Ranking the NFL’s most vulnerable division winners from 2020: From iffy Seahawks to secure Chiefs

Every year, the NFL postseason picture looks different. Sounds obvious, but all too often, we assume that the previous season’s contenders will be back in the mix. In reality, everything from division winners to Super Bowl contenders are unpredictable. With that in mind, we decided to rank each of 2020’s first-place teams from most to least vulnerable entering the 2021 campaign.

Who’s most likely to keep their division crown? Who’s most likely to lose it? Here’s our rundown, from shakiest to sturdiest:

2020 finish: 12-4
Division title streak: 1 season

Russell Wilson
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All four NFC West teams have claimed a division title since 2015. The Seahawks have repeated as first-place finishers just once since Pete Carroll took over in 2010. More importantly, they should have at least two legitimate challengers. The 49ers and Rams stand out, with the former set to rebound from an injury-riddled slip to 6-10 (complete with a potentially new quarterback in Trey Lance) and the latter replacing Jared Goff with Matthew Stafford to boost title hopes. The Cardinals are facing a critical year for the Kliff Kingsbury-Kyler Murray pairing as well, so Seattle’s road won’t be a cakewalk, even if Russell Wilson always makes them playoff-caliber.

2020 finish: 12-4
Division title streak: 1 season

They’ve won the North in four of the last seven seasons, and coach Mike Tomlin has not once overseen a losing year since coming aboard in 2007, but we’re probably not talking enough about a potential drop-off in Pittsburgh. The Steelers lost five of their last six games (including the playoffs) to close 2020. And here’s the killer: Even after restructuring Ben Roethlisberger’s contract to go “all in” to win-now mode, their roster is worse than it was then. Ben is now 39 behind a shuffled offensive line that lost three starters, and while Najee Harris brings pop to the ground game, they’ve also got questions at corner and pass rusher. See also: The Browns and Ravens.

3. Washington Football Team (NFC East)

2020 finish: 7-9
Division title streak: 1 season

Ron Rivera
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There’s a case to be made they belong as favorites to repeat in the East, considering they won it in 2020 despite a QB carousel headlined by an overly conservative Alex Smith and added some intriguing pieces this offseason (Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown, Jamin Davis, William Jackson III). But new QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is nearing 39 and hasn’t played a full year since 2015. He’s fun, yes, and gives them a higher ceiling, but he’s also rarely been a steady winner. Even tougher is the history of the division, which hasn’t seen a repeat champ since the Eagles went four straight from 2001-2004. The Eagles, Cowboys and Giants are also all improved.

2020 finish: 12-4
Division title streak: 4 seasons

This might seem early for the Saints, considering Sean Payton has the longest active division-title streak behind Andy Reid. And frankly, the transition from Drew Brees to Jameis Winston may not be nearly as bumpy as some expect. You’re talking about two different styles of QB — Brees long excelling as an efficiency machine and Winston flashing as a big-play arm. But would anyone be stunned if the latter dropped 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns this year? You can win with that. The trouble arises when you consider the reigning champion Buccaneers should be formidable again, while the Falcons should also be improved.

2020 finish: 11-5
Division title streak: 1 season

Derrick Henry
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You could swap them with the Saints, to be honest. On paper, they actually seem like the safer bet to lose their crown: Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown are rock solid, but they’re noticeably worse at pass catcher and still questionable in the secondary. Another 11-win campaign feels like their absolute ceiling, even with an additional game on the schedule. Still, one look around the South, and it’s tough to find other sure things. The Colts could be sleeper Super Bowl candidates if Carson Wentz pans out, but if they’re just OK, the Titans probably aren’t going to get any serious push from the rebuilding Jaguars or Texans.

2020 finish: 13-3
Division title streak: 1 season

The Dolphins went 10-6 with Tua Tagovailoa as a rookie (and Ryan Fitzpatrick as a “relief pitcher”), so they could certainly be positioned for another, bigger run. You can’t sleep on the Patriots, who at least added enough talent for either Cam Newton or Mac Jones to sniff the wild-card mix. But it’s hard to be too worried about the Bills. They’ve got one of the best coach-QB duos in the league with Sean McDermott and Josh Allen at the helm, and some of their latest additions (Matt Breida, Emmanuel Sanders) add underrated depth. Maybe Allen can’t replicate his MVP-level numbers, but his play-making alone makes Buffalo the East team to beat.

2020 finish: 13-3
Division title streak: 2 seasons

Aaron Rodgers
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This, as you may have guessed, is based entirely on the assumption that Aaron Rodgers is back. The Packers didn’t go above and beyond to upgrade their NFC championship roster, but they’re still a proven and playoff-caliber club across the board. Matt LaFleur going 28-8 (including playoffs) since 2019 cannot be ignored. And as long as Rodgers is his QB, Green Bay will have an edge over every team in the North. In the unlikely event the Packers deal No. 12 amid their tense relationship, they’d obviously be a mystery with Jordan Love presumably under center. But even then, the Bears and Vikings both have very tough schedules.

2020 finish: 14-2
Division title streak: 5 seasons

Take it to the bank. The Chargers are primed to contend with Justin Herbert at QB, a bolstered O-line in front of him and Brandon Staley guiding their defense. But even they are probably a year away from really vying for the West title. The Broncos, on the other hand, feel like wild-card hopefuls with the Drew Lock-Teddy Bridgewater contingent, and even an Aaron Rodgers blockbuster wouldn’t guarantee them superiority. (Are you taking Rodgers, Vic Fangio and Pat Shurmur; or Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy?) There’s also this: Kansas City has won the West five straight years, and Reid has logged at least 10 wins in seven of his eight seasons atop the staff.

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