A lot of eyes will be on the NFC North to end the season, as Chicago, Green Bay, and Minnesota are all within two games of one another and fighting for the division crown.
But all other divisions, for the most part, have a clear favorite to win. The next closest is he NFC East, of which the Giants are currently atop of with a 7-5 record. If they can beat the 5-6 Redskins tomorrow night and the also 5-6 Cowboys end up losing to the Eagles, we can put that division race to bed as well.
This is a pretty uncommon trend in the NFL, as there are usually at least four division races within two games or less after Week 13. Take a quick look at the other league leaders:
NFC South: 11-1 Atlanta has run away with the division lead and win clinch it with a Tampa Bay loss today.
NFC West: San Francisco (8-2-1) has a two and a half game lead over Seattle and show no signs of slowing.
AFC East: New England (8-3) currently has a three game lead with all signs pointing to another division title.
AFC North: Baltimore (9-2) has a three game lead over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and will look to pull away from Pittsburgh with a win against them today.
AFC South: Indianapolis is 7-4, but trailing Houston by three games. They have yet to play one another, but I can’t see the Colts sweeping the series.
AFC West: 8-3 Denver has opened up a four game lead on San Diego and will clinch the division with a win today.
The Wild Card spots are still up for grabs, but the shape of the divisional races is great news for the NFC East and North, who will get their share of nationally televised games down the stretch (Minnesota-Green Bay is Fox’s main early game today, while the NFC East plays one other in prime time tonight and tomorrow night).
Now let’s pick. Last week I went 8-8, bringing me to 112-64 on the season. Hope everyone enjoys this week’s slate of games.
Atlanta over New Orleans
On Friday, Pardon The Interruption debated whether this was the “signature win” of the Falcons’ season. Not often that a 10-1 team gets their best win of the season at home against a 5-6 team, which we can now eliminate from the playoff race.
Jacksonville over Buffalo
Who would have thought that all the anemic Jaguars offense needed was Chad Henne? Henne himself probably didn’t expect much success taking over for Blaine Gabbert three weeks ago. But seven touchdowns to two interceptions later, they’re making huge strides.
Chicago over Seattle
Seattle will need to get Marshawn Lynch going early on offense and get to Jay Cutler often on defense. I don’t see any other path to victory for them. Jay Cutler hasn’t always been the most popular player in Chicago, but after a long week and a half of Jason Campbell, they’re happy to have him back.
Detroit over Indianapolis
The Colts don’t wow you with their overall talent, but they just have a knack for winning games. The Lions are, more or les,s the exact opposite. Many expected another playoff season for Matthew Stafford and company, but they’ve stumbled to a 4-7 record. But Detroit has kept it close with two of the league’s best teams lately and I’m taking them to upset the Colts.
Green Bay over Minnesota
Earlier in the season, Christian Ponder seemed to hold the key to the Vikings’ season on offense. Unfortunately, he’s been important for all the wrong reasons. Even with Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin to help take the load off (Harvin is missing his third straight game today), Ponder hasn’t been able to deliver when his team has needed it most. He’s facing an on-and-off Packers defense today, but I can’t see Green Bay losing this one.
Kansas City over Carolina
This game has taken on a whole meaning in the past 24 hours. And while I don’t agree with it being played today, it will go on as scheduled. I originally had Carolina winning, but Romeo Crennel has a knack for leading this Chiefs team to improbable wins (see: Green Bay last season). I expect inspired football from Kansas City today.
Houston over Tennessee
Jake Locker’s second week back from injury and who does he have to face? J.J. Watt and the Texans D-line. Not an ideal matchup, but if Locker can get a clean pocket, look for him to exploit a Texans secondary that has been out of sorts as of late. But in the end, I’m taking Houston. They have too many offensive weapons to lose this one.
San Francisco over St. Louis
Their last meeting ended in a tie, but we won’t see that this time around. Colin Kaepernick looks to be the full-time starter from here on out, but he is up against an underrated secondary. His gun-slinger mentality could hurt him a few times today. But like Houston, San Francisco has too much talent all over the field to play the way they did against St. Louis three weeks ago.
New England over Miami
New England has averaged 47.5 points their last four games. So the only question is, “by how much will they win today?”
New York Jets over Arizona
With both teams having seasons to forget, this could turn out to be an entertaining one. The Cardinals defense is still good enough to keep them in games, but it’s still up to Ryan Lindley to make plays through the air. That’s bad news for Arizona. Until he shows me something, I can’t possibly pick them.
Denver over Tampa Bay
If this game were in Tampa, I’d consider picking the Bucs. But Peyton Manning at home against a defense having trouble stopping the pass seems like a pretty safe bet. I’m also expecting the Broncos front-seven to contain Doug Martin and force Josh Freeman into making bad decisions.
Cleveland over Oakland
The Browns have been trending up over the past month and they’re fresh off of a win in which they forced eight turnovers by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Raiders are doing nothing of the sort, losing their last four. Look for Cleveland’s defense to have another big day as Carson Palmer is prone to turning the ball over himself.
Cincinnati over San Diego
With another receiver going down for the season in Mohamed Sanu, you start to wonder if the Bengals have enough to finish the season strong. They may seem “due” for a loss, but I’m betting on their formidable defense to frustrate Philip Rivers throughout the day.
Baltimore over Pittsburgh
The nature of the rivalry says that the game will be close, but Charlie Batch under center says that the Ravens will win.
Dallas over Philadelphia
The Eagles are already without Michael Vick and LaSean McCoy. Subtract DeSean Jackson (out for season) and Jason Babin (now with Jacksonville) and you have a potential bounce back game for Dallas.
New York Giants over Washington
Robert Griffin III impressed the Giants defense the first time around in what was a thrilling game. He’s been stating his case for Offensive Rookie of the Year the last two weeks, but the secondaries he’s faced haven’t been spectacular. I don’t see the Giants defense letting RGIII get comfortable in the pocket.
As far as the Giants are concerned, it will once again come down to Eli Manning and the passing game. If they come out with anything close to the firepower they had against Green Bay last week, they’ll shred Washington’s defense. I don’t expect a runaway, but the Giants should win it.
Record (Week): 10-6
Record (Season): 122-70