With one month down and three more to go in the regular season, we're instituting our own personal set of NFL power rankings -- but not your garden-variety team-by-team version. Once a month we'll rank the league's eight divisions, from first to worst, keeping track of the shifting balance of power within Roger Goodell's fiefdom.
At the season's quarter mark, we're leaning the NFC's way in the top two spots, with both the East and South divisions featuring all eight teams at .500 or better. While things will continue to shake out, if I had to pick the NFC's East playoff teams today, I wouldn't know who to leave out.
An easy call to make in terms of division supremacy. Not only does the NFC East feature the best cumulative record at 11-4, but three of those losses were in head-to-head division play, the lone exception being Philadelphia's Week 4 loss at Chicago. Everyone in the East is at .500 or better, which is merely a continuation of 2007, when the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins all went to the playoffs and Philly finished 8-8. If ever there was a division that deserved to send all four teams to the postseason, this year's NFC East would be it. Alas, it can't happen in the 12-team playoff format.
* Team on the move: Washington.
* Best game: Dallas 41, Philadelphia 37, Week 2.
* Best player:Tony Romo, Dallas, quarterback.
* Best rookie:DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia, receiver.
The South appears ready to rise again, with two teams (the Panthers and Bucs) off to winning first months, the 2-2 Saints starting to put it together and the new-look Falcons, also at 2-2, holding their own. Four teams at .500 or better means nobody is likely to run away with the division. Tampa Bay is the hottest team of the group at the time, having won three straight after losing at New Orleans on opening day. This division plays some run defense. The Bucs (zero), Panthers (one) and Saints (three) have combined to give up just four touchdowns on the ground so far.
* Team on the move: New Orleans.
* Best game: Carolina 26, San Diego 24, Week 1.
* Best player: Drew Brees, New Orleans, quarterback.
* Best rookie: Matt Ryan, Atlanta quarterback.
Last year this was the most lopsided division in the NFL, with the mighty Patriots winning 16 games in the regular season and the rest of the East combining for 12. So raise your hand if you had New England, which scored an NFL-record 589 points in 2007, pegged to rank last in the AFC East in that category in '08, at 16.3 per game, trailing the Jets (28.8), the Bills (27.3) and even the Dolphins (20.7). My, what a difference a Tom Brady knee injury makes. The division is a combined 9-5, with 1-2 Miami the lone losing team, and the 4-0 Bills' return to prominence is one of the stories of the year.
* Team on the move: Buffalo.
* Best game: Miami 38, New England 13, Week 3.
* Best player: Brett Favre, New York Jets, quarterback.
* Best rookie: Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo, cornerback.
For a division that produced three playoff teams (Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee) last season and had its last-place team (Houston) at 8-8, things have been pretty tough in 2008. The offensive line injuries to both the Jaguars and Colts robbed those South favorites of much of their mojo in September, but you get the feeling that the worst is over and they're both about to start making a move. The 4-0 Titans have the most dependable winning formula in the NFL right now, earning 17-, 19- and 13-point victories, respectively, the past three weeks -- a feat unmatched in the league this year.
* Team on the move: Tennessee.
* Best game: Jacksonville 23, Indianapolis 21, Week 3.
* Best player: Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee, defensive tackle.
* Best rookie: Chris Johnson, Tennessee, running back.
If you loved those high-scoring shootouts in the old AFC West, this year's AFC West turns every weekend into Throwback Weekend. The Chargers (34.5) and Broncos (33.3) rank 1-2 in the league in points per game, and nobody in the division can stop anyone -- all four teams are giving up at least 24.3 points per game). The Chiefs and Raiders drag down the division's ranking, but Kansas City proved last Sunday that even the last-place team can put a whipping on the first-place team (Denver) in the wild, wild West. If Oakland ever learns how to protect a fourth-quarter lead, things could get really interesting.
* Team on the move: San Diego.
* Best game: Denver 39, San Diego 38, Week 2.
* Best player: Jay Cutler, Denver, quarterback.
* Best rookie: Eddie Royal, Denver, receiver.
Is there a division with less going for it at quarterback? An injured Aaron Rodgers leads a pack that also includes Jon Kitna, Kyle Orton and Gus Frerotte. No wonder the North is 5-10 overall, with no one above .500 and very little sizzle beyond Adrian Peterson in the open field. The Packers looked as if they'd be the class of the North when they ripped off two division wins to open the season, but losses at home to Dallas and on the road to Tampa Bay (by an average of 10 points) have taken the wind out of their sails. As for the tied-for-first-place Bears, two sloppy fourth quarters are all that stand between them and 4-0.
* Team on the move: Chicago.
* Best game: Tampa Bay 27, Chicago 24 (OT), Week 3.
* Best player: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, running back.
* Best rookie: Matt Forte, Chicago, running back.
There are at least two winning teams in the division -- the 3-1 Steelers and the 2-1 Ravens -- but we're marking the AFC North down so far because of how pathetic the Browns (1-3) and Bengals (0-4) have looked. Notice I didn't say "offensive," because that's hardly a term to describe a division in which only one team is scoring at least 20 points per game (Baltimore at 21.7). On the other hand, the North's defenses are getting it done. Last-place Cincinnati is the only club surrendering at least 20 points per game (21.8), and even that qualifies as improvement for the Bengals.
* Team on the move: Baltimore.
* Best game: Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 20 (OT), Week 4.
* Best player: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh, quarterback.
* Best rookie: Joe Flacco, Baltimore, quarterback.
We could rank the NFC West last solely on the basis of the Rams being the NFL's worst team, and still defend it. But there's plenty more ammo. The division's combined record is 5-10 -- think of it as the dime-store division -- but even that's a bit deceiving because three of those wins were in head-to-head division games. Only Arizona's home win over Miami and San Francisco's home rout of Detroit were exceptions, and both the Dolphins and Lions were winless at the time. When the division's most compelling story line has been the Cardinals' two-game East Coast sleep-over road trip, you know things have been both bland and bad.
* Team on the move: Seattle (by default).
* Best game: San Francisco 33, Seattle 30 (OT), Week 2.
* Best player:Frank Gore, San Francisco, running back.
* Best rookie: John Carlson, Seattle, tight end.