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Ranking NFL divisions by competitiveness

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With the 2023 season quickly approaching, let's assess the NFL's eight divisions and sort them from easiest to hardest to win.

8. NFC South

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the NFC South with an 8-9 record last season, and we could see the 2023 division winner take the crown with a losing record again. The New Orleans Saints are considered the favorites in this wholly uninspiring division.

The Saints are handing the franchise over to Derek Carr, who's the most experienced starting quarterback in the division. He has the supporting cast around him to lead them to a division title, but it's still unknown how Carr will gel with his new squad.

The rest of the division has more significant question marks at quarterback. The Atlanta Falcons made a flurry of moves this offseason to help solidify the roster around Desmond Ridder. However, the Cincinnati product only threw 115 passes in four starts and is still an unproven commodity.

The Carolina Panthers will hand the offense to first overall pick Bryce Young, but the former Heisman Trophy recipient winning the division in Year 1 is a tall task. Tampa Bay has arguably the best roster in the division outside of quarterback, but Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask leave the Buccaneers in a tough spot.

7. AFC South

The Jaguars took the division title in a Week 18 thriller over the Tennessee Titans last season after rallying from a 2-6 start. This year, Jacksonville is the overwhelming favorite to win the AFC South.

Calvin Ridley slots into the Jaguars' offense after being reinstated from an indefinite gambling suspension. Ridley had 90 catches for 1,374 yards in 2020, the last time he played at least 15 games in a campaign. With Ridley's addition and quarterback Trevor Lawrence entering his second season running head coach Doug Pederson's offense, the Jaguars are set for a terrific year.

The Tennessee Titans added wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, but the rest of their offense has serious question marks. The offensive line is projected to be one of the weaker units in the league, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill will be 35 years old when the season begins and is coming off an ankle injury.

The Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans are in similar positions, where a rookie head coach-rookie quarterback tandem will look to change the franchises' fortunes. Anthony Richardson or C.J. Stroud could catch fire and lead a run at the division, but odds are both teams will be picking in the top 10 in next year's draft.

6. NFC North

The Detroit Lions are the favorites after a series of roster upgrades this offseason. They added safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson and cornerback Cam Sutton to help solidify a defense that ranked 30th in passing yards allowed. The offense will have to deal Jameson Williams' six-game suspension for violating the league's gambling policy, but there are high hopes that first-round pick Jahmyr Gibbs can elevate the passing attack.

The Vikings won the division last year with a 13-4 record but finished with a point differential of minus-3 and lost in the wild-card round. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is entering the final year of his contract, and his status with the team is uncertain after this season. Minnesota will need rookie wide receiver Jordan Addison and new starting running back Alexander Mattison to take some of the load off star pass-catcher Justin Jefferson's shoulders.

The Aaron Rodgers era is over in Green Bay, as Jordan Love takes the reins as the Packers' starting quarterback. Love flashed potential last season when he took over for an injured Rodgers in Week 12, but it's unknown whether the 24-year-old can become the franchise QB.

The Bears have a bright future after flipping the top selection in the draft for wide receiver D.J. Moore and future high picks. Quarterback Justin Fields is expected to take another positive step, but the Bears' defense has serious holes. Chicago finished tied for last in sacks last season and didn't make any big moves to help the pass rush in 2023.

5. NFC West

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Despite question marks regarding who will start Week 1 at quarterback, the division will run through the San Francisco 49ers.

Brock Purdy is expected to be ready for Week 1 and is the projected opening-day starter, but Trey Lance is fully healthy heading into training camp and has the opportunity to win the job. Regardless of who starts, head coach and offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan can get the best out of this offense, which is littered with elite talent. DeMeco Ryans departed for Houston, but Steve Wilks is more than capable of getting the best out of this star-studded defense.

The Seattle Seahawks have the best chance of dethroning the 49ers, as Geno Smith returns for his second campaign as the starting quarterback. He threw for 4,282 yards and completed over 69% of his passes last season, but it's up for debate whether last season's Comeback Player of the Year can replicate his 2022 success.

Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, and Cooper Kupp are healthy for the start of the season, but outside of that trio, the Rams' roster lacks talent. Los Angeles' defense has no star power outside of Donald, and it shows on the books; the Rams are spending less than any other club on their roster for 2023, according to Over The Cap. This is a team in transition.

The Cardinals will start the season without starting quarterback Kyler Murray, and it's still up in the air who will start Week 1. The rest of the roster lacks the talent to stay competitive. Arizona is a serious contender to select first overall in 2024.

4. NFC East

The NFC East took the league by storm last season, bringing three double-digit-win teams to the playoffs.

However, this division looks like a two-horse race. The Philadelphia Eagles will attempt to defend their division crown and are bringing back 10 starters on an offense that ranked second in points per game. The defense will look different, but Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith were drafted to help fill in for some of the departures. Sean Desai takes over as the defensive coordinator and has the potential to get more out of the defense than Jonathan Gannon did.

The Cowboys will give the Eagles all they can handle and arguably had the best offseason of all NFL teams. Dallas filled glaring holes by adding wide receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Quarterback Dak Prescott threw 15 interceptions last year, which is unlikely to carry over into 2023, as many of the turnovers were the result of tipped and dropped passes.

The Giants gave quarterback Daniel Jones a hefty contract this offseason to be the franchise leader, but there's still has a lackluster supporting cast around him. New York added tight end Darren Waller, but he hasn't been fully healthy since 2020. The Commanders will be led by quarterback Sam Howell, who only started one game last year and carries unreasonably high expectations for a former fifth-round pick. Ron Rivera hasn't posted double-digit wins in three seasons, and Washington's new ownership will likely be looking for a new bench boss after the 2023 campaign.

3. AFC West

The Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs enter the year as the favorites to hoist the Lombardi trophy again, but this division should be better than last year after unrealistic 2022 expectations.

As long as Kansas City has head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes calling the shots, this team will remain the favorite to win the division. Mahomes will have new tackles protecting him, as Jawaan Taylor was signed to a large contract in free agency to be the right tackle of the future, while Donovan Smith was inked to a one-year deal to stabilize the left side.

The last time the Chargers took the field, they blew a 27-7 lead in the playoffs. Head coach Brandon Staley is feeling the pressure and most likely needs to find playoff success to keep his job. Los Angeles drafted wide receiver Quentin Johnston, who should help an offense that desperately needs a field-stretcher.

Sean Payton takes over as the Broncos' head coach and will instantly bring stability to a team that lacked leadership. Payton is one of the most innovative offensive football minds around and will be tasked with getting the most out of Russell Wilson in his second season in Denver. Wilson had the worst year of his career, only throwing 16 touchdown passes. However, the Broncos dealt with a rash of injuries so spent the most money in free agency to help fix depth issues.

The Raiders will begin the Jimmy Garoppolo era after Carr departed for New Orleans. All the 32-year-old has done in his career is win, as he racked up a 38-17 record in 55 starts with the 49ers. However, Garoppolo is coming off a severe foot injury, and the rest of Las Vegas' roster is dull outside of wide receiver DaVante Adams and defensive end Maxx Crosby.

2. AFC East

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Rodgers, welcome to the AFC East. The four-time MVP has won eight division titles in his career, but winning this division will be a tougher task.

The Jets dealt with the worst quarterback play in the league last season but still won seven games. Having Rodgers at the helm should bring stability. Pair that with a defense that includes star cornerback Sauce Gardner and defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, and this team has the makings of a Super Bowl contender.

Quarterback Josh Allen returns for his sixth season as the Bills' starting quarterback and is hoping this year has a better ending than 2022. He finished the season playing through an elbow injury and his squad ultimately lost in the divisional round. Buffalo added tight end Dalton Kincaid in the draft, which should transition this team to a 12-personnel offense with Dawson Knox and Kincaid on the field simultaneously.

The Dolphins' offense was electric with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa at the helm, and head coach Mike McDaniel proved to be one of the best play-callers in the league. However, Tagovailoa suffered multiple concussions last season, which held him out of five games, including Miami's wild-card round loss to the Bills. Tagovailoa has to stay healthy for this team to have a chance at the division title.

The post-Tom Brady era has not been kind to Bill Belichick. The Patriots are 25-25 in three seasons without Brady, and this year doesn't project to be any better. New England will be banking on Bill O'Brien to fix its offensive woes, but even with a new play-caller, the offense lacks the high-end talent to take the team to the playoffs.

1. AFC North

All four teams have a shot at taking the AFC North title.

The Bengals enter the year as the slim favorite and will look to finally win the Super Bowl after coming close in back-to-back years. Cincinnati made a massive splash in free agency, signing offensive tackle Orlando Brown to a sizeable contract to protect Joe Burrow for the foreseeable future. With Brown added to the offensive line and Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins rounding out one of the NFL's best wide receiver cores, the Bengals' offense should remain elite in 2023.

Lamar Jackson heads into this year with a new, big contract and a new supporting cast in Baltimore that will be the best he's ever played with. Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers were added to the Ravens' wide receiver room, which will take the pressure off Rashod Bateman, who has failed to stay healthy over two years.

The Browns' first year with quarterback Deshaun Watson was a failure. The 27-year-old went 3-3 in six starts and failed to eclipse 300 passing yards in a game. But there's reason for optimism heading into 2023. Cleveland added Elijah Moore to help Watson on the outside, but most importantly, the club fixed the front seven of the defense, which struggled mightily in 2022. Pass-rusher Za'Darius Smith and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson will help stabilize the unit.

Don't count out the Steelers. They had a tremendous draft class, adding Joey Porter and Broderick Jones, who are expected to start Week 1. Kenny Pickett flashed potential down the stretch last season, and the team is expecting a big jump from the young quarterback in Year 2. Pittsburgh is always competitive under Mike Tomlin, who has never had a losing season in 16 campaigns with the Steelers.

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