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Is the NFC North the NFL's Toughest Division?

We've often thought the Bears play in the toughest division in the NFL, but CBS offered up their divisional rankings. Where does the NFC North rank, and is it justified?

Jonathan Daniel

The NFL's tough to get, sometimes. It's volatile enough that teams can have incredibly different results from year to year, being a ten-win playoff team one year to a four-win division basement-dweller the next for example, but is also consistent enough that the same teams can continue to rise to the top year after year.

And I don't think CBS Sports really balance the two at all in their latest abomination called "divisional power rankings."

See, the way to get to the top of the divisional power rankings, apparently, is to have the Super Bowl runner-up, another tough team with 11-wins, and a team that went 4-1-1 in division play. Oh, and the Cardinals.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't think the NFC West is a tough division. I just don't think it's "inarguably" the best division in the NFL, as CBS Sports' John Breech marks it.

And for why, check out what he says for the AFC North, ranking in at number 2:

2. AFC North: Not only does the AFC North boast the defending Super Bowl champion, but it's the only division that's sent multiple teams to the playoffs in each of the past five seasons and won multiple Super Bowls in that same time period. If the Cleveland Browns do something called 'competing' this year, the AFC North could make a case for No. 1 by season's end. (AFC North vs. NFC North and AFC East)

Okay. So the AFC North is the second best division based on current toughness and recent-past accomplishments. I don't have much of a problem with that, particularly when you're talking about playoff berths and wild cards (not to mention Super Bowls), which actually have to do with competing against other divisions.

So, why is it that 2012 saw the NFC West send multiple teams to the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and suddenly they rank higher than the AFC North that's done it year in and year out? And the NFC North as well - the last four years saw the NFC North with multiple teams in the playoffs, which may well have been five if not for, well, the Bears in 2008. I think we're familiar with that.

It gets better.

Flipping back through the last few seasons of records, the NFC West has been, well, everywhere. St. Louis had 7 wins last season to follow two in 2011. Arizona followed up an 8-win 2011 with 5 wins in 2012. Last year they had two ten-plus-win teams for the first time since 2003, something both the AFC North and NFC North have done each of the last three years. The Ravens haven't had less than 10 wins since 2009. The Packers, since 2008.

The NFC West is going to be a tough division this year, and it's certainly a division on the rise. But the toughest division in the NFL?

Using Breech's case for the AFC North, you could make the case the NFC North is the toughest. He knocks the Browns for failure to compete, but then in the North you have the Lions. Make fun of them as you often will, but the Lions did make the playoffs as a ten-win team in 2011. That's something the Browns can't claim. And Breech even points out the NFC North is the only division to send all four teams into the playoffs in the past three seasons. Sadly, the Bears are the team in the NFC North with the longest playoff drought. And they were a ten-win team and a late-season collapse from being a playoff team last year.

I'm not sure if the NFC North is tougher than the AFC North (it's certainly close), but the only reason the NFC West is in the discussion at this point is two teams and a bunch of optimistic projection.