The first division title has been clinched, with seven more remaining. Races are on in the NFC West (gag), AFC West, AFC North, and AFC South. Chicago clinched the NFC North; Atlanta is in firm control of the NFC South; Philadelphia looks to have the NFC East. Of course, besides division titles, there are two Wild Cards in each conference. Those seem to be solidified as well; North and East in the AFC; South and East in the NFC. But there are still head-to-head matchups that will determine things clearly. Let's go!
1.) Atlanta (12-2) [no change]
Three weeks on the road, three wins for the Falcons. The NFC is theirs for the taking, with the last big game of the season coming this Monday against New Orleans. It's at home, which means Atlanta has a huge advantage. New Orleans will be coming off a loss, though, and this game is clearly one of the biggest of the season. After this, the Falcons get Carolina.
2.) New England (12-2) [no change]
It was a bit unlike the Patriots we've seen recently on Sunday Night. They let Green Bay hang around for pretty much the whole game, and really only won based on three plays: Kyle Arrington's INT, Dan Connolly's kickoff return, and Green Bay's inability to get a play off at the end. Still, they have a couple gimmes at Buffalo and home for Miami. Could be an 8-game winning streak for the hottest team in the AFC.
3.) Philadelphia (10-4) [+2]
What a finish. 28 points in 7:28, and the Giants looked utterly terrible as a result. DeSean Jackson may be one of the biggest arrogant showboating jerks in the entire league, but the guy can play, and he sure is effective when it counts most. Michael Vick is having a heck of a season too. If it wasn't for Tom Brady, Vick would be the runaway MVP. And Offensive Player of the Year in the NFC. And Comeback Player of the Year in the NFC.
4.) Baltimore (10-4) [+2]
Another close shave, but this time the Ravens put the screws on when it mattered most. Even Drew Brees was rendered helpless. And thanks to the Steelers yakking one up at home, Baltimore is still very much alive for a division title. Surprisingly, Cleveland is the team that could determine this race; they play Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the last two weeks, and if they pull an upset, it could well determine the division winner.
5.) NY Jets (10-4) [+3]
Mark Sanchez got back into a groove, and ran in a TD that essentially sealed the game for the Jets. A heck of an upset, until one considers that Troy Polamalu wasn't playing. Still, the Jets needed a win badly, and they got it. They're in the running for a Wild Card, and since they're a couple wins ahead of the Chargers, it's likely they can hold down that spot and keep the AFC West to one representative in the playoffs.
6.) Chicago (10-4) [+3]
The first team to clinch a division was the Bears. I could have sworn they would fall off...but they haven't. More power to 'em. They're set to win a playoff game at home now, provided Jay Cutler plays well and the o-line can keep up from getting crushed. It's chic to continue to question them, it seems, but now that they're in the playoffs and are going to host a game...it's hard to say that they can't win.
7.) Pittsburgh (10-4) [-4]
A thoroughly disappointing game for the Steelers. Without Troy Polamalu, they apparently didn't have quite enough defense. Ben Roethlisberger is not blameless, either; he handed the ball off to Mewelde Moore and got a safety out of it, and failed on two opportunities to score the game-winning TD. Ben is beat up, to be sure. But that was a game the Steelers should have won, and didn't. Now they have a race on their hands with the Ravens.
8.) New Orleans (10-4) [-4]
Unfortunately, when two teams in the Rankings play each other, the loser has to move down. So this is not an indictment of the Saints. They played well; they just didn't win. Given Atlanta's hold on the NFC South, New Orleans is likely headed on the road in the first round of the playoffs. It sucks, but unless they have to go to Chicago, it shouldn't be extraordinarily difficult.
9.) Kansas City (9-5) [-]
Matt Cassel returned from an appendectomy and the Chiefs pulled out a convincing win in St. Louis. They now have two winnable home games while the rival Chargers have two road games. It's looking like the Chiefs will win the AFC West and the Chargers will be left behind. To that I can only say: Good.
10.) NY Giants (9-5) [-3]
One would think being up 31-10 with that defense would be a gimme. And yet, what did the Giants do? They gave it up. Now they have to win two games to secure a Wild Card, with this week's matchup against the Packers critical. Green Bay has the advantage with Aaron Rodgers coming back and playing both games at home. The Giants' problems with their defense and their special teams (and on occasion some offensive bumbling as well) could keep them out of the playoffs, which looked so obviously in reach just a couple weeks ago. I can't say I'm displeased.
Thanks for reading. See you next week.