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ESPN’s Dan Graziano ranks NFC West as fifth-best division heading into 2023

It’s definitely not the division it was in 2013 or even 2021.

Seattle Seahawks v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images

Another day, another paywalled ESPN article to talk about . . . gotta love the preseason!

On Monday, Dan Graziano ranked the eight NFL divisions from best to worst.

The overall rankings rely heavily on ESPN’s NFL Football Power Index (FPI) but, in Graziano’s own words: As great as FPI is, though, there are factors it doesn’t consider, so I reserve the right to stray from the strict formula as necessary.

And stray, he does, when it comes to the NFC West, and the Seattle Seahawks in particular, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.

At the top of Graziano’s rankings is the AFC East which has the distinction of being the only division with a double-digit cumulative FPI rating (12.1) -and- the only division to have all four teams in positive territory: Buffalo = 5.6, NYJ = 3.2, Miami = 3.0, and New England = 0.3.

Note: According to FPI, four of the five toughest schedules in 2023 belong to teams in the AFC East.

The second spot in Graziano’s rankings goes to the AFC North which would actually be fourth if he were sticking strictly to the FPI ratings (6.4 total). Graziano gives the AFC North a bump over the third- and fourth-ranked divisions because they feel “more balanced from top to bottom”.

Graziano has the AFC West in third place with a cumulative FPI of 9.7. It’s worth noting that 6.4 of that comes from the defending Super Bowl Champions. And, yes, that means that FPI thinks the Kansas City Chiefs are as good as all of the teams in the AFC North combined.

In fourth place, Graziano has the NFC East - one of the two divisions that he thinks could field four playoff teams this year, and the last of the divisions with a positive cumulative FPI score (7.1).

Note: The AFC North is the other division that Graziano thinks could have four playoff teams.

The NFC West lands in fifth place in Graziano’s rankings.

Based on FPI alone, it would be sixth with a cumulative FPI score of minus-4.5.

Here’s the breakdown:

Here’s the rationale that Graziano offers to support his decision to rank the NFC West ahead of the NFC North (whose combined FPI is 1.2 points higher at minus-3.3):

I think more highly of the Seahawks (and maybe a little less highly of the Lions and the Vikings) than FPI does, but we’ll get to that in a second.

Graziano says that the San Francisco 49ers look like the class of the division and touts Christian McCaffrey being there from the start of the season and Shanahan’s ability to overcome “the quarterback situation” as reasons to believe in them.

Then he digs into the Seahawks:

I was surprised by FPI’s middling rating of Seattle. The Seahawks are 23rd in defense (minus-0.8), but although they couldn’t stop the run last season, they believe a lot of that had to do with players transitioning to a new scheme, which won’t be an issue now. As for their 13th-ranked offense (0.9), I have to believe that’s rooted in skepticism about Geno Smith’s ability to deliver a second straight top-seven QBR season. I’m a little more optimistic about Smith than most, and they added players around him this offseason who will only help. Personally, I believe the Seahawks belong in the conversation — along with the 49ers and Cowboys — about which teams can knock off the Eagles in the NFC.

Graziano believes that the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals are “bound for Rebuild City” - which matches what pretty much everyone else thinks about them.

Rounding out the rankings are:

  • Sixth: The NFC North (minus-3.3 overall FPI)
  • Seventh: The AFC South (minus 13.8)
  • Eighth: The NFC South (minus 13.9)

All things considered, I think the rankings are pretty spot-on . . . at least based on how the divisions / teams look on paper and on the field through 2/3rds of the preseason.

Things never play out exactly as they should though.

What say the 12s?