Tuesday trends: The ratty, shabby NFC South

The NFC South looks poised to enter the worst team in NFL playoff history. Plus, other trends, leaders and losers as the NFL enters its push to the playoffs.

The NFC South is poised to bring the NFL south for a record-setting (and not the good kind) of division winners.

After the New Orleans Saints lost to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football, it set up the very real possibility that the NFL could have its second team in league history with a losing record to win a division (not counting the strike-shortened 1982 season), and it could be the worst record of all-time to win a division.

In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks were the first team to win a division with a losing record. Their 7-9 season then beat out St. Louis’ 7-9 season and the Seahawks were in the playoffs.

This year, the South is taking that to a new low. Because the NFL seeds its playoff teams by division winners first, the Atlanta Falcons are currently the fourth-seeded team in the NFC with a 4-7 record. They are three games behind the next closest team (the 7-4 Seahawks) currently projected to make the playoffs.

Besides the strike season of 1982, when only nine regular-season games were played, the 2010 Seahawks were the only losing team to make playoffs. There have been 11 teams with a .500 record to the make the playoffs dating back to the 1969 Houston Oilers, but the NFC South could be poised to send a 6-10 team to the playoffs for the first time in NFL history.

In the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals (9-2) and Green Bay Packers (8-3) would get the byes if the playoffs started this weekend, with the Philadelphia Eagles (8-3) host the Seahawks, and the Falcons hosting the Dallas Cowboys (8-3).

The AFC paints a better picture of the healthy teams. The Patriots (9-2) and Denver Broncos (8-3) are currently the top teams in that conference and would get a bye. Below them but also making the playoffs would be the Cincinnati Bengals (7-3-1) hosting the San Diego Chargers (7-4), and the Indianapolis Colts (7-4) hosting the Kansas City Chiefs (7-4).

While only six teams from each conference make the playoffs, all of the top 10 teams in the AFC – including the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns all at 7-4 and the Miami Dolphins at 6-5 – have winning records. The ninth- and 10th-place teams (the Chicago Bears at 5-6 and the Saints) in the NFC have losing records.

Of course, the AFC North is the division of winners this year. It is the only division to have every team with a winning record. No team there is worse than 7-4 and all are within a half game of each other. It’s reminiscent of the 2002 AFC East, when three teams – the Jets, Patriots and Dolphins – all finished 9-7 and the Bills were 8-8.

The AFC North is the first division in NFL history to have every team at least three games over .500 at any point in a season.

Through 12 weeks of NFL play, there are 16 teams with at least seven wins, the most through 11 games in NFL history.

Here are some other notes to know as the playoff push advances for teams, and as individuals make their marks, too:

  • The Patriots are the hottest team in the NFL, having won seven straight games.

  • With the Oakland Raiders getting their first win of the season last weekend, the New York Giants are now the coldest team in the NFL with a six-game losing streak after starting the season 3-2.

  • The Saints are the only team in the NFC South with a positive points differential on the season, at a measly plus-2.

  • While the Falcons are technically leading the NFC South with a 4-7 record, all four of their wins have come against the other NFC South teams.

  • Winning at home remains the tried and true way to the playoffs. Three of the four division leaders in the NFC – the Cardinals, Packers and Eagles – are undefeated at home. The top two teams in the AFC, the Patriots and Broncos, are also 6-0 at home.

  • The Colts have the top-ranked offense and top-ranked passing offense. The Seahawks have the top-ranked rushing offense but are only 13th in total offense.

  • The Seahawks also have the top-ranked defense overall, while Detroit has the top-ranked rushing defense and the Chiefs have the top-ranked passing defense.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers are the only team outside of the currently playoff picture with a quarterback possessing a passer rating above 100. Ben Roethlisberger is fourth in the league with a 105.3 rating, but his Steelers are currently eighth in the AFC race.

  • Aaron Rodgers has an incredible 30 touchdown passes and only three interceptions, the only quarterback to throw an interception on less than 1 percent of his passes (3/342).

  • Justin Forsett’s big performance against the Saints (22 carries for 182 yards) on Monday night has him leading all qualifying running backs with a 5.83 yards-per-carry average.

  • Forsett is second to DeMarco Murray in carries of 10 yards or more. Murray leads the league with 38 such runs, while Forsett has 32.

  • Maybe it’s a statement about the defense in the NFC North, but that division holds five of the top 10 players for yards after the catch. Matt Forte (Chicago Bears) leads the league with 615 yards after contact, followed by Golden Tate (Lions) at 548. The Packers have Jordy Nelson at seventh overall with 397, Eddie Lacy ninth at 374 and Randall Cobb 10th at 366.

  • The Colts’ T.Y. Hilton leads the league with 14 catches of 25 yards or more.

    Sources: NFL.com and STATS

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