One of the beautiful things about the NFL is the balance of competition. The amount of parity throughout the league makes for many close games, frantic finishes in Weeks 16 and 17, and a playoff field with multiple contenders for the Super Bowl. In 2015, there are some clear standout squads through Week 12, starting with the 10-1 New England Patriots and the 11-0 Carolina Panthers.
On the other end, the Cleveland Browns are stuck in a downward spiral at 2-9 and the San Francisco 49ers are in a state of disarray at 3-8. While Cleveland is tied for the fewest wins, San Francisco is barely one rung ahead of the Tennessee Titans. However, judging by the putrid point differentials for both teams, the Browns and Niners have arguably been the worst of the worst this season.
Looking at the eight NFL divisions as a whole though, it’s clear that two are in worse shape than the rest. The AFC South and NFC East will both send at least one representative to the postseason in January — though they may not deserve it. Among the eight teams, none have played like they’re ready to make a championship run, let alone host a playoff game. With that in mind, let’s review the two divisions to see which is the worst of all.
For this post, we instituted a points system to determine rankings. A team earned four points if we see them making a run to Super Bowl 50 (Spoiler alert: There are no fours earned here). Three points were awarded to teams that could win a playoff game. Two points were given to those we see as one-and-done in the postseason. Teams got one point if we don’t see them making the playoffs, and teams got zero points if we envision them at or near the bottom of the entire NFL. Then, we added up the points to see if it’s the AFC South or NFC East that can claim the title of football’s worst division through Week 12.
Indianapolis Colts (6-5, tied for first place)
Tons of people, including us, were riding high on the Indianapolis Colts train entering the 2015 season. After last year’s run to the AFC Championship game (and controversial loss at the hands of the Patriots), the Colts were a popular pick to represent the AFC in February’s Super Bowl. With an improving defense, Andrew Luck at the helm, and the off-season additions of Frank Gore and Andre Johnson on offense, many experts picked the Colts to win it all. Well, the defense ranks in the middle of the pack, an injured Luck has missed much of the season, the running game ranks 26th with 92 yards per game, and Johnson is a bust.
Fortunately, “savior” Matt Hasselbeck stepped in at quarterback, leading the Colts to three straight wins and a tie for first in the division. Given the talent on the offensive side of the ball and the impending return of Luck, look for the Colts to hold off the trio of challengers and win the division. Unless Luck can revert to 2014 form though, we foresee a one-and-done postseason appearance, even with a potential home game in January.
Houston Texans (6-5, tied for first place)
With perhaps the league’s most ferocious defense, the Texans were a trendy preseason pick to make the postseason as a wild card team. Entering the fall, the various questions at quarterback were worrisome and still remain unanswered. Adding to this issue is the season-ending ACL injury to running back Arian Foster. But the Texans have rattled off four straight wins thanks to the imposing D and J.J. Watt’s return to form.
While the defense has stepped up as of late, one of the biggest surprises is the consistent stellar play of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The Offensive Player of the Year candidate is possibly the best wide out of the season. However, at some point in their last five contests, the Texans need to get better play from Brian Hoyer behind center. The next three games are tough, and we don’t see Houston having enough skill to overtake the Colts, leaving them on the outside looking in.
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7, third place)
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense is special, and it makes them the most intriguing team in the division concerning their future performances. However, a critical loss on Sunday to the San Diego Chargers put this group on the brink of falling out of it. With one game remaining against each of their division opponents, Jacksonville still has a chance. Blake Bortles and company would love to have stud wide receiver Allen Hurns back from injury as they face a near must-win on the road this weekend against the Tennessee Titans. Even if they beat the Titans, the hill is too steep to climb, especially with a young, unproven QB.
Tennessee Titans (2-9, fourth place)
The Titans have performed as advertised in 2015, and they are destined for a top-five pick in next year’s draft. Rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota shows flashes of brilliance, which is a reason for optimism. However, their 0-6 record at home, as well the host of underwhelming options on offense show that this team is heading to a last place finish.
They rank 25th or lower in the four major offensive categories (points per game, yards per game, passing yards per game, and rushing yards per game.) Fortunately, the Titans should have one of the top picks in the spring; they would be smart to invest in a strong running back. We don’t see the Titans winning more than one more game this year.
Total points: 4
Washington Redskins (5-6, tied for first place)
Often called the most dysfunctional organization in the NFL, the Washington Redskins currently lead the NFC East division (due to a tiebreaker over the New York Giants). It’s hard to pinpoint why Washington is in its unfortunate position, but we surmise it has something to do with the offense. Aside from Week 10’s beatdown on the hapless New Orleans Saints defense, the team only had one game where they scored more than 24 points. Kirk Cousins was great in a few games, then mediocre at best in others. The running game is a crap shoot.
So, the Redskins’ 5-6 record can be credited to the defense, right? Well, the team’s overall defense ranks just 22nd, and they’re 20th in points per game allowed at 24.3. Cousins has played well at home, as the team is 5-1 in D.C., but he’s been a different story on the road, as evidenced by the team’s 0-5 mark. With three away games left on the schedule, it’s tough to see the Redskins capturing even this division.
New York Giants (5-6, tied for first place)
We recently compared the similarities between the 2007 and 2011 Giants teams to this year’s version. We even made the crazy statement that it could be a Patriots versus Giants rematch in Super Bowl 50. A couple of days after that bold statement, we’re not backing down. It’s been a tremendously inconsistent season for Tom Coughlin’s team, and Eli Manning has been as volatile as ever concerning his performance.
However, it’s telling that the G-Men are the only group among the eight teams across these two divisions to post a positive point differential (+14). Also, despite Manning’s roller coaster season, he is still far and away the best QB out of the AFC South and NFC East current game callers. That in itself makes us believe that the Giants will not only capture the division, but could possibly win a playoff game or two.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-7, third place)
The Philadelphia Eagles are playing some of their worst football of the season — and they could not have picked a worse time to do it. After two straight shellackings and three consecutive losses overall, the Eagles give the Dallas Cowboys hope of avoiding the division cellar.
The struggling QB tandem of regular starter Sam Bradford and replacement Mark Sanchez has been the main culprit, but the defense has allowed an even 90 points over the past two contests. Oh, and new running back, DeMarco Murray, has been a disaster nearly all year. Odds are that Philadelphia will win one or two more games, which is the only thing keeping this team from a top-five pick.
Dallas Cowboys (3-8, fourth place)
It’s been an extremely rough year for fans in the Big D, as injury after injury to offensive stars deny the team any chance of gaining momentum. Any hopes of a division title were dealt a serious blow with the early-season losses of Dez Bryant, Tony Romo, and others. Romo’s return in Week 11 got the team its first win in forever and had fans dreaming of something miraculous. However, after Romo’s latest season-ending injury, it will most certainly take a miracle (five straight wins to close the season) in order for the Cowboys to have a chance at the playoffs. Better luck next year, Jerry Jones.
Total points: 6
So, despite the AFC South’s modest 18-17 advantage in terms of total wins from their squads, we see the Giants’ chances for something special and the Titans’ destiny as a bottom-of-the-league team as the difference-makers. Entering Week 13, the AFC South is the worst division in football.
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