Throughout the season I have tracked the performance of each division’s cumulative record against non-divisional opponents. With only one week of games left in the NFL regular season, the NFC South and NFC East are nearly dead even for the best record in these games.
The NFC South went 2-2 in non-divisional games in Week 16. The Falcons and Saints both had victories over the Vikings and Lions respectively, while both the Panthers and Buccaneers fell short in their games.
Other than the Giants win, the only other non-divisional game for the NFC East in Week 16 was a crucial playoff battle between the Cowboys and the Ravens. The Ravens came out on top, making the NFC East’s non-divisional record for the week 1-1.
It is worth noting that the AFC West and NFC West, the two worst divisions throughout the season that have found non-divisional wins very hard to come by, both posted at least one non-divisional victory in Week 16. The Chargers and Raiders both won out of the AFC West and the Seahawks won for the NFC West.
Here are the updating conference standings for non-divisional games after Week 16 (Rank, Team, Record, Average Margin):
1. NFC South: 27-11 (6.89)
2. NFC East: 26-11-1 (6.05)
3. AFC South: 25-13 (3.68)
4. AFC East: 26-14 (4.30)
5. AFC North: 18-19-1 (-0.24)
6. NFC North: 12-26 (-3.76)
7. AFC West: 10-28 (-6.76)
8. NFC West: 9-29 (-9.76)
There was no change in the ordering of the rankings after the results from Week 16.
One division, the AFC East, has completed their non-divisional schedule for the season. The AFC East has been impressive all season and finished with a record of 26-14 in non-divisional games on the year. Depending on the performance on the AFC South in the final week, the AFC East will finish in either third or fourth place in the rankings.
All other divisions have two non-divisional games left to play in Week 17. The top three divisions all could possibly earn the top spot in the rankings after the games are over, but the NFC South is clearly in the driver’s seat.
The NFC East and NFC South are tied in the loss column, but since the NFC South has one more victory (due to the one tie from the NFC East), if the NFC South wins both of their non-divisional games in Week 17 then they will be the champion division for the season.
The NFC East will need to strictly out-perform the NFC South in Week 17 to move to the top spot.
The AFC South has an extremely remote chance of moving to the top of the standings. They would need to win both of their non-divisional games, need the NFC East and NFC South to both lose both of their non-divisional games, and also have the scores be lopsided enough to overtake the NFC East for the tiebreaker (average margin).
Some of the key non-divisional pairings for Week 17 to look forward to are:
Falcons vs. Rams
Buccaneers vs. Raiders
Giants vs. Vikings
Jaguars vs. Ravens
It looks completely reasonable for the NFC South to go 2-0 in divisional games in Week 17 to clinch the top spot in the divisional power rankings. The opponents for the Falcons and Buccaneers have a combined record of 6-24, and both the Falcons and Buccaneers have something to play for this week. The Falcons still have a chance to win the division and the Buccaneers are still trying to make the playoffs.
In addition, neither of the two NFC East teams in action have something to play for. The Giants have already clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and the Redskins have already been eliminated from the playoffs.
We learn over and over again that anything can happen, but it certainly looks like the NFC South is the heavy favorite to be the best division in the NFL for the 2008 season.