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NFL Division Power Rankings: NFC North stands above the rest

One way to evaluate which NFL division is the best: How many teams can you realistically imagine playing in Super Bowl LIV in Miami next February?

In the NFC North, it doesn't take many mental gymnastics to picture the Bears, Vikings or Packers making it to the title game. That's one reason why they take over the top spot in my annual, highly scientific look at which division is the best.

NOTE: Each divisional subhead presents the teams in the order they finished last season.

1) NFC North: Bears, Vikings, Packers, Lions

The North has a nice combination of quality quarterbacks and defense-leaning rosters. Mitchell Trubisky is the division's most unproven signal-caller, but he has incredible support in head coach Matt Nagy and the league's most talented defense. The Vikings' defense has an almost unprecedented amount of continuity under coach Mike Zimmer, while the Packers' defense could be more talented than Aaron Rodgers' side of the ball for the first time in a long time.

The Lions being fourth in line says a lot about the quality of this division. It's not hard to imagine Detroit winning eight or more games, although playing six games against the teams in this division will make it tougher. The expectations for all four of these teams will be high enough to make disappointment for at least one of them inevitable.

2) AFC North: Ravens, Steelers, Browns, Bengals

Like the NFC North, it's hard to find a team truly lagging in talent here. The Ravens are undergoing their most dramatic transformation on both sides of the ball in more than a decade, but they have the organizational culture to survive it with flair. The Steelers and Browns could have the two most talented rosters in the entire conference, even if they have vastly different track records over the last decade. The Bengals don't dazzle with defensive firepower, yet new coach Zac Taylor inherits a roster without many clear weaknesses. Coming out of this division with a playoff bye is going to be difficult because of its depth.

3) NFC South: Saints, Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers

Even coming off a down year, this is the league's best division for quarterbacks. There are two former MVPs (Cam Newton and Matt Ryan), a Super Bowl MVP (Drew Brees) and the arrival of Bruce Arians in Tampa should only help Jameis Winston maximize his skill set. Atlanta's Dan Quinn and Carolina's Ron Rivera have led their respective teams to the Super Bowl, although there might not be room for both of them to survive into 2020 without playoff appearances this season. The entire division gets bonus points for having the best food and for creating the most entertaining games, year after year.

4) NFC West: Rams, Seahawks, 49ers, Cardinals

The Rams have won 24 regular-season games in two years under Sean McVay and there's little reason to think they'll suddenly crumble. The Seahawks have been the best NFC team of the decade under Pete Carroll and last season's playoff appearance showed the coach's resourcefulness. The Cardinals have a chance to be the worst team in the NFC, but this division's ranking was helped by the 49ers' ceiling. Perhaps no team in the NFL has a bigger boom-or-bust potential. Twelve wins or 10 losses would not be a surprise, but anything close to the former projection would give this division three dangerous teams.

5) AFC South: Texans, Colts, Titans, Jaguars

It's refreshing to put a division too often forgotten this high. All four teams have legitimate playoff hopes and could be Super Bowl contenders with a few breaks. Don't let television ratings that don't impact your life impact your enjoyment of the game. These squads are all eminently watchable, unpredictable and have enough playmakers to end this division's recent lack of playoff success (one conference title game appearance in the last four years).

6) AFC West: Chiefs, Chargers, Broncos, Raiders

It's unlikely that the AFC West will be as imbalanced as it was a year ago, when the Chiefs and Chargers both won 12 games. The Raiders' talent on offense looks more professional, while new Broncos coach Vic Fangio is likely to do a better job maximizing the talent on the Broncos' defense.

I love this division because of the long-standing rivalries, but there's quite a bit of transitioning within this quartet, from the Raiders' roster overhaul to the Chiefs' new defense under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to the start of a new regime in Denver.

7) NFC East: Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins, Giants

There's an argument to be made that the NFC East has as good a 1-2 punch atop the division as any, so the fact that it comes in second to last on this list shows that we're ranking many groups that are close to evenly matched. One of the league's most injured teams last season, the Eagles should be among the NFC favorites once again. The Cowboys' offense has a lot of room to grow with new coordinator Kellen Moore expected to add some much-needed fresh ideas.

The division is ranked seventh because the Redskins and Giants would both be lucky to sniff eight wins, regardless of when their rookie quarterbacks crack the lineup. Even if Eli Manning and/or Daniel Jones play well, the Giants' defense looks to be a year away.

8) AFC East: Patriots, Dolphins, Bills, Jets

The home to the greatest team of the decade in any decade is often home to the least amount of competition. At least the AFC East is far more compelling because of the presence of young quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. This should be an improved division, but it comes in last in a balanced NFL because there's only one team with legitimate Super Bowl hopes. Yes, the Pats are the only AFC East team that can say missing the playoffs would truly be a letdown.

Between the Bills and Jets, however, there is the potential for a surprise playoff entrant and possibly a true division race for the first time in a long time if the Patriots finally begin to show their age.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.


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