Will the AFC East score any points outside of their own division? That’s not the question I meant to be answering when I started this thought experiment, but it’s the one I had when I was finished.
In my own little darling opinion, as sweet as the day is long, the AFC East has the worst quarterbacks, the worst receivers, the worst tight ends, and the worst tackles in the NFL. And they are 100% in the conversation for worst running backs. This is all based on things that have happened in the past and therefore we can’t necessarily trust my cute, adorable thoughts on what will happen in the future, but the track records for many of these players are either short, bad, or non-existent.
Consider a QB-WR-TE showdown between teams in the AFC East and NFC South:
Bucs: Tom Brady-Mike Evans-Rob Gronkowski
Patriots: Cam Newton-Julian Edelman-Dalton Keene
Saints: Drew Brees-Michael Thomas-Jared Cook
Jets: Sam Darnold-Breshad Perriman-Chris Herndon
Falcons: Matt Ryan-Julio Jones-Hayden Hurst
Bills: Josh Allen-Stefon Diggs-Dawson Knox
Panthers: Teddy Bridgewater-DJ Moore-Ian Thomas
Dolphins: Ryan Fitzpatrick-DeVante Parker-Mike Gesicki
Even replacing Fitzpatrick with Tua Tagovailoa, which is not a 2020 move necessarily, doesn’t give me much confidence to think that the Carolina Panthers — a team I firmly believe could go 3-13 in the NFC South — isn’t good enough to win the AFC East if they swapped out with New England or Buffalo. They look like an AFC East team, not an NFC South team.
And the NFC West has its own argument for being as potent as the NFC South, at least on offense.
The division appears loaded with weapons and each team has something to be confident about in their starting quarterback. Every team looks to have a veteran left tackle, a quality receiving tight end (except for Arizona) or two, and a running back or rushing attack that could challenge for the Pro Bowl or a Super Bowl.
It’s a question I get every year headed into a season: is the NFC West the toughest division? This is odd territory compared how the division was in the aughts and while plenty of that also has to do with the players on the defensive side of the ball, let’s begin with offense.
This is my charming and darling opinion about which division has the best and worst of each position group and where the NFC West sits between them relatively. I didn’t have the NFC West as the best anywhere, but they came close a few times and were considered for the “worst” only one time.
Best - NFC South: Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Teddy Bridgewater
West - Jared Goff, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Jimmy Garoppolo
Not much of a competition here as the NFC South has two Hall of Famers and an MVP who I think is a probable Hall of Famer. The West isn’t close to that even though three of the four went to a Super Bowl (four of the last seven to be precise) and Murray was the number one pick. The NFC North (Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, Super Bowl Nick Foles) and AFC North (a two-time Super Bowl winner, an MVP, and two number one picks) have interesting cases but the AFC South (Deshaun Watson, Philip Rivers, Ryan Tannehill, Gardner Minshew) could be a sleeper.
Worst: AFC East - Cam Newton/Jarrett Stidham, Sam Darnold, Tua Tagovailoa/Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Allen
Best - NFC East: Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Adrian Peterson, Miles Sanders, Dion Lewis, Derrius Guice
West - Cam Akers, Chris Carson, Kenyan Drake, Raheem Mostert, Darrell Henderson, Tevin Coleman, Carlos Hyde, Rashaad Penny
The tiebreaker in the NFC came down between the East and the NFC South (Todd Gurley, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, LeSean McCoy) and I told myself that if McCoy was under 31, I’d give it to the South. McCoy is 32. The West won’t be too far off though if Akers is legit. But what about the AFC North? Joe Mixon, Mark Ingram, Nick Chubb, James Connner, JK Dobbins, Kareem Hunt, Gio Bernard. The depth is better but I guess I went with the division that has two backs who are maybe two of three most likely to win MVP if the MVP was a back.
Worst - AFC West: Josh Jacobs, Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Phillip Lindsay, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Justin Jackson
Best - NFC South: Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Calvin Ridley, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel, Emmanuel Sanders
West - DeAndre Hopkins, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Larry Fitzgerald, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Van Jefferson
Woof, this could have been really close. The NFC West and NFC South should be passing with extreme efficiency this season, depending on the viability of the defenses they face. They might be the divisions with the best quarterbacks and receivers this season.
The AFC West (Tyreek Hill, Keenan Allen, Courtland Sutton, Sammy Watkins, Tyrell Williams, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, KJ Hamler, Mecole Hardman, Hunter Renfrow, Mike Williams) is asking “Why not us?” too.
Worst - AFC East: Stefon Diggs, DeVante Parker, Julian Edelman, Breshad Perriman, John Brown, Cole Beasley, N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu, Denzel Mims
Best - AFC West: Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, Hunter Henry, Noah Fant, Jason Witten
West - George Kittle, Tyler Higbee, Will Dissly, Greg Olsen, Gerald Everett, Maxx Williams
Kittle and Higbee and Everett and a healthy Dissly or a rejuvenated Olsen make this division a contender here. So too is the NFC South again with Rob Gronkowski, Jared Cook, Hayden Hurst, Ian Thomas, and O.J. Howard, among others. But I went with a division where the tight ends are a little younger and closer to their premier seasons.
Worst - AFC East: Dawson Knox, Mike Gesicki, Devin Asiasi, Chris Herndon, Dalton Keene, Tyler Kroft, Adam Shaheen, Durham Smythe
Best - NFC South: Ryan Ramczyk, Jake Matthews, Russell Okung, Donovan Smith, Tristan Wirfs, Kaleb McGary, Taylor Moton, Terron Armstead
West - Andrew Whitworth, Trent Williams, Duane Brown, Rob Havenstein, D.J. Humphries, Josh Jones, Mike McGlinchey
You can maybe make a case for the left tackles in the NFC West, but the South is better left and right overall, without question. At least, headed into 2020 training camp. The right side appears a weakness for every NFC West team except maybe the 49ers and depending on how Havenstein responds to his 2019 campaign.
Worst: AFC East: Mekhi Becton, Isaiah Wynn, Julie’n Davenport, Dion Dawkins, Cody Ford, Jesse Davis, Austin Jackson, Korey Cunningham, George Fant
Best - NFC East: Zack Martin, Brandon Scherff, Jason Peters, Kevin Zeitler, Connor Williams, Will Hernandez, Isaac Seumalo, Wes Schweitzer
West -Justin Pugh, Austin Corbett, Austin Blythe, Laken Tomlinson, Tom Compton, Ethan Pocic, Damien Lewis, Joe Noteboom, David Edwards, JR Sweezy
The AFC South may have the best guard in the league plus a couple of other really good ones. I went with maybe a bit more depth across the line with the NFC East.
I think “worst” might actually come down between the NFC West and the NFC North, which has a couple of notable names but could struggle mightily with the the guards on at least maybe the Lions and Bears. Similar situation with the right guard for the Vikings.
Worst - NFC West
I wonder what impact this could have on the seasons of players like Aaron Donald, A’Shawn Robinson, Jordan Phillips, Javon Kinlaw, Solomon Thomas, Jarran Reed if there’s any vulnerabilities on the interior of these lines.
Best - AFC West: Rodney Hudson, Mike Pouncey, Austin Reiter, Lloyd Cushenberry
West - Weston Richburg, Brian Allen, Austin Blythe, Mason Cole, B.J. Finney
Originally I grouped all interior linemen, but I think that’s wrong. Centers deserve more credit and more attention. It’s just harder to evaluate and separate the great from the bad from my point of view, at least. That being said, the AFC West has the best center in the NFL, a four-time Pro Bowler, and a Super Bowl winner. Cushenberry is a rookie and plenty think he could have a good career, so we will see.
The West looks in rough shape at the moment and there are at least a couple of position battles there.
Worst - AFC North: Maurkice Pouncey, J.C. Tretter, Trey Hopkins, Patrick Mekari