With just two weeks left in the 2012 NFL regular season, the NFC East race couldn’t be more of a mess.
The AFC playoff picture is fairly clear, save for the Steelers and Bengals duking it out for a potential 6-seed. And the rest of the NFC is fairly straightforward—the North and South have division champs set in stone (Atlanta, Green Bay) and the West will almost certainly send two teams to the playoffs (Seattle, San Francisco) though their seeding has yet to be determined.
But the NFC East division race is far from over. The reigning champion Giants, the surprising Redskins, and the forever-middling Cowboys all sit at 8-6 with two games to play. No team can clinch the division in Week 16, and since Dallas and Washington meet in a colossal matchup on the last Sunday of the regular season, all three teams will be waiting on that game’s result to know their final postseason fate.
The defending Super Bowl champs are in fact in the worst spot of all—if the Redskins or Cowboys finish the season with back-to-back wins, that team will win the division, no matter what the Giants do in Weeks 16 and 17.
As of this moment, the Redskins are the No. 4 seed in the NFC, because Washington holds the best head-to-head record among the three teams (having beaten the Cowboys and split the season series with the Giants). But “as of this moment” means nothing. And “as of this moment” will be an entirely different moment 30 minutes into the 1 p.m. kickoffs come Sunday, when Robert Griffin III may or may not be on the field for Washington, and when Tony Romo decides which version of him will show up.
Five NFC teams are 8-6 (the Vikings and Bears in addition to the trio of East teams), which means that the wild-card picture is even more zany than the East scenarios. And, depending on what happens with Chicago and Minnesota over the next 10 days, a second NFC East team has a puncher’s chance at making the postseason. But for now, let’s consider the division race only, and handicap the odds of each team capturing the division crown this year.
Here’s how each of the three 8-6 NFC East teams can win the division over the final two games of the 2012 season:
Beat Philadelphia Week 16 AND Beat Dallas Week 17
Beat Dallas in Week 17 AND New York loses in Week 16 or 17
Being in the lead (and holding tiebreakers) has its advantages. But playing two division games to end the season is tough. And it would mean the Skins would have ended the year on a ridiculous 7-game winning streak. Plus, if RGIII doesn’t suit up this week, the chances go down. But given the Giants’ ineptitude of late, they could be gifted a second chance even with a loss to Philadelphia this week. Of the three teams in the race, Washington is by far the hottest, and has the most high-flying offense. The Redskins host the Week 17 showdown with Dallas, which would be the biggest game in the city’s football history since at least 2007.
Beat New Orleans Week 16 AND Beat Washington Week 17
Beat Washington in Week 17 AND New York loses in Week 16 or 17
New Orleans’ defense is a total sieve, so putting up points won’t be too difficult. But the Saints have a high-powered offense and a team that still believes in a tiny sliver of “we’re not technically mathematically eliminated yet” hope instilled by quarterback Drew Brees. NOLA is no cakewalk, as the Cowboys will find out. Can Romo lead the troops to a road victory in a clutch situation in Week 17? If history is any indication…No. But there’s a first time for everything, and division games are coin flips.
Beat Baltimore Week 16 AND Beat Philadelphia Week 17
Winner of Dallas-Washington Week 17 loses in Week 16
If Dallas and Washington take care of business against inferior opponents in Week 16, that spells the end of the division hunt for the G-Men, even with a 2-0 record in the last two. Likewise, dropping one of the next two games means New York’s done. That said, the Giants are the most battle-tested, most trustworthy team of the three still in the race, and play a reeling Baltimore team and a pitiful Philly squad—neither of whom has much to play for (Baltimore can’t earn home field advantage, Eagles are kaput). Incredibly, the early-season favorites have botched their way out of the division lead. But stranger thins have happened.
Abe Schwadron is the Online Editor of TDdaily.com. Follow him on Twitter @abe_squad.