This week I am going to take a page out of the Fox News playbook.
Hey? Where are you going? Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to sell you Food Insurance. I just want to focus this week’s discussion on the key battleground divisions the way news networks look at swing states while ignoring the rest of the country. So Rams fans can breathe easy, I won’t be taking so many shots at your team this week. Besides, you should all still be celebrating the (baseball) Cardinals victory!
Battleground Division #1 – NFC North
The NFC North is stacked with talent this year, led by the Super Bowl champion and The Power Rank leader Green Bay Packers (#1, 11.55). Normally having a team like the Packers in a division would settle matters, but this year it does not. The reason is that the Lions (#4, 5.17) are right on the Packers’ heels, and the Bears (#9, 3.78) are not that far behind. That’s three top ten teams in one division. The Lions may have a hard time keeping up their pace especially with their oft-injured quarterback having ankle problems last week, and the Bears are legendary for pulling wins out of thin air. Just ask Dennis Green! Even if the Packers’ high level of success continues and they lock up the division title early, the Bears and Lions will both still likely be in the playoff hunt, in fact if the playoffs started today both teams would receive a wildcard berth. With a lot of division games left the NFC North division is going to be an interesting one to watch.
Battleground #2 – AFC North
What’s with the North being so good at football? Although the AFC North doesn’t feature three top ten teams as the NFC North does, it comes very close. This division is led by the Baltimore Ravens (#3, 7.80) but they are actually a half-game behind the Steelers (#11, 2.58) and only a half game ahead of the Bengals (#12, 1.69). Now, I know nobody talks about the “top twelve” of any lists, but it is nonetheless impressive that this tight grouping all falls within the top 12 teams in The Power Rank. It’s hardly a revelation to NFL fans that the Steelers and Ravens are going to be battling for a division title, or that the loser is likely to grab a wildcard spot. What is unlikely is the upstart Bengals sticking their noses into the mix. With a third solid team to contend with the Steelers and Ravens will not be able to take anything for granted this season, and the fight for a playoff berth may get ugly in this division that is known for misconduct both on and off the field.
Battleground #3 – NFC East
The NFC East doesn’t carry nearly as many strong teams as the NFC and AFC North divisions do, but with some schedule oddities the team that The Power Rank picks as the clear division favorite is lagging behind in the actual standings. The Cowboys (#8, 3.85) should be running away with this division in light of the fact that their closest competition should be the Eagles (#18, -0.89) who are also struggling to find wins. Instead the Giants (#24, -3.29) are leading the division with a 4-2 record. True, it’s early in the season. And yes, we at The Power Rank do think that as things shake out the Cowboys’ record will start to match their apparent strength. Even so, with poor starts from teams with high expectations and surprising starts from teams with low ones, everyone is in the mix here and every game is going to be an especially heated contest.
Non-Battleground – AFC East
The Power Rank is scheduled to get some East Coast bias with our next software upgrade. If you want to hear how this is the only division that matters this year (or any other) tune into ESPN. We apologize for the inconvenience. Sure, the AFC East has a lot of strength in top ten teams New England (#2, 9.77) and New York (#7, 4.36) but in spite of what some sports news anchors would have you believe, this is not news. The addition of the up and coming Bills (#16, 0.41) is shaking some fans’ confidence in the Patriots and Jets getting their perennial playoff spots, but The Power Rank thinks otherwise. The Bills are indeed a good team right now but good is not enough in a division that has contained two top ten (and usually top five) teams for the last few years. This division will get down and dirty where it normally does (in the playoffs) with the teams it normally sends (the Pats and Jets). Until then, my attention will be elsewhere.