Throughout the season, I have tracked the performance of each division’s cumulative record against non-divisional opponents. The NFC East teams have had the best record for most of the season in non-divisional games, but after Week 14 the NFC South earned the best record.
While the AFC East and AFC South both have stellar records in non-divisional games, the decision for the best division in the NFL is clearly between the NFC East and NFC South. This is reflected in the rankings based solely off cumulative records in non-divisional games.
In Week 15, both the NFC East and NFC South went 1-1 in non-divisional games, keeping the NFC South a half-game ahead of the NFC East in the standings. In the NFC East, the Eagles defeated the Browns but the Redskins lost to the Bengals. In the NFC South, the Panthers beat the Browns but the Saints fell to the Bears.
Both divisions having the same success in Week 15 helps the NFC South much more-so than the NFC East, since they are currently ahead and now there are fewer games remaining for each division in the season.
Here are the updating conference standings for non-divisional games after Week 15 (Rank, Team, Record, Average Margin):
1. NFC South: 25-9 (7.15)
2. NFC East: 25-10-1 (6.47)
3. AFC South: 24-12 (3.72)
4. AFC East: 23-13 (3.56)
5. AFC North: 17-18-1 (-0.03)
6. NFC North: 12-24 (-2.81)
7. AFC West: 8-26 (-7.97)
8. NFC West: 8-28 (-9.47)
There was no change in the ordering of the rankings after the results from Week 15.
With only two weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, the NFC South has six games remaining while the NFC East has only four. The four NFC South teams all play non-divisional opponents in Week 16, and their success in those games could very well determine which of these divisions will have the top spot in the standings at the end of the season.
One thing to note in the standings is that since the NFC East has one tie (the Eagles tied the Bengals earlier in the season), they essentially will be playing one less non-divisional game than the NFC South teams. The division standings are based upon winning percentage, so the two divisions cannot possibly end the season tied.
As impressive as the NFC East and NFC South have been this season (all eight teams in these two divisions are at or above a .500 winning percentage), the AFC West and NFC West have been even more impressive for their lack of success.
Both divisions have only eight non-divisional victories on the season and both, on average, have their teams losing by well more than a touchdown in any given non-divisional game.
The AFC West has six non-divisional games left in the season while the NFC West has four. If any team in either division can pull out a victory in one of these games, it might be enough to keep that division out of the cellar in the standings.
Some of the key non-divisional pairings for Week 16 to look forward to are:
Saints vs. Lions
Falcons vs. Vikings
Panthers vs. Giants
Buccaneers vs. Chargers
Cowboys vs. Ravens
Chiefs vs. Dolphins
Raiders vs. Texans
Broncos vs. Bills
Cardinals vs. Patriots
Seahawks vs. Jets
The matchup between the Panthers and Giants jumps out as clearly the most crucial game for the divisional standings from Week 16, since it pits an NFC South team against an NFC East team.
In addition, both teams are leading their respective divisions, so each division is sending it’s best representative for this game. Not to mention that this game has very big implications for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
However, the rest of the games for NFC East teams and NFC South games are very challenging games as well.
The Saints, who had their playoff chances squashed last week with their loss to the Bears, will have little to play for as they take on the win-less and desperate Lions. The Lions have been playing much better lately.
The Falcons play against the NFC North-leading Vikings, who need to keep winning to remain ahead of the Bears in their division.
The Buccaneers play against the disappointing Chargers. But the severe under-performance by San Diego throughout the season, the Chargers still have a reasonable shot of making the playoffs and that could ignite them to play like the Chargers of the recent past.
The Cowboy also have a tough game against the Ravens, where both teams could be playing for their playoff lives in the respective divisions.