The NFL is in an unusual position this year. As usual, there are going to be division races that likely go down to the wire. Each of the eight divisions have established contenders and pretenders, if not an established order. But the final standings in each NFL division could be the weirdest that the NFL has ever faced. Although this situation may not be likely, it cannot be ruled out either. There is a good chance that three- not one or two, but three- NFL division will have a last place team with a .500 or better record.
At the same time, there’s more of a shot that two- that’s TWO- NFL divisions could have a FIRST place team with a mere .500 record.
The sheer imbalance of the NFL this season is verging on historic. Three divisions are crammed together with possible contenders, while two division can’t give their title away, and another division is being won by default by the Arizona Cardinals. Only the AFC North and the AFC South can be considered normal. But in every single other division, the teams are either all at .500 level, or almost all threatening to have losing records.
The NFC, in particular, is one giant mess. As of Week 12 in the NFL season, the last place teams in the NFC East and NFC South all have .500 or better records. In contrast, the NFC North’s top two teams, the Bears and Vikings, are 6-5 as of Week 12- a record no better than the NFC South’s last place team, the New Orleans Saints. If the 0-11 Detroit Lions weren’t in the NFC North, the top team in that division might have a record under .500.
The NFC West is looking even more pathetic. The Arizona Cardinals have a 7-4 record, which is rare for them. But behind them is a group of laughingstocks. San Francisco is in second place with a whopping 3-8 record as of Week 12, while the Rams and Seahawks trail behind at 2-9. As of Week 12, there were only four teams with a losing record in the NFC, and the NFC West had three of those teams.
The NFC East and NFC South could possibly be two divisions with a last place team of .500 of better. Whereas in the NFC North, 8-8 might be good enough to win the entire division. However, due to the collapse of the Philadelphia Eagles, the NFC East will probably have at least one team with a losing record. But the NFC South might be a different story.
The NFC isn’t the only conference with weird division standings, however. The AFC East not only has no teams with a losing record, both the Dolphins and Bills were 6-5 as of Week 12 and tied for last place. But in the AFC West, 6-5 is good enough for the Denver Broncos to be in first place by default. The AFC East is more likely than the NFC divisions to have a last place team with an 8-8. But for the AFC West, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Broncos won the division at 7-9, a completely historic first.
In five out of the eight NFL divisions, teams are either all over .500 or better, or all of them are close to being .500 or lower. The NFC West also adds to the infamy with three teams among the worst in all of football.
Thus far, the only stable and normal divisions in the NFL are the AFC South and North. The AFC North has a nice order with Baltimore and Pittsburgh fighting for the top spot, with Cleveland having a regular 4-7 record and Cincinnati at the rear at 1-9-1 in Week 12. The AFC South has Tennessee pulling away while the Colts are surging, with Jacksonville and Houston fighting to stay out of last place with 4 wins, as of Week 12.
Now more than ever, there is a dramatic imbalance of power in the NFL, despite the massive parity. Most of the most powerful teams are in the NFC East, NFC South and AFC East, with the worst being found in the NFC North, NFC West and AFC West. The former three divisions may have the majority of winning teams in the NFL, with even the last place teams getting to .500 or above. The latter three divisions may be very lucky to get even one single team above .500.
The humiliation of having a .500 or worse team win a division, while a team at .500 or better in another division is in last place, would be quite a problem for the NFL. Perhaps this would put the wisdom of turning the NFL into an eight-division league back under discussion. It could also mean weaker playoff football in the first round, at the very least.
In any case, if the NFL’s best and worst divisions continue on their various highs and lows, this year’s final NFL standings will be, at the least, the most interesting looking in years and years.
NFL.com- Standings: www.nfl.com/standings