Division Rankings: AFC, NFC East separate themselves from the pack

Publish date:

We've got miles and miles to go until we get there, but after watching Week 10's results, I'm already starting to wonder if there's a Super Bowl rematch in the cards next February? Only this time, in an ironic turn of events, the Matt Cassel-led Patriots would be the heavy underdogs, and the steamrolling Giants the prohibitive favorite.

Wouldn't that be fun? Unbeaten Tennessee, of course, might have something to say about that in the AFC, but would any of us really be shocked if it's Patriots-Giants, Part II, down in Tampa Bay? Call it the Redemption Bowl for New England, and the Repeat Bowl for a New York team bent on its second consecutive ring. Let's tee it up.

Just a little past the midpoint of the NFL regular season, we're back with our monthly divisional rankings, and it's clear to me that the league's best football is being played in the East. Both in the NFC and AFC, where all eight teams feature winning records through nine games. That's how we can start to envision a Giants-Patriots redux.

The 8-1 Giants created some real separation in the division with that road win at Philly on Sunday night, and now are well positioned to win their first NFC East title since 2005. One word of caution: All seven of New York's remaining opponents currently have winning records, so it won't be a cake-walk. The NFC East is an NFL-best 24-12, but half of those dozen losses are in head-to-head games. While I don't like the Cowboys' chances of making a second-half playoff drive, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if the division put three teams into the postseason for the third year in a row.

Team on the move: New York.

Team on the slide: Dallas.

Playoff-bound team(s): New York, Washington.

Best player:Clinton Portis, Washington, running back.

Best rookie:DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia, receiver.

No division has turned it around in 2008 like this one, with four winning teams and a combined 22-14 record through 10 weeks. Last year it was the Perfect Patriots and the Three Stooges. All four teams have winning records at home this season, and Buffalo's 2-3 road record is the division's only blemish in that department. Thursday's Jets at Patriots showdown will give someone the inside track on the division title, but I can still see the AFC East advancing three teams into the playoffs. Keep an eye on the surging Dolphins, who have won three in a row and still have games against losers like Oakland, St. Louis, San Francisco and Kansas City.

Team on the move: Miami.

Team on the slide: Buffalo.

Playoff bound team(s): New England, New York, Miami.

Best player:Chad Pennington, Miami, quarterback.

Best rookie:Jerod Mayo, New England, linebacker.

No other division has three teams with six wins or more, and the NFC South's cumulative record of 23-13 is second only to the NFC East's 24-12. The disappointing Saints -- who some idiot has picked to go to the Super Bowl for two consecutive years now -- have sunk comfortably to the bottom of the standings, but the Panthers, Falcons and Bucs all have legitimate playoff hopes. I give Tampa Bay the slight edge over Atlanta for a wild-card berth, mainly because the Bucs have the easier schedule down the stretch, with automatic wins still remaining against the Lions and Raiders.

Team on the move: Atlanta.

Team on the slide: New Orleans.

Playoff bound team(s): Carolina, Tampa Bay.

Best player: Drew Brees, New Orleans, quarterback.

Best rookie: Matt Ryan, Atlanta, quarterback.

With the Colts saving their season courtesy of wins the past two weeks against New England and Pittsburgh, you can't count out the guys with the horseshoes on their helmets. But here's my dream scenario, and listen closely for the sound of sweet irony: In Week 17, the Colts are playing host to the Titans (again), and this time, it's Tony Dungy's team that needs to win and get help to make the playoffs. The Colts win, but alas, they don't get the mandatory Cleveland win at Pittsburgh, as the Browns tank it to gain revenge for last year's Indy fold-job in Week 17. Ouch.

Team on the move: Tennessee.

Team on the slide: Houston.

Playoff bound team(s): Tennessee.

Best player: Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee, defensive tackle.

Best rookie: Chris Johnson, Tennessee, running back.

I keep waiting for the Steelers to run away and hide from the rest of the AFC North, but the Ravens are having none of that.

Logic says that Pittsburgh's playoff-drive experience should give the Steelers a clear edge in the season's final seven weeks, but Baltimore has a fairly dependable winning formula going for itself. I don't foresee this team caving to the pressure of the big games to come.

The division race looks like it could hang on a Week 15 Steelers-Ravens showdown in Baltimore, and I say that's advantage Ravens. As for the Browns and Bengals, the state of Ohio continues to be in a state of depression.

Team on the move: Baltimore.

Team on the slide: Cleveland.

Playoff bound team(s): Baltimore.

Best player:LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh, linebacker.

Best rookie:Joe Flacco, Baltimore, quarterback.

This is a division up for grabs, and I could make a case for all three of the contenders to come out on top -- or finish third. The Vikings are the hottest team, winning four of their last five. But Minnesota is about to embark upon four road games in the next five weeks, and it's just 1-3 away from home this year. The Bears are going to get Kyle Orton back soon, but they're also going on a three-game road trip, facing the Packers and Vikings in the next three weeks. Green Bay, at 4-5, has more ground to make up, but it also has two more shots at first-place Chicago. If they sweep the Bears, the Packers should win the North on the tiebreaker.

Team on the move: Minnesota.

Team on the slide: Green Bay.

Playoff bound team(s): Green Bay.

Best player: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, running back.

Best rookie: Matt Forte, Chicago, running back.

In reality, there are no teams on the move in the AFC West, where the four teams are a combined 12-24. But by virtue of going 4-3 following their 0-2 start, the puzzling Chargers get the nod. Try as it might to give this thing away, San Diego still has the ability to finish comfortably ahead of Denver if it gets its act together starting this week at Pittsburgh. But doing things the easy way hasn't been the Chargers way this season. That's why I expect it to come down to Week 17 -- Denver at San Diego -- for the division title that nobody seems to want to win. Oakland and Kansas City have long since faded into irrelevance.

Team on the move: San Diego.

Team on the slide: Denver.

Playoff bound team(s): San Diego.

Best player: Philip Rivers, San Diego, quarterback.

Best rookie: Eddie Royal, Denver, receiver.

All you need to know about the sad-sack NFC West is that first-place Arizona now owns as many wins (six) as the rest of the division combined. The Seahawks, Rams and 49ers have gone 6-21, and three of those wins have been in head-to-head division games. The Cardinals own a four-game division lead, and that probably hasn't happened since they were based in Chicago. I get the feeling we've seen this particular Kurt Warner story before. The last time he replaced his team's starting quarterback in the preseason and went on to produce an MVP season was 1999, the year he led the Rams to their only Super Bowl win.

Team on the move: Arizona.

Team(s) on the slide: St. Louis or Seattle or San Francisco.

Playoff bound team(s): Arizona.

Best player: Kurt Warner, Arizona, quarterback.

Best rookie: Tim Hightower, Arizona, running back.