The Rams are running away with the NFC West, but several divisions are still hotly contested with 7 weeks remaining. Breakout Live breaks down the divisional races heading into week 11 of the NFL.
Despite a surprisingly bad performance at Tennessee, the New England Patriots are still in command in the division. Their big issue heading into week 11 is that they lost ground in the home field advantage race, now two games behind the Chiefs, and the Steelers are right on their tails. Their matchup in Steel Town on December 16 is looming ever larger. Miami is fading after going 3-0 out of the gate, having dropped 3 of 4, and 5 out of their last 7 games. The Bills and Jets are going nowhere, although the Bills earned bragging rights of sorts on Sunday with their blowout performance. But this division is still owned by the Patriots, who better bounce back from that uninspired effort vs. the Titans if they want to remain the kings of the AFC.
After a rough start to the season, the Steelers are taking control. After obliterating the surging Panthers last Thursday, the Steelers have their sights on a whole lot more than the division. Despite the absence of LeVeon Bell, Pittsburgh’s offense is clicking on all cylinders and appears unstoppable. They certainly won’t be stopped by the Ravens or Bengals, who are headed in the opposite direction. The Bengals are running a triage center, with injuries all over the roster. Don’t expect them to rebound. The Ravens are fading and now dealing with a Joe Flacco hip injury that may result in Lamar Jackson’s debut as starting QB. Your view of Jackson should pretty much dictate whether you are in or out on the Ravens putting together a playoff run. I’m out. As for the Browns, it’s all about the future. And that future just stunned the Falcons with 3 TD passes and a nearly perfect passer rating.
The Texans’ 6-game win streak was cooled only by a bye. But they are emerging as the favorite in the South, with the Watson-to-Hopkins combo looking as lethal as ever. They hoped to take a commanding 2-game lead in the division as they rested over the bye, but then suddenly the Titans happened. Where did that effort vs. the Patriots come from? By dominating the Patriots, the Titans are still only a game out, but back-to-back road games against the Colts and Texans await. The Colts are still hanging around with Wildcard hopes after taking down the sinking Jaguars. The reinvigorated Luck is rebounding well from last year’s injury, winning three in a row, albeit against the lowly Bills, Raiders and Jaguars. Speaking of the Jaguars, who had them losing five in a row after starting the season 3-1 and winning in dominating fashion over New England? Hands?
The West features two of the hottest teams in football in the Chiefs and Chargers. The Chiefs didn’t play like gangbusters against the Cardinals, but they keep on winning. With the Patriots dropping another game, the Chiefs have a stranglehold on the AFC’s top seed. That will be tested next Monday night when the Chiefs meet the high-flying Rams in Los Angeles (the game was moved from Mexico City). Get ready for some old-style WAC night football in that one. Meanwhile, the Chargers are charging toward a Wildcard berth, and God help whichever divisional winner ends up with the #4 seed and a home matchup with LA’s other team in the playoffs. Rivers is playing like the All-Pro he is, and Melvin Gordon sports a robust 5.4 ypc. Imagine when Bosa rejoins the Bolts. The Broncos teased us with a couple of wins out of the gate but are all but out of the Wildcard race, and the Raiders continue to chase the overall #1 pick with their paltry 6-point effort vs. the Chargers.
This is probably the most difficult division to figure out. The defending champ Eagles can’t put a winning streak together, Sunday night falling at home to the thought-for-dead Cowboys. You get the sense that the Eagles are going to hit another gear at some point – Wentz did have a great second half and Ertz was unreal – but alas, the Eagles have stumbled their way to 4-5 and two games off the division lead. Meanwhile, the Cowboys appear back from the dead, as Zeke Elliott played like a man possessed and new weapon Amari Cooper is starting to find his groove. Nonetheless, it’s the Washington Redskins who find themselves two games up in the division, coming off a surprising near-shutout of the usually potent Buccaneers. With the Texans, Cowboys and Eagles on deck for the Skins, we’ll find out quickly if they’ll remain atop the enigmatic NFC East.
The only thing clear about the North is that the Lions are going nowhere, losers of 3 in a row after a surprising stretch where they beat the Patriots, Packers and Dolphins. Otherwise, it’s a tight, 3-way race among the Bears, Vikings and Packers. The Bears might be ahead for now, but that’s tenuous at best. Their 3-game win streak consists of the Jets, Bills and fading Lions – not exactly murderer’s row. The Vikings have turned around a very slow start by winning 4 of 5, but again, against suspect competition. Their next month features road games at the Bears, Patriots and Seahawks. We’re going to learn real fast whether the Vikings are really returning to form. The Packers, despite having lost 3 out of 4 prior to Sunday’s dismantling of the Dolphins, are still in the thick of it. They face tough back-to-back road games, in Seattle on the short week and then at Minnesota, which will surely make or break their season.
The Saints are unstoppable right now and no one’s catching them in the South. After taking down the Rams and dismantling a banged-up Bengals squad, New Orleans looks increasingly like a champion with each passing week. Brees now sports an absurd 21:1 TD to INT ratio in his quest for a second title. The Panthers had looked to keep pace with the Saints, having won 3 in a row and 5 of 6, but a thrashing at the hands of the Steelers knocked them down a notch. Yet Carolina is still in great position in the Wildcard race. The Falcons and Buccaneers are coming off embarrassing losses – the Falcons at the Browns and the Bucs in an anemic performance at home vs. the Redskins. The Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter, despite his team averaging over 28 points per game, decided to yank play-calling away from his OC and call the plays himself, resulting in a 3-point offensive performance and effectively ending all hope in Tampa.
In an article that focuses on divisional breakdowns, it’s probably best just to pretend the NFC West doesn’t exist. Because ten games into the season, the Rams have nearly clinched the division. For the Rams, it’s all about vying for the top seed in the conference and avoiding a dreaded rematch in the Super Dome for the NFC Title game. Having a shot at the top seed probably means winning next Monday night in Los Angeles vs. the Chiefs, which is no small feat. Losing could effectively put the Rams 2 games behind the Saints, if Who Dat takes care of business versus Philly. I’m not counting out the Seahawks in the Wildcard race. They’ve now lost two the Rams and one to the Chargers in games that came down to the wire. So this is a team that could just as easily be 7-2 instead of 4-5. Problem is, it doesn’t get any easier, with the next two games vs. the Packers and at the Panthers to decide whether the Hawks stick around in the Wildcard.