College football fans frequently argue about the superiority or inferiority of conferences. As much as those in the NFL like to maintain that parity exists across its divisions, fans believe differently. How can fans settle the debate? By applying an objective system that uses the same criteria to rank the eight divisions.
So here is my contribution to this debate. Divisions are judged on how their members fare in non-divisional games. The NFL’s eight divisions are ranked below from strongest to weakest. The accompanying scores are based on the first four weeks of the season. Wins on the road are worth more than those at home. For those wondering about the scale, a perfect score would be 2.068.
AFC West (1.15)
Denver, Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego are 9-5 versus the rest of the league, as only one divisional game has been played (Chiefs beat Chargers in Week 1). The Broncos are 4-0, including wins over Carolina, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. Denver and Oakland also have combined to go 5-0 on the road in the early going. As a group, the AFC West is 3-2 against the NFC South and the AFC South thus far.
NFC East (.778)
Thanks to the surprising Eagles (3-0), this division is the only one in which all four teams are .500 or better through four weeks. Philadelphia and Washington have gone 3-1 against Cleveland and Pittsburgh, while a pair of victories over Chicago (Eagles, Cowboys) help pad the NFC East’s overall record against teams outside of the division. It’s those two wins over the Bears that break the tie between the NFC East and North for these rankings.
NFC North (.778)
The undefeated Vikings are pulling most of the weight, with wins over the Panthers, Giants and Titans. Overall, the division is just 5-4 versus the rest of the NFL, as the Eagles, Texans and Cowboys have already feasted on the Bears and the Titans’ lone win thus far came against the Lions.
AFC North (.625)
Cleveland, the sole winless team remaining in the NFL, drags down this division's score. Take out the Browns’ losses to Philadelphia, Miami and Washington and the AFC North is 6-3 against the rest of the league. The division is 3-1 against the AFC East in the early going, but none of those games have been against New England. The larger number of non-divisional games (12 vs. 8) is the tiebreaker used to place the AFC North ahead of the NFC West.
NFC West (.625)
This division has played the fewest non-divisional games (8). Arizona, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle are 4-4 against the rest of the league thus far. The Seahawks have gone 2-0 against half of the AFC East (Dolphins, Jets) while the Cardinals are 0-2 against the other half (Patriots, Bills). Tampa Bay is responsible for half of the NFC West’s non-divisional wins and the Buccaneers are the only team Arizona has beaten thus far.
AFC East (.450)
New England went 3-1 without Tom Brady with two of those victories coming outside of the division. But overall, the AFC East is just 4-6 against everyone else. The Jets’ lone win came against winless Cleveland, but the division can claim a pair of wins against Arizona (Patriots, Bills).
NFC South (.400)
This group has the fewest non-divisional wins (three). The only team with a winning record, Atlanta, has played just one game outside of the division (Week 2 road win at Oakland) to this point. Tampa Bay is 0-3 (Arizona, Los Angeles, Denver) following a Week 1 victory in Atlanta. Is this bunch going to end up as it did two seasons ago when no member finished with a winning record?
AFC South (.375)
This group has reinforced its reputation as the weakest division in the NFL. Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Tennessee have won just four of 12 non-divisional games. Those four victories have come against Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City and Diego, which are a combined 5-11 thus far.
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com