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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
On the 10th Sunday of the 2020 NFL regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers were the only first-place teams in the league to extend their division leads.
And in the latter case, Green Bay did so by way of an unimpressive victory over the weak Jacksonville Jaguars, and only because the second-place Chicago Bears and the surging Minnesota Vikings were idle.
Consider the Detroit Lions’ victory over the Washington Football Team and the rest of the NFC North had the same record as Green Bay on Sunday.
Still, the Packers pulled further away for at least one day before Chicago and Minnesota meet Monday night.
Elsewhere, the AFC East, AFC West, NFC East and NFC West became tighter at the top on Sunday, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept the heat on the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.
Throw in that the AFC South race became a dead heat Thursday night, and the entire playoff race is a lot tighter now than it was just a few days ago.
Let’s break it down.
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Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press
1. Arizona Cardinals (6-3): beat Buffalo Bills 32-30 Sunday
2. Los Angeles Rams (6-3): beat Seattle Seahawks 23-16 Sunday
3. Seattle Seahawks (6-3): lost to the Rams Sunday
What lies ahead
Parity in the NFL’s best division, which also contains the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers (4-6 thanks mainly to a rash of injuries).
The Seahawks were 5-0 on October 11 but have won just a single game since to fall into this three-way tie. Quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown seven interceptions during that four-game stretch, and he’s surrendered 11 sacks in the last two weeks alone. The good news is they face just two winning teams the rest of the way—the bad news is those teams are the Cardinals and Rams.
That tough run for Seattle started with an overtime loss to the Cardinals, who have now won four of five to move into first place with the divisional record tiebreaker over the Seahawks and Rams. They can essentially take a two-game lead on Seattle with a victory there on Thursday night. And for what it’s worth, they’ve won back-to-back over the Seahawks, including a road matchup last December.
Other road challenges await the Cards. They face the New England Patriots and New York Giants in Weeks 12 and 14, but the real focus beyond Thursday will shift to meetings between the Cardinals and Rams in Weeks 13 and 17. The question is whether L.A. can keep up. It lost left tackle Andrew Whitworth to a serious-looking knee injury Sunday and a road meeting with the tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers awaits the Rams in Week 11.
1. Seahawks (11-5): Wilson is resilient, as is the entire team, and the schedule is pretty soft after Thursday’s critical home game.
2. Cardinals (10-6): Let’s say they split with the Rams and fall to the Seahawks on short rest on the road.
3. Rams (10-6): A split with the Cards and a loss to Tampa prevents them from hanging with Seattle, but Arizona and Los Angeles likely both get in as wild cards anyway.
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Adam Hunger/Associated Press
1. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5-1): lost to New York Giants 27-17 Sunday
2. New York Giants (3-7): beat Eagles Sunday
3. Washington Football Team (2-7): lost to Detroit Lions 30-27 Sunday
4. Dallas Cowboys (2-7): off Sunday
What lies ahead
A battle between the Eagles and Giants for the right to become a division champion with a losing record.
Yeah, forget about the WFT (who have just one win since Week 2) and the free-falling Cowboys (who have been annihilated by injuries). This is a two-horse race, but neither equine is a stud.
Following a 10-point, post-bye loss to the Giants, the Eagles have a nightmarish stretch against the Cleveland Browns, Seahawks, Packers, Saints and Cardinals, all of whom are above .500. Not a good omen for an injury-ravaged, oft-lifeless team that has yet to beat an opponent with a winning record.
The Giants have quietly gone 3-3 in the last six weeks, with those three losses coming by a combined six points. Quarterback Daniel Jones is progressing, and they’re playing surprisingly solid defense. They still have to face Seattle, Arizona, Cleveland and Baltimore, but the winnable Browns game comes at home, and they could be favored in their other two remaining matchups against the Cincinnati Bengals and Cowboys.
1. Eagles (6-9-1): That tie against the Bengals and an easy finish versus Dallas and Washington could save Philly.
2. Giants (6-10): It might be too little, too late for a team that is at least a year away from competing anyway.
3. Cowboys (4-12): If not for sudden life shown against the Steelers last week, an 0-7 post-bye run would be an easy prediction. They’ll fall into a win or two.
4. Washington (3-13): A Week 11 victory over Cincinnati would make things interesting, at least temporarily.
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Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
1. Buffalo Bills (7-3): lost to Cardinals 32-30 Sunday
2. Miami Dolphins (6-3): beat Los Angeles Chargers 29-21 Sunday
3. New England Patriots (4-5): beat Ravens 23-17 Sunday
What lies ahead
A refreshing battle between two teams not named New England for a division formerly owned by the Patriots.
The apparently rebuilt Dolphins are making things interesting thanks to a five-game winning streak, with rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa now 3-0 as an NFL starter. They suddenly had a top-10 scoring offense and a top-five scoring defense entering Week 10, and they should be favored in their next three games against the Denver Broncos, New York Jets and Bengals.
The final quarter is tough, though, as they draw the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, the feisty Patriots, the 6-3 Las Vegas Raiders on the road and then the still-first-place Bills in Orchard Park in Week 17.
That’s a nice advantage for Buffalo, which has already defeated Miami and essentially clinched the next tiebreaker with a 4-0 record in the division (compared to 1-2 for the Dolphins). Momentum might be on Miami’s side, but Buffalo controls its down destiny with a run against the Chargers, 49ers, Steelers, Broncos and Patriots wedged between a Week 11 bye and that finale against Miami.
And, no, you can’t count out the Pats. They’re a shell of their former selves on paper, but Bill Belichick is sort of good at this coaching thing, and they’ve won back-to-back games to get back into the picture. The problem is, they have four more tough road games plus a home matchup with the Cardinals, and they’re already facing a pretty large deficit.
1. Bills (11-5): They’d likely have the tiebreaker on their side if the two met with only one game separating them in Week 17, and I’m betting it either doesn’t come to that or the Bills come through at home if it does.
2. Dolphins (9-7): The goal for Miami must be to pull even with Buffalo prior that Week 17 game, but the tough run in December could make that difficult.
3. Patriots (9-7): They’d probably have to run the table to pull a division win off, and this team just isn’t talented enough to do that.
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Isaac Brekken/Associated Press
1. Kansas City Chiefs (8-1): off Sunday
2. Las Vegas Raiders (6-3): beat Denver Broncos 37-12 Sunday
What lies ahead
If the Chiefs take care of the Raiders next Sunday night? Very little drama. If the Raiders clinch the tiebreaker against Kansas City by defeating Patrick Mahomes and Co. for the second time in a seven-week span? Who knows.
This would hardly be considered a race if not for the fact the Raiders have already handed the Chiefs their only loss in the last calendar year, especially because that came at Arrowhead. If it happens again in Vegas in Week 11, and the margin between the two shrinks to one game with no room for error for Kansas City, everything will be on the table.
The Chiefs are in Tampa the following week and have to travel to Miami and New Orleans in December, while the Raiders’ only two games beyond Week 11 against teams with winning records are at home against the beatable Colts and Dolphins.
The Chiefs, however, have a head coach who is king of the post-bye victory, and they’re seven-point favorites for next Sunday’s critical tilt.
1. Chiefs (13-3): The red-hot Chiefs might slip up once or twice still, but they should take care of business Sunday evening and coast from there.
2. Raiders (11-5): They really might be favored in every game they play beyond Week 11, so this Sunday night matchup is huge.
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Wade Payne/Associated Press
1. Indianapolis Colts (6-3): beat Tennessee 34-17 Thursday
2. Tennessee Titans (6-3): lost to Colts Thursday
What lies ahead
A battle that should last through December, mainly because neither team looks capable of pulling away but both are too talented to fall out of contention.
Both teams have one divisional loss, except Tennessee’s came against the Colts in Week 10. Now both franchises have to avoid looking past Week 11 at their crucial Week 12 rematch in Indy, because the Colts first have to deal with the NFC North-leading Packers and the Titans face the contending Ravens on the road.
The two split last year’s season series, but each of the previous seven season series between the Colts and Titans were sweeps, with six of those going Indy’s way.
Beyond the next two challenges (which at least come at home), the Colts finish up with three road games against the Houston Texans, Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers and two home matchups against the Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Beyond their next two challenges (both of which come on the road), the Titans finish up with three road trips against Jacksonville, Green Bay and Houston and two home games against Cleveland and the Detroit Lions.
1. Colts (10-6): Indianapolis having home-field advantage for that rematch is big.
2. Titans (10-6): Meanwhile, five of Tennessee’s last seven games come away from home.
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Gerry Broome/Associated Press
1. New Orleans Saints (7-2): beat 49ers 27-13 Sunday
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3): beat Panthers 46-23 Sunday
The Saints held serve in Week 11, and they own the season-series tiebreaker over Tampa Bay, but the Drew Brees injury is worth watching closely for New Orleans. The Saints haven’t lost since Week 3 and have the talent and depth to make do without Brees for a short time, so there’s still almost no margin for error in you’re the Bucs.
1. Green Bay Packers (7-2): beat Jaguars 24-20 Sunday
2. Chicago Bears (5-4): host Minnesota Monday night
3. Detroit Lions (4-5): beat Washington 30-27 Sunday
4. Minnesota Vikings (3-5): play Chicago Monday night
A Minnesota win in Chicago would officially make the Vikes red-hot and move them into the wild-card picture, but that would essentially end the divisional race. If the Bears can fight off Minnesota at home, they’ll have a chance. Chicago still gets the benefit of a bye and two head-to-head matchups with the Packers, who unlike Chicago have lost a divisional game this year. The Packers were also far from crisp against lowly Jacksonville.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0): beat Bengals 36-10 Sunday
2. Baltimore Ravens (6-3): lost to Patriots 23-17 Sunday
3. Cleveland Browns (6-3): beat Texans 10-7 Sunday
The Steelers are the only team in football with a three-game lead in their division. The Browns already have two divisional losses, the Ravens still have to travel to Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and the Steelers’ home-stretch schedule is not overly daunting. This is pretty much a done deal.
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