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The Brandt Report

NFC West, NFC North, AFC East among top NFL divisions in '19

Remember when the AFC West was to be feared and the NFC West was a laughingstock?

One of those things might kind of be true -- and the other one definitely isn't.

With enough games in the books to get a firm sense of where each division stands in 2019, I've ranked all eight divisions below, from strongest to weakest:

1) NFC West

It's amazing to think how far this division has come since 2010, when the Seattle Seahawks claimed the title with a 7-9 record. Today, it's home to both the team that would claim the top seed in the NFC if the playoffs started today (the 9-1 San Francisco 49ers) and the conference's top wild-card team (the 8-2 Seattle Seahawks). Don't dismiss last year's division winners, either -- while their season hasn't gone as smoothly as past years, the Rams are still at 6-4 and can make some serious noise if they get on a hot streak. And, of course, while the 3-7-1 Cardinals are firmly in last place, their season is shaping up to be a success, thanks to both the development of Kyler Murray into a difference-making quarterback and increased competitiveness over last year's dismal squad.

2) NFC North

The gloom-and-doom vibe that enshrouded Green Bay during the final months of the Mike McCarthy era in 2018 is gone. Aaron Rodgers has clearly bought into the more balanced approach of McCarthy's replacement, Matt LaFleur, which has resulted in running back Aaron Jones scoring 14 combined touchdowns through the 8-2 Packers' first 10 games. Vikings QB Kirk Cousins is enjoying an equally prosperous 2019; after a rough start, Cousins is 6-1 with an 18:1 TD-to-INT ratio in his last seven games, helping push Minnesota to an 8-3 record. And, unlike in other divisions, the bottom two teams (4-6 Chicago and 3-6-1 Detroit) in the NFC North are capable of beating anyone in the league when clicking. Unfortunately for both the Bears and Lions, their fate probably doesn't include the playoffs.

3) AFC East

This division is not exactly a top-to-bottom juggernaut. The reason it's ranked here is because, with all due respect to Baltimore, no other team in the AFC generates as much confidence as the Bill Belichick-Tom BradyNew England Patriots, who are 9-1 and hold a two-game lead over Buffalo. Speaking of the 7-3 Bills, while they've capitalized on a cupcake schedule, they areon track to land a wild-card berth -- and have an outside chance of catching the Pats. The 3-7 Jets struggled but have won two straight and feature emerging superstars in Sam Darnold and Jamal Adams. And while Miami (2-8) shed massive amounts of talent, the Dolphins have shown steady improvement in recent wins over the Jetsand Colts.

4) AFC North

When it comes to overall division strength, the 8-2 Baltimore Ravens' success helps mitigate the failure of 0-10 Cincinnati and the 4-6 Cleveland Browns, who are among the NFL's biggest disappointments this season, considering the outsized expectations with which they entered 2019. Even so, the Brownscould be poised to leapfrog the injury-ravaged Steelers for second place and perhaps even sneak into a wild-card spot. The Ravens' Week 9 win over the Patriots shows they have a chance to put together a serious postseason run, as long as quarterback Lamar Jackson continues to play like he has (and opponents continue to struggle to find ways to defend him). Jackson is on pace to be the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 3,000 -- that's pretty impressive, to say the least.

5) AFC West

The 7-4 Chiefs, who were widely forecast to run away with the division in the preseason, are indeed in first place, but they haven't proved nearly as dominant as expected, and they're unlikely to secure the AFC's top seed this season. Blame stems partly from injuries, including the dislocated kneecap that kept Patrick Mahomes out for two weeks, although the defense (ranked 26th overall and 20th in points allowed) is also experiencing many of the same struggles as last year's unit. The Raiders have emerged as one of the NFL's most pleasant surprises, becoming a valid challenger to Kansas City at 6-4. Conversely, the 4-7 Los Angeles Chargers are among the league's most disappointing outfits, having nearly fallen out of contention despite returning largely the same group of players that won 12 games last year (though they have dealt with several key injuries, as well). The 3-7 Broncos are playing better now under novice QB Brandon Allen than they did earlier this season under established vet Joe Flacco, but they're still likely to finish with a third consecutive losing season, their longest such stretch since posting 10 from 1963 to '72.

6) AFC South

The 6-4 Colts and 6-4 Texans are strong playoff candidates, but the up-and-down tendencies of both teams mean it's not far-fetched to think the 5-5 Titans or 4-6 Jaguars could make a push over these final six games. The victor of this week's *Thursday Night Football* matchup between Indianapolis and Houston can guarantee it takes the division by winning out, and each team faces a modest schedule the rest of the way. Jacksonville, meanwhile, is in a must-win situation at Tennessee. The Titans will get a chance to directly help themselves with one more game against the Colts and two against the Texans, but they also face a tough pair of non-divisional opponents (Oakland and New Orleans) down the stretch.

7) NFC South

With a three-game lead, the 8-2 Saints are poised to join the 2015 Panthers as the only team to win a third straight NFC South title since the division was born out of realignment in 2002. Speaking of the Panthers, at 5-5, they are in what is essentially a must-win situation against New Orleans this week. The 3-7 Falcons could have given the Saints a run for their money this year, if only they'd played as well in their first eight games as they have in their past two. Even with new coach Bruce Arians taking over in Tampa, we've seen the same old Bucs flounder to a 3-7 record, thanks in part to Jameis Winston's inconsistency (he has five multi-pick days this season, or as many outings as he has with 100-plus passer ratings) and a lousy pass defense.

8) NFC East

The 6-4 Cowboys are on track to becoming the first repeat division winners since Philadelphia pulled it off four straight times from 2001 to '04, but beyond that, there's not a lot going on in this division. The Eagles have a reputation of finishing strong and face a much easier remaining schedule after Sunday's home game against Seattle, but, well, they're also 5-5. Little was expected of either 1-9 Washington or the 2-8 Giants beyond re-setting at the quarterback position, and so far, that's pretty much the sum of what each team has accomplished, with the Giants turning to rookie Daniel Jones and Washington giving rookie Dwayne Haskins a shot.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter _@GilBrandt_.

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