than Micah Parsons, where have they upgraded on defense?
The New York Giants are my dark horse to win this division. Joe Judge proved he belongs as a head coach in this league, their offensive weapons are elite and their defense can hang with the best. The biggest question mark is Daniel Jones. Like the WFT, this Giants team is a quarterback away from consistently winning eight or nine games every year. This is a make or break year for Daniel Jones, and this team will go as far as he takes them.
Philadelphia has a chance to be the worst team in the league. Jalen Hurts is unproven and has no weapons to throw to other than DeVonta Smith. The head coaching hire comes with a number of red flags as Nick Sirianni botched his opening press conference and then said he played rock, paper, scissors with potential draft picks. This has fourth place in the division written all over it. I genuinely feel bad for Jalen Hurts.
Let me know what you think!
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