Now that all teams in the National Football League have played at least half of their scheduled games, a halftime report is appropriate. Only one undefeated team and one winless team remain. Two teams have won exactly one game while only one team has a single loss. So many divisional races remain so close that more than one team clinching a playoff berth appears very unlikely.
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
East Division: The Patriots, Jets, and Bills have five wins and three losses; that trio also has one loss and at least one win within the division as well. Those three have beaten one of the other two and lost to the other one. The divisional crown will probably not be decided until New Year’s Day when Buffalo visits New England. Miami is just hoping to win the “Suck for Luck” sweepstakes.
Northern Division: Cincinnati’s opportunity to show its mettle occurs over the next four games, all within the division. Pittsburgh has fallen further behind the divisional leaders than the half game deficit indicates. The Steelers lost both games versus Baltimore. Winning at least one of the two upcoming games against the Bengals is essential to the Steelers’ post-season ambitions. If Baltimore can sweep both games versus Cincinnati, then the divisional crown will belong to the Ravens.
Southern Division: Houston remains on pace to secure the first divisional title and playoff appearance in the franchise’ history. The Texans have won the initial meeting with all three rivals in the AFC South. Tennessee has to pray for either Indianapolis or Jacksonville to upset Houston then knock off the Texans in the regular season finale for any chance at winning the division. Colts’ fans continue to experience nightmarish flashbacks to the pre-Peyton Manning era.
Western Division: This race stands out as the tightest in the NFL. Three members have exactly four wins and the same number of losses and are tied for first place. Last place Denver trails them by only one game. San Diego and Kansas City split their head-to-head- matches. The Broncos and Chiefs will square off versus each other for the first time this season during this week; the Chargers and Raiders will do the same. This bottleneck is all-or-nothing since these teams with mediocre records have no realistic chance to qualify for the playoffs without winning the division.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
Eastern Division: The Giants control this division but not with an iron grip. They have a two game lead over the Cowboys and by three games over the Eagles. However, New York has yet to play Dallas. While this race figures to remain tight through December, the Giants could probably emerge as the winner of the NFC East. That would be accomplished by splitting those two matches versus the Cowboys coupled with wins over the Eagles and Redskins.
Northern Division: The defending Super Bowl champions appear set to wrap up the division and home-field advantage before the end of November. However, the Packers’ date on Thanksgiving Day could inject some food poisoning into their holiday feast. The Lions only trail the Packers by two games and have not yet played Green Bay. Chicago’s chances of grabbing the divisional title seem bleaker. The Bears have already lost to both Detroit and Green Bay while trailing the Packers by three games.
Southern Division: This three-way race is much closer than the records indicate despite New Orleans leading Atlanta by a game and Tampa Bay by one and a half games. The Saints split its meetings with Tampa Bay and has yet to face Atlanta. While most of the country celebrates Christmas and New Year’s Day, these three teams will be battling fellow NFC South opponents to settle the divisional championship.
Western Division: San Francisco should clinch the first playoff spot in the league. With a five game lead with eight left to play in the most top-heavy group in the NFL, only a titanic collapse such as losing all five remaining divisional games could deny the Forty-Niners their first playoff berth in several years.
COPYRIGHT BY CHARLES KASTRIOT NOVEMBER 2011