With only four weeks left in the season, the race for the best division in the NFL has become a two-division sprint.
The NFC East and NFC South are separated by mere percentage points in cumulative records in non-divisional games on the season, and both have an average scoring margin of slightly over a touchdown in its team's favor in non-divisional match-ups.
The NFC East has been atop the standings the entire season, but the NFC South has been hot in pursuit, especially in recent weeks.
The NFC East, once thought as a lock to get three playoff teams in, currently only has the division leading Giants in the playoffs as of today. It is the surprising NFC South, led by the miraculous performance of the Falcons, which has three teams currently in the playoffs if the season were to end today.
The NFC East and NFC South both went undefeated in Week 13. In the NFC East, the Cowboys defeated the Seahawks and the Eagles routed the Cardinals. In the NFC South, the Panthers edged the Packers and the Falcons beat the Chargers.
Here are the updating conference standings for non-divisional games after Week 13 (Rank, Team, Record, Average Margin):
1. NFC East: 24-7-1 (7.53)
2. NFC South: 24-8 (7.06)
3. AFC South: 19-11 (2.63)
4. AFC East: 20-12 (3.34)
5. AFC North: 14-15-1 (0.48)
6. NFC North: 9-21 (-4.03)
7. AFC West: 8-24 (-7.13)
8. NFC West: 7-25 (-10.06)
For the first time in several weeks, there was a change in the ordering of the rankings. The AFC South jumped ahead of the AFC East after the AFC South’s poor performance in Week 13. The rankings are based on winning percentage, and the AFC South has a better winning percentage than the AFC East by about one percentage point.
With the season winding down, the AFC South and AFC East are all but eliminated for the possibility of achieving the top spot in the rankings. Both divisions would likely need to win the rest of their non-divisional games and need some help from the NFC East and NFC South.
Some of the key non-divisional pairings for Week 14 to look forward to are:
Cowboys vs. Steelers
Texans vs. Packers
Jets vs. 49ers
Patriots vs. Seahawks
The NFC South has no non-divisional games in Week 14 and will sit back while the NFC East plays two tough non-divisional games. A loss in either of the two games for the NFC East would push them out of the top spot in the rankings for the first time this season.
Both of the non-divisional games for the NFC East look like great games on paper.
The Ravens are playing their best football of the season and still have hopes of challenging the Steelers for the division title, while the Redskins desperately need a win to remain in the NFC playoff picture.
The Cowboys prolific offense takes on the Steelers stingy defense in a match-up of two of the most prestigious franchises in NFL history. The Cowboys also need a victory to help their playoff chances.