The Bears and Steelers blow big chances, while the Cowboys, Chargers and Ravens keep surging up the ranks. Breakout Live breaks down the divisional races and battle for top seeds heading into week 14 of the NFL.
The New England Patriots have a stranglehold on this division once again and can officially clinch the division title this Sunday at Miami. The Patriots’ dominance of the AFC East is historic. They’ve won or shared the division title 16 straight seasons, only failing to win the division outright in 2008, when they tied the Dolphins at 11-5 after Tom Brady’s season-ending injury to start the season. Whether it happens this week or not, the Patriots are taking home another AFC East title. They will set their sights on the top seed, where they trail the Chiefs by a single game but hold the tiebreaker. The showdown in Steeltown in two weeks is a big one.
Speaking of the Pittsburgh Steelers, they blew a chance to remain in the hunt for the AFC’s top seed in the second-half meltdown vs. the Charges on Sunday night. Compounding the problem, the Steelers now only find themselves a half-game ahead of the surging Ravens for the division title. With matchups against the Patriots and Saints in the coming three weeks, things could get nervy in Pittsburgh. They shouldn’t have any problem making the playoffs, but if they continue to play error-prone football while the Ravens press on with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Steelers could find themselves fighting for a 6-seed and facing some tough road games in the playoffs. And it doesn’t get any easier with James Conner’s injury. The Baltimore Ravens have fought their way back into the divisional title conversation with three wins against some very bad teams. But if Jackson can continue to manage the offense while the defense performs as the NFL’s best, the Ravens might just have a shot. But road games at the Chiefs and Chargers in the next three weeks will have a big say in whether that happens.
What a difference a week makes. Prior to Sunday’s game, the two hottest teams in football looked like they might take the divisional race down to the wire. But the Indianapolis Colts and Andrew Luck were absolutely stifled in Jacksonville, getting shut out after averaging 35 ppg during their 5-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the Houston Texans won their 9th in a row and sit a full three games atop the division, all but locking up the title. A win by the Texans this Sunday at home over the Colts will officially end the South race. Just as importantly, the Texans are now within a game of the conference’s top overall seed.
The Kansas City Chiefs winning the AFC West has seemed a foregone conclusion for many weeks now. The only problem: the Los Angeles Chargers just won’t go away. The Chiefs shook off the Hunt scandal to hang 40 on the Raiders and take their record to a conference-best 10-2. But with the Chargers staging an improbable rally in Pittsburgh Sunday night, the Bolts remain just a game back of the division and the top seed in the conference. As both teams face a number of tough opponents in the season’s final four weeks, the Chiefs/Chargers tilt in Arrowhead on December 13 could go a long way in deciding the division title.
The NFL’s craziest division didn’t get any less complicated after week 13. The Dallas Cowboys suddenly look like an actual contender after stifling the high-powered Saints last Thursday night. Meanwhile, the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles, who haven’t been on anyone’s radar for most of the season, have surged to within a game of the division lead after beating up the beleaguered Washington Redskins, who lost yet another quarterback to a leg injury. The East picture could get a lot clearer after this Sunday’s Cowboys/Eagles game in Big D. The Redskins only remain a game out, but it’s highly unlikely that newly signed third-stringer Mark Sanchez will lead them out of the abyss created when Alex Smith went down a few games ago.
The Chicago Bears lost a big opportunity to take essentially a 3-game lead on the Minnesota Vikings by losing to the New York Giants last Sunday. As the entire division lost in week 13, nothing has really changed, other than Minnesota is running out of time to catch the Bears. The Bears have a tough matchup at home this Sunday against the Rams; but the Vikings don’t have it any easier, having to head into Seattle for a battle with the red-hot Seahawks on Monday night.
This divisional race is effectively over with the New Orleans Saints maintaining a 4-game lead over the Carolina Panthers with just four games remaining and the Panthers in full meltdown. But as has been the case for many weeks, the battle for the NFC’s top seed is a two-dog race between the Saints and Rams. The Saints stumbled against the Cowboys and saw their unstoppable aerial attack grounded, setting them a game back of the Rams for the #1 seed. But the Saints have a very winnable final four games, with two against the aforementioned demoralized Panthers. And with their head-to-head tiebreaker against the Rams firmly in hand, expect the Saints to vie for the top seed the rest of the way.
Unlike the South, the West is not effectively over. It’s just plain over. The Los Angeles Rams were the first team this season to clinch the division title on the back of their somewhat ugly win in Detroit. Like the Saints, the Rams turn their attention to the #1 seed in the NFC. But despite having the one-game lead over the Saints, the Rams’ road is a little rockier. They head to Chicago on Monday night to face the rough Bears’ D in what will be consecutive road matchups against the Norse division. Then they head home to play an Eagles team that’s suddenly risen to playoff contention. Expect the battle for the NFC’s top dog to last until the final week.