The AFC North was widely judged to be the NFLs toughest division in 2011 after three of its teams qualified for the postseason, led by the Ravens, who won the division title.
But as a new season approaches, the Ravens division has been surpassed, according to several analysts at NFL.com.
The writers who contribute to the league web sites Around the League blog were asked to rank the leagues eight divisions from toughest to easiest. When the ballots were added up, the AFC North was rated just the third-toughest division behind the NFC South and NFC North.
In other words, the Ravens division was considered the toughest in the AFC, but not as tough as several NFC divisions.
The fact that the NFC South finished on top is a bit surprising considering what has happened to the New Orleans Saints this offseason, but Cam Newton's emergence creates a trio of contenders, according to the analysts.
As for the second-ranked NFC North, it was judged the best quarterback division with potentially three playoff teams.
The AFC North was called the best defensive division, and it is a help to have the revitalized Cincinnati Bengals challenge the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, according to the analysts.
The remaining five divisions were ranked in the following order 4) NFC East, 5) AFC East, 6) AFC West, 7) NFC West, 8) AFC South.
For those scoring at home, the NFC has three of the leagues four toughest divisions, according to the analysts, with the Ravens division as the only outlier.
If the AFC North succeeds in advancing three teams to the playoffs yet again in 2012, it could be hard to dispute that it remains the NFLs toughest division.