The NFC West faced a major challenge with their No. 1 ranking this week, as the division-leading Arizona Cardinals faced off against the NFC North division-leading Green bay Packers. Green Bay got the better of Arizona in the battle of division leaders. Unfortunately, the rest of the NFC North failed to show up for the remainder of the week.
Meanwhile, the NFC West flexed its muscle outside of Arizona’s loss — showcasing the strength of the division (as has been the case throughout the season). That’s the beauty of the divisional rankings, which are determined more by the strength of the division than the division leaders. There’s a reason why the NFC West has been able to remain on top throughout most of the year.
While the NFC West maintained its stranglehold as the top division, there was a lot of shuffling toward the bottom half of the ranking entering Week 9. The biggest winner was the AFC East.
8. AFC South
Last week’s ranking: 6
While the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans battled in an overtime thriller, the Jacksonville Jaguars were blown out by the Seattle Seahawks and the Houston Texans were embarrassed by the Los Angeles Rams. In fairness to the AFC South, the NFC West is significantly a better division and the losses by the Jaguars and Texans were expected.
The Titans are first in the AFC, but lost MVP candidate Derrick Henry for several weeks — a major hit for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. The Colts sit at 3-5, but have the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars coming up. This division needs to be carried by Tennessee and Indianapolis if it wishes to remove the moniker of “worst division in football.”
The AFC South is a league worst 6-15 in out-of-division games and 11-20 overall.
7. NFC East
Last week’s ranking: 7
At least the NFC East managed to go 2-0 against the NFC North this week, thanks to the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. Dallas beat the Minnesota Vikings in the final minutes with backup quarterback Cooper Rush while Philadelphia beat the Detroit Lions by 38 points — with wins by both teams coming on the road.
The Washington Football Team and New York Giants both fell to 2-6, losing to AFC West teams and giving the division a 2-2 record in interdivisional games for the week. With three teams under .500, the NFC East is not a good division — no matter how well the Cowboys are playing.
The NFC East is 10-15 in interdivisional games and 13-18 overall. Dallas has six of those victories.
6. NFC North
Last week’s ranking: 5
The NFC North isn’t a good division either, as the Green Bay Packers saved this division from total embarrassment in Week 8 by beating the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals — on the road. The Vikings lost to the Cowboys — who didn’t have Dak Prescott — at home while the Lions fell to 0-8 and were clobbered by the Eagles.
The Chicago Bears were also defeated by the San Francisco 49ers at home, another rough loss for the North. Green Bay is the runaway leaders of this division, which currently has three teams under .500.
Green Bay’s win over Arizona deserves a lot of merit, no matter how the rest of the division fared. That’s the only reason they’re ahead of the NFC East this week. The NFC North is just 9-14 in out-of-division games and 13-18 overall.
5. AFC East
Last week’s ranking: 8
What a banner week for the AFC East, as the New York Jets and New England Patriots represented the division proudly. The Jets came back from a double-digit deficit with five minutes to play to upset the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals — with a backup quarterback making his first career start! The Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Chargers, who were coming out of their bye week and were regarded as one of the top teams in the conference.
Two impressive out-of-division wins for the AFC East masked the Miami Dolphins losing seven in a row. Miami fell to the Buffalo Bills, who lead the AFC in points per game and points allowed per game. Buffalo is a Super Bowl contender while New England is stating its case for a playoff spot. Maybe this division isn’t as bad as we thought?
The AFC East is still only 7-13 in intervisional games and 12-18 overall, but the division deserves to be out of the basement this week. The Jets and Patriots can help improve the stock of the division again with matchups against the Colts and Carolina Panthers, respectively.
4. AFC West
Last week’s ranking: 4
No change in the rankings for the AFC West, whose stock dipped a bit thanks to the Los Angeles Chargers falling to New England. The Denver Broncos tried to give the game to Washington, and dealt Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams for two draft picks — indicating their plans for 2021 even with a .500 record.
The Kansas City Chiefs weren’t all that impressive against the New York Giants either, but they won the game and got back to .500. The division leading Las Vegas Raiders were on bye this week.
One of just two divisions in the NFL where every team is .500 or better, the AFC West is 14-10 in out-of-division games and 17-13 overall. This division is still for the taking.
3. NFC South
Last week’s ranking: 3
An impressive week for the NFC South, even if the division didn’t have any interdivisional matchups in Week 8. The New Orleans Saints earned a notable win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a third-string quarterback in Trevor Siemian — while also emerging as one of the power teams in the conference. That gives the NFC South two of the conference’s power teams, along with the NFC West. A huge boost for the division.
The Carolina Panthers earned a big win over the Atlanta Falcons to get back to .500, and are the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoff picture. If the season ended today, the NFC South would have three teams in the playoffs.
Carolina plays the only out-of-division game this week, against New England. The NFC South is an impressive 14-8 in interdivisional matchups and 18-12 overall.
2. AFC North
Last week’s ranking: 2
This wasn’t a week the AFC North challenged the NFC West for the top spot, which is discouraging given the only out-of-division game involved the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals. Of course, the Bengals fell to the Jets which left a bad stain on the division — and Cincinnati lost the division lead to the idle Baltimore Ravens as a result.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cleveland Browns in a defensive battle, showcasing how hard it’s been to determine intra-divisional games in the North this year. All four teams are .500 or better and have an opportunity to seize this division as November arrives.
The AFC North is 15-9 in out-of-division games and 18-12 overall. This division is one of the most exciting in the NFL, but didn’t do enough in Week 8 to dethrone the NFC West.
1. NFC West
Last week’s ranking: 1
Another week the NFC West remains on top, even with the Arizona Cardinals falling from the ranks of the unbeaten. While Arizona fell to Green Bay in a showdown of division leaders, the rest of the NFC West went unbeaten on the week. This is why the West remains No. 1.
The Seattle Seahawks blew out the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Los Angeles Rams took care of the Houston Texans — as expected. The San Francisco 49ers winning on the road against the Chicago Bears was impressive, especially for a team that lost four in a row prior to the victory.
The Rams have a huge showdown with the Titans on “Sunday Night Football” this week, so this division faces another tough test against another division leader. A Los Angeles victory will keep this division on top of the rankings again, even though the overall record speaks for itself.
The NFC West is a league best 16-7 in interdivisional matchups and has a league-best record of 20-11 overall. Dethroning the NFC West is going to be difficult as the first half of the season comes to a close.