Is Week Eight too early to talk about the NFL playoff race? Probably. But we’ll do it anyway.
AFC West: First place in the division is on the line Thursday night, when the 5-2 Chargers visit the 5-1 Broncos. The Broncos are currently the favorites in the division, but the Chargers could change that with a road win. Denver also owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Indianapolis, which may turn out to make a difference in home-field advantage in the playoffs.
AFC South: The 5-2 Colts already have a two-game lead and a head-to-head tiebreaker edge over the second-place 3-4 Texans. It will be a big surprise if Indianapolis doesn’t win this division.
AFC East: The 5-2 Patriots have a one-game lead over the second-place Bills, and have beaten the Bills head to head. New England will likely win this division for the 12th time in the 14 seasons since Tom Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001.
AFC North: The 5-2 Ravens lead the 3-2-1 Bengals and 4-3 Steelers in a division that could turn out to be a three-way race. (Any thoughts that the 3-3 Browns could make it a four-way race probably went out the window with Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars.)
AFC wild card: The second-place teams in the AFC West and AFC North (currently the Chargers and Bengals) would appear to be the most likely wild-card contenders, and the third-place teams in those divisions (Chiefs and Steelers) may be contenders as well. The Bills and Dolphins are also in the mix, while the Texans may be contenders solely because they still get four games against their terrible division rivals, the Titans and Jaguars.
Best guess seeds: 1. Denver, 2. Indianapolis, 3. Patriots, 4. Ravens, 5. Chargers, 6. Bengals.
NFC West: The 5-1 Cardinals have a game and a half lead over the 4-3 49ers and a two-game lead over the 3-3 Seahawks, and the Cardinals are also the only team in the division that hasn’t lost a game within the division yet. It sounds crazy to say, but the Cardinals may now be the division favorites.
NFC East: At 6-1, the Cowboys have the best record in the NFL. Dallas meets 5-1 Philadelphia twice late in the season (on Thanksgiving in Dallas and December 14 in Philadelphia), and those look like the games that will decide the NFC East, with the team that doesn’t win the division having a good chance at a wild card.
NFC North: The 5-2 Lions and 5-2 Packers are tied atop the division, with the Lions currently owning the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a win at Ford Field. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Week 17 rematch in Green Bay decide the division winner, with the second-place team having a good chance at a wild card.
NFC South: Well, someone has to win this division. It might turn out to be a team with a losing record, maybe the Panthers at 7-8-1 or the Saints at 7-9, but someone will win it.
NFC wild card: You’d think that if the Cardinals end up winning the West that the Seahawks and 49ers would be wild card favorites, but the schedules for the NFC North second-place team and the NFC East second-place team may turn out to be more favorable. It wouldn’t be surprising to see both of last year’s NFC Championship Game participants on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Best guess seeds: 1. Dallas, 2. Arizona, 3. Green Bay, 4. Carolina, 5. Philadelphia, 6. Detroit.