August 25, 2023 12:00pm

The NFL and its Strongest and Weakest Divisions

The New York Jets raided the NFC North for two offensive weapons who have gone to a combined 14 Pro Bowls – quarterback Aaron Rodgers and halfback Dalvin Cook.

Photo of Rick Gosselin
NFL Correspondent

The New York Jets raided the NFC North for two offensive weapons who have gone to a combined 14 Pro Bowls – quarterback Aaron Rodgers and halfback Dalvin Cook.

But it barely moves the needle in the AFC East.

The bulked-up Jets have helped to make the AFC East the strongest division in football in 2023. The order of finish a year ago was the Buffalo Bills (12-4), Miami Dolphins (9-8), New England Patriots (8-9) and the Jets (7-10). So in this week’s NFL Power Poll, we asked our panel of former players, coaches, officials, talent evaluators, writers and broadcasters who would win the East in 2023.

The Bills were the overwhelming choice to capture a fourth consecutive East title, receiving 130 of the 179 votes cast. The Jets were next with 30 votes, followed by the Dolphins with 18 votes and the Patriots 1.

Quarterback Josh Allen has passed for at least 4,200 yards and 35 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons, earning a Pro Bowl bid in two of them for the Bills. Buffalo also fields a Top 6 defense.

“This is a pivotal year for the Bills,” said long-time NFL writer Vito Stellino. “They still look like the best team in the division but the question is how far do they go in the playoffs if they do win it. Do they have the right coach in Sean McDermott to make a Super Bowl run?”

The Jets had both the NFL’s offensive and defensive rookies of the year in 2022 with wide receiver Garrett Wilson and cornerback Sauce Gardner. Now add Rodgers, who went to 10 Pro Bowls and is a four-time NFL MVP for the Packers, and Cook, who went to the last four Pro Bowls with at least 1,100 rushing yards in each season for the Vikings.

“The Jets with Rodgers and an outstanding group of veteran newcomers led by Dalvin Cook appear to have the most talented roster in the division,” said Wayne Larrivee, the radio voice of the Green Bay Packers.

But slow down on the Jets train, cautions Hall-of-Fame voter Barry Wilner, the national NFL writer for the Boston Globe Group.

“The Jets have so much to prove and it is not something they have a habit of doing,” he said.

The dark horse remains Miami – and it all hinges on the health of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He has a 21-13 record in his three seasons as a starter but has missed four games with injuries each of his last two seasons.

“It’s the same story in Miami – if Tua stays healthy, the Dolphins win this division,” said Nick Pugliese, the sports editor of the Palm Beach Post. “The defense definitely will be improved with (Vic) Fangio in charge but the loss of Jalen Ramsey until December hurts. They have shown they can stay with the Bills even with a rookie QB starting on the road in a playoff game.”

Added Sports Illustrated’s Matt Verderame: “The AFC East is about health. If Tua Tagovailoa can stay healthy for 16-17 games, give me the Dolphins. They're loaded. The Bills are terrific, but do past failure portend future problems?”

In our second question, we asked the panel to handicap the worst division in football – the NFC South. All four teams finished with sub-.500 record last season with Tampa Bay advancing to the playoffs with an 8-9 record. The other teams all finished 7-10. But now Tom Brady is gone.

So the New Orleans Saints were the overwhelming favorite to win the South this season, receiving 116 of the 179 votes. The Atlanta Falcons were next with 45 votes, followed by the Buccaneers with 10 and the Carolina Panthers with 8.

“New Orleans at first blush appears the most capable,” said Larrivee, “but Atlanta has made some nice personnel moves in the past two seasons and may be ready to win.”

Not that it really matters, says Stellino.

“You can flip a coin in the NFC South,” added Stellino. “I don't think it matters which team wins because they figure to lose a home playoff game.”

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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