San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York said on Thursday's "NFL AM" that the NFC West was "hands down" the best division in "professional sports." The only crazy part of this statement: It's not that crazy.
It was only a year ago that the NFC West was viewed as a lower-rung division. We created some Division Power Rankings via poll at Around The League last summer, not one of our four voters ranked the division above sixth. They finished seventh overall, which was one spot ahead of where NFL.com's Michael Lombardi ranked the division in 2011.
Now the division has the two favorites in the NFC along with a rising force that are the St. Louis Rams. We decided to take the same poll again Thursday following York's comments to see how the results would fare this year. Here goes:
1. NFC West
2. NFC North
3. AFC North
4. NFC South
5. NFC East
6. AFC South
7. AFC East
8. AFC West
» The voting was unanimous at the top and bottom. We all voted the NFC West as the best division in football, with the AFC West as everyone's pick for the bottom division. Even if the Kansas City Chiefs rise, the division lacks a strong No. 2.
» The NFC West finished first, mostly based on its strength at the top. Unlike the next four divisions on the list, the NFC West has an expected also-ran with the Arizona Cardinals. Then again, they have more talent -- especially on defense -- than people think.
» You can see the conference imbalance above. There simply are more bad teams (on paper) in the AFC. Last year, three of the bottom four divisions were in the AFC. Now, the AFC has the bottom three. Of the four of us, Dan Hanzus showed the most love to the bottom three divisions, ranking the AFC South fourth.
» Last year, Hanzus had the NFC East ranked first. This time, Marc Sessler fell victim to East Coast bias. He ranked the weekly "Sunday Night Football" division second, while no one else had them higher than fifth. You can argue that the NFC East is deep, but is there a complete roster in the division?
» I had the most AFC North love, ranking it second. The Pittsburgh Steelers are a Super Bowl contending team under Ben Roethlisberger until proven otherwise. The division also boasts the defending champs, a trendy team in the Cincinnati Bengals and the absence of Pat Shurmur.
» I also had the NFC South higher than anyone else. The South dropped three spots from last year's poll, but I still see two legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, and two dangerous teams in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers. It's a tougher division than the North top to bottom.
» Chris Wesseling's order of divisions wound up being the consensus. The NFC North love probably comes from a feeling that the Detroit Lions should bounce back some this year.@greggrosenthal.