The NFL season is about to kick it up another notch this weekend as many teams are within striking distance of a playoff berth with only four games to go.
After Monday night’s devastating win over New Orleans, there’s no doubt that Seattle is the team to beat in not just the NFC but the entire league. The Seahawks’ defense continued to suffocate the game’s top quarterbacks as Drew Brees couldn’t do anything on the road.
Aside from Seattle, however, is a storm of mediocre teams in the AFC and legit contenders in the NFC battling for either a divisional title or one of the two wild cards.
Seattle has the NFC West all but wrapped up and needs a win over San Francisco on Sunday to clinch the crown and a first-round bye. But don’t count the 49ers out from winning the division, although it’s an extreme long shot. Three games separate the two teams but a San Francisco win could make the last three weeks interesting, especially with the 49ers getting healthy.
The closest battle in the NFC, though, is occuring in the southern division between the Saints and Panthers.
Cam Newton and Carolina are rolling with the defense shutting down the opposition during its two-month winning streak. New Orleans, though, got a reality check against Seattle but could respond stronger as two of the next three games are against Carolina. Both teams sit at 9-3 but both should make the playoffs.
The NFC East is just as exciting with the Cowboys and Eagles both sitting at 7-5. The final week of the season could determine the divisional champ as they meet each other in Dallas. But how often have we heard about the Cowboys not finishing the job? It could be another case of déjà vu.
The NFC North was Green Bay’s division to lose and thanks to several key injuries, including a collarbone break with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, it opened the door for the Lions and Bears to sneak in. Detroit holds a one-game lead over Chicago and a two-game advantage over Green Bay. Rodgers could return on Sunday and propel the Packers to another divisional title.
The AFC appears more wide open with at least two to three teams still alive in each division.
Denver separated itself more by winning both meetings with previously undefeated Kansas City but only holds a one-game lead in the West. The Chargers are not quite out of the wild-card hunt as the second one belongs to a 6-6 team. San Diego sits at 5-7.
The Patriots and Colts both hold three-game leads in the East and South, while the Bengals are doing their best to make the North a challenge.
New England has won two in a row to sit at 9-3 and Indianapolis is at 8-5 after winning for the first time in the last three games. Remember when the Colts knocked off the undefeated Broncos? Feels like a long, long time ago.
The Bengals have a two-game lead in the North but the Ravens (6-6) and Steelers (5-7) are still in position to win the division. But Baltimore, however, is tied with Miami for the second wild card, leaving Pittsburgh only one game out. Three other teams are tied with the Steelers, which will make the last four weeks intriguing.
If the excessive unnecessary roughness penalties haven’t gotten to you, prepare for an exciting final stretch of football games this month as two-thirds of the league are still in the hunt for the playoffs.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at email@example.com.