NFL Standings 2013: Handicapping Closest Divisional Races

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NFL Standings 2013: Handicapping Closest Divisional Races
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There may only be three weeks remaining in the NFL's regular season, but the playoff picture is far from settled.

The race for the final wild-card spot in the AFC is certainly heating up, while the NFC is chock full of intriguing battles for divisional titles.

Aside from the Seattle Seahawks' two-game lead over the San Francisco 49ers, none of the NFC's divisional leaders hold a cushion of more than one game.

They may control their own destinies in terms of winning out, but based on how unpredictable this season has been, it's a safe bet that the unexpected will happen over the next few weeks.

Here is a closer look at the tightest divisional races being waged right now, along with predictions for how each will play out.

*Odds courtesy of Bovada

2013 NFL Standings Thru Week 14
AFC East W L T
New England Patriots 10 3 0
Miami Dolphins 7 6 0
New York Jets 6 7 0
Buffalo Bills 4 9 0
AFC North W L T
Cincinnati Bengals 9 4 0
Baltimore Ravens 7 6 0
Pittsburgh Steelers 5 8 0
Cleveland Browns 4 9 0
AFC South W L T
Indianapolis Colts 8 5 0
Tennessee Titans 5 8 0
Jacksonville Jaguars 4 9 0
Houston Texans 2 11 0
AFC West W L T
Denver Broncos 11 2 0
Kansas City Chiefs 10 3 0
San Diego Chargers 6 7 0
Oakland Raiders 4 9 0
AFC Wild Card W L T
Kansas City Chiefs 10 3 0
Baltimore Ravens 7 6 0
Miami Dolphins 7 6 0
San Diego Chargers 6 7 0
New York Jets 6 7 0
NFC East W L T
Philadelphia Eagles 8 5 0
Dallas Cowboys 7 6 0
New York Giants 5 8 0
Washington Redskins 3 10 0
NFC North W L T
Detroit Lions 7 6 0
Chicago Bears 7 6 0
Green Bay Packers 6 6 1
Minnesota Vikings 3 9 1
NFC South W L T
New Orleans Saints 10 3 0
Carolina Panthers 9 4 0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4 9 0
Atlanta Falcons 3 10 0
NFC West W L T
Seattle Seahawks 11 2 0
San Francisco 49ers 9 4 0
Arizona Cardinals 8 5 0
St. Louis Rams 5 8 0
NFC Wild Card W L T
Carolina Panthers 9 4 0
San Francisco 49ers 9 4 0
Arizona Cardinals 8 5 0
Chicago Bears 7 6 0
Dallas Cowboys 7 6 0

ESPN.com

NFC North

Only one division features a tie for first place currently, and it resides in the NFC North.

Both the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears sit at 7-6, but the Green Bay Packers and their 6-6-1 record can't yet be counted out either.

The NFC North has largely been mediocre all year long, and even though it can be argued that none of these teams will do a great deal of damage in the playoffs, it is shaping up to be an exciting race over the season's final three weeks.

As things stand right now, the Lions have the advantage.

They are a combined 3-1 against the Bears and Packers, and they also boast what looks to be a relatively light schedule down the stretch.

The biggest key to consider is Detroit's 2-0 record against Chicago. The Bears looked much better than the Lions this week as they destroyed the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night, and Jennifer Hammond of My FOX Detroit rightly points out that the Lions are lucky to be done with the Bears.

A 3-0 record is there for the taking for both Detroit and Chicago, which would give the Lions the playoff berth.

Green Bay clearly has the toughest road with games against the Cowboys, Steelers and Bears left to be played.

The Lions didn't handle the awful Philadelphia weather well in Week 14, but with three dome games remaining on their schedule, the Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson combination should lift Detroit to its second playoff appearance in three years.

Remaining Schedule

Lions: vs. BAL, vs. NYG, @ MIN

Bears: @ CLE, @ PHI, vs. GB

Packers: @ DAL, vs. PIT, @ CHI

Division-Winning Odds

Lions: -150

Bears: +175

Packers: +500

 

NFC East

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Unlike the NFC North, there are only two horses remaining in the NFC East race.

With a record of 8-5, the Philadelphia Eagles are all alone in first, while the Cowboys trail by a single game at 7-6.

Philly and Dallas had been working in lockstep for the past few weeks, but that changed in Week 14. The Eagles outlasted the Lions in a snowy affair on Sunday, while the Cowboys were embarrassed by the Bears on Monday Night Football.

Despite that, the Cowboys are still very much in the thick of things as they control their own destiny.

If Dallas is able to beat both the Packers and Washington Redskins over the next two weeks, the Cowboys' Week 17 game against Philly will essentially become a de facto NFC East title game.

With that said, there is still pressure on the Cowboys to put themselves in that position.

According to Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer, it is possible that the Week 17 game will mean nothing if the Eagles outperform the Cowboys by at least one win over the next two weeks.

Based on how wacky the division has been this year, though, it would be shocking if it didn't come down to the last game.

Although Dallas will host that game, most probably believe that Philly would be favored thanks to the recent play of Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy. That may be true, but Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has shown more flashes of greatness this season than ever before, and there is reason to believe that he can finally get the monkey of his back.

Look for Dallas to stay within a game of the Eagles heading into Week 17 before finally exorcising some of the demons that have haunted them in recent years.

Remaining Schedule

Eagles: @ MIN, vs. CHI, @ DAL

Cowboys: vs. GB, @ WAS, vs. PHI

Division-Winning Odds

Eagles: -200

Cowboys: +150

 

NFC South

The Carolina Panthers had a golden opportunity to turn the NFC South race upside down on Sunday when it faced the New Orleans Saints on the road, but the Saints held serve.

After getting drubbed by the Seattle Seahawks on the road in Week 14, the Saints improved their home record to 7-0 this season.

Carolina was never really in it after the first quarter as New Orleans came away with a 31-13 win. The victory was a huge one since the Saints now hold a tiebreaker over Carolina, according to Scott Rabalais of The Advocate.

New Orleans and Carolina will meet again in Week 16, but even if the Panthers win that game, the Saints will still win the NFC South provided they defeat the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their other two games.

Per David Newton of ESPN.com, the tiebreaker would likely come down to NFC record, which currently favors the Saints. That means Carolina needs to win out and hope for New Orleans to lose to either St. Louis or Tampa in addition to losing to the Panthers. That may seem somewhat unlikely, but it isn't impossible by any means.

The Panthers have fairly easy matchups on paper against the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons aside from their rematch against the Saints, so winning out is definitely in play.

Quarterback Cam Newton and the offense will need to get back in sync for that to happen, though.

Assuming the Saints play the way they did against Carolina moving forward, though, a loss to the Rams or Buccaneers is a tough sell. Quarterback Drew Brees is once again locked in, and he has his team on the precipice of a first-round bye.

Remaining Schedule

Saints: @ STL, @ CAR, vs. TB

Panthers: vs. NYJ, vs. NO, @ ATL

Division-Winning Odds

Saints: -700

Panthers: +400

 

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