Of the eight divisions in the NFL, there is a case to be made that the division hosting the New Orleans Saints, the NFC South, is actually the best division in the NFL.
Let’s be clear with what I mean by “the best.” It’s not not about the division with the best rivalry, although the Saints and Falcons rivalry is definitely a fun one. It’s not about the division with the most Super Bowl victories or even the most recent Super Bowls. It’s about the entire division as a whole, top to bottom, being better than any other division as a whole, top to bottom.
The AFC East has the 5-11 New York Jets who lack a franchise QB. The AFC North has the 1-15 Cleveland Browns who still (for the twentieth year in a row) lack a franchise QB. The AFC South has the 3-13 Jaguars with a QB in Blake Bortles who didn’t make the strides many Jaguar fans were hoping he’d make last year. The NFC West has the 2-14 San Francisco 49ers who (see the trend?) lack a franchise QB. The NFC North has the 3-13 Chicago Bears who lack a franchise QB - unless somehow you believe Jay Cutler to be just that.
Having a franchise QB to build around, inevitably and eventually makes the entire team better. Not having a franchise QB makes a team less potent on offense and the division as a whole weaker. Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston all either are, or look to be, the type of QB a franchise can build around, and that is reflected in part in their teams’ recent performance.
Even the team that finished in last place in the NFC South last year, the Carolina Panthers, are one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance and one year removed from their starting QB named (and deserving) of the NFL MVP.
If a team was asked to bet their collective entire life savings on their ability to get at least one win playing an entire division, the NFC South is definitely not a division that would be picked. Aside from the NFC South, there are two other divisions that I believe to be as deep and talented - the AFC West and the NFC East.
The AFC West has three very talented teams in the Kansas City Chiefs, the Oakland Raiders, and the Denver Broncos (with regardless who is at QB, the defense alone will win them a bunch of games). But the soon-to-be-Los-Angeles Chargers finished last year at 5-11 and are in a tumultuous point in the franchise having to move from San Diego to Los Angeles. Because of the questions around the Chargers, I still give the edge to the NFC South in overall depth of quality teams.
The NFC East was the only other team (aside from the AFC West) to finish with three teams each having a winning record. The lone losing-record came from the fourth place 7-9 Philadelphia Eagles after rookie QB Carson Wentz struggled in much of the second half of the season, the same record as third place New Orleans Saints in the South. The NFC East also sent two teams into the 2016 postseason in the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants while the South only had the Atlanta Falcons advance to the playoffs.
This is really splitting hairs at this point, but for the last two years the NFC Champion has come out of the NFC South. For the last two years, the NFL’s MVP has come out of the NFC South. For the last three years, the leading passer in the NFL has come out of the NFC South. At QB across the NFC South, you’ve got the three-year reigning passing leader and 2009 Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees, the 2016 MVP Matt Ryan, the 2015 MVP Cam Newton, and the player that arguably should have won the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year in Jameis Winston. There is a strong case to be made that these QBs help make their teams and their division the best, from first to last, in the entire NFL.