No­vem­ber reign

7 of 8 di­vi­sion races aren’t all that close — and it’s only Week 12

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Sports - By Barry Wilner As­so­ci­ated Press

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

AFC

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.

NFC

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

AR­MANDO L. SANCHEZ/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

DAVID RICHARD/AP

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.