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NFL—Ranking the Divisions in Order of Difficulty

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Reading Through the ATS, SU Numbers and Dispelling Any Perceived Narratives

The 2016 NFL Preseason kicks off on this—yes this—coming Sunday (Aug. 7) with the Hall of Fame Game from Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium—adjacent to the league’s Hall of Fame—in Canton, Ohio between Aaron Rodgers (+350 to win NFL MVP, GTBets) and the Green Bay Packers and Andrew Luck (12/1 to win NFL MVP, GTBets) and the Indianapolis Colts (NBC, 8 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. PDT; Odds: IND PK, 35½, GTBets). So before the games begin, let’s take a look at the perceived strength for the coming Regular Season of the NFL’s eight different divisions in the context of overall strength and having to play each other for the coming year. And it only looks slightly different than it did in 2015/16 with that perceived power base of divisions farther north seemingly holding an edge over the more southern-located divisions.

Here are last season’s combined Straight Up (SU) and Against The Spread (ATS) rankings for the eight divisions in the NFL’s two conferences (AFC, NFC) as well as the highest current (Saturday, July 30) updated NFL Futures Book Divisional Winner odds to win those respective divisions from the Oddschecker odds screen:


2015/16 NFL Combined SU Record Divisional Standings

1—AFC East 36-28-0 56.3% (+8)

1—NFC South 36-28-0 56.3% (+8)

3—NFC West 35-29-0 54.7% (+6)

3—AFC West 34-30-0 53.1% (+4)

5—NFC North 34-30 53.1% (+4)

6—AFC North 30-34-0 45.5% (-4)

7—NFC East 26-38-0 40.1% (-12)

8—AFC South 25-39 39.1% (-14)

 

2015/16 NFL Combined ATS Record Divisional Standings

1—NFC North 40-27-0 59.7% (+13)

2—AFC North 32-28-6 53.5% (+4)

3—NFC South 34-32-1 51.5% (+2)

3—AFC West 35-33-1 51.5% (+2)

5—AFC East 29-32-5 47.5% (-3)

5—NFC West 31-35-2 47.0% (-4)

7—NFC East 28-35-2 44.4% (-7)

7—AFC South 28-35-2 44.4% (-7)


2016/17 Regular Season Odds to Win Division (Oddschecker high, July 30)

AFC East

New England Patriots -183 (Bwin)

Buffalo Bills +600 (Ladbrokes, William Hill)

New York Jets +650 (Totesport, Betfred)

Miami Dolphins +750 (Totesport, Betfred, Betfair)

 

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts +162 (Totesport, Betfred)

Houston Texans +250 (SkyBet)

Jacksonville Jaguars +325 (10Red, Marathon)

Tennessee Titans 12/1 (Totesport, Betway, 10Red)

 

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers +130 (Paddy Power)

Cincinnati Bengals +187 (Betfair)

Baltimore Ravens +400 (Betway)

Cleveland Browns 33/1 (Almost everywhere)

 

AFC West

Denver Broncos +187 (William Hill)

Kansas City Chiefs +200 (Sportingbet, Betway)

Oakland Raiders +333 (Paddy Power)

San Diego Chargers +650 (Sportingbet, BetVictor, 888Sport, Stan James, Unibet, 32Red)


NFC East

Dallas Cowboys +184 (Bwin)

New York Giants +250 (Almost everywhere)

Washington Redskins +333 (Bet365, Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, Coral, William Hill, Betfair)

Philadelphia Eagles +450 (Totesport, Betfred, BetVictor, Ladbrokes)

 

NFC South

Carolina Panthers -200 (Betfair, Betbright, Bwin)

Atlanta Falcons +600 (Stan James)

New Orleans Saints +700 (Ladbrokes)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 8/1 (BetVictor, Betway, 10Red)

 

NFC North

Green Bay Packers -137 (Betfair)

Minnesota Vikings +200 (Sky Bet, Paddy Power, Stan James, Coral, William Hill, Betway)

Chicago Bears +1200 (Almost everywhere)

Detroit Lions +1400 (Totesport, Betfred, Sportingbet, BetVictor, Ladbrokes, 10Red)

 

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks -120 (Totesport, Betfred, Paddy Power)

Arizona Cardinals +175 (Betfair)

Los Angeles Rams +1000 (Totesport, Betfred, Stan James, Ladbrokes, William Hill, 10Red)

San Francisco 49ers 33/1 (Stan James)


My 2016/17 NFL Divisional Strength Rankings

1—NFC North

Why? When you are a combined 13 games above .500 ATS last season (40-27-ATS, 59.7%) and 4 games above level (34-30) SU (53.1%) and have mercurial QB Jay Cutler and the the Chicago Bears (10/1 to win NFC North, GTBets) coming off combined 10-21 SU Regular Seasons, then you are worth consideration as top dog. Toss in the slight Weather and Site advantages in Green Bay (Lambeau Field) and Chicago (Soldier Field), the considerable improvement of the Minnesota Vikings (+185 to win NFC North, GTBets) and the fervor of a new fixed-roof Stadium (US Bank Stadium, FieldTurf) in Minneapolis, the chance the consistent Cheeseheads are due for slight uptick, that the Bears may have the most underrated Offense in the NFL and that the feisty Detroit Lions (+950 to win NFC North GTBets) are maybe the worst team in your division, then you honestly have a great division. The NFC North is still Black-and-Blue brother, old school NFC Central (1970-2001) style. Snap up the chinstraps here.

 

2—AFC North

Why? If there is one team in the NFL due to bounce back this year, it’s probably the Baltimore Ravens (16/1 to win AFC, GTBets), who have been ravaged by Injuries and flight from Free agency the past couple of years. And with now seeming perennial powers, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals in the division, it doesn’t even matter that maybe the worst team in the league (Cleveland Browns) will dwell in the cellar. The AFC North was 30-34-0 SU (45.5%) last year and 32-28-6 ATS (53.5%),s o with the expected improvement of Joe Flacco and the John Harbaugh-coached Ravens (40/1 to win Super Bowl, BetVictor), this division should finish around 4-7 games up ATS overall this time around, thanks in great part to Big Ben Roethlisberger (+450 to win NFL MVP, GTBets) and the Steelers (+450 to win AFC, GTBets) and a dynamic and fairly deep Pittsburgh Offensive Roster. The Bengals may regress some.

 

3—AFC East

Why? Tom Brady (8/1 to win NFL MVP, GTBets) and the Patriots live here, that’s why. And the Buffalo Bills (+450 to win AFC East, GTBets) and New York Jets (+550 to win AFC East, GTBets) are making slow progress it seems, although until New England Head Coach Bill Belichick (159-121-7 ATS) and Brady retire, this division is theirs because as we all know, a good QB is really hard to find these strange days. The AFC East was tied for the best mark in the NFL being 8 games above .500 SU (36-28-0, 56.3%), but the division was 3 games under .500 (29-32-5, 47.5%) ATS, showing that the number beat the AFC East last season more than the AFC East beat the number. Quarterbacks matter.

 

4—NFC West

Why? With two very good teams in the Arizona Cardinals (+140 to win NFC West, GTBets) and the aforementioned Seattle Seahawks (4/1 to win NFC, William Hill), the NFC West seems like the fourth strongest division in the NFL heading into the Regular Season with the now Los Angeles Rams (10/1 to win NFC West, GTBets) perhaps being one of the biggest question marks this season…like almost every season. The NFC West was 4 games below .500 last year going a combined 31-35-2 SU (47.0% ) but this division went 35-29-0 (54.7%) and the NFC West was 6 games above .500 ATS at the betting windows—where it matters most to us here. The San Francisco 49ers (66/1 to win NFC, Stan James) should continue to struggle for a number of logical Management, Site, starting QB and Roster reasons.

 

5—NFC South

Why? Because the Carolina Panthers (-200 to win NFC South, GTBets) may be the NFL team in for the most Regression this coming season and because the Atlanta Falcons (+475 win NFC South, GTBets), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+700 to win NFC South, GTBets) and Drew Brees (25/1 to win NFL MVP, GTBets) and the New Orleans Saints (+550 to win NFC South, GTBets) are cumulatively too poor against inter- and intra-conference foes, especially away from the South, the NFC Sounds lands here at No. 5. And because of the Panthers nice overall Regular Season Record (15-1), the NFC South was an impressive 8 games over .500 at 36-28-0 overall (56.3%). And the NFC South was 2 games over the telling .500 mark at 34-32-1 (51.5%) ATS last season. But if there is one of the eight NFL divisions ripe for a fall this coming season, it’s this one with these four possibly beating up on each other and the Who Dats (New Orleans) and Head Coach Sean Payton (80-71-3 ATS) realistically having just as good a shot to win this feeble division as the defending NFC champion Panthers do. The NFC South could be 6th here and the forecasted Carolina Regression along with the Dirty Birds final SU Record will probably determine the overall perception in the end. The gravity here is just sick for revenge.

 

6—AFC West

Why? Too many chirp like hungry baby sparrows about the virtues and promise and bright Future of Alex Smith (13-21 ATS vs. AFC West) and the Kansas City Chiefs (11-5 SU LY, 22-27 SU previous 3 seasons) and Derek Carr (0-3 ATS as Favorite) and the Oakland Raiders (18-46 SU L4 seasons). But the bottom line for this division is, like the great Detroit legend Stevie Wonder once sang, ”You Haven’t Done Nothin’” and both team’s starting QBs have their issues and limitations. Last season, the AFC West was 34-30-0 SU (53.1%) and 4 games above .500 while the division went 35-33-1 (51.5%) and was +2 ATS above the waterline. With the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos (+190 to win AFC West, GTBets) having such a big question mark at QB and Philip Rivers (23-14-2 ATS vs. Non-Division) and the San Diego Chargers (+550 to win AFC West, GTBets) a team looking for a permanent Future Home, the AFC West—because of Von Miller and the Broncos (7/1 to win AFC West, GTBets)—seems overall a little bit better than the NFC East but maybe not as strong as the NFC South, though extremely close in my eyes. Fading all eight teams in these two divisions might not be a bad philosophy to start the first quarter (Weeks 1-4) on the NFL Regular Season. Like the Rams in the NFC, the Chiefs—as almost always—are the biggest enigma and question mark in the AFC but with Head Coach Andy Reid (28-23-0 ATS), at least have the right man at the helm. Reid may honestly be worth 2 (winning) games a season for the Chiefs.

 

7—NFC East

Why? The Washington Redskins (+300 to win NFC East, GTBets) winning the division last season is all that needs to be said with the always injured Tony Romo (40/1 to win NFL MVP, GTBets) and the Dallas Cowboys (+180 to win NFC East, GTBets), the New York Giants (+200 to win NFC East, GTBets) and Philadelphia Eagles (+350 to win NFC East, GTBets) always struggling with their own diminishing NFL identities. This division was 12 games below .500 SU (26-38-0, 40.1%) and 7 games below .500 ATS (28-35-2, 44.4%), and that’s with Washington having maybe an anomaly of a season and dominating as a Home Underdog at RFK Stadium (5-1 ATS at Home) under QB Kirk Cousins. Ain’t much changed here, except the number of the dot on the Range. The NFC East stinks and is honestly really lucky that the AFC South exists.

 

8—AFC South

Why? C’mon man. Every year the AFC South hype is heavy here with experts and professional gamblers wanting the lowly Tennessee Titans (8-23-1 ATS L2 seasons) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (18-28-2 ATS L3 seasons) to improve or revert upward to some statistical mean that may never really happen for these two stanky dogs. The Home markets just aren’t supportive enough, the QB’s just aren’t good enough nor the Rosters strong enough. The AFC South was 14 games below .500 SU (25-39, 39.1%)—worst in the NFL—and 7 games under .500 overall ATS (28-35-2, 44.4%). And that divisional ATS mark could be even worse this year. Watch.


Ravens, Bears and Saints May Improve While the Panthers, Redskins, Bengals and Cardinals May All Slip

Like a river constantly flowing forward and changing its bank slightly through the years but always eventually arriving at the ocean, this year the NFL’s eight divisions can seem to be broken down to four perceived Good divisions—the AFC North and AFC East and the NFC North and NFC West—and four Bad divisions—the AFC South and AFC West and the NFC East and the NFC South. Sorry, Denver and Carolina. You may have both gotten to the Super Bowl last season, but your divisions still seem to suck some and it seems the best teams heading into this season from the two conferences are the Patriots (+375 to win AFC, GTBets) in the AFC and Russell Wilson (+650 to win NFL MVP, GTBets) and the Seattle Seahawks (+850 to win Super Bowl, Betfair) in the seemingly slightly stronger NFC. The NFL Regular Season will begin just 39 days from now with a Super Bowl 50 rematch between Cam Newton (+850 to win NFL MVP, GTBets) and the Carolina Panthers and Von Miller and the Broncos from Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver (NBC, 8:30 p.m. EDT/5:30 p.m. PDT; Odds: CAR -2½, 43, GTBets) on Thursday, Sept. 8. Get ready.

 

AFC DIVISIONAL FUTURES BOOK PICKS: Pittsburgh Steelers +130 (Paddy Power), Denver Broncos +187 (William Hill)

NFC DIVISIONAL FUTURES BOOK PICKS: New Orleans Saints +700 (Ladbrokes), Seattle Seahawks -140 (GTBets)

NFL HALL OF FAME GAME SUNDAY PICK: Under 36½ (Pinnacle)