What’s the worst division in football?

A few days ago we looked at the projected best division in football, and a lot of you guys seemed to agree that it was either the AFC East or NFC East (I went AFC, for what it’s worth). And, if we’re talking the dregs of the league, I think you have to focus on the left coast, where parity might be a kind metaphor for utterly mediocre.

When you apply some of the criteria I explored in the earliest days of the blog about team building and winning in the NFL (focus on the draft, build from the trenches out, the import of stability at the quarterback position) to the AFC West and NFC West, you can see why both have the potential to be up for grabs, and why 8-9 wins might get you a division title out there again.

A year ago, those were the only two divisions in football without at least two teams with nine wins or more. In fact, of the eight teams in the collective West, only one, Arizona, won as many as nine games. Arizona collapsed late and still won its division and San Diego took its crown with a .500 record. The AFC West lost one of its franchise quarterbacks as Jay Cutler went from Denver to Chicago, and while the Cardinals reached the Super Bowl with some amazing playoff performances, when you talk to coaches and personnel guys from other clubs there is definitely a sense that the Cards need to prove they can sustain success over a 16-game season and truly deserve to be mentioned with franchises like Pittsburgh or New England.

If I had to chose between the AFC West and NFC West for the distinction of being the worst, I think I’d lean to the AFC. San Diego has displayed an ability to compete year after year, quarterback Philip Rivers is excellent and they are a team you have to fear. If Shawne Merriman can return to form and boost that pass rush, the Chargers could be a tough out. I consider them an elite team, and the rest of the division is really rebuilding, and no franchise has been worse than Oakland the past five years and the Broncos are entering the post Elway and Cutler era.

Not that there aren’t serious questions looming over the NFC West, too. But I think Seattle, if healthy, might be able to get to competing for a playoff spot, and San Francisco closed strong last season and I just have a feeling coach Mike Singletary will have them ready to play (although they’ve got to get that QB situation sorted out, for sure). And while St. Louis is clearly rebuilding, Marc Bulger — if he can stay healthy (and that’s a huge if these days) — and Steven Jackson can beat you, and I think rookie coach Steve Spagnuolo will add bite and creativity to that defense.

And when you add in the fact that the AFC, on the whole, is generally the superior conference, and the fact that the AFC West has to play the NFC East this season, I’m gonna have to give the NFC West the nod as being better. Of course, some team will come out of nowhere to make me look like a fool, I’m sure, but that’s the beauty of the NFL, right?

—  Jason La Canfora

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