The AFC South: The Most Competitive Division In The NFL

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The AFC South:  The Most Competitive Division In The NFL
This is one of the most competitve seasons in recent history for the AFC South.

Week 13 of the National Football League’s 2010 season begins tonight with the Houston Texans in Philadelphia to do NFL business with the Philadelphia Eagles.  Houston is coming off a 20-0 win over the division rival Tennessee Titans, while the Eagles hope to add another W to their season after losing 31-26 to the Chicago Bears last Sunday in Chicago.

At the beginning of the season most pundits and football analysts touted the NFC East as one of, if not the, most competitive divisions in the NFL.  The Dallas Cowboys, everyone’s  preseason favorite to win the NFC East (or so it seemed at the time), were being hailed as possibly the first team in league history to play in the Super Bowl on their home field, the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, which will host the championship game at season’s end.

The Cowboys have tumbled, bumbled and stumbled, and are now sitting in the NFC basement with a record of 3-8. Philadelphia, along with the New York Giants, lead the division with 7-4 marks, while the Washington Redskins have overachieved with a 5-6 record.

The AFC South, on the other hand, is much more competitive. Presently, the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars lead the AFC South with 6-5 records respectively, while Houston and Tennessee are tied for last place with 5-6 records, one whole game behind. 

The fact that the Colts are in first place is not surprising, but their record is a surprise. Indianapolis’ record at this juncture of any other season is usually somewhere around 11-2 or 12-1, not the pedestrian 6-5 they currently display.  Jacksonville’s 6-5 is a lot more like the norm for the Jaguars, except this year their expectations were not quite that lofty. 

Which team will win the AFC South this season?

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According to ESPN, at the beginning of the season Houston and Tennessee were tied for the most difficult upcoming schedule, with both teams’ opponents having a collective 2009 winning percentage of .568.  That figure notwithstanding, both Houston and Tennessee have had disappointing seasons so far.  Tom Jackson, an analyst for ESPN, actually picked the Houston Texans to make it to the Super Bowl.  I suppose it’s still possible for Houston to make it there, but the cosmos would have to align in biblical proportion for that to happen now.

Now, before I go any further, let’s take a brief look at the standings of the other six NFL divisions. 

In the AFC East, the New York Jets and New England Patriots are leading with 9-2 records, the Miami Dolphins are third with a 6-5 mark, and the Buffalo Bills are in the cellar at 2-9, a full seven games behind.

In the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are both atop the division with 8-3 records, while the Cleveland Browns are third with a 4-7 record, and the Cincinnati Bengals occupy the bottom at 2-9, six games behind the leaders with five games left on the season.

In the AFC West, the Kansas City Chiefs are alone on top with a 7-4 record, the San Diego Chargers are second at 6-5, the Oakland Raiders are in third at 5-6, and the disappointing Denver Broncos toil in last place currently at 3-8, four games off the pace.

Who will win tonight's NFL Network game in Philly?

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In the NFC North, the aforementioned Bears are leading at 8-3, the Green Bay Packers are close on their heels in second place at 7-4, the Minnesota Vikings are third at 4-7, and the Detroit Lions are flailing at 2-9, six games back.

The NFC South is led by the surprising (to me anyway) Atlanta Falcons at 9-2, with last year’s Super Bowl champs, the New Orleans Saints in second at 8-3, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (another surprise) are third at 7-4, while the Carolina Panthers are playing out the string at 1-10, a full eight games behind.

Over in the NFC West things are woeful this year. During last Monday’s broadcast of the MNF game on ESPN from Arizona, John Gruden and Mike Turico speculated out loud that this division may very well be won by a team with a record below .500.  Right now, the Saint Louis Rams share first place with the Seattle Seahawks at 5-6, the San Francisco 49ers are second with a record of 4-7, and the Arizona Cardinals, like Detroit and Carolina are playing out the string and have an abysmal 3-8 record.

So the AFC South, at least judging by the team records, is the most competitive division in the league right now.  With only one game separating first from last place, this division’s standings could turn upside down over the course of this weekend.  If Houston upsets Philly, and I think they can, and if the Cowboys beat the Colts, then Houston will jump from last place to first place, tied with both Indy and the Titans-Jaguars winner—unless the Titans win, and then all four teams will have 6-6 records.  So I guess it is true: The AFC South is the most competitive division in the NFL.

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