Handicapping the NFL Division Races Heading into Week 12
We are at the point in the NFL season in which things really matter. The last of the byes happen this week, and every team except for the Chiefs and Rams has played 10 games. We are entering the last turn, and we can see the homestretch ahead of us. Theoretically, every divisional race is wide open, but some are more competitive than others. In fact, several of the divisions aren't that competitive at all even though there is still a month and a half of football left to play. Here's a look at how each division breaks down (odds to win the division are from Bovada ):
Pittsburgh (-750) has won six in a row and is flying high despite their off-field distractions. They have two wins and a tie in hand over the Ravens (+750), and Baltimore has uncertainty at quarterback with Joe Flacco banged up. Big Ben is playing as well as he has in a long while, and Le'Veon Bell's absence is a total non-factor. The season series between the Steelers and Ravens is over, and it was a split, so that doesn't help the Ravens. The Bengals (+800) are tied with the Ravens right now as well, but they have lost four of five. And Marvin Lewis still coaches them, so it is a given that they will sputter down the stretch. There isn't a race here.
Shockingly, the Patriots (-8000) are in really good shape here. What an unexpected storyline in this division. The Bills and Jets are both a mess, so the only mild threat is the Dolphins (+1600). And mild is the ideal world to describe the threat. The Patriots not only have a two-game lead through 10 games, but they have also beaten Miami once already. New England lost badly to Tennessee before their bye, but they had won six in a row before that and would have to collapse badly to blow this one. Not happening.
This is such an unlikely race, with Houston (-275) having won seven in a row but still being unable to knock out the Colts (+400), who have won four in a row. It wasn't long ago that the Texans were 0-3, the Colts 1-5, and articles writing about the death of both weren't hard to find. The last loss before Indy's streak came in overtime to Houston, and that combined with Houston's two-win lead gives the Texans a clear edge here. Tennessee (+500) is tied with the Colts at 5-5 and alive. They showed how dangerous they can be in beating up the Patriots and then how inept they can be in getting crushed at Indianapolis next time out. Who knows what team will show up week to week. It's hard to have faith in them.
The Chiefs (-1400) face something that no other team has ever had to go through - scoring 50+ and still losing. But if they can bounce back from that - and there is no reason to think that they won't - then they are going to win this division. If the Chargers (+700) can win this week while the Chiefs are on their bye, though, then they trail by only a game with a head-to-head game left. And the Chargers should win this week since they play Arizona. But the Chiefs are the better team, and the Chargers have the tougher remaining schedule - Kansas City plays Oakland twice, so they have two guaranteed wins - so Kansas City is in the driver's seat.
The Bears (-225) beat the Vikings (+275) on Sunday night to move into command in the division. Minnesota has tied once, so the Bears have a win and a half in hand, and that head-to-head win. The two teams meet in the final game of the season in Minneapolis, and Chicago's goal up to that point will be to make that game irrelevant. Chicago hosts the Rams, and that's brutal, but their road games couldn't be much easier - Lions, Giants and 49ers. The Bears should be able to go at least 3-2 in their next five, which means Minnesota would have to win at least four. They visit both New England and Seattle, so that would be tough.
With the Alex Smith injury, we have chaos in the division. Washington (+180) is just a game up on Dallas (-110), and Philadelphia (+375), and their hideous 4-6 record is only two games back. Washington has beaten Dallas in their only meeting but hasn't played Philadelphia yet. And Dallas has one win over Philadelphia. Washington should be in good shape. However, with a suddenly messy QB situation, there is nothing certain here. Philadelphia could get right back into contention with three divisional wins, and both Washington and Dallas can roll if they get hot. But with the uncertainty at QB in Washington, the general incompetence of leadership in Dallas, and the deep funk Philadelphia can't seem to pull out of, anything could happen here. I'll say one thing, though - Dallas isn't as attractive in my eyes as this price suggests.
New Orleans (-6600) has won nine in a row and sets offensive records just for fun. Their QB has completed 77 percent of his passes this year. The only possible advantage that Carolina (+1200), trailing the Saints by three wins, has, is that they play New Orleans twice in the last three games of the year. But New Orleans plays Atlanta, Dallas and Tampa Bay before those games, so chances are very good the team will be 12-1 and have things all but clinched before Carolina even gets their shot. New Orleans just doesn't feel like a hot team - they are way better than that - so this one definitely feels like it is over.
Through the first 10 games the Rams (-100000) had a four-game lead on the Seahawks (+4000). Then they won the best game in league history to head into their bye. And the Rams have beaten Seattle twice. There is no race of any kind here. The Rams would have to collapse completely to blow this one. Do they look like a team that is going to do that?
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