As the National Football League enters the final quarter of its regular season, the contenders for championships have been distilled from the mash of 32 teams. The fans of the dregs must come to grips with their fate. Their only solace is to check out the college bowl games to see whom their teams might draft in April.
American Football Conference
East Division: New England has stumbled the past two weeks but still leads the division by one game over the Jets and Dolphins. The Patriots split the meetings with both contenders so their game at Buffalo will weigh heavily when the tie-breakers are applied. A loss to the Bills would give Miami the tie-breaking advantage over New England. The Jets could easily make up ground versus the putrid Buccaneers, injury-riddled Falcons then probably complacent Colts. This race looks to go down to the final game of the regular season.
North Division: Only four losses to close out the regular season would prevent Cincinnati from wrapping up the division. The Bengals swept their divisional games so just one win will secure the division. However, they cannot become lackadaisical if they want to beat out the winner of the AFC West for the second seed and a first round bye.
South Division: The only remaining question here is “How hard will the Colts pursue a perfect season?” Indianapolis has already claimed the divisional crown. Merely by splitting their final four games, the Colts can earn home-field advantage for the playoffs. Due to the Jaguars 6-2 conference record, they remain in the thick of wild-card contention.
West Division: San Diego resuscitated its season with infusions of AFC creampuffs during an impressive seven game winning streak. The Chargers will step up in class in the next two weeks versus playoff contenders. Denver only trails by one game with these two having split their match-ups. The Broncos absolutely must win their remaining divisional games at home to have a shot at wresting the AFC West away from San Diego.
National Football Conference
Eastern Division: This division has provided down-to-the-wire finishes on an annual basis for several years. This year projects as yet another exciting conclusion. The Giants trail by one game but hold the tie-breaking advantage over the Cowboys; a win at home versus the Eagles is vital to keep pace while avoiding conceding the tie-breaker to Philadelphia. The Eagles currently holds the tie-breaker factoring in NFC games which might end up settling the deadlock. Dallas already has two divisional losses, both to the Giants, so the Cowboys must win their final four games, especially those two NFC East games to avoid falling behind the Giants.
Minnesota sits on the cusp of securing the division. Thanks to their sweep of Green Bay, the Vikings need only to win half of their scheduled matches to grab the divisional title and a first round bye. Minnesota has to hope that New Orleans stumbles twice in order to sneak into position for home-field advantage.
Southern Division: New Orleans has already wrapped up the NFC South. The Saints can even afford to throw in one clunker yet still receive the top seed in the NFC playoffs. One of the least successful franchises in NFL history has a realistic chance to become only the second team to finish 16-0. Atlanta and Carolina will require Herculean efforts along with some assistance from other teams to limp into the playoffs.
Western Division: Just like last season, Arizona is not playing in a consistently aesthetic fashion. However, the Cardinals will secure the division by splitting their remaining games. The Forty-Niners have teased their fans dreaming of a return to the glory years of the 80s and 90s. Unfortunately for them, San Francisco must win out and hope for Arizona to choke.