The only surefire way to make the NFL playoffs is to win the division. As such, it behooves teams to shoot for the top of their division rather than pray for a wild-card spot. Eighteen of the past 23 Super Bowl winners also won their division, including 11 since 2010.
But not all divisions are created equal. Some are top-heavy, with a clear-cut favorite followed by three middling teams. Others, though, are more competitive with most if not all four teams in contention for the top spot.
As the NFL calendar careens toward the draft, we took a look at each of the eight divisions and ranked them from least to most competitive based on a composite score. To calculate this, we looked at each team’s odds to win their respective divisions (from BetMGM) as well as the projected win totals. Then, we built six determining data points:
The odds difference between the shortest odds and each of the other three teams, respectively.
The win total difference between the teams with the highest total and each of the other three teams, respectively.
The average odds to win the division.
From there we were able to determine which divisions are truly up for grabs and which appear to be locked up months before the season begins. This is all subject to change, of course, depending on how the rest of the spring and summer go leading into Week 1.
8. NFC West
All told, the San Francisco 49ers are far and away the best team of their division relative to the rest of the NFL. Even though the 49ers’ quarterback situation is a bit unsettled, the 49ers (-155 to win the NFC West) still boast the best collection of skill position players and the defense is still elite.
The rest of the division remains uncertain. The Seahawks returned most of their core but aren’t locks to return to the postseason. The Los Angeles Rams are a shell of their 2021 championship version and the Arizona Cardinals, who drag the average odds to win the division way down at +2200, might be the worst team in the league heading into the 2023 season.
7. AFC South
There is no other team in the division who could or should compete with the Jacksonville Jaguars (-150) this season. Trevor Lawrence is the best quarterback in the division and the Jags added receiver Calvin Ridley to his pass-catching options.
The Tennessee Titans are projected to be the second-best team at +325 to win the AFC South, but fell flat in the back half of the 2022 season and lost more talent than they gained this offseason. The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts, meanwhile, both have bad defenses and will start either a rookie or mediocre quarterback under center.
6. AFC West
This should come as no surprise considering the utter dominance of the Kansas City Chiefs, who’ve won the division seven consecutive seasons and are an NFL-best -160 to do so again. While the Los Angeles Chargers should be better in 2023 and the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders could bounce back, none are a real threat to the Chiefs so long as Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid are there.
The Chargers are the only team who could push the Chiefs, but they have to stay healthy. Justin Herbert is 2-4 against the Chiefs in his career and lost those four games by an average of only 3.75 points. The Broncos could be better with Sean Payton as their coach, too. The Raiders … who knows with Jimmy Garoppolo.
5. AFC North
The rise of the Cincinnati Bengals (+110 to win) puts them squarely in the driver’s seat for the division without much competition behind them. Joe Burrow is reaching his ceiling as a quarterback and should be bolstered by the addition of tackle Orlando Brown on the offensive line. The defense could be an issue, but the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers have lots of questions heading into 2023.
The Browns are second-favorites at +300, but aren’t guaranteed to improve even with a full season of Deshaun Watson after his uninspiring six-game stretch to end this past year. The Ravens might look completely different if Lamar Jackson leaves. And the Steelers are very much trying to figure themselves out with Kenny Pickett under center.
4. NFC East
It’s still the Philadelphia Eagles‘ division to lose, but the gap could be narrowing if the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants continue to progress. Even the Washington Commanders didn’t miss the playoffs last season by much.
The difference between the Eagles (+110) and Cowboys (+175), per BetMGM odds, is the smallest among division rivals this season. The Giants added weapons as well and the Commanders still have a good defense. But while the numbers indicate the NFC East should be competitive, the Eagles remain very much the favorite to repeat as division champions.
3. NFC South
This division was up for grabs as recently as this past season and became wide open after Tom Brady retired. All four teams will start a new quarterback in Week 1 — a first for a single division since 1973. That alone is enough to make the NFC South one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL.
The problem is none of these teams are very good, so it wouldn’t be hard for one to break away a win the division early on. But, the difference between the Derek Carr-led New Orleans Saints (the favorite at +125) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who have the longest odds at +500) is among the smallest in the league. The Carolina Panthers could shake things up, too, with a rookie quarterback at the No. 1 pick and a team that almost stole the division from the Buccaneers just a year ago.
2. AFC East
Assuming they trade for Aaron Rodgers, there is a serious three-team race between the New York Jets (currently +210), the Miami Dolphins (+360) and the two-time reigning AFC East winners Buffalo Bills (+125). And you can’t ever truly count out Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, even if they haven’t shown an indication of improvement heading into 2023.
The Bills look like favorites after they cruised through the division this past season, but the Dolphins should be better with a healthy Tua Tagovailoa and a defense led by Vic Fangio with cornerback Jalen Ramsey in the secondary. The Jets were a surprise team with a youthful offense and stout defense in 2022 and could be contenders with Rodgers in the fold.
1. NFC North
The Detroit Lions are favored to win the division at +135, but the other teams aren’t far behind. Regardless, the Lions are trending up after a raucous end to the 2023 season while the typical front-runners, the Vikings and Packers, are trending downward. The Vikings were one of the luckiest teams in the league, while the Packers have no idea how Jordan Love will fare in his first season as the starter (assuming Rodgers is traded). The Bears also lost the most one-score games in 2022.
It’s hard to have faith in the Lions thanks to the team’s history of failure, but Dan Campbell has turned many into believers and now the Lions could win the NFC North for the first time since 1993. But it’ll be tough sledding in arguably the toughest division in the league in 2023.