The NFC East was the biggest surprise of the eight NFL divisions last season, emerging from the rank of laughingstock to having one of the best performances by a division in decades. The NFC East became the only division since the 2002 realignment — and the first division since 1997 — to get three teams into the divisional round of the playoffs.
Only the 2013 NFC West and 2007 NFC South had a better win percentage (.656) than the 2022 NFC East, but the NFC East had more total wins than either (43 to 42) thanks to the additional 17th game. The NFC East was the only division to have all four teams finish over .500.
Can any division top the NFC East in 2023, especially with all the offseason changes around the league? We won’t know until the games are played, but these offseason rankings serve as a barometer of where each division stands with most offseason moves complete as we head into the season.
1. NFC East
The best division in football got better. The Philadelphia Eagles did lose some key pieces from their defense last season, but they were able to retain Darius Slay and James Bradberry . Philadelphia also had one of the top draft classes, getting younger on defense with Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith as the Eagles revamped a defensive line that had 70 sacks last year.
While Philadelphia is the top contender to repeat in the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys also got better on offense with Brandin Cooks and defense with Stephon Gilmore . Cooks should be an excellent No. 2 wide receiver to pair with CeeDee Lamb while Gilmore and Trevon Diggs form one of the best cornerback duos in football.
The New York Giants were able to retain Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley while improving the pass catching situation for their quarterback. They should be better after having a strong offseason, while also improving the offensive line.
Washington has another quarterback battle, but the Commanders were able to finish .500 (8-8-1) last year despite the position’s struggles. If Sam Howell is as good as the Commanders make him out to be, this is a playoff team.
The NFC East hasn’t had a repeat winner in 18 years. The Eagles are the best team, but the Cowboys will have a strong say on whether Philadelphia can repeat. No matter who wins it, it’s the strongest division from top to bottom.
2. AFC East
This division certainly became more interesting with Aaron Rodgers heading to the New York Jets . Does Rodgers make the Jets a Super Bowl contender? They will have to snap their 12-year playoff drought first. The Jets did also add Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman to bolster the offense. Breece Hall returning is also huge for this team.
The Buffalo Bills are still one of the top teams in the AFC as they seek a four-peat in the division. A strong draft with Dalton Kincaid and O’Cyrus Torrence as the top two picks bolster the offense, while linebacker Dorian Williams should be in the mix to start at linebacker after Tremaine Edmunds left in free agency.
The Miami Dolphins had a quiet offseason, but they have plenty of talent and are coming off a playoff appearance. Their division title chances depend on Tua Tagovailoa’s health.
The New England Patriots have a lot of questions to answer on offense, but their defense can stack up with the powerful offenses in the division. This is the best the AFC East has been in the Bill Belichick era, so New England will have its hands full.
Buffalo will be challenged in the AFC East, which could get three playoff teams this year.
3. AFC North
Imagine how good this division can be in 2023. The Cincinnati Bengals were in the AFC Championship Game and have one of the game’s best quarterbacks in Joe Burrow . Cincinnati has the core in place with Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase , Tee Higgins , and Joe Mixon — and have added Orlando Brown to the mix to improve the offensive line. Myles Murphy makes the pass rush with Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard even stronger.
The Baltimore Ravens were able to re-sign Lamar Jackson , giving him his best group of wide receivers since he entered the NFL . Baltimore also signed Roquan Smith well before free agency started, knowing how strong the defense was with him on the field.
Kenny Pickett should improve with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Year 2, as the franchise never has losing seasons and always competes for playoff berths with Mike Tomlin. The Cleveland Browns should be better with a full season of Deshaun Watson and an improved defense with the additions of Dalvin Tomlinson and Juan Thornhill .
Cincinnati is the top team in this division, but the AFC North will be a grind — again. All four teams should compete for a playoff berth.
4. AFC West
What was supposed to be the best division in football ended up with the Kansas City Chiefs making a statement, winning the division by four games. Kansas City swept the Los Angeles Chargers for AFC West supremacy, while the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders had issues all season. Will this division be better in 2023?
Kansas City has Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes , so the Chiefs are the NFL’s team to beat with two Super Bowl titles in four years. Drafting Rashee Rice should pay dividends for the wide receiver group. It doesn’t hurt that no team in the division can contain Travis Kelce .
The Chargers need to sign Justin Herbert to a contract extension, as Quentin Johnston bolsters an already strong wide receiver group with Mike Williams and Keenan Allen . Keeping Austin Ekeler in the fold was huge for a team looking for a return trip to the playoffs. The Broncos hired Sean Payton to make the Russell Wilson experiment work, while signing Mike McGlinchey is an immense improvement at right tackle.
As for the Raiders, who knows what they’re doing? Will Jimmy Garoppolo even be on the roster come September, given his foot issues ?
If Denver is better, this division can compete with the best in the NFL. That will come down to whether or not the Seattle version of Russell Wilson shows up under new head coach Sean Payton.
5. NFC West
The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks make this division the second best in the NFC in a down year for the conference. San Francisco still has a quarterback situation to figure out, but the 49ers added Javon Hargrave to a top-five defense and have one of the best skill position groups in the NFL with Christian McCaffrey , Deebo Samuel , Brandon Aiyuk , and George Kittle . This team has been to three conference championship games in four years for a reason.
Seattle re-signed Geno Smith and had a strong draft by selecting Devon Witherspoon and Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the first round. Smith-Njigba will man the slot with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett on the outside while while Witherspoon pairs with Tariq Woolen at cornerback. With an improving offensive line and Zach Charbonnet pairing with Kenneth Walker at running back, expect Seattle to score a lot of points. The Seahawks are a dark horse Super Bowl contender in the NFC.
The Los Angeles Rams are rebuilding and unloading bad contracts, but Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp are back and will try to inject life into a roster that was dormant for most of last season. The Arizona Cardinals are in a rebuild and looking toward 2024.
This top-heavy division will come down to San Francisco and Seattle for the title.
6. NFC North
Significant change occurred in this division with Aaron Rodgers no longer employed with the Green Bay Packers . Jordan Love takes the reins in Green Bay, quarterbacking a young roster that has playmakers on offense in Christian Watson and Aaron Jones . Jaylen Reed is an intriguing rookie receiver while rookie tight ends Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft are worth monitoring.
The Detroit Lions are expected to be the top contenders for the division title after revamping their secondary and renovating their running back room with David Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs . Marvin Jones is an underrated signing at wide receiver, especially with Jameson Williams suspended for six games.
The Chicago Bears have improved the offensive line, but the big addition was acquiring D.J. Moore from the Carolina Panthers — giving Justin Fields a No. 1 wide receiver. Chicago also revamped the linebacker core with Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards .
What about the Minnesota Vikings ? They did win the division last season, but they weren’t active in free agency ( Josh Oliver was their biggest signing). Releasing Adam Thielen hurt the offense and Dalvin Cook’s future is uncertain. Rookie Jordan Addison should help out the wide receiver group.
The NFC North is unpredictable with Rodgers out of the picture — what will happen here is a big question mark. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this division improve over the course of the year.
7. AFC South
Notoriously the worst division in football over the last few years, the AFC South has improved thanks to the resurgence of the Jacksonville Jaguars . A surprising division winner in Doug Pederson’s first year, Jacksonville has a franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence who makes the Jaguars a dark horse Super Bowl contender in the AFC. The addition of Calvin Ridley and the improvement of Travis Etienne makes the offense more dynamic.
What to make of the other three teams? The Tennessee Titans collapsed with Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry last year but are primed to run it back for 2023. When will Tennessee turn the page to Will Levis ? The offensive line is better with Andre Dillard and Peter Skoronski , but can this team compete for the division?
The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts have rookie quarterbacks and first-time head coaches, so they’re rebuilding this year. Indianapolis has an opportunity to improve the quickest if the offensive line can straighten things out and Shaquille Leonard can stay healthy. For the Texans, developing C.J. Stroud and keeping him upright would be a successful season.
Jacksonville is the class of this division, which appears to have three mediocre to bad teams after the Jaguars. Another year toward the bottom of the division rankings is likely.
8. NFC South
This division took a hit last year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being an under .500 division champion — and this was with Tom Brady at quarterback. Was the division competitive? Yes, but every team had major flaws and none were Super Bowl contenders.
The New Orleans Saints could emerge as a contender for the NFC South title with Derek carr at quarterback. New Orleans has exciting young skill players in Chris Olave , Rashid Shaheed , and Juwan Johnson — along with a healthy Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara . New Orleans typically has a good defense and a favorable schedule could get the Saints double-digit wins.
As for the Buccaneers, Brady retired and Baker Mayfield is the quarterback. Tampa Bay still has most of the core players from the Super Bowl LV team and a new offensive coordinator in Dave Canales.
The Atlanta Falcons drafted Bijan Robinson and wins will come via the running game, as Desmond Ridder gets a one-year trial at quarterback.
The Carolina Panthers are intriguing with Bryce Young as the next franchise quarterback. Young will have playmakers in Adam Thielen, D.J. Chark , and Miles Sanders to make life easier in Year 1. The offensive line that was strong in run blocking will also be back. Vonn Bell and Shy Tuttle should help the defense. Count the Panthers as a division dark-horse.
This division likely won’t be good, but it will be competitive and the division championship should come down to the wire. Improvements by Atlanta and Carolina would certainly help the NFC South get out of the basement.