NFL News & Analysis

Ranking the NFL divisions by strength heading into 2023

Tampa, Florida, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) is snapped the ball during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

• The AFC North projects as the strongest division: The Bengals have established themselves as perennial Super Bowl contenders, and the Ravens, Browns and Steelers will all be competitive.

• The NFC East could produce three playoff teams once again: The Eagles unsurprisingly headline the group, with the Cowboys and Giants set to contend for the playoffs, too.

• Lack of QB star power drops the NFC South: The Saints are the favorite to win the division with Derek Carr leading the way.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 mins

With NFL rosters largely set following free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft, we can take a good look at how the divisions stack up heading into the 2023 season. There are divisions with multiple genuine Super Bowl contenders, and others with none, at least by betting odds.

Here are our divisional rankings ahead of the 2023 NFL season.

1. AFC North

The Cincinnati Bengals have been to the AFC championship game in each of the past two seasons, falling at the final hurdle against the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl to end the 2021 season. Quarterback Joe Burrow finished with the NFL's highest PFF passing grade in the regular season and playoffs last year (91.0). Lamar Jackson missed the final six games of the season for the Baltimore Ravens but ended the year with an 85.2 PFF grade, which ranked fifth at the position. With a revamped group of wide receivers featuring Odell Beckham Jr. and first-round draft pick Zay Flowers, they will expect to contend with the Bengals for the division crown.

Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns earned the highest PFF pass-rushing grade in the NFL last season (93.5), but they will need quarterback Deshaun Watson to produce better than his 51.6 PFF passing grade, which ranked 34th of the 36 quarterbacks to record at least 200 dropbacks in 2022. Over the final eight weeks of the season, only three quarterbacks had a higher PFF passing grade than the 82.9 mark produced by Kenny Pickett of the Pittsburgh Steelers, something that will spark hope for a quick turnaround.

2. AFC West

It obviously starts with the defending Super Bowl champions in the Kansas City Chiefs, with Patrick Mahomes finishing the regular season tied with Joe Burrow in PFF grade (92.0) and ranking second with a 90.1 PFF passing grade. Tight end Travis Kelce didn’t just have the highest PFF receiving grade at the position; he ranked third league-wide, at 91.6. The Los Angeles Chargers have tried to challenge the Chiefs in recent years, and with Justin Herbert producing 77.0-plus PFF grades in all three of his NFL seasons, they will feel confident of at least making the playoffs again.

New head coach Sean Payton will be expected to turn things around for quarterback Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos after a disappointing debut season for Wilson that saw him produce just a 64.5 PFF passing grade. Jimmy Garoppolo replaces Derek Carr at quarterback for the Las Vegas Raiders, but his last season with a PFF grade above 72.0 came in 2019, so it’s fair to wonder if this will even be an upgrade at the position.

3. NFC East

The Philadelphia Eagles once again headline a division that sent three teams to the playoffs in 2022, boasting the fourth-highest-graded quarterback in Jalen Hurts (88.2) and two of the top 20 highest-graded wide receivers in A.J. Brown (88.9, sixth) and DeVonta Smith (81.1, 18th). The Dallas Cowboys are tied for the sixth-best Super Bowl odds but will need Dak Prescott to bounce back from a down year that saw him post a 68.2 PFF passing grade, the second-lowest mark of his career.

Brian Daboll turned the New York Giants around instantly in 2022, unlocking Daniel Jones‘ rushing ability. The newly signed quarterback set a career high with 302 yards on designed quarterback runs. Sam Howell takes the helm at quarterback for the Washington Commanders, and while a run at a playoff spot would be welcomed, a good season in Washington, realistically, would be finding out whether he is worth investing in as their franchise quarterback.

4. AFC East

Josh Allen led the NFL in big-time throws (52) but also in turnover-worthy plays (33) in the regular season and playoffs a year ago, and the Buffalo Bills will be hoping he can reduce the latter figure as they look to contend in the AFC again. Aaron Rodgers makes the switch from the Green Bay Packers to the New York Jets, instantly pushing them to be tied for the sixth-best odds to win it all this season. His 75.9 PFF passing grade last season was his lowest since 2017, but with Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman Jr. as his top three receivers, the team should be confident of an immediate bounceback.

The Miami Dolphins nearly upset the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs despite starting seventh-round draft pick Skylar Thompson at quarterback. With Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle the only receiving duo to each top 1,300 yards in 2022, the Dolphins will be hopeful that a full season with Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback will see them contend for the division crown. Not much is expected from the New England Patriots, but a rebound from third-year quarterback Mac Jones, who saw his PFF grade drop from 78.9 as a rookie to 67.5 last season, would help them at least contend for the No. 7 seed late into the season.

5. NFC West

Who starts at quarterback to open the year is the big question for the San Francisco 49ers, with Brock Purdy suffering a UCL injury against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game a year ago. Still, the team is talented enough that even passable play at the position until he returns should put them into contention once again. Geno Smith’s comeback with the Seattle Seahawks earned him a long-term contract, though he failed to produce a game with a PFF grade of 75.0 or better from Week 9 onward last season.

The Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals round out the division, two teams that are more likely to contend for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft than the playoffs. The Rams lost three of their four highest-graded players on defense, and it’s a unit propped up by Aaron Donald and not much else at this point. Kyler Murray is unlikely to be ready for the Cardinals early in the season, and with them owning the Houston Texans first-round pick in the 2024 draft, one eye might already be on a potential rebuild.

6. NFC North

The Detroit Lions are the division favorites and might just win their first-ever NFC North crown in 2023. They will need to rely heavily on Amon-Ra St. Brown, who produced a 90.4 PFF receiving grade in 2022 to rank fourth among wide receivers, in the passing game, with 2022 first-round pick Jameson Williams suspended for the first six games of the season. The Minnesota Vikings are, perhaps, being somewhat slept on after a disappointing end to the 2022 campaign, with Kirk Cousins producing a PFF grade of 77.0 or better in every season he has been with the Vikings and the offense boasting the NFL receiving yardage leader from a year ago in Justin Jefferson.

Justin Fields looked to break the NFL single-season rushing record by a quarterback before missing the final week of the 2022 season, but the Bears will be hoping a revamped receiving group, led by wide receiver D.J. Moore can help him take a step forward as a passer in 2023. For the Green Bay Packers, it’s Jordan Love’s time to shine at quarterback. Drafted in 2020, Love has seen just 91 regular season dropbacks in three seasons but gets the opportunity to prove himself as Aaron Rodgers’ replacement.

7. AFC South

Trevor Lawrence‘s emergence in 2022 has elevated the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ ceiling. His 85.0 PFF passing grade from Week 9 through the playoffs was the third-best mark in football, trailing only Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes. If he can repeat that level of play for a full season in 2023, the team will feel confident about competing with anyone in the conference.

The other South teams appear to be looking more to the future, with three quarterbacks selected in the top 33 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft in C.J. Stroud for the Houston Texans, Anthony Richardson for the Indianapolis Colts and Will Levis for the Tennessee Titans. Of those three, the Titans will feel the closest to contending for a playoff spot in 2023. But the reality for all three teams is that a successful season would be learning what they have in their young signal-callers.

8. NFC South

The only division in football to not feature a single team among the 12 favorites to lift the Lombardi Trophy, it’s difficult to see a contender emerging from this group. The New Orleans Saints will feel like they are the closest, and with Derek Carr throwing to Chris Olave and Michael Thomas, they are the favorites for the division crown. The Atlanta Falcons will go as far as Desmond Ridder can take them at quarterback, but the floor provided by a rushing attack that should be among the best in the league will allow them to compete for the division.

Bryce Young tied for the highest PFF passing grade in all of college football a year ago (91.3), and if he can settle quickly in the NFL, the Carolina Panthers could surprise in a weak division, though this is just Year 1 of the rebuild for the team. Tom Brady’s time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought them a Super Bowl trophy, but his departure leaves a massive hole at quarterback. Baker Mayfield was the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft but has produced PFF grades of 63.6 and 50.6 in the past two seasons. That being said, if there’s a situation where he could revive his career, it’s in an offense that features Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at wide receiver.


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