Photo via Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press
Divisions Already Clinched:
Patriots (AFC East), Seahawks (NFC West)
Divisions Clinched Barring a Collapse:
The Dallas Cowboys are going to be the winners. They have a 2 game lead over the New York Giants and the only way they lose the division is if the Cowboys lose 2 out of their 3 games and the Giants win out, which seems very unlikely at this point. The Cowboys are a great football team and the odds that they even lose one game is slim, so them losing twice and the Giants winning out (they have no easy schedule with the Lions, Eagles, and Redskins) is almost impossible.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
Divisions Up for Grabs
The Packers are heating up in the north and look to be making a run. I fully expect them to make the playoffs at least as a wild-card (would be a feared team that no one would want to play because they are hot at the right time). In addition, I actually think they are going to come back and win this division. The Lions have a tough remaining schedule. They have to play at the Cowboys and at the Giants for the next two weeks and I expect the Lions to lose both of those games. On the other hand, the Packers have the easier schedule. They play at Chicago and then at home vs. the Vikings. The Bears are a bad team and the Vikings are a bad football team away from home. Therefore, if everything goes as expected the Packers will win both of those games and be tied with the Lions heading into Week 17 for the division lead. Luckily for us NFL Fans, they play each other in Week 17. I trust Rodgers more than Stafford and the Lions, and the Packers will be on a hot streak heading into this game, unlike the Lions who are expected to have lost 2 straight. So I will pick the Packers to win this game and the division. Another thing to note, since the Packers won the first meeting, the Packers just need to win out and have the Lions lose one of the two next games to win the division, so the odds are not that much of a long shot. That is why I think the Packers will regain control of this division and be the NFC North champions.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
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I really like the way Jameis Winston and the Bucs are playing at the moment. However, the Falcons are going to win this division. The Falcons already have the tiebreaker right now and have an easier schedule to finish. The main difference is that the Bucs have to play the Cowboys next week and the Falcons get the Niners. That should be an easy win for the Falcons and a probable loss for the Bucs. Also, the Falcons get to play the Saints at home and the Bucs have to play them in New Orleans. So that becomes a game that the Falcons should win and for the Bucs, it becomes a game that could go either way. It is not impossible for the Bucs, it is just more likely Atlanta wins the division. I still expect the Bucs to finish out with 10 wins and get the wild card spot with a win on the last Sunday of the year against Carolina. However, they will not win the division at 10 games because Atlanta has the tiebreaker or would have to lose 2 out of their next 3 games in addition to the Bucs winning 2 out of 3.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
The AFC West is one of the most intriguing divisions left to be decided. I think Kansas City will be the division winner because of their huge win on Thursday Night Football over the Raiders. They now control their own destiny and just have to win out. I expect both the Raiders and the Chiefs to win their final 3 games. However, each of the 3 games for both teams is all games that I could see them losing. They are games they should win, but I would not be surprised if any of them slips up. There are 2 divisional games left for both teams and one game against an AFC South opponent who will be fighting for a playoff spot, so none of those games will come easy. I will pick each team to win those 3 games, but I think it is likely that one team will slip up in those 6 remaining games. Whichever team does not slip up, then they will be the division winner. However, I still have to go with the Chiefs because if both teams win out, then they will be champions. Also, they have a slightly easier schedule because they have Denver at home whereas the Raiders have to go to Denver and San Diego.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
The AFC North is still up for grabs. The division belongs to the Steelers for the moment because they have a one game lead on the Ravens and have the easier schedule left. The difference in the schedules is the Steelers get the Browns and the Ravens have to play Philadelphia. They still play each other and play the Bengals. I see the division coming down to the week 16 game against each other because I think both teams will win the other remaining games. The reason why I like the Steelers is because they are the better team than the Ravens and get to play that game at home. However, both teams still control their own destiny for the division title. The Ravens, if they beat the Steelers again, will have the tiebreaker over the Steelers. Therefore, there is still a very good chance for the Ravens because the division will come down to one huge rivalry game, but the Steelers are the better team and I expect them to get that win in Week 16 and close out the title the following week with a win against the Browns.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
This is the hardest division to pick the winner because we have 3 teams still fighting for it. I think the Colts have the smallest chance of winning because they have the toughest remaining schedule left and lost their must-win game last week against Houston. They have Minnesota and at Oakland coming up, so if they lose one of those games then their season is done. The chances are very likely that they do lose one, so I think they are most likely out of the running in the AFC South.
The 2nd team in the running is the Tennessee Titans. They are probably the second most likely team to win the division but are the best team in the division. Unfortunately for them, they have to go on the road to Kansas City on Sunday, so that will probably be a loss for them which will put them one game behind Houston with two games left because Houston plays Jacksonville (assuming they win that). Then, even if the Titans do beat the Texans when they play, they will only be tied for the division and it is not known for sure who will have the tiebreaker. That game is in Tennessee and I think the Titans will win it, but a win doesn’t guarantee them a title (assuming both teams win their other game).
In the end, I actually think the Titans will shock everyone and win the division. The game in week 17 will decide the division (without having to go to tiebreakers) because each team will lose one of their next two games. The Titans losing at Kansas City and the Texans losing to the Bengals who will be fighting for Marvin Lewis’s job. And in that week 17 game I believe Tennessee will win. They are the better team overall, they have a productive quarterback, unlike whatever Osweiler is, and are at home. Those three things going for them should help put them over the top and win the division title in week 17.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
Note of Interest:
The NFL seems like they will be really happy with all these divisions coming down to the end. You have the Titans and Texans, Green Bay and Detriot, and Pittsburgh and Baltimore likely coming down to one head to head matchup. The NFL made this change to load division games towards the end of the schedule a few years ago and it has paid huge dividends in the past and especially for the end of this year.
Ryan is currently a student at the University of North Carolina. He grew up in the Bay Area and has had Raiders season tickets his entire life fostering his love for the NFL. He has founded his own sports website, thejrreport.com and works at the Sports Desk for the Daily Tar Heel. You can follow Ryan on twitter @rytime98 if you want to discuss anything sports.