Ranking the NFL's Divisions: Was the NFC South Really the Worst in 2014?
The best NFL teams don't always have the best records. This is tough for some to understand, but it's true: luck and fortune can often play a role in how good or bad a team is -- from a win-loss perspective -- in football.
So can strength of schedule. In 2014, no division in football won more games than the AFC North -- as a division, the North went 38-25-1. Though the division was good, the fact that Steelers, Ravens, Bengals and Browns each played teams from the AFC and NFC South certainly didn't hurt their overall records. And that's a huge reason three teams from the division ended up making the playoffs this year.
The truth is, the AFC North wasn't the best division in football in 2014. It was fourth best. At least that's what nERD says, which is our in-house metric that tells us the number of points you'd expect a team to win by on a neutral field against a league-average opponent.
In 2014, the average AFC North team had a nERD of 1.00. That's a little above average, and is roughly what the Miami Dolphins finished with at year's end.
How does that compare to other divisions? Well, before revealing that, let's look at how each division ranked this year in terms of win-loss record.
Like I said, the AFC North had the most wins. The NFC West -- led by Seattle and Arizona -- placed second, while the NFC South and their 7-8-1 division-winning Carolina Panthers ranked last.
In terms of nERD, however, things are a bit different.
|AFC East||7.45||1.86||New England||New York|
|NFC West||7.18||1.80||Seattle||St. Louis|
|NFC North||4.48||1.12||Green Bay||Chicago|
|NFC South||-11.75||-2.94||Carolina||Tampa Bay|
While the AFC East finished just fourth in wins this season, the division was actually the best in the NFL. New England had a top-five nERD score, while both Buffalo and Miami were above-average teams. The only other division with three above-average squads this year was the AFC North, but New England, the best team in the East, was better than Baltimore, the best team in the North. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh was roughly the same as Buffalo, and Cincinnati was worse than Miami.
The NFC South was historically bad from a win-loss record standpoint, but according to our analytics, the AFC South was worse. Both Houston and Indianapolis were top 10 teams in the league this year (Houston was actually better according to our metrics), but Tennessee (32nd ranked) and Jacksonville (30th ranked) brought the division way down with their combined -19.64 nERD.
The NFC South had just one team above average -- barely, too, as Carolina finished with a 0.49 nERD -- but Atlanta and New Orleans, despite their poor records, finished with a -1.02 and -1.69 nERD, respectively. Because there weren't two teams weighing down the division, the NFC South wasn't the worst.
Do you disagree with the numbers? Let's have a conversation in the comments section below.