2017 NFL Preseason Divisional Power Rankings: The AFC West isn't the best
You'll definitely agree with our 2017 divisional power rankings

John Breech
CBSSPORTS.COM

Welcome to the 2017 divisional power rankings, where we'll be ranking the NFL's divisions from 8-1.
If you're wondering why we're ranking divisions, I'll be honest, it's because we like to rank things here, and also because we have two weeks to burn before any teams kick off training camp. Basically, it's the perfect time to start debating which NFL division is the best.
For the past two years, the NFL season has ended with an NFC South team playing in the Super Bowl, which means the NFC South is obviously the best division in football, right?
Wrong.
It's not even second best in our rankings.
So which division is best?
Let's get to the rankings and find out.

8. NFC West
This might not sound believable, but the NFC West was actually worse than it looked last season, and it looked bad. Take the 49ers for example: Their 2-14 record was somewhat deceiving because those two wins came against divisional opponents. In games against non-division opponents in 2016, the 49ers went 0-10, the worst out-of-division record for any team. (The Browns, Bears and Jaguars went 1-9 in non-division games.)
The Rams weren't much better, going 2-8 in non-division games. Oh, and let's not forget about the Cardinals, who went 3-7 in non-division games. Basically, every non-division game in 2016 that involved an NFC West team not named the Seahawks turned into a bloodbath, and things might not get much better in 2017.
Here's a short list of issues the division is facing going into 2017: The Rams and 49ers both have new coaches, which means both teams might have an early adjustment period. Carson Palmer peaked in 2015, which won't help the Cardinals in 2017, and the Seahawks might or might not have a divided locker room, depending on who you believe.
The good news for fans of the NFC West is that if this season turns out so bad that it makes you want to cry, Cardinals corner Patrick Peterson knows the perfect place where you should do that: in a restaurant.

By the way, the divisional rankings have now officially come full circle: The NFC West is in last place just four years after taking the top spot.
NFC West out-of-division record in 2016: 12-28 (6-10 vs. AFC East, 4-12 vs. NFC South, 0-4 vs. NFC North, 2-2 vs. NFC East)
2017 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC East, vs. AFC South

7. AFC South
The Jaguars have the most stable quarterback situation in the division, which is really all you need to know about why the AFC South is ranked so low heading into the 2017 season. No, Blake Bortles isn't better than Marcus Mariota or Andrew Luck, but he is healthy right now, which is why the Jaguars have the most stable situation at QB.
Just in case you need a quick refresher: The Titans have a quarterback coming off a broken leg (Mariota). The last time we heard from Mariota, he was still trying to mentally recover from his injury.

The Colts have a quarterback who won't even be healthy enough for training camp because he still hasn't recovered from shoulder surgery that he had in January. Since modern medicine doesn't seem to be healing Luck, coach Chuck Pagano has decided to go the prayer route to get his quarterback to 100 percent.

Finally, there's the Texans, who are about to give their starting quarterback job to a guy (Tom Savage) who has only started two NFL games during his three-year career. Texans coach Bill O'Brien might say he has confidence in Savage, but if that's the case, then why did he trade up 12 spots for a first-round pick that plays Savage's position?
Anyway, the upside to all of this is that if the Texans have proven one thing over the past two years, it's that you don't need a good quarterback to win this division. You just need to win nine games and not have Blake Bortles. That means the Texans, Titans and Colts could all win the division this season.
AFC South out-of-division record in 2016: 17-23 (9-7 vs. NFC North, 4-12 vs. AFC West, 2-2 vs. AFC East, 2-2 vs. AFC North)
2017 out-of-division schedule: vs. AFC North, vs. NFC West

6. AFC North
If there's one thing we can all agree on about the 2016 NFL season, it's that the Browns were horrible. However, it's not completely their fault that the AFC North is ranked so low here; the Ravens and Bengals deserve some of the blame, too.
The AFC North went a combined 14-25-1 against non-division opponents in 2016. If you take out the Browns' non-division record of 1-9, that means the rest of the division still finished with a sub .500 record (13-16-1) against non-division opponents.
The scary thing for AFC North fans is that this division could actually get worse in 2017: The Browns don't know who their starting quarterback is, the Bengals lost their two best offensive linemen and Joe Flacco seems to be regressing every year. That's not exactly a recipe for success.
The division was so bad last year that NFL fans aren't even sure who the worst team in the division is anymore.

We'll find out pretty quickly if the AFC North is ranked in the right place because the division is matched up against the NFC North (ranked one spot ahead of it) and the AFC South (ranked one spot behind it) in 2017.
AFC North out-of-division record in 2016: 14-25-1 (4-11-1 vs. NFC East, 6-10 vs. AFC East, 2-2 vs. AFC West, 2-2 vs. AFC South)
2017 out-of-division schedule: vs. AFC South, vs. NFC North

5. NFC North
The NFC North's divisional ranking is single-handedly dragged down by the Bears, who went 3-13 in 2016 and might not be much better in 2017. With Jay Cutler now retired, the Bears will either be turning to a quarterback who has a 5-13 career record (Mike Glennon) or a rookie who has never taken an NFL snap (Mitchell Trubisky).
Maybe the Bears should've done a better job of trying to talk Cutler into coming back this year, or maybe they should've talked to former defensive lineman Dan Hampton and had him talk Cutler into returning.

I wonder how many Super Bowls they would've won with Aaron Rodgers. I'm guessing all of them.
By the way, if there's one thing we've learned about Rodgers this offseason, it's that he's clutch both on and off the field.

As long as Rodgers is playing for the Packers, the NFC North will be one of the top five divisions in football.
NFC North out-of-division record in 2016: 18-22 (7-9 vs. AFC South, 5-11 vs. NFC East, 4-0 vs. NFC West, 2-2 vs. NFC South)
2017 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC South, vs. AFC North

4. AFC East
The AFC East is almost always the most difficult division to rank. Do you rank it high because it has the best team in the NFL (Patriots) or do you rank it low because the three other teams haven't been that good and they have no idea how to stop New England?
For the past 15 years, the AFC East race has been like watching Joey Chestnut go up against three vegans in a hot dog eating contest: You know who's going to win, but you still watch because you want to see how ugly things get.
However, things might change in 2017 because the AFC East has three teams that could compete for a playoff berth. Yes, the Patriots had arguably the best offseason of any defending Super Bowl champion ever and will likely win the division for the ninth straight season, but you can argue that the Bills and Dolphins got better this offseason, which is why we're ranking the AFC East so high.
Unfortunately, we can't put the AFC East any higher though than No. 4 in these rankings because the Jets are in the division, and I'm pretty sure their front office has decided to tank the season, even if Matt Forte says they're not tanking the season.

The good news for the Jets is that it appears their fans are mostly on board with the tanking strategy. I'm guessing that's because the team has basically been tanking since 1970.

AFC East out-of-division record in 2016: 24-16 (10-6 vs. NFC West, 10-6 vs. AFC North, 2-2 vs. AFC West, 2-2 vs. AFC South)
2017 out-of-division schedule: vs. AFC West, vs. NFC South

3. NFC South
If the divisional power rankings were based only on quarterback play, the NFC South would probably be ranked No. 1. Not only does this division have the reigning NFL MVP in Matt Ryan, but it also has the 2015 NFL MVP in Cam Newton. Oh, and it's probably also worth mentioning that Drew Brees has been the SMVP (second-most valuable player) three times. Brees finished as runner-up in the MVP voting in 2006, '09 and '11.
The odd man out here is Jameis Winston, but don't worry about him. It sounds like he has a plan to become the greatest of all-time, which I'm guessing will involve multiple MVP awards.

By the way, the reason the NFC South isn't at the top of these rankings is because the entire division struggled against both divisions that are ranked ahead of it. In 2016, teams in the NFC South combined to go 6-10 vs. the AFC West and 1-3 vs. the NFC East.
That being said, the NFC South does have one thing that no other division can boast: Super Bowl experience. Since the NFL realigned its divisions in 2002, the NFC South is the only division that has sent all four of its teams to the Super Bowl.
NFC South out-of-division record in 2016: 21-19 (6-10 vs. AFC West, 12-4 vs. NFC West, 2-2 vs. NFC North, 1-3 vs. NFC East)
2017 out-of-division schedule: vs. NFC North, vs. AFC East

2. AFC West
It's not often that a division produces two 12-win teams, but that's what happened with the AFC West last season as the Chiefs and Raiders both rolled to a 12-4 record. Unfortunately, that wasn't good enough to get the AFC West into the top spot in this year's divisional rankings.
Although both teams were impressive last season, let's not forget that the Raiders had one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Also, let's not forget that the Chiefs had so little faith in their starting quarterback that they decided to mortgage the future so they could move up 17 spots in the NFL Draft to take another quarterback.
That being said, the AFC West is ranked No. 2 here because all four teams are a threat to make the playoffs in 2017, and yes, that means even the Chargers.
The scariest thing about the AFC West is that the team with the best defense (the Broncos) might be the worst team in the division. If only Deion Sanders was running the team and not John Elway, because Deion has a plan to win the division.

I like that idea, Deion, but the chances of the Chargers trading Rivers to a division rival are about the same as you coming out of retirement to make an open-field tackle.

Anyway, we're going to find out pretty quickly whether we blew it with the top two spots in these rankings because the AFC West and NFC East play each other this year.
If you think the AFC West is the best division in football, then you should probably bookmark this page so you can come back and rub it in my face if they dominate the NFC East.
AFC West out-of-division record in 2016: 25-15 (10-6 vs. NFC South, 12-4 vs. AFC South, 2-2 vs. AFC East, 2-2 vs. AFC North)
2017 out-of-division schedule: vs. AFC East, vs. NFC East

1. NFC East
On paper, it might I like that idea, Deion, but the chances of the Chargers trading Rivers to a division rival are about the same as you coming out of retirement to make an open-field tackle. not feel like the NFC East is the best division in football. After all, the Cowboys pretty much lost their entire secondary in free agency, the Redskins are so unsure about their quarterback that they don't know if they want to sign him to a long-term contract, the Giants have no running game and the Eagles fell apart down the stretch in 2016.
Despite all that, the NFC East feels like the strongest division from top to bottom going into the 2017 season. The Cowboys might not have a secondary, but that might not matter if they're averaging 47 points per game. The Giants might not have a run game, but who cares when you can throw the ball to Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard instead. As for Kirk Cousins, the Redskins might not be sold on him, but I am. With Cousins under center the past two years, the Redskins put together their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1996-97.
As for the Eagles, no one is going to remember Carson Wentz's late-season regression if he gets off to a hot start in 2017, and there's a good chance that's going to happen now that the Eagles have added Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and LeGarrette Blount to Wentz's offensive artillery.
The NFC East feels like the one division where any team could win it and then end up in the Super Bowl.
NFC East out-of-division record in 2016: 27-12-1 (11-4-1 vs. AFC North, 11-5 vs. NFC North, 2-2 vs. NFC West, 3-1 vs. NFC South)
2017 out-of-division schedule: vs. AFC West, vs. NFC West


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