The Turf Monster: Quarter-season division power rankings

I’ve always loved the division power rankings format. Divisions have so much personality and history packed into such a small cluster of teams, and it’s an effective way to survey the league as a whole through the first four weeks of the season. At this point, we’ve seen plenty of trends emerge. The next few weeks are crucial for teams to course-correct on the negative trends and capitalize on the positive ones. Without further ado, here are my Week 4 NFL division power rankings:

#1: National Football Conference (NFC) West

49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams, oh my! Every single one of these teams has a strong case to be a playoff contender this year, and I simply can’t say that for any other NFL division in recent memory. The Cardinals may be considered a tier below their competition here after cooling off on the offensive side of the ball in recent weeks, but they have flashed some pretty elite upside. Meanwhile, the Seahawks and Rams are locked in at first and second while the 49ers scramble to get their Super Bowl roster healthy. This division is going to be an absolute dogfight.

#2: American Football Conference (AFC) North

With at least one of the Ohio teams firing on all cylinders, this division gets scary. The Ravens are obviously a terrifying foe, boasting either a suffocating defense or Lamar Jackson on the field at any given time. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s defense is somehow even more oppressive, with Big Ben’s return effectively treading water on the offensive side. Cleveland’s roster is also finally playing up to its potential as the team eyes a wild card berth behind a league-best running game. Bringing up the rear is Cincinnati, which boasts a legit franchise QB in Joe Burrow, who is prone to steal games from superior competition on any given week.

#3: NFC South

This division has been something of a perennial powerhouse in the past few years, having boasted the likes of Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton quarterbacking the Falcons, Saints and Panthers respectively. Cam is gone, but Teddy Bridgewater and head coach Matt Rhule have done an admirable job keeping the Panthers competitive. Meanwhile, Tom Brady takes the reins for the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers to account for the power vacuum left by the oft-choking Atlanta squad. Finally, Drew Brees and the Saints remain as steady as ever as a perennial Super Bowl contender.

#4: AFC South

This division is hard to evaluate right now due to Houston’s recent firing of Bill O’Brien as head coach and Tennessee’s current hiatus from the league due to COVID-19. Houston has the talent to steal games even in a lost season for them, while Tennessee is built on a ferocious run game and physical style of play that could be a force come winter. Indianapolis meanwhile is hoping to ride competent quarterback play from Philip Rivers and a top-end defense to first place, and is likely going to only get better as the new pieces gel more. Jacksonville is effectively rebuilding, but having Gardner Minshew at quarterback has kept them surprisingly competitive. And man, that mustache just has to count for something.

#5: AFC West

Any division boasting Kansas City, who in my view is the undisputed Super Bowl favorite this year, is bound to be pretty good. But beyond Kansas City there still exists some intriguing teams with wild card potential. Las Vegas has been more or less competitive on both sides of the ball, while Justin Herbert has proven to be a revelation under center as a rookie for Los Angeles. Both of these teams will hang in all their games more or less, something that sadly cannot be said for the injury-ridden Denver Broncos.

#6: AFC East

The AFC east was once Patriots town, but the ex-juggernaut team is now reeling with its starting quarterback Cam Newton out due to COVID-19. He needs to get back quickly to put this team in the playoffs, especially given the lack of true offensive weapons beyond Cam’s running ability. Meanwhile, Buffalo looks like a true powerhouse with a suffocating defense and surging Josh Allen who looks like a borderline MVP candidate. The Jets and Dolphins are both rebuilding and cannot really expect to make much of an impact this season.

#7: NFC North

Green Bay is back to its mid-2010s self with a dominant Aaron Rodgers and a defense pulling its own weight. Beyond that, this division is in a sorry state. Detroit and Chicago are back to their classic bottom-feeder status, with Chicago’s respectable record coming on the back of ample amounts of luck. Minnesota has usually been a respectable contender here, but its defense has fallen apart, seemingly beyond repair. This is a one-horse race.

#8: NFC East

Ah yes, who can be the best of the worst? This division boasts an embarrassing collective record, and every team has more questions than answers for their rosters. Dallas and Philadelphia have been downright putrid on defense and offense respectively. I’m picking Dallas as the best team here solely based on the quality of its opponents thus far and Dak Prescott’s historic offensive numbers thus far. The less said about Washington and New York, the better. One team is coming out of this division and losing immediately in the first round.