7 of 8 division races aren’t all that close — and it’s only Week 12
Sorry, Yogi. Maybe before it’s over.
Just take a look at most of the NFL division races.
The NFC West will be over if the Seahawks lose at Carolina on Sunday. The AFC West looks done in favor of the Chiefs.
Both South divisions are runaways, for the Saints in the NFC and the Texans — yes, the formerly 0-3 Texans — in the AFC.
The Steelers appear to be more in a race for the top AFC seed than any challenge in the North. The Bears have a choke hold on the NFC North.
And did anyone think the Patriots would be challenged in the AFC East? Combine the three other rosters and the resulting team might not challenge Tom Brady and Co.
That leaves one division in serious doubt and with some serious turmoil: the NFC East.
You’ll never hear a coach or general manager or owner claim anything is in the bag until, well, it’s in the bag, tied up and secured in a safe place. So don’t ask Sean Payton or Sean McVay or Matt Nagy about playoff byes and home-field advantages.
“For us, there’s so many different things we can get better at,” McVay said, “and that’s the exciting thing about it is with football, there’s this never-ending goal of continuing to improve and focus on the little things. Whether that’s situational football, whether that’s taking care of it or taking it away defensively. So there’s a lot of things within the framework of every single situation.
“Then it’s going to be about continuing to improve and playing team football. If we do that, then we think good things are going to happen, but it’s going to be a tough stretch. We’ve got some great games coming up. For us, when we get back, the No. 1 focus will be on the Detroit Lions and then we’ll go from there.”
But it’s crystal clear what’s going on, even before we reach December.
Barring major injuries — the kind of thing that is destroying the season for the Eagles, Falcons and Bengals, among others — here’s what is going on:
it is over
The most interesting race is for which teams will wind up with a week off in the postseason. The Chiefs (9-2) have the inside position, followed by the Steelers (7-2-1), Patriots (7-3) and Texans (7-3). Sure, the Chargers (7-3) could sneak through in the West and the Colts or Titans in the South. Does anyone really believe that will happen?
Home field is a huge edge for the Patriots, of course. They almost never lose in Foxborough in January.
Oddly, the Chiefs rarely win in KC in the postseason. They have lost their last six and haven’t won at Arrowhead Stadium in the playoffs since 1993, when Joe Montana was their quarterback.
The Steelers aren’t particularly dominant at Heinz Field in the playoffs, either, but the Texans are 3-1 at home in January.
The Chargers have a nice cushion for a wild card and do have a Thursday nighter in Kansas City remaining. No other team has a winning record in the conference.
The Steelers have the least enviable remaining schedule with home games against the Chargers and Patriots and a visit to New Orleans. The Patriots’ only other likely test is against the up-and-down Vikings at Gillette Stadium.
The Chiefs have that home game with the Chargers and a trip to Seattle as their most challenging games, while the Texans have no one remaining that has a winning record and have won seven in a row.
Look for the Chiefs and Patriots to lock up byes, with the Chargers and — a wild stab — the Colts grabbing wild cards.
The Thanksgiving Day victory with backup quarterback Chase Daniel said a lot about the Bears (8-3). They are as opportunistic as anyone, and their defense is the best of any contender. They do get the Rams (10-1) on Dec. 9 but at Soldier Field, and they still have matchups with the Packers and Vikings — neither of whom is balanced enough to put together a closing streak.
The Saints (10-1) own a win over the Rams, which could be decisive in the race for top seed. Still, the Saints have trips to Dallas and Carolina and home games with the Steelers and Panthers, perhaps the most testing schedule remaining.
The Rams, meanwhile, face only one opponent (the Bears) with a current winning record the rest of the way.
The Cowboys (6-5) have the inside track in the East, especially owning wins over the Redskins (6-5), who have lost quarterback Alex Smith, and the Eagles (4-7). That might be the only division race in question come late December. Don’t count on it being undecided.
Of prime interest, though, will be the chase for the wild card. Plenty of big matchups remain, beginning Sunday with the Seahawks at the Panthers, who also have those two games left against the Saints.
The Packers have an easier remaining schedule than the Vikings, and the Seahawks, like the Panthers, have a tough road.
Look for the Rams and Saints to earn byes, with the Panthers getting a wild card. The other? Ask around Christmas.
Tom Brady needs four TD passes to break Peyton Manning’s record of 579, counting the postseason. Brady hasn’t had four in a game all season.
Marshawn Lynch went on injured reserve four games ago but is still the Raiders’ leading rusher with 376 yards.
Doug Martin has 333.
Lamar Jackson rushed for 117 yards on 27 carries in a win over the Bengals last week in his first start in place of injured quarterback Joe Flacco.
Second-year WR JuJu SmithSchuster had four catches for 74 yards during the Steelers’ final two drives in a comeback win vs. the Jaguars.
DeAndre Hopkins tied a team record with a TD catch in five straight games. He had one during a Week 2 loss to this week’s opponent, the Titans.
Adoree’ Jackson had an interception to go with six tackles earlier this year vs. the Texans. He had nine tackles in a 38-10 loss to the Colts last week.
— Los Angeles Times
Allen Robinson, top, and the Bears are rolling toward an NFC North title, while Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are in control of the AFC West.