On Friday, I looked at the SRS ratings of AFC teams. Today, let’s do the same for the NFC. And let’s start with the NFC East, which has been a consistently inconsistent division that, over time, looks average. The four NFC East teams have each won the division twice over the last 8 years, but the division as a whole has clearly declined over that period:
The peak NFC East came in 2007: the Cowboys were the #1 seed, the Giants won the Super Bowl, and both Philadelphia and Washington had positive SRS grades. Last year? None of the four teams had a positive SRS grade.
Meanwhile, the NFC North has been a division on the rise. The division was below-average in 6 of the 8 seasons from ’02 to ’09, but was very strong in 2010, 2011, 2012, and then again last year. That has a lot to do with quarterback play in the division, and right now, we may be entering peak NFC North passing.
The NFC South was terrible from ’03 to ’07, then seemed to be on the rise for awhile, until falling back over the last two years. This is a hard division to figure out, so it’s no surprise that it’s the NFC South that made the biggest single-season jump. In 2007, Atlanta’s SRS was -10.6; in ’08, it was +3.8. But it wasn’t just the Falcons leading the charge: Carolina jumped from -5.8 to +5.6, the Saints from -2.5 to +4.0, and even the Buccaneers improved from +1.2 to +2.3.
This division has featured strong quarterback play in recent years, but that hasn’t been enough to keep it afloat, thanks to some bad defenses. That is not the case with the NFC West, which owns the most remarkable chart:
From ’04 to ’10, this division was terrible with a capital T. But the division made huge leaps in ’11 and ’12 and then again in ’13, and now stands as the best division in the NFL. The improvement from 2010 to 2013 is truly incredible: in 2010, all four teams had SRS ratings of at least -5.8; by 2013, the Seahawks were at +13.0, San Francisco at +10.1, Arizona at +6.4 (from -12.7 in ’10!), and St. Louis at +2.2.
Finally, let’s put all four graphs together:
The NFC West was so, so bad in ’04, and then from ’06 to ’10; it was the clear worst division in the conference. Even in 2011, after making huge strides, it was the worst division in the NFC. Yet the NFC West followed six straight years at the bottom with four straight years at the top. It’s a remarkable turnaround powered by Seattle and also San Francisco (until last year) and Arizona; don’t expect much to change this year, with the Seahawks and Cardinals being Super Bowl front-runners. Meanwhile, the NFC East was the best division in the conference for four straight years from ’04 to ’07, but has been the worst or second-worst division in the conference in each of the last four seasons.