Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride to the finish line in the final five weeks of this NFL season. Nothing has been determined yet, since only four teams have been officially eliminated from playoff contention. Yet no team has clinched a postseason spot, and we don't even have any potential clinching scenarios entering Week 13. All of this uncertainty is setting up for one of the most chaotic endings we have ever seen in the long and storied history of this league.
Let's start with the fact that we have an unprecedented amount of parity in the top half of the standings. There are 18 teams with winning records, the most ever through 11 games, and 21 of the 32 teams remain either in a playoff spot or within one game. Parity rules in the AFC, where 11 of the 16 teams are over .500, the most ever from one conference through 11 games in a season.
We're also well past the point of absurdity in the NFC South and AFC North. As we've noted before in this space, the NFC South is on pace to be the worst division in NFL history, and that mediocrity continued in Week 12 with the division going 0-3 (the Carolina Panthers were on a bye). That means that your 4-7 Atlanta Falcons and 4-7 New Orleans Saints are atop the NFC South, marking the first time in NFL history that every team in a division is at least three games under .500 at the end of a week of play. And remember, whoever emerges from the carnage will host a playoff game on the first weekend in January.
The four-way logjam in the AFC North is equally befuddling, as each team has exactly seven wins entering Week 13. It is the first division in NFL history to have every team at least three games over .500 at any point in a season. The Bengals are in sole possession of first place only because of their bizarre tie against the Carolina Panthers in Week 6. How illogical are the standings? The Cleveland Browns are 7-4, yet are currently ninth in the pecking order in the AFC playoff field. The Atlanta Falcons are 4-7, yet would be the NFC's fourth seed as the NFC South division winner if the season ended today. Go figure.
Now that Week 12 is in the books and we've moved on from debating whether Odell Beckham's incredible one-handed grab was the greatest catch in NFL history, it's time to get ready for an exciting slate of games in Week 13. The fun starts on Thanksgiving Day, which features an enticing trio of games with huge playoff implications.
The Detroit Lions have dropped their last two games and are entrenched in another late-season slide, needing a win against the Chicago Bears to keep their postseason hopes alive. Only one of our experts is picking the Bears to upset their division rivals at Ford Field. First place in the NFC East is on the line when the Dallas Cowboys host the Philadelphia Eagles, both of whom enter the mid-afternoon matchup with identical 8-3 records. The holiday concludes with an NFC West battle between the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, two teams that are in the thick of the NFC wild card race. The two latter games should be among the most competitive of the week, as our experts are evenly split on the outcome of both contests.
That turkey day tripleheader is just an appetizer to the main course of the Week 13 schedule, a clash between the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoon. The Patriots likely won't be fazed by facing the NFC's best team at Lambeau Field, where the Packers are 5-0 and destroying teams by an average margin of nearly four touchdowns per game. After beating the first-place Lions, Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos in dominant fashion, New England became the first team in NFL history to win three straight games by 20 or more points, each against an opponent with a record of at least three games above the .500 mark. Our experts are favoring the Patriots to keep up this ridiculous pace, with six of the eight panel members picking New England to beat the Packers in Green Bay.
As a reminder, these are picks to win the game (not against the spread), so choose wisely and do your research before making your own predictions this week:
|Week 13||Ryan Van Bibber||Stephen White||Joel Thorman||David Fucillo||Danny Kelly||PFT Commenter||Matt Ufford||OddsShark Computer|
|CHI @ DET||DET||DET||CHI||DET||DET||DET||DET||DET|
|PHI @ DAL||PHI||DAL||DAL||DAL||PHI||PHI||PHI||DAL|
|SEA @ SF||SEA||SF||SF||SF||SF||SEA||SEA||SEA|
|WAS @ IND||IND||IND||IND||IND||IND||IND||IND||IND|
|TEN @ HOU||HOU||HOU||HOU||HOU||HOU||HOU||HOU||HOU|
|CLE @ BUF||BUF||CLE||CLE||BUF||BUF||CLE||BUF||BUF|
|SD @ BAL||BAL||BAL||SD||BAL||BAL||BAL||BAL||BAL|
|NYG @ JAX||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG||JAX||NYG|
|CIN @ TB||CIN||CIN||CIN||CIN||CIN||CIN||CIN||CIN|
|OAK @ STL||STL||STL||OAK||STL||STL||STL||STL||STL|
|NO @ PIT||PIT||PIT||PIT||PIT||PIT||PIT||PIT||PIT|
|CAR @ MIN||MIN||MIN||CAR||MIN||MIN||MIN||MIN||MIN|
|ARZ @ ATL||ARZ||ARZ||ARZ||ARZ||ARZ||ATL||ARZ||ARZ|
|NE @ GB||NE||NE||NE||GB||NE||GB||NE||NE|
|DEN @ KC||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||KC||KC|
|MIA @ NYJ||MIA||NYJ||MIA||MIA||MIA||MIA||MIA||MIA|
Our panel consists of: David Fucillo, SB Nation's fantasy guru; Danny Kelly, SB Nation NFL contributor; PFT Commenter, SB Nation's hot takes expert; Joel Thorman, SB Nation NFL blogs manager; Matt Ufford, editorial producer, SB Nation studios; Ryan Van Bibber, SB Nation's NFL editor; and Stephen White, retired NFL defensive end and SB Nation NFL contributor.
Our panel's record last week and for the season: