The best way to win in the NFL is to take one week at a time. Teams that best do that typically find themselves playing playoff football in January and February when it truly is a one-week season. However, winning a division is a goal many teams come into the season with, and of course a division title means a postseason appearance. Real on-field action isn’t close to happening yet, and some squads will surpass expectations while others falter; but this is how I believe the NFL’s eight division currently stack up.
For the most recent power rankings with post-draft breakdowns of each team, you can check them out here. Before training camp, there will be an updated set of power rankings. And keep in mind there are still some veteran free agents available—like DeMarco Murray, Jeremy Maclin, and Dez Bryant—that could be signed before then.
1. NFC South
The NFC South had three playoff teams (the Saints, Panthers, and Falcons) last season, and all three of them figure to be squarely in the mix in 2018. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers made some improvements—particularly on the defensive line—this offseason as they look to climb back into contention in the division. The success of Tampa Bay, who was a trendy Super Bowl pick last season, will likely come down to Jameis Winston staying healthy and playing well (mainly by avoiding turnovers). As of now, I don’t think the Bucs will be one of them, but the NFC South might have the best chance at three playoff teams after they did it last season.
2. AFC West
I think the NFC South has the strongest trio of teams in a division, but the AFC South might be stronger from top-to-bottom. The Chargers are arguably as talented as any team in the NFL, and they are led by Philip Rivers at quarterback—though the loss of tight end Hunter Henry is a big blow. The Chiefs might have more explosive talent on offense than anyone in the NFL, Andy Reid is one of the league’s best coaches, and they get All-Pro safety Eric Berry back on defense. Both LA and KC figure to be potential 10+ win teams, but the Raiders and Broncos are a couple of wild cards. Denver has strong pieces on the roster, but the defense was mysteriously bad under Vance Joseph last season. And Jon Gruden is back on the sidelines for the Raiders, who looked on the verge of joining the AFC’s elite this time last year—which they might do this fall.
3. NFC North
Aaron Rodgers is back and healthy for the Packers, so they’ll certainly be competing for a division crown this season. Green Bay’s offseason additions including rookie cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson should help the team be better overall. Mike Zimmer’s Vikings defense is probably the best in the conference if not the entire NFL, and it’ll be interesting to see how new quarterback Kirk Cousins and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo do with a talented offense. Meanwhile, the Bears and Lions both have new coaches. Chicago brought in an offensive-minded coach (Matt Nagy, along with former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich as his offensive coordinator) while keeping defensive coordinator Vic Fangio; and Detroit brought in a defensive-minded head coach (Matt Patricia) while keeping offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. The NFC North might turn out to be the best division in the NFL in 2018.
4. NFC East
The NFC East has the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles, but the three teams that finished below in the division them appear to have gotten better this offseason. The Cowboys have a talented defense with upside, and they figure to be in most ballgames because they’ll hand Ezekiel Elliott the ball a ton in an attempt to control the game. I actually think the Redskins upgraded at quarterback with Alex Smith, who simply wins games and has a ridiculous narrative surrounding him that he isn’t a good quarterback. And there might not be a more improved team than the Giants, who added Pat Shurmur as head coach and had what should turn out to be an outstanding draft headlined by Saquon Barkley.
5. NFC West
Because of some uncertainty, the NFC West is ranked fifth, but they have the potential to send three teams to the postseason in 2018. The Rams are going all in for a Super Bowl this season, but they do have some blow-up (in a bad way) potential if the personalities don’t mesh well. Jimmy Garoppolo is leading the 49ers, and he hasn’t lost a game as a starting quarterback in the NFL, so they have a lot of upside. I like the Cardinals if Sam Bradford can stay healthy, and new head coach Steve Wilks should have a bright future. And the Seahawks retooled the roster and made it so competition will determine a lot of spots. Competition is what Seattle thrived on during its heyday, so I like it; and Russell Wilson’s presence means they’ll remain competitive during this roster tweak. The NFC West faces the AFC West (ranked second) and NFC North (ranked third) this season, so I’m looking forward to those matchups.
6. AFC South
Health is the big reason the AFC South is this low in the ranking of the NFL’s best divisions. Andrew Luck has yet to throw a football, and the Colts probably don’t have a strong enough roster to win a lot of games without him. The Texans also have some injury questions, as Deshaun Watson is coming off a torn ACL while J.J. Watt (leg) and Whitney Mercilus (pectoral) are also returning from season-ending injuries. I think the Titans should be better on both sides of the ball this season, and they are coming off a playoff appearance and victory. Jacksonville could potentially take a step back after their excellent season in which they were very close to a Super Bowl appearance, but we’ll see.
7. AFC East
The AFC East is lower because the Patriots basically run the division and are very likely to win it again in 2018. However, there’s reason to believe it could be a strong group of four this season. The Bills are coming off a playoff appearance in Sean McDermott’s first season, and they presumably believe they improved at quarterback after trading Tyrod Taylor and adding Josh Allen and A.J. McCarron this offseason. The Jets have three good quarterbacks (Teddy Bridgewater, Josh McCown, and Sam Darnold), so one of them should seize the job and play well—though the team ultimately might need more time. Adam Gase and Ryan Tannehill (who is healthy after missing all of last season with a knee injury originally suffered at the end of the 2016 season) were a playoff team in their only season together.
8. AFC North
The Steelers should again be one of the best teams in the NFL this season, but the other teams in the division need to step up. I would like the Ravens more if John Harbaugh wasn’t known to be on the hot seat, which could lead to an ugly season if things start to go south. Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is entering his first full season running the offense, and Cincinnati could surprise some people on that side of the ball this year; but overall the team might not have as much upside as the conference’s elite. The Browns have won one game over the last two seasons, and although they added a lot of talent that could lead to a turnaround, it’s hard to be confident in them until they prove it on the field. Aside from the Steelers, the AFC North might not be a division other teams struggle with in 2018.