How does each NFL division and team stack up at the halfway mark?
Written by: Greg Lehr | @greglehr3
Power Rankings by: The Blitz Team | @Blitzalytics
It's hard to believe that we have already reached the halfway mark of the NFL's 100th season. Heading into Week 9, there have been two constants in our consensus NFL Power Rankings; the Patriots at the top and the Dolphins at the bottom. Ironically, these teams both reside in the AFC East. As the NFL playoff picture slowly develops throughout the season, the discrepancy between the good divisions and the not-so-good divisions is certainly something to keep an eye on, especially as it pertains to potential Wild Card races in the second half of the season. These division races are often the difference between a mediocre division-winner getting into the playoffs over a team with a better record. Look no further than the loaded NFC, where every division has at least two teams at or above the .500 mark. As a conference, the NFC has ten teams that have a winning percentage of .500 or better, compared to the AFC, who has 7.
At the halfway point of the regular season, it's worth noting the current strength of each division (based on each teams' average Week 9 Power Ranking within that division). Divisions are listed in order of overall average ranking (best to worst).
NFC West - 49ers (2), Seahawks (8), Rams (11), Cardinals (22)
Average Ranking: 10.75
The only division in the NFL with three teams (49ers, Seahawks, and Rams) above .500. Even the last-place Cardinals have scratched and clawed their way to a 3-4-1 record, which is better than most expected from their new rookie head coach and quarterback combination in their first year. Simply put, this is the best division in football. San Francisco is the only undefeated team outside of New England, Russell Wilson is on the short-list for MVP, and the Rams are looking to defend their NFC crown from a year ago after upgrading at corner by trading for Jalen Ramsey.
NFC North - Packers (4), Vikings (5), Lions (16), Bears (23)
Average Ranking: 12
Just a couple of weeks ago, this was almost unquestionably the best division in football. Since then, the Lions have stumbled a bit to 3-3-1, mostly due to consecutive divisional losses to the Packers and Vikings. Meanwhile, Chicago's kicking nightmares continue to haunt them and they look to be in trouble with an incredibly limited offense led by Mitch Trubisky. There appears to be a legitimate separation between the top half and bottom half of the NFC North, as the Packers and Vikings are real teams that are capable of winning through the air, on the ground, and/or with their defense.
AFC South - Colts (7), Texans (9), Jaguars (17), Titans (19)
Average Ranking: 13
Frank Reich, Jacoby Brissett, and the entire Colts organization deserve a ton of credit for finding themselves at the top of the division at this point in the season after the Andrew Luck retirement chaos. Brissett, in particular, has been outstanding (14 TD, 3 INT) while leading Indy to a 5-2 record. Houston, on the other hand, has struggled to find consistency week in and week out, and will now be without JJ Watt for the remainder of the year. Right behind them are the Jaguars and Titans (each 4-4), who have stayed in the mix by finding ways to win games - no matter how ugly some of their games are to watch. Tannehill and Minshew have helped keep each teams’ playoff aspirations alive, respectively.
NFC South - Saints (3), Panthers (14), Buccaneers (25), Falcons (29)
Average Ranking: 17.75
Nearly everyone outside of New Orleans was ready to forget about the Saints when Drew Brees first injured the thumb on his throwing hand in week two against the Rams. However, all Teddy Bridgewater did in his absence was win five consecutive starts while throwing for 1,370 yards (228 YPG), 9 TD, and only 2 INT. Now Brees has returned without missing a beat for the 7-1 Saints, who need to be considered co-favorites with San Francisco as the class in the NFC. Meanwhile, the 4-3 Carolina Panthers have enjoyed relatively similar success with Kyle Allen filling in for Cam Newton, despite being trounced by the 49ers last week, thanks in large part to Christian McCaffery's incredible performance through their first seven games. Tampa Bay and Atlanta look to be over their heads once again this season.
AFC East - Patriots (1), Bills (12), Jets (28), Dolphins (32)
Average Ranking: 18.75
The AFC East has been fairly predictable up to this point. Any and all high expectations of the Patriots coming into the season have been surpassed thanks in large part to their historical defensive performance so far. They are currently out-scoring opponents 250-61 (+189), which is the second-best point differential through eight games in NFL history (2007 Patriots were +204 through eight games). The Bills have been exactly who everyone thought they would be; tough, gritty, solid defensively, and just enough offense to get the job done. Despite a disappointing loss at home to Philadelphia, their schedule still sets up nicely for a chance at double-digit wins and a great opportunity for a Wild Card spot. The Jets showed promise with a win over Dallas in Darnold's return, but a nightmare follow-up performance against New England and another loss in Jacksonville seem to have put the nail in the coffin on any threat of resurgence for now. The Jets and Dolphins, unfortunately, bring this division ranking down into mediocrity.
AFC West - Chiefs (10), Raiders (18), Chargers (20), Broncos (27)
Average Ranking: 18.75
It remains to be seen exactly how much more time Patrick Mahomes will miss due to a knee injury sustained against the Broncos in week seven, but hopefully not much longer for a Chiefs team that is 1-3 in their last four games. It doesn't get any easier this week as they face a scorching-hot Vikings team. Out in Oakland, Jon Gruden and the Raiders have been somewhat of a pleasant surprise standing at 3-4, even after two consecutive losses. The Chargers continue to be one of the most disappointing teams in the entire league this season but managed to escape Chicago with a much-needed win. At 3-5, they are still flirting with the prospect of not being in contention due to a tough upcoming stretch of games (vs Green Bay, at Oakland, vs Kansas City). For Denver, it feels like they blew their last real chance to capture any sort of momentum on the season by still losing badly at home against the Chiefs, even after Mahomes left the game, and failing to close out the game in their loss at the Colts. Courtland Sutton has been a bright spot, but trading Emmanuel Sanders to the 49ers for draft picks tells you all you need to know about where this team is going for the remainder of the year.
AFC North - Ravens (8), Steelers (21), Browns (24), Bengals (31)
Average Ranking: 20.5
Perhaps the most up-and-down division throughout the first half of the season, the only thing we know for sure at this point is that the Bengals are bad (really, really bad). Pittsburgh obviously faces an uphill battle as they continue playing without Roethlisberger, but due to the wide-open nature of the rest of the conference, they can't be counted out just yet at 3-4. However, even with a glimmer of hope in Pittsburgh, the division is likely Baltimore's to lose thanks to the electrifying play of Lamar Jackson. Cleveland has had a tough time gaining any momentum, but they play both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati twice in the second half of the season (and already have one win over Baltimore). Although they have proven to be neither consistent or disciplined, they have the potential to go on a bit of a run and make a late-season push for a playoff spot after all.
NFC East - Cowboys (13), Eagles (15), Giants (26), Redskins (30)
Average Ranking: 21
So far this season, the NFC Least jokes ring true once again. The Cowboys and Eagles were both expected to be among the top of the class in the NFC, but each has had their fair share of struggles and will face difficult schedules down the stretch. Their only difference right now is Dallas' win over Philly in week seven. The Giants had a brief window of excitement with Daniel Jones but have had a slew of injuries that have halted momentum for the time being, while Washington will likely live in the basement for the duration of the season. By the looks of the NFC, only one team will be coming out of this division in a packed Wild Card picture, and it could very well come down to the week sixteen rematch between the Cowboys and Eagles in Philadelphia.
Full NFL Power Rankings: Week 8
Rankings by: The Blitz Team
New England Patriots
San Francisco 49ers
New Orleans Saints
Green Bay Packers
Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Chargers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New York Giants
New York Jets