2016 NFL division power rankings

The NFC West's reign as the league's dominant division could be coming to an end. The division still boasts two superpowers, but the collapse of the 49ers coupled with the Rams' commitment to mediocrity creates an imbalance.

This is the fifth offseason the Around The NFL writers have ranked each division, and it's the first year since 2012 that the NFC West failed to land on top. There was more disagreement than ever in the voting, with four different divisions getting a first-place vote from our six writers. Below are the results of our division power rankings votes and some nuggets:

1. AFC North: The expected resurgence of the Ravens gives the division three legitimate contenders, not to mention three bona fide human starting quarterbacks now that Andy has obliterated the Dalton Scale. The schedule won't help the Browns.

2. NFC West: No division has a better 1-2 punch of Super Bowl contenders. The NFC West would be back into the top spot if the Rams can play outside of the division like they play against Seattle and Arizona.

3. AFC West: This could be the deepest division in football. It boasts the defending champion and every team has realistic playoff hopes. The Raiders enjoyed a nice offseason, as did the Chiefs until Justin Houston's injury. To put it another way: The AFC West might have the best last-place team in the league. Then again. ...

4. AFC East: This looks like the most challenging AFC East for the Patriots to handle since 2008. Even the disappointing Dolphins have plenty of talent and big names. Chris Wesseling voted the AFC East as the toughest division, showing how balanced the league is at the moment.

5. NFC North: The Vikings are division champs with a young roster. The Packers have a lot of room for improvement. The Bears played hard for John Fox, and the Lions looked like a playoff team late last year.

6. NFC South: There was a big drop-off between the NFC North and NFC South in our voting. It's a surprise because the NFC South had the conference champion and boasts the best group of quarterbacks in the league.

7. AFC South: They are out of the basement. This division is far more interesting because of the young quarterbacks. Feel the love!

8. NFC East: It's possible the division was punished slightly by the voters for exposing us to so much mediocre football on national television. It's hard to find potential for a great team here.

A few more thoughts about the rankings:

» The AFC North and NFC West each earned two votes for the toughest division. The AFC West and AFC East had one vote each as the toughest. It all depends on what you value in a division. The AFC North and NFC West have more teams that could realistically wind up in a Super Bowl. The AFC East and AFC West look deeper.

» There was more variety in the voting than any year we conducted this exercise. The divisions and two conferences look rather balanced. The conventional wisdom during last season was that the NFC was stronger at the top, although the AFC wound up winning the Super Bowl. The AFC had more truly bad teams last regular season, but it wound up with three of our top four divisions in these power rankings.

» There was a lot of disagreement in the voting, but the six writers agreed about what three divisions were the worst. The NFC South, NFC East and AFC South were ranked as the bottom three in some order on every writer's ballot. Conor Orr was the only writer to put the NFC South last.

"The NFC South is weird," Orr said just days before his wedding. "They have had some of the most dominant teams in football since 2002, and most notably the Panthers in 2015. But we're assuming that Carolina is going to be a 10-plus game winner again in 2016, we're assuming that we believe the Saints are going to rebound and we're assuming that Jameis Winston won't hit a wall. I don't know if I'm comfortable assuming all of those things."

» Is there a division that had a particularly good offseason? Marc Sessler and others believe the AFC South is on the way up. The Jaguars and Texans made improvements, while the Titans tried. The Colts are betting on continuity on the roster and the coaching staff, which is not such a radical idea.

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