The AFC West was widely considered the best division in all of football last season, and rightfully so. They were the only division in the NFL to boast two 12-win teams — the Raiders and Chiefs. The Broncos were the third-best team thanks in large part to their defense, while the Chargers competed (but came up short) on a weekly basis.
The NFC East wasn’t far behind. The Cowboys took the league by storm, winning 13 games and earning a first-round bye in the postseason; their three losses came only to division foes, which speaks volumes to the level of competition in the division. The Giants won 11 games en route to the playoffs, while the Redskins were a week-17 win away from getting in themselves. The Eagles had a top-10 defense in the league, and it was a good season considering rookie QB Carson Wentz was unexpectedly the week-1 starter.
The AFC East was the only other division to feature two 10-win teams, the Patriots and Dolphins. The Dolphins were overachievers, and the bottom of the division (Bills and Jets) were below .500.
So which division will accomplish this sort of feat in 2017? Which division will be the best in football?
My money’s on the NFC South.
This isn’t exactly a bold prediction. The NFC South has represented the conference champion and league MVP trophy in back-to-back seasons. The 2015 Panthers were historically great, led by MVP Cam Newton. They went 15-1 in the regular season, dominating the Cardinals in the NFC Championship game, and then lost in the Super Bowl to the Broncos.
The 2016 Falcons were similarly dominant on their way to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1998. They had one of the best offenses the league has ever seen, led by reigning MVP Matt Ryan, a dynamic backfield, and the best receiver in football.
Both the Falcons and Panthers are in good position to return to the postseason in 2017. While the Panthers are coming off a disastrous “Super Bowl hangover” season, they had a good draft that should help put them back on the map on the offensive side of the ball. The Falcons return most of their deep, young talented roster, and many feel the Super Bowl hangover won’t catch up to them a la last year’s Panthers.
So what about the bottom of the division?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a hot pick to make a playoff appearance this season for the first time in 10 years. It’s Jameis Winston’s third season, and he has a ton of help on offense after the Bucs brought in DeSean Jackson and drafted OJ Howard. This is a team that won five straight games from Weeks 10-14 before dropping two of their final three games of the season. They were truly in the playoff hunt last year, and they are a good bet to make that next step this season.
The New Orleans Saints have had three consecutive 7-9 seasons; while their defense has been the main cause, it’s tough to rule them out when you look closely at their 2016 results. Six of their nine losses came by one score — typically coin flip games. They brought in Adrian Peterson to balance out their offense, which should (ideally) keep their defense off the field. It’s tough to sleep on the Saints, and while they’re the clear fourth-best team in this loaded division going into 2017, that should speak more about the South than the Saints.
The NFC South is my bet to be the best division in football from top to bottom. If this article doesn’t convince you, maybe this preview video can.