Think back to every World Cup or European Championships and there has always been a 'group of death.' A group of teams so competitive that emerging top of that particular pile can be worn as a badge of honour.
It is no different in the NFL, except the divisional matchups stay the same year after year and do not change for each competition. The 2020 season promises some tight and intense races and with that in mind, these are my top five divisions going into the new campaign.
1. NFC West – Arizona, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco, Seattle
This super-competitive division has provided the NFC's Super Bowl representative in each of the past two seasons in the Rams (2018) and the 49ers (2019). The Seahawks are also perennially competitive, making the playoffs in eight of the 10 seasons since Pete Carroll took charge of the team, winning a Super Bowl during that time. Add in the growing Cardinals and their exciting offense featuring Kyler Murray, Kenyan Drake, DeAndre Hopkins and Larry Fitzgerald and it's hard to find a tougher division in football from top to bottom. At least two should go to the playoffs out of this unit once again in 2020. Maybe even three!
2. NFC North – Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota
Three of this division's four teams have been in the playoffs in the past two seasons in the Bears, Packers and Vikings. Even the lowly Lions can be dangerous on their day when Matthew Stafford is healthy and firing on all cylinders. Once the Bears fix their quarterback position (training camp will see a battle between Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles), they have an elite defense in place and can return to the postseason. Green Bay were 60 minutes from last season's Super Bowl and Minnesota are good across the board and capable of making another playoff run in 2020.
3. AFC South – Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee
All four teams have been in the playoffs over the past three seasons, with Jacksonville (2017) and Tennessee (2019) advancing as far as the AFC Championship Game. While the Jags are rebuilding, they will have their moments with Gardner Minshew at quarterback. The other three teams in this division will absolutely believe they can get back to the playoffs. The Titans want to prove they belong at the top table, Philip Rivers will look to get the Colts back on track and Bill O'Brien has plenty of determination to succeed after a rocky offseason in Houston.
4. AFC West – Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles Chargers,
The Super Bowl champion Chiefs get top billing in the AFC West, but I actually think this is a sneaky-tough division when it comes to the other three teams. The Las Vegas Raiders have upgraded their roster in each year under Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden and might be about to contend for the playoffs, and improvement has been the theme of the offseason in Denver following the late-season emergence of Drew Lock at quarterback in 2019. The Chargers are in danger of becoming a forgotten or overlooked team as they begin a new era without Rivers at QB. But this team went 12-4 as recently as 2018 and still boasts significant talent on both sides of the ball.
5. NFC South – Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay
I thought long and hard about putting the AFC North in here but I need to know Big Ben is back to full health and Pittsburgh are a contender again. I also need to see the Browns succeed before I totally trust them. I believe the NFC South will field three competitive teams in 2020 in the Falcons, the Bucs and the Saints, who are my tip to reach the Super Bowl in the NFC. The Panthers will also have their moments but it does feel like they are starting again. Atlanta finished 2019 with six wins out of eight, Brady and Gronk have brought great anticipation to Tampa and the Saints remain one of the class teams in the league and boast a stacked roster.