As the offseason begins, many annually renewed debates begin to stir up and one of them often centers around which division in the NFL is the best.
The Baltimore Ravens make their home in the AFC North, which has often been regarded as one of, if not the best division in the NFL over the past decade or so, thanks to its blue collar playing style and high competition level. However, after a down year for the NFL in general, it is tough to point to just any one division and say it is the best.
A point of strength for any division is having multiple teams in the playoffs, but even those of average standing have a pretty good chance of sending two teams, so in a year where no group sent three teams to the postseason, determining the best division may have to come down to who has the best chance of doing so in 2017.
The first group to look at is probably the AFC North, which seems due for a return to form after a down 2016 season. The Pittsburgh Steelers had a nice year in which they finished as finalists within the conference, and seem setup for a similarly strong run in 2017. The strength of the division will hinge on whether Baltimore and the Cincinnati Bengals can rebound from down seasons, and head back to postseason play in the coming year. If so, this is a strong contender to once again be considered the best in football.
Another division to consider is the NFC West. While they are probably going to be somewhat top heavy as the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks will be the only two teams to merit serious playoff consideration, it is hard to ignore their individual achievements over the past few years. 2016 was a relative down year for both franchises, especially when considering the fact that prior to this past season, these two teams combined for three straight NFC championship appearances, as well as two NFC titles for the Seahawks. If both teams can correct some fixable issues, there's reason to believe that they can both individually return to form, and have their division again be at the top of the heap.
A third and final division to potentially consider is the NFC North. This may seem to be a bit of a wild card pick, but it makes sense from a few angles. While the Green Bay Packers are perennial contenders, they've had issues getting over the hump and into the Super Bowl due to how they've been building their team. After another crushing NFC championship loss, it is hard to believe general manager Ted Thompson won't be a little bit more aggressive in building a team with the best quarterback on the planet into one that can maximize his talents. As for the rest of the division, the Detroit Lions should once again be competitive as Jim Bob Cooter will return to coordinate an offense that was great prior to Matthew Stafford’s injury, and the Minnesota Vikings may be able to make some noise if they can recapture the electric form from early 2016 that had them at 5-0.
While it's impossible to tell which division will be considered the best next season, it's never too early to look ahead at which teams fans should potentially have their eye on in 2017. The three listed may either deliver or flop, but opinions on them will continue to take shape as the team building process truly begins in March.