Division thinner: Gap between wild card spot and division tightening

11/23/14 by Matthew S. Vandriak



What a difference a week makes for these two teams. Going into last week, Cleveland was in first place in the AFC North while Atlanta was hanging on to 2nd place in the NFC South. Fast forward to this week, and the Falcons, despite being 4 and 6, are the leaders in the NFC South, while the 6 and 4 Browns have fallen to 3rd in the AFC North. There is good news for the Browns though, as WR Josh Gordon will return to the lineup. Gordon, who led the NFL in receiving yards last season will play for the first time in 2014 after serving a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. That could spell bad news for the Falcons, who rank last in the NFL in passing yards against, giving up an average of 281 yards per game. More bad news for Atlanta is they will be without defensive back Robert Alford, who was injured last week. Atlanta's four wins have all come with the NFC South, which is the worst division in the NFL. The Falcons are 0 and 6 against the rest of the league. Atlanta has won their past two games, which followed a 5 game losing streak. The Browns trail Cincinnati by 1/2 game, and Pittsburgh by a game in the AFC North. The Falcons won the last game between these teams four years ago, while the Browns won the last time they met in Atlanta back in 2006.
Cincinnati at Houston
Two teams in the thick of their divisional races will meet here, as the 5 and 5 Texans host the 7, 3, and 1 Bengals. Cincinnati leads the AFC North by percentage points over Pittsburgh, and have a 1/2 game lead on both Cleveland and Baltimore. The Texans are one game behind Indianapolis in the AFC South. The Texans will be looking for their second consecutive win with Ryan Mallett at quarterback. Mallett, making his first career NFL start last week against Cleveland, passed for 211 yards and 2 TD's in the 23 to 7 win. This game may also feature a battle of back up running backs as well. Jeremy Hill has rushed for 261 yards in the past 3 games for the Bengals in Giovani Bernard's absence. Bernard remains questionable for this week's game. Alfred Blue rushed for 156 yards in place of Arian Foster in the Texans win over Cleveland last week. Foster is also questionable for this week's game. Houston has won the last 5 games played between these teams.

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Detroit at New England
Two division leaders will clash in this game, as the 8 and 2 Patriots host the 7 and 3 Lions. New England will be looking to extend their home winning streak to 15 games and their current winning streak to seven. Detroit will be trying to keep from losing back to back games, after they had won four in a row prior to last week's loss to Arizona. Detroit brings in the NFL's top rushing defense, giving up an average of just 68.8 yards per game. The Lions also rank 5th against the pass, giving up just 221.5 yards against per game. Detroit has also held opponents to 15.6 points and 290.3 yards per game, which are both the best totals in the NFL. Jonas Gray will test the Lions defense this week, coming off of a 201 yard rushing performance in last week's win over Indianapolis. New England has won the past 3 games between these teams.

Arizona at Seattle
Riddle me this...if you looked at this matchup and had to guess at the beginning of the season who would have the best record in the NFL come Week 12, you would you say? Well the answer is the Cardinals, who at 9 and 1 are on top of the league and the NFC West having won their past 6 games. On the other side of the ball are the defending Super Bowl champions, the 6 and 4 Seahawks, who come in off of a loss to Kansas City which snapped a 3 game winning streak Despite not being where many thought they would be record-wise, Seattle leads the NFL in rushing yards per game, and are 3rd against the pass and 7th against the rush defensively. The Seahawks are 4 and 1 at home this season, while the Cardinals are 3 and 1 on the road. Arizona may be without leading receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who sustained an injury in last week's win over Detroit. Fitzgerald is questionable for this week's game. Seattle is also feeling the effect of injury on offense, as center Max Unger will miss this game after suffering a high ankle sprain in last week's loss. Arizona won the last matchup between these teams last season, which was also the only home game Seattle lost in 2013.
Miami at Denver
Despite losing 2 of their past 3 games, the Broncos will try to extend their record at home in 2014 to a perfect 6 and 0. They'll host the Dolphins, who have won 4 of their past 5 and 5 of their past 7, with their only 2 losses coming by a combined 7 points. Miami brings in the NFL's 2nd best passing defense and 8th best rushing defense against the Broncos, who rank 2nd in the league in passing yards per game. The Broncos also have the 2nd best rushing defense in the NFL, giving up just 73.4 yards against per game. They'll be challenged by the Dolphins, who rank 6th in the league on the ground, averaging 127.3 yards rushing per game. However, Miami's leading rusher, Lamar Miller, is questionable for the game. Denver won the last game between these teams played in 2011, but the Dolphins won the last game played in Denver back in 2008.

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