clearn.png
Thursday October 21st, 2021 8:49PM

NFL races go down to the wire in AFC South and NFC East

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

As the calendar turns to 2021, the NFL is experiencing pretty much what it covets. Try two division races, and five wild-card berths out of six still undecided.

Not to go unnoticed, naturally, is that the league is about to finish an entire schedule on time, with a few postponements but not nearly the disruptions plaguing the other major sports organizations in 2020.

The focus in Week 17 will range from coast to coast. Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland, Tennessee and Indianapolis are chasing postseason qualification in the AFC, while the Cardinals, Rams, Bears, Giants, Cowboys and Washington seek NFC spots.

AFC SOUTH

Both contenders for this division face NFL tailenders. The Titans have everything in their control, while the Colts need assistance.

Tennessee (10-5) at Houston (4-11)

“It doesn’t get any more clear than it is for us right now,” Titans quarterback Ryan Tanneill says. “We win this game, find a way to win, win the division. That’s one of the things we set out to do this year. It’s pretty clear what we need to do. We just have to go out and make it happen.”

To do so, and take the AFC South for the first time since 2008, they'll certainly rely on Derrick Henry. He's assured of repeating as NFL rushing champ, the first since Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006-07. Henry has a career-high 1,777 yards rushing and ran for 212 yards in his most recent game against the Texans. He had 211 yards rushing last year in Houston, so reaching the elusive 2,000-yard level is possible

Jacksonville (1-14) at Indianapolis (10-5)

Indy lost a direct path to the postseason by falling at Pittsburgh last week. So the Colts need to handle the league's worst team, then get help.

Indianapolis needs a win and a loss by Baltimore, Cleveland, Miami or Tennessee to make it. But Colts veterans claim they won't be watching the scoreboards.

“Me personally, it will be real easy," linebacker Justin Houston says. "I have a job to do and that’s playing against the Jags. I can’t focus on anything else. If you do focus on anything else, it will become a distraction from what you really have to do. I can’t let that be a distraction.”

Jacksonville owns the top overall selection in April's draft, and could carry a 15-game slide into an offseason when Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence figures to be that pick.

NFC EAST

It's quite simple, really — at least in this woeful division. A Washington victory gives it the division crown. Otherwise, the winner of the game at the Meadowlands gets in; we're not getting into any scenarios with ties.

Washington (6-9) at Philadelphia (4-10-1)

Washington blew its first shot to clinch a playoff spot by losing at home to Carolina. It tries again, hoping veteran quarterback Alex Smith has recovered enough from a calf injury to go. Otherwise, it's journeyman Taylor Heinicke.

“We understand the situation,” running back J.D. McKissic said. “You can just tell guys are laser-focused out there (at practice). There’s not much talking and when there is, it’s about football. Guys are just ready to play.”

Dallas (6-9) at New York Giants (5-10)

An atrocious defense has made a bit of a turnaround in Big D: The Cowboys have 10 takeaways in their three-game winning streak. They had 11 in the first 12 games.

Andy Dalton has settled in nicely at quarterback, too. Ezekiel Elliott, despite a mediocre performance in 2020, needs 63 yards rushing for 1,000 this season, his fourth such output in five seasons.

New York has a somewhat-hobbled Daniel Jones at quarterback and has dropped three straight. LB Blake Martinez has 140 tackles, his fourth straight season with at least that many.

AFC NORTH

The Steelers broke an ugly three-game skid with a massive second half to beat Indianapolis and earn the division title. Cleveland gets a wild card with a win, would need help should it fail.

Baltimore also heads to the postseason by beating the Bengals.

Pittsburgh (12-3) at Cleveland (10-5)

Despite the juicy prospect of possibly extending their despised rivals' postseason exclusion, now at 17 seasons, the Steelers will rest a bunch of regulars, including Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh’s 52 sacks lead the NFL, putting the Steelers in a position to top the league a fourth straight season.

Several COVID-19 issues remain for Cleveland, but it should have its dynamic backfield combo of Nick Chubb, who's 41 yards short of 1,000 rushing, and Kareem Hunt. Chubb's got 11 touchdowns despite missing four games, including the earlier loss against Pittsburgh, with a sprained knee.

Baltimore (10-5) at Cincinnati (4-10-1)

During their four-game winning streak, the Ravens have averaged 37 points and 233.3 yards rushing per game. QB Lamar Jackson has thrown eight TD passes and run for four scores during that stretch.

NFC WEST

The Seahawks own the division crown and could get the top overall seed. In LA, the winner of Cardinals-Rams advances.

Arizona (8-7) at Los Angeles Rams (9-6)

The Cardinals need a win to get a wild-card spot, while the Rams require a win or a loss by the Bears. Normally, with Rams coach Sean McVay 7-0 against Arizona — six wins by double digits and a 233-84 aggregate score — that would not seem too challenging. But quarterback Jared Goff, as inconsistent as he has been, could be severely missed after thumb surgery. His replacement, John Wolford, would make his first NFL start.

Arizona's defense has come around. Over the past three games, it has 17 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles and 24 quarterback hits. LB Haason Reddick has 7½ sacks and six forced fumbles over the past three games, and a career-high 12½ sacks this season.

Seattle (11-4) at San Francisco (6-9)

The high-scoring Seahawks have won 12 of the past 14 in the series. They will be no worse than the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs, can move up to No. 2 with a win and loss by Green Bay, and could be the No. 1 seed with a win and losses by both the Packers and Saints. With 20 points on Sunday, the Seahawks would set a franchise record for a season with 453.

The Niners are playing their third “home” game in Arizona after being relocated because of coronavirus protocols. They lost the first two, but won at this stadium as the road team last week vs. the Cardinals.

AFC EAST

No, not the Patriots on top. For the first time since 1995, Buffalo won this division, snapping New England's 11-year run. Of course, the Patriots had Tom Brady for those seasons.

Miami (10-5) at Buffalo (12-3)

The Bills have won the past four meetings to match their longest win streak over the Dolphins since a team-best six-game run spanning the 1987-89 seasons. But with a victory, Miami would clinch only its third postseason berth since 2001. It can even get in with a loss and help elsewhere.

Miami will play at Buffalo in January for the first time since 1991. In December, it has lost three in a row there by a combined score of 85-33. But the Dolphins have allowed the NFL's fewest points at 18.8 per game, and could lead that category for a full season for the first time since 1998.

New York Jets (2-13) at New England (6-9)

Can the Jets, already guaranteed the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, finish by winning three straight games in what likely is Adam Gase's last outing as coach?

The Patriots have won the past nine meetings. The Jets haven’t won in Foxborough in the regular season since 2008.

NFC NORTH

Should the Packers beat their biggest rivals, they secure the NFC's only bye, ensuring the path to the Super Bowl goes through Lambeau Field. SHIVER!!!!

A Chicago win puts the Bears into the postseason and eliminates the loser of Cardinals-Rams.

Green Bay (12-3) at Chicago (8-7)

Although the Packers clinched the division a while ago, they need to go full-out because a loss could sink them to the third seed.

“We both have something to play for,” says Aaron Rodgers, who's led Green Bay to five consecutive victories. “We’re playing for the (No.) 1 seed, they’re playing for their playoff lives, so there’s a lot at stake for both squads. We got after them a few weeks ago; they’ve been playing a lot better since then. We know what kind of game it’s going to be.”

Minnesota (6-9) at Detroit (5-10)

And we know what kind of game this will be: worth ignoring.

NFC SOUTH

The Saints clinched even if they finish with the same record as the Bucs because they swept Tampa Bay.

New Orleans (11-4) at Carolina (5-10)

The Saints get the No. 1 seed with a win, a Packers loss and a Seahawks win. New Orleans is seeking to become the first team to finish 6-0 in the NFC South since the division was formed in 2002. And Alvin Kamara comes off a game for the ages: an NFL record-tying six TDs (all rushing) against the Vikings. He leads the NFL with a franchise-record 21 touchdowns,

Carolina has a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson.

Atlanta (4-11) at Tampa Bay (10-5)

Brady helped the Bucs smash their playoff drought dating to the 2008 season, and has been in postseason form the past few weeks. The old man (43) might get some time off in this one before a likely wild-card game at the NFC East “winner.”

AFC WEST

Not much suspense here.

Los Angeles Chargers (6-9) at Kansas City (14-1)

The reigning Super Bowl champio n Chiefs can match the 2011 Packers for the best record by a Super Bowl champion with a win. They already have set a club record for victories in a season and have won 10 straight games. One more would break the franchise record, but coach Andy Reid will be resting a bunch of regulars.

LA has won three in a row and seemingly found a franchise quarterback in rookie Justin Herbert.

Las Vegas (7-8) at Denver (5-10)

If finishing .500 in their first season in Sin City means anything to the Raiders, then there's some significance here. Otherwise, well, there's plenty of other NFL action to pay attention to.

___

AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker and Sports Writer Michael Marot contributed.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Football, AP Sports - NFL
© Copyright 2021 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
NFL races go down to the wire in AFC South and NFC East
As the calendar turns to 2021, the NFL is experiencing pretty much what it covets
11:44AM ( 21 minutes ago )
6 years later, Alabama and Ohio State go at it again
Alabama is in the College Football Playoff championship game for a record fifth time
11:38AM ( 27 minutes ago )
The Latest: Greece tightens lockdown for next week
Greece has tightened its lockdown for the next week, closing retail shops, hairdressers and bookshops
11:34AM ( 31 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Clemson star QB Lawrence sputters in Superdome again
A stellar Clemson career for quarterback Trevor Lawrence has likely ended with a loss in the Superdome for a second straight season
2:32AM ( 9 hours ago )
Fields' day: No. 3 Ohio State routs No. 2 Clemson 49-28
Justin Fields threw six touchdown passes to outshine Trevor Lawrence, and No. 3 Ohio State avenged last season's painful College Football Playoff loss to Clemson with a 49-28 victory in the Sugar Bowl semifinal
2:12AM ( 9 hours ago )
Chris Paul helps Suns hold off Nuggets, improve to 5-1
Chris Paul hit a clutch jumper with 7.3 seconds remaining after a successful coach’s challenge on the other end and the Phoenix Suns moved to an NBA-best 5-1 by holding off the scuffling Denver Nuggets 106-103 on Friday night
1:06AM ( 10 hours ago )
AP Sports
Roll Tide! No. 1 Alabama beats Notre Dame 31-14 in Rose Bowl
Alabama is rolling into another College Football Playoff championship game
12:13AM ( 11 hours ago )
The Latest: Duke-Florida State basketball game postponed
Hours after No. 20 Duke said coach Mike Krzyzewski would sit out Saturday against No. 18 Florida State on Saturday after coming into close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19
11:53PM ( 12 hours ago )
Clemson linebacker Skalski ejected for hit on Fields
Clemson starting middle linebacker James Skalski has been ejected from the Sugar Bowl for a tackle that knocked Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields out of the game for one play
9:54PM ( 14 hours ago )
AP Online Football
The Latest: Bucs place 3 defensive players on COVID-19 list
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have placed three defensive players on the reserve/COVID-19 list: linebackers Shaq Barrett and Devin White, and lineman Steve McLendon
6:18PM ( 17 hours ago )
The Latest: Chargers' Keenan Allen on reserve/COVID-19 list
The Los Angeles Chargers have placed wide receiver Keenan Allen on the reserve/COVID-19 list
5:08PM ( 18 hours ago )
Packers won't have Pro Bowl OT Bakhtiari for rest of season
Green Bay Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari will miss the rest of the season after the three-time Pro Bowl selection injured his knee in practice Thursday
3:59PM ( 20 hours ago )
AP Sports - NFL
6 years later, Alabama and Ohio State go at it again
Alabama is in the College Football Playoff championship game for a record fifth time
11:38AM ( 27 minutes ago )
The Latest: Greece tightens lockdown for next week
Greece has tightened its lockdown for the next week, closing retail shops, hairdressers and bookshops
11:34AM ( 31 minutes ago )
Fast rollout of virus vaccine trials reveals tribal distrust
Few Native American tribes have signed up to participate in clinical trials as coronavirus vaccines are developed
11:23AM ( 42 minutes ago )
Yemen's PM says airport attack aimed to 'eliminate' Cabinet
Yemen’s prime minister says that an attack on the airport in Aden was meant “to eliminate” the country’s new government as it arrived in the southern city
11:22AM ( 43 minutes ago )
The Latest: 2nd Browns coach tests positive for virus
The Cleveland Browns have had a second coach test positive for COVID-19 ahead of their big game with the Pittsburgh Steelers
11:14AM ( 51 minutes ago )