The Houston Texans have been out-gained by a half yard per play this season and have a minus-9 turnover margin, but they're currently in first place because the AFC South is a very bad division.
The Texans, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars have all struggled over the past few years, which begs the question: Is the AFC South the worst division in recent NFL history? Let's compare it to every division of the past 15 years, since the NFL adopted the format of eight four-team divisions in 2002.
It would be easy to just look at which divisions had the fewest total wins, but that opens the door for one team to drag a whole division down. It can also penalize whichever division drew the league's strongest teams in the rotating schedule. For example, the AFC North is on pace to average just 5.6 wins per team this season -- it doesn't help that the Cleveland Browns haven't won a game yet, or that collectively the teams drew this year's best division, the NFC East, in interconference play.
In order to go beyond wins and losses and adjust for strength of schedule, we measured every division from the past 15 years using Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings. DVOA is Football Outsiders' proprietary Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric, which looks at a team's performance on every play and adjusts based on situation and opponent, explained further here. Instead of using simple average, we looked at the harmonic mean of each team's rank in DVOA. That prevents one horrible team from having too much influence on the rating of the division as a whole. Teams are listed below with win-loss record and DVOA rank.
When looking at the worst divisions in the NFL since 2002, one division clearly stands out. The AFC South has been bad, but one division was much worse ... until Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh came along.
10. 2015 NFC East
It has been quite a turnaround for the NFC East, from one of the worst divisions in recent memory to the best division in the NFL this season. Last year, an "average" NFC East team would've ranked 21st in the league. This year, it would rank seventh. The lowest NFC East team in our ratings this year, the Giants, ranks higher (14th) than the best team did last year.