I like lists. They're neat and organized. So I decided to start doing a Best&Worst segment (nothing set, just as often as I want) which will either count down the 5 Best, 5 Worst, or both of a specific topic. The first one is "Divisions in Sports", in case you couldn't read the title, and this first article is the top 5. Since I find this topic interesting and it's the first of the segment I will be posting a Worst 5 soon. This list takes a look at success/talent/competitiveness in the past decade, with extra emphasis on the most recent season. Enjoy and feel free to tell me how wrong you think I am.
Honorable mention: AFC North
This one's pretty self-explanatory, and they would have made my list if there were more divisions and there was a point to doing more than a top 5. The Ravens and Steelers dominate this division, the Bengals were pretty good until recently, and the Browns could be good in a few years (Cleveland sports fans need something to look forward to). The Steelers have won two Super Bowls since 2005, made the playoffs 4 times since then, and had their 3rd Super Bowl appearance in that time period last season, although they lost. Despite being a young franchise with only 15 years of league experience, the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000 and have made the playoffs the last 3 consecutive seasons. The Bengals tapered off last season, but Cincinnati has 2 playoff appearances since 2005. The final team in the division is the Cleveland Browns, who have not enjoyed recent success but one can hope high draft picks can eventually lead them there.
5) NFC East
Before you try to tell me that this division is no longer one of the premiere ones in football, I would like to argue to the contrary. The division is not the indisputable favorite anymore, but there are still 3 viable contenders every year. Recently, the Eagles are the most successful team not to win a Super Bowl. Since 2000, they have made the playoffs 9 out of 11 seasons, lost the Super Bowl in 2004, and been in 5 NFC Championship games with a streak of 4 in a row at one point. Out of their 9 playoff appearances in the last decade, they were only bounced in the first round twice. The Giants have had similar success in the past decade with two Super Bowl appearances and a win in 2007. They have made the playoffs 6 times in that span, and have either won the division or came in 2nd 7 times. The Cowboys have suffered a bit after the departure of the 3 headed monster that was Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin. Although they have only made the playoffs 4 times, they were a team on their way up until 2010's injury filled season. Dallas also has had 6 winning seasons since 2000, eclipsing 10 wins on 3 seperate occasions. Even the lowly Washington Redskins have a playoff win in 2 playoff appearances, and have finished .500 or better 5 times (I was surprised as well), all since 2000. There has been a slight drop-off in the past few years, but I believe the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants will still be perennial NFC playoff contenders for the next 5 years.
4) NL Central
If you have not been following baseball this season you might think this division belongs on the 5 Worst list. As of today, there are four teams all within 6 1/2 games back of 1st place. The Brewers, Pirates, Reds, and Cardinals all have a chance to make the playoffs, which is saying a lot since only 8 teams make the playoffs each year. The Cardinals are struggling slightly this year as their superstar Albert Pujols has battled injuries, but he's back and I wouldn't even count out the Seattle Mariners if they had a healthy Pujols. The Cardinals have also enjoyed recent success. Since 2004, they have appeared in 2 World Series, won 1 of them, and have won this division 4 times. There have also been numerous individual awards including NL manager of the year (Tony LaRussa), Cy Young (Carpenter), rookie of the year (Pujols), and 3 MVPs (Pujols). The Brewers, Reds, and Pirates are young teams that all have promising futures. The Reds won the division last season and had the NL MVP in Joey Votto. The Pirates have not been competitive recently until this year, and the Brewers made the playoffs in 2008 and lead the division this year. Although this division may seem like the epitome of mediocrity from afar, you have to take into account the exorbitant amount of times these teams must play each other. Look for this division to be extremely competitive annually for multiple seasons to come.
3) NFC South
While composing this list I was also shocked to see two different NFC divisions make an appearance. The numbers don't lie. The NFC South has become one of the most talented divisions in football, with the Buccaneers, Falcons, and Saints all being quite respectable squads. In 2010, all three of these teams had at least 10 wins and two of them made the playoffs. The Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009, and the Falcons and Buccaneers should have continued success into the future with their very young teams. The Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2002, and I think it's a safe bet to say Matt Ryan will bring a ring to Atlanta in the near future.
2) AL East
Not much to say about this one as it speaks for itself. The AL East is the most talented division in baseball with the Red Sox and Yankees being serious possible champions every season. The Tampa Bay Rays somehow find a way to challenge these two powerhouses (despite their comparably minuscule payroll), and have even won this division 2 of the last 3 years and made a World Series appearance in 2008. A team from this division has represented the AL in 7 World Series since 2000, and the Yankees and Red Sox have won 4 titles in that span. When it comes to championships and titles, the only comparable division in sports would be the NBA Pacific which has 5 titles and 7 finals appearances (by NBA Pacific I mean the Los Angeles Lakers, as all of that was them). Count out the Lakers, and no division in the MLB, NBA, or NFL has represented their conference/division in the final game more than 4 times.
1) NBA Southwest
Quite a surprise huh? Not if you look at the numbers. This division sent 4 of the 8 2010-11 Western Conference playoff teams (Grizzlies, Hornets, Spurs, and Mavericks). The 5th team must have been at the bottom of the conference, right? Nope. The Rockets managed to still finish over .500. So all 5 teams finished over .500 and 4 made the playoffs. The Grizzlies defeated the Spurs (who won this division) in the first round, the Hornets lost to the Lakers in the first round, and we all know the Mavericks ended up winning the NBA Finals. After the 2010-11 season there is no denying the current success/competitiveness of this division, but what about since 2000? A nonchalant 4 titles in 5 appearances is nothing to scoff at (that's an 80% success rate for those not inclined in math). The Spurs have won 3 titles in 3 appearances, while the Mavericks have won 1 out of their 2 Finals appearances this past decade. A superb mix of current success with success in the past decade is why the NBA Southwest is the best division in sports.
-Alex "Skillet" Scarlett