Sunday, January 16, 2022

2021 NFL Divisional Power Rankings entering Week 14: AFC West closes gap on AFC North; NFC East has great week

December’s arrival in the NFL already signifies playoff clinching scenarios and wild playoff races that will be coming down do the final week in both conferences. This month is also the final opportunity for all eight divisions to prove their strength over the rest. The AFC North and AFC West still have all four teams at .500 or better heading into Week 14, yet each division may only get two playoff teams since the AFC has 12 teams currently at .500 or better. 

The NFC is just as unpredictable, but the NFC West currently has three teams in the playoffs heading into Week 14. The NFC East — yes that NFC East — has an opportunity to have three playoff teams in the conference at season’s end. 

In what’s setting up to be an exciting conclusion to the year, how were the divisional rankings affected? There were plenty of divisional matchups last week — and even more in store as the season winds down. 

8. AFC South

Last week’s ranking: 8

Another banner week for the worst division in football, with the Jacksonville Jaguars losing by 30 points to the Los Angeles Rams and the Houston Texans losing by 31 points to the Indianapolis Colts in a divisional matchup. Both Jacksonville and Houston are a combined 4-20 — and Houston is the only team in the NFL eliminated from the playoffs after 13 weeks. 

The AFC South is 11-22 in out-of-division games (.333 win percentage) and 19-30 overall (.388), both the worst in the NFL. 

7. NFC North

Last week’s ranking: 7

There isn’t enough talk about how bad the NFC North actually is. Outside of the Green Bay Packers, this division has been an embarrassment this year. The Minnesota Vikings were the latest team to be embarrassed from the North, losing to the Detroit Lions on a last-second touchdown (Detroit’s first win of the year). The Chicago Bears were also blown out by the Arizona Cardinals — at home. 

Take Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay away from the division for a week and the results shouldn’t shock anyone. The NFC North is 12-21-1 in interdivisional games (.368) and 19-28-1 overall (.406). 

6. NFC South

Last week’s ranking: 5

This division has really taken a nosedive since the New Orleans Saints lost Jameis Winston for the season (New Orleans has not won a game Winston hasn’t started). Falling to the Dallas Cowboys didn’t help the division’s prestige (with the Carolina Panthers off, that was the only out-of-division matchup). 

The Atlanta Falcons are one of three 5-7 teams in the NFC South, but none of them appear to have realistic playoff chances — even though all of them are a game out. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can actually wrap up the division this week with a win and some help. 

The NFC South is 18-18 in out-of-division games and 24-24 overall, sitting at .500 through 13 weeks.  

5. NFC East

Last week’s ranking: 6

A strong week for the NFC East, starting with the Cowboys beating the Saints and the Washington Football Team kicking a last-minute field goal to upend the Las Vegas Raiders — both impressive road wins for the division. The Philadelphia Eagles also took care of the New York Jets, giving the division an impressive 3-1 week in interdivisional matchups (the New York Giants fell to the Miami Dolphins). 

This division only has three more out-of-division matchups — and two belong to the Giants. The NFC East is a much-improved division from last year, as it sits 20-21 in interdivisional games (.488) and 24-25 overall (.490). 

This division has a strong chance to get three teams in the NFC playoffs, which was unthinkable before the season began. The stock is rising in the NFC East. 

4. AFC East

Last week’s ranking: 4

The New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills didn’t get to showcase all their strengths last week thanks to the crazy weather conditions in Buffalo, but an impressive win by New England has the Patriots as the top seed in the AFC. The Patriots may be the best team in the conference (and arguably have the top defense in the league). 

The Dolphins had an impressive win over the Giants to win their fifth in a row — giving the division the conference’s two longest winning streaks. The AFC East is another division that has stock on the rise (yes, that includes the Jets), as it sits 17-17 in out-of-division matchups and 25-25 overall — another division right at the .500 mark. 

3. NFC West

Last week’s ranking: 3

The Seattle Seahawks aren’t dead yet, upsetting the San Francisco 49ers in a fun divisional battle — showcasing how tough it is to win games in the NFC West. While Seattle hasn’t lived up to the preseason hype, the NFC West still has three teams in the postseason heading into Week 14.

The Arizona Cardinals are the only team in the NFL with 10 wins and can actually clinch a playoff spot this week. The Los Angeles Rams want to make this division race last a few weeks longer (they travel to Arizona this week), but essentially have a postseason spot locked up. 

Two of the five best teams in the NFC are in the West, which is 20-12 in interdivisional matchups (.625 win percentage is the highest in the NFL) and 28-20 overall (.583). 

2. AFC West

Last week’s ranking: 2

Give the Los Angeles Chargers their due for the AFC West closing the gap on the AFC North for the best division in football. Their convincing win over the Cincinnati Bengals — on the road — between the two second-place teams in their respective divisions was a big victory for the West. Los Angeles remained one game behind the Kansas City Chiefs for first in the division, as Kansas City had a convincing win over the Denver Broncos

The Raiders had a tough loss to Washington, which may have put the West atop the North for the league’s top division. All four teams are still over .500 in the West, which is 21-15 in out-of-division games (.583) and 27-21 overall (.562). 

1. AFC North

Last week’s ranking: 1

Another week on top for the AFC North, thanks to the thrilling battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens that lived up to the hype (Pittsburgh-Baltimore is arguably the best rivalry in football). The Bengals didn’t help this division in getting blown out by the Chargers, which helped close the cap between the North and AFC West for football’s top division. 

The North has three teams over .500 and all four teams at .500 or better. There’s no easy out in this division, which will go down to the wire and could have three playoff teams in the conference. The AFC North is 20-13-1 in interdivisional matchups (.603) and 27-20-1 (.573) overall. 

For another week, the North remains at No. 1. 

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