Patriots Favored to Get No. 2 Seed in AFC While NFC Division Races Expected to Come Down to Final Weeks


December 5, 2012

Karlos Dansby, Aaron HernandezThe Denver Broncos and New England Patriots have already wrapped up the AFC West and East, respectively. The Houston Texans are about to wrap up the AFC South and could take a huge step toward the AFC’s No. 1 overall seed by beating the Pats on Monday night. In fact, Houston would clinch the top seed with a victory and losses by the Ravens, Colts and Broncos.

The only AFC division leader yet to clinch a playoff spot is Baltimore, and the Ravens have a two-game lead over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and hold the tiebreakers. They could clinch the North on Sunday with a win over Washington and losses by the Steelers and Bengals.

Look for a prop on which team wins the No. 2 seed in the AFC at Bovada. New England has the head-to-head tiebreaker with Denver but not with Baltimore thanks to their crushing 31-30 Week 3 loss. The Ravens close with four games against potential playoff teams, while the Broncos have games against three of the worst clubs in the NFL and a visit to Baltimore.

That leaves the NFC if you want late-season divisional race drama. The NFC South is already in the books, with the Atlanta Falcons clinching their division. Matt Ryan and Co. can clinch the conference’s top seed with a victory in Carolina on Sunday and losses by the Bears, Packers and 49ers. But the other three NFC division races could go down to the final week. Bovada will offer updated division odds in its Week 14 specials. Until then, here is a look at the three NFC races (none of the three can be clinched this week):

NFC West: San Francisco (8-3-1) would have the division wrapped up by now if it could figure out the St. Louis Rams, who tied the Niners once and then beat them last week — 26 seconds before another tie. The only team that has a chance to catch San Francisco is Seattle (7-5). The Seahawks got a huge overtime win in Chicago in Week 13. They close with three of four at home, where Seattle is unbeaten. The Seahawks are a 10.5-point favorite this week against plummeting Arizona. Seattle does host the 49ers in Week 16, which could decide things. San Francisco will also be coming off a huge game in New England the week before.

The Seahawks’ division chances could be determined on the appeals of starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, perhaps the NFL’s best duo. They each tested positive for violating the NFL’s drug policy and were suspended four games, but they are allowed to play while appealing. Sherman’s case will be heard Dec. 14, while Browner’s date is still to be announced.

NFC North: Chicago’s loss to Seattle and Green Bay’s win against Minnesota has the Bears and Packers tied at 8-4. The Packers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker courtesy of a Week 2 23-10 win over the Bears. The two meet again in Week 15 in the Windy City.

The Packers, who have won 10 straight NFC North games, will be division favorites because Chicago closes with three of four on the road, although the Bears could be favored in all three (Minnesota, Arizona and Detroit). One big problem for the Bears is that they likely won’t have middle linebacker Brian Urlacher for the rest of the regular season because of a hamstring injury. It’s certainly conceivable that Green Bay and Chicago play again in the wild-card round.

NFC East: The New York Giants were looking strong, but suddenly the Washington Redskins (6-6) and Robert Griffin III look like the team to beat. RG3 led Washington to its third straight win Monday night, 17-16 over New York, to move within one game of the Giants’ division lead. Dallas is also a game back.

During Washington’s winning streak, Griffin has a 140.0 passer rating and nine touchdown passes, leading the NFL in both in that stretch. The Redskins close versus Baltimore, at Cleveland, at Philadelphia and versus Dallas. The Giants’ remaining schedule is against New Orleans, at Atlanta, at Baltimore and versus Philadelphia. The Cowboys visit Cincinnati and host Pittsburgh and New Orleans before closing at Washington.

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