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AFC East tops division power rankings

Every week in this space, Chris Wesseling will roll out the power rankings for one specific NFL position, attribute or award.

So far, we have covered Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates, defensive front sevens, satellite backs, wide receivers, the Around The NFL quarter-season All-Pro team, best offseason bargains and Comeback Player of the Year candidates.

With the midseason point on the horizon, it's good time to step back and take a look at the NFL's eight divisions. We know the AFC East is highly competitive and the AFC South is collectively struggling.

Let's rank the divisions from strongest to weakest:

1. AFC East

This is an easy call. The AFC East is the only division in which all four teams have a positive point differential. It houses the No. 1 team in my power rankings (Patriots) as well as three legitimate wild-card contenders. All four teams rank in the NFL's top half. There's no weak step-sister to count on as an automatic slumpbuster.

2. NFC West

It's the Cardinals -- not the Patriots -- who boast the NFL's best point differential at +96. This is a deep and talented roster. With a great coach (Bruce Arians), an MVP candidate at quarterback (Carson Palmer), several Comeback Player of the Year candidates (Palmer, Chris Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald) and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate (Tyrann Mathieu), this is an obvious Super Bowl contender.

Pay no attention to the Seahawks' early-season heartbreaks versus undefeated teams. Now that Marshawn Lynch is back on track, the reigning NFC champions are coming like a freight train. With Todd Gurley complementing a swarming defense, the Rams are a team nobody wants to see on the schedule. It's fair to wonder if the 49ers are 32nd out of 32 teams.

3. AFC North

Among the NFL's most stout on both sides of the line of scrimmage, the Bengals are in the conversation for deepest personnel in the league. Ben Roethlisberger returns to the Steelers' lineup for this week's titanic struggle versus Cincinnati, which means Pittsburgh will have an explosive offense to go along with a talented young defense that has wildly exceeded expectations.

The Ravens are currently 19th across the board in point differential, Football Outsiders' DVOA metric and my power rankings. No matter what Bill Parcells might say, they are better than their record suggests. The Browns are 12th in the NFL in total offense, ranking one spot behind the Packers. Not too shabby for the perennial AFC North doormat.

4. NFC South

After squeezing past a series of tomato cans to open the season, the Panthers have proven their mettle with back-to-back victories over the Seahawks and Eagles. They have staying power atop the division. The Falcons are one of the most improved teams in the league. They're also one of the luckiest -- not just in close victories, but also in remaining schedule. Previously written off as toothless, the Saints and Buccaneers are friskier than their records might suggest.

5. AFC West

The Broncos have won their six games by a combined 37 points, the worst point differential since the 1970 merger for a team that started 6-0, per Grantland's Bill Barnwell. Their NFL-best defense is counterbalanced by an offense that ranks dead-last in Football Outsiders' metrics.

The Raiders are one of the league's up-and-coming teams, still searching for consistency. Even if the Chiefs' defense is finally realizing its immense potential, the offense is field-goal reliant in a touchdown league. The Chargers are just the third team in the past 25 years to allow 24 or more points in each of their first seven games of a season, per Barnwell.

6. NFC North

This is a top-heavy division, featuring an undefeated Packers squad that has beaten six teams with a collective 14-26 record. While the Vikings are 4-2 with a +22 point differential, they rank a shockingly low 28th in Football Outsiders' efficiency ratings. The Bears and Lions have been some of the softest cupcakes in football through seven weeks.

7. NFC East

Football Outsiders (No. 8) and point differential (No. 11) like the Eagles more than I do. As impressive as their defense has been, I simply don't trust the come-and-go offense. The Giants lost to the 3-4 Eagles by 20, then surrendered 460 yards to the Matt Cassel-led Cowboys. They are not a convincing first-place outfit.

The Redskins are 19th across the board in point differential, Football Outsiders' efficiency ratings and my power rankings. The Cowboys will welcome Dez Bryant and Tony Romo back in the next calendar month. They have to hope that talent infusion won't be offset by the ill will (read: bad karma) they've engendered with their bungling of Greg Hardy over the past calendar month.

8. AFC South

Yikes. A perennial laughingstock, the AFC South doesn't have a single representative in the top 20. The first-place squad has yet to win a game outside the division. The second-place team has been down more than 40-0 twice in the past four weeks. The NFL ought to look into the Premier League's practice of relegation, so we can fumigate this entire clown car.

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