It's Week 12 of the NFL season, and the NFL division races are just beginning to heat up. While some divisions have seemingly already been won, others have as many as three teams still in the thick of things.
In my opinion, Turkey Day is the turning point of the season, when the run to the playoffs begins. Each team has played at least 10 games and has already had their bye week. Last year I did a similar article. I ended up picking six out of the eight teams correctly. Hopefully I can get a perfect eight this time around!
While the AFC East has not always been extremely competitive, this year it has proved to be one of the most interesting divisions in the NFL. The New England Patriots have gone about business as usual, with Tom Brady passing for over 3,000 yards and Wes Welker with more than 1,000 yards receiving.
While their defense may not be the best, they still are in control of this division. The New York Jets, under the guidance of Super Bowl guaranteeing coach Rex Ryan, are 5-5. They rank in the bottom half of the league in points, yards, pass yards and rushing yards. Their defense is strong, but they proved against the Broncos a strong defense doesn't always win if the offense doesn't play well.
In his third season, I think Mark Sanchez is still overrated. The Buffalo Bills started off the season great, going 4-1 and leading the division, but since then have leveled out to tie them for second in the division with the Jets. They are looking like the Bills of old again. And at the bottom of the division sit the 3-7 Dolphins, who are improving but would need a perfect end to the season to even be in contention for a playoff spot.
The Verdict: The Patriots will win the division, but the Jets will just barely grab a wild-card spot.
This year the AFC North is as competitive as ever. The Ravens and Steelers both sit at 7-3, while the Bengals are just one game back at 6-4. The squad from Baltimore have already been impressive in the division, beating the Steelers twice and the Bengals once. The offense and defense have both been strong, ranking seventh in points offensively and third defensively, and they are also tied for most forced fumbles.
Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin have developed a great partnership. The Pittsburgh Steelers have not been as solid as usual, but they are still finding ways to win games. Their defense may be getting older, but it's still only allowing 280 yards a game, second best in the league.
The Bengals have been a pleasant surprise in Cincinnati, with Andy Dalton finding great success as a rookie and the whole team playing well. And while the Browns may be 4-6, don't forget they have the top pass defense in the NFL. (Surprising, huh?)
The Verdict: The Ravens conquer the division while the Steelers get the fifth seed as a Wild Card.
The Houston Texans had a major blow dealt to them recently when it was revealed Matt Schaub's foot may likely keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season. However, with the top overall defense and second-best rush offense in the NFL, they still look in good shape to qualify for the postseason.
The Tennessee Titans have been up and down this year, and Chris Johnson has really struggled, only averaging around 50 yards a game. The Jaguars have not been impressive at 3-7, and the Colts could quite possibly go winless this season without Peyton Manning.
The Verdict: The loss of Matt Schaub does not keep the Texans from topping this weak division.
For the first time in a long time, it looks like the Oakland Raiders are favorites to win their division. For years they have had instability at the quarterback position, and the acquisition of Carson Palmer may be an end to that. Young head coach Hue Jackson has implemented a system that involves running the football and playing solid defense.
Just behind the Oakland club are the Denver Broncos. Tim Tebow has shown that he knows how to win, taking a team with no chance of making the playoffs to a .500 record in just five games. The Broncos always have a strong home-field advantage with the altitude in Denver, and that could be very valuable down the stretch.
The Chargers and Chiefs are sitting at the bottom of the division, and while the Chargers are always very good late in the campaign and could make things very interesting, the Chiefs have little to no chance without their starting QB.
The Verdict: The Raiders finally get back into the playoffs following the death of former owner Al Davis.
The NFC East has been a surprising division this season.
The supposed "dream team" Philadelphia Eagles, considered by many to be premature Super Bowl favorites, are 4-6 and third in the division. Mike Vick has been less than impressive and many of the star players have been playing under their ability. Even though they have the top rush offense in the league, they have a losing record. The only thing going for them is the fact that they have a 3-1 division record.
Instead, the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys are on top of the NFC East. Interestingly enough, the NY Giants have a net points total of zero for the first 10 games of the season. Eli Manning has been solid again, the running game has been steady and the defense has played like a Giants defense. As for the Cowboys, Tony Romo's health has proved invaluable as they attempt to get deep into the postseason this year.
The Verdict: The Giants pull away in a tight race.
All I really need to do for this slide is write duh and move on. But I won't.
The Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers are 10-0 and playing fantastically. Normally I would throw out some ridiculous statistics, but I'll save some time and just say this: The Packers offense is extremely good.
Heading down the division standings, the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears are tied for third place at 7-3. Both teams had seemingly equal chances of finishing second until last week, when Jay Cutler broke his thumb. This injury has completely changed the picture and opened the door for this young Lions team (ranked third in the NFL in points) to get into the playoffs.
At the bottom of the division sit the Minnesota Vikings, a team still very much in the rebuilding process. It looks like it may take years for them to get back in the playoff picture, however, you can never quite tell in this league.
The Verdict: The Packers win the division comfortably and get home-field advantage, while the Lions get in with a wild-card berth.
The NFC South is always an unpredictable division. For the longest time, the last-place team would always win the following year. So far this season the New Orleans Saints have been the leaders of the pack in the NFC South.
Drew Brees is leading the league with over 3,300 yards so far this season, and the Saints are ranked first in both total offense and pass offense. They can score with anyone in the league.
Sitting second are the Atlanta Falcons, who have underperformed so far this season and are only 10th in the league in pass offense. For them to be division winners in the second half, they need to create more pressure defensively.
Next come the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are under the guidance of third-year quarterback Josh Freeman. He is in a slump right now, throwing nine more interceptions so far than he did the whole of last season. He needs to have greater success throwing the football if the Bucs want to reach the playoffs.
In the cellar of the division sit the Carolina Panthers. Standout rookie quarterback Cam Newton has not only been an effective passer, but is only 60 yards behind the Panthers' top rusher.
The Verdict: My preseason Super Bowl pick Atlanta Falcons will just barely get in over the New Orleans Saints, who will get in via a wild-card berth.
This division is a bit of a no-brainer. The San Francisco 49ers have only one loss and are looking by far to be the best team in the division. Part of this is due to their top run defense. Interestingly enough, the 49ers are the worst in the league at tackling runners behind the line of scrimmage at 12 percent.
The Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams all follow in the depths of the division. The Seahawks and the Cardinals are the only two with a mathematical chance of getting into the playoffs. Unless the 49ers only win one remaining game and the Seahawks go undefeated, the San Francisco club will win the division. For a team in the bottom quarter of the lead in the three major offensive yardage categories, this looks very unlikely.
The Verdict: The 49ers win the division much too comfortably and get a first-round bye.