Ranking the NFL divisions by strength heading into 2024

2W93BCP Pittsburgh Steelers center Mason Cole (61) readies to snap the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals during an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Matt Durisko)

• The AFC North is the strongest division in football: The AFC North had three playoff representatives in 2023, and there’s every chance they repeat that in 2024.

• The AFC South has a bright future: With four potential young franchise quarterbacks, the AFC South is a division to watch.

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As the NFL meanders toward its offseason programs in the coming months, we take a look at the league's state with our divisional rankings ahead of the 2024 season.

1. AFC North

The AFC North was projected as the strongest division in 2023, and despite some ups and downs, the stark reality is that this is more than likely the strongest division again heading into 2024.

The Baltimore Ravens finished the regular season with the best record in the NFL, Lamar Jackson won the MVP award and finished with a 90.4 PFF overall grade, which ranked third at the quarterback position, and Kyle Hamilton emerged as a star in the secondary, earning an All-Pro nod and an 84.7 grade. Armed with returning talent and some defensive reinforcements, including Kyle Van Noy and first-round pick Nate Wiggins, the Ravens will run it back as one of the best teams in the NFL.

Joining them will likely be the Cincinnati Bengals. Joe Burrow missed a large chunk of last season but earned successive 90.0-plus grades in 2021 and 2022. With a strengthened offensive line and the returning Burrow, the Bengals will resume their role as players in the AFC.

The Cleveland Browns defense earned a top-five grade in 2023 as Myles Garrett won his first-ever Defensive Player of the Year award and finished with the best grade in football (94.0).

The Pittsburgh Steelers will experiment with Russell Wilson under center in 2024 after finishing with a 10-7 record in 2023, and if Wilson can improve his 72.5 passing grade from a year ago in the new offense, the Steelers will continue their run of being perennial playoff hopefuls.

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2. AFC East

The Buffalo Bills will look to continue their recent stranglehold over the AFC East and win their fifth-straight divisional crown, but they’ll have to do so without Stefon Diggs. Josh Allen earned the highest grade among all quarterbacks in 2023 (91.2), but turnovers were an issue, as he threw 18 interceptions in the regular season.

The New York Jets‘ hopes were dashed in record time in 2023 as Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles in the first game of the season, but he’ll be back healthy and looking to lead the team to its first playoff appearance since 2010 with a new-look offense.

Tua Tagovailoa posted a career-high 88.4 grade in 2023 as the Miami Dolphins offense scored points in bunches and Tyreek Hill flirted with 2,000 receiving yards. Questions will persist over whether Tagovailoa can be an upper-tier quarterback, but the team has enough talent around him to be a force.

The New England Patriots enter a new era with Jerod Mayo as the team's head coach. He’ll work closely with rookie quarterback Drake Maye to set the team up for success.

3. NFC East

The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys carry the might of the NFC East. The two teams combined for 23 regular-season wins in 2023. The Cowboys won the NFC East on the back of Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb becoming one of the best QB-WR duos in the NFL, with Prescott earning a 90.8 grade and Lamb earning a 91.1 grade. The overall talent on the Cowboys' roster means they’ll be one of the big players in the NFC once again.

The same can be said for the Eagles. Jalen Hurts’ 86.4 grade was a top-10 figure at the quarterback position despite some issues, and the Eagles' roster is strong. Vic Fangio’s installment as defensive coordinator will boost a defense that gave up a ton of points.

The Washington Commanders will afford themselves some hope for the future after drafting Jayden Daniels with the No. 2 overall pick but feel like a team in transition after losing some big hitters, such as Montez Sweat and Chase Young, in recent times.

The New York Giants limped to a 6-11 record and lost Saquon Barkley in free agency, but a big trade for Brian Burns, as well as the selection of wide receiver Malik Nabers, will help them in the long term. However, they’ll only go as far as Daniel Jones can take them.

4. NFC North

The Detroit Lions asserted themselves as big players in the NFL in 2023 and will hope to go one better than the NFC Championship game in 2024. Jared Goff finished the season with an 84.4 grade, his best since 2018, and had the lowest turnover-worthy play percentage of his career (2.5%).

The Green Bay Packers transitioned into the Jordan Love era with consummate ease, and the former first-round pick tossed 32 touchdowns en route to an 83.0 grade. With another year under the belt, Love should look to improve even further.

The Chicago Bears will feel hopeful for the present and the future. They drafted Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall pick, and there might not be a better scenario for a rookie quarterback to walk into. The Bears are stacked with weapons on offense and will have, at least, an average defense. The path to the postseason isn’t too murky.

The Minnesota Vikings will have a rookie quarterback of their own in J.J. McCarthy, and he’ll be paired with Justin Jefferson, the best receiver in football, who earned a 91.1 grade in 2023.

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5. NFC West

The San Francisco 49ers will be hoping to shake off the rust of losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV by bouncing back with their third-straight NFC West title. There will be no question marks surrounding the quarterback position in San Francisco for the first time in a few years, too. Brock Purdy earned an 88.4 grade in 2023 and looks to be the face of the franchise moving forward.

The Los Angeles Rams start life without Aaron Donald after the eight-time All-Pro defensive tackle retired in the offseason. The breakout of Puka Nacua, who earned an 87.9 grade and set the rookie record for receptions and yards in 2023, as well as the continued play of Matt Stafford and Cooper Kupp, means the Rams will be in the mix once more.

The Seattle Seahawks won nine games in 2023 but missed out on the postseason, and now they’ll have a new head coach for the first time since 2010 after Pete Carroll resigned in the offseason. They’ll be an interesting team with Mike Macdonald at the helm, as he’ll look to improve a defense that earned the second-lowest tackling grade (33.9) in the NFL last season.

Things are looking up in Arizona, too, as the Cardinals drafted a blue-chip prospect in Marvin Harrison Jr. to pair with Kyler Murray, and Jonathan Gannon’s defense has a few more pieces that could help the unit improve.

6. AFC West

The reigning back-to-back Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs hold up the power of the AFC West. Patrick Mahomes earned an 85.1 grade in the regular season before going on an absolute tear in the postseason, where he earned a 91.7 grade. The Chiefs are the favorites every season Mahomes suits up.

The Los Angeles Chargers will be aiming to bounce back from a disappointing 2023 season that ended with Brandon Staley and Tom Telesco losing their jobs. They’ll have a new feel about them with Jim Harbaugh coaching the team, and he’ll look to build a strong connection with franchise quarterback Justin Herbert.

The Denver Broncos drafted Bo Nix with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft in the hopes that he could end their struggles at the quarterback position. Cornerback Pat Surtain II earned a 69.0 grade in 2023 but is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL right now.

The Las Vegas Raiders picked up some steam with Antonio Pierce as their head coach toward the end of the 2023 season and made the smart decision to bring him back permanently. However, without a clear answer at quarterback, this season could be more about the Raiders setting up for the long term.

7. AFC South

The Houston Texans were the surprise package of the NFL in 2023. The team won 10 games in the regular season and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs with rookie C.J. Stroud under center. The No. 2 overall pick earned an 82.8 grade in 2023, the highest grade for a rookie quarterback since Baker Mayfield in 2018.

The Jacksonville Jaguars crumbled in the second half of 2023 after starting the season 8-3. Trevor Lawrence earned a career-high 79.7 grade and established himself as a top-10 quarterback in the NFL, but he needs to cut down on the turnovers.

The Indianapolis Colts put up a real fight in the AFC South despite losing rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson early in the season to a shoulder injury. His potential remains real, and if he can avoid any setbacks, the Colts' offense — with the addition of AD Mitchell — could be an exciting unit to watch in 2024.

The Titans hired Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan to be their new head coach, and he will oversee the development of Will Levis. The Titans always compete hard and made some big moves in the offseason, namely signing wide receiver Calvin Ridley.

8. NFC South

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers unexpectedly won their second-straight division title in 2023, finishing 9-8. Baker Mayfield arguably played some of the best football of his career, earning a 74.6 grade and throwing for 28 touchdowns and 4,044 yards. Winning the NFC South again is the goal for the Buccaneers in 2024, and they’ve retained some key players in the hopes of doing so.

The New Orleans Saints flattered to deceive with Derek Carr under center, but have a clear star on offense in wide receiver Chris Olave, who earned an 82.5 grade in 2023, and a strong secondary that could help lock down opposing offenses in 2024.

The Atlanta Falcons had quietly high hopes in 2023 and finished with a 7-10 record. That forced them to move on from Desmond Ridder and Arthur Smith before hiring Raheem Morris and paying Kirk Cousins. The Falcons' offense has a chance to be a top-10 unit, and Cousins, who earned an 86.1 grade in eight games in 2023, will have a load of talent to target in the passing game.

Finally, the Carolina Panthers struggled in Bryce Young’s rookie season, as the No. 1 overall pick earned a 56.0 grade and the team finished with the worst record in the NFL, handing their 2024 first-round pick to the Bears. Things will hopefully be better this season with Dave Canales as the team’s new head coach after some strong offseason moves.


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