The race to the 2016 NFL Playoffs is going to be absolutely wild, but which team wins the two craziest divisions in the AFC North and NFC North?
The Detroit Lions are a half-win out of first place in the NFC North. The Cincinnati Bengals are a half-win out of first place in the AFC North. The two North divisions have taken wild turns this past month, and I don’t know what to make of them.
With three teams practically tied atop each division, who ultimately wins the AFC North and NFC North this season? Which team has what it takes to reach the 2016 NFL Playoffs
Two brothers from New York, Dan Salem and Todd Salem discuss the NFL Playoffs race in today’s NFL Sports Debate.
The reasons for such competitiveness in the North divisions are obvious. Both the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers have collapsed, each losing three-straight games. Minnesota was a perfect 5-0 before injuries along the offensive line caught up with it. Now offensive coordinator Norv Turner has left and the offense looks anemic, scoring 36 points in the last three games combined. Pittsburgh has also collapsed thanks to an injury to Ben Roethlisberger and a semi-tough schedule that has flattened its offense. With a game against Dallas coming up, the slide might continue.
We know the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns are not competing for division titles, but all six other teams in the Norths have legitimate cases as being division champions. Who ya got?
For me in the AFC North, I’m sticking with the Cincinnati Bengals. Sure, they haven’t beaten anyone besides the Browns since Week 4, but the schedule lets up in the second half. Cincy has four losses, all against teams that consider themselves conference-championship contenders. Three of the losses were also on the road. It could go on a big run in the final eight games.
In the NFC, I’m not as confident in anyone. I picked Green Bay before the season, as many people did, and I became a believer in Minnesota weeks ago. Now, neither one fills me with confidence. All I know is that Detroit is not the answer. Of the Packers’ eight remaining games, five are on the road and the three home games are against playoff teams. It is a rough slate. The Vikings, though, have a difficult batch of opponents remaining as well.
Minnesota’s flaws scare me more than Green Bay’s. I still think the Green Bay Packers should be good. Maybe it’s foolish to pick a team just because I can’t nail down why it’s underperforming, but I am going with Green Bay as the likeliest NFC North champion through nine weeks. The running game is in shambles and I no longer have complete trust in Aaron Rodgers; he has lost the benefit of the doubt. But the pieces are all still there in Green Bay.
The North divisions of both the AFC and NFC consist of the most schizophrenic teams in the league. Setting aside the last place Browns and Bears, we have six football teams who have all won handily as well as lost in embarrassing fashion. I would normally say that I trust the team with the highest quarterback pedigree, but this season is different. Defense is winning, because everyone can pass and very few can stop it.
I do not like the Bengals in the AFC North one bit. Their point differential is a -22, despite being only a half game out of the division lead. Cincinnati is not playing solid defense, ranking 21st in the league. They are a solid ninth in the NFL at running the football on offense, but it hasn’t translated to many wins. I’m thoroughly unimpressed with their victories over the Jets, Dolphins and Browns.
The team in the AFC North that has impressed me is the Baltimore Ravens. They are playing a lot of close football games, so a 4-4 record and a +1 point differential makes sense. They may not be a great team, but they are the best team in this division. Baltimore ranks third in total defense in the league and that’s more than enough to win them football games. They get to the 9-7 record necessary to win this division.
Over in the NFC, I’m standing firmly behind the Minnesota Vikings. Their defense ranks fourth in the NFL and the team still has a +29 point differential, despite the three-game losing streak. No one in the North impresses me right now, but as the weather gets cold, I trust the Vikings defense to win the most football games in this division.
Strength of schedule also factors heavily into the NFC North winner. Green Bay plays too many road games against teams that can easily outscore them. Detroit has to play the Giants, Cowboys and Packers over its final three games of the year. Its Minnesota who triumphs in this average division.