From the Press Box: Parity or disparity in the NFL

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We are coming up on the final weekend on the NFL’s regular season and there are three playoff spots still available and two division titles still up for grabs.

The current division winners (meaning they will host a playoff game) are as follows: Tennessee, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Dallas.

Buffalo (vs. Buffalo) and New England (at Miami) will be vying for the AFC East. The Los Angeles Rams (vs. San Francisco) and the Arizona Cardinals (vs. Seattle) will be playing for the NFC West title.

This year marks the first time the NFL had an 18-week season, all in hopes of creating more parity and an exciting finish to the regular season. Did their trick work?

Let’s go by division. The AFC East, made up of Buffalo (10-6), New England (10-6), Miami (8-8) and the New York Jets (4-12). Up until about three weeks ago this division was up for grabs to their Top 3 teams. Week 18 deciding the division? I would say the NFL is happy.

The AFC North: Cincinnati (10-6), Pittsburgh (8-7-1), Baltimore (8-8) and Cleveland (7-9). This is arguably the best AFC division, in my opinion. The Bengals barely clinched the division last week when they upset the Chiefs. Pittsburgh is still alive in the playoffs, as well. Again, the NFL is happy.

The AFC South: Tennessee (11-5), Indianapolis (9-7), Houston (4-12) and Jacksonville (2-14). Indianapolis made it interesting for a while, but Tennessee hasn’t had running back Derrick Henry since early November and they still ran away with the division late. Tennesee, who swept the Colts, is still playing for a potential number one seed.

The AFC West: Kansas City (11-5), Los Angeles (9-7), Las Vegas (9-7), Denver (7-9). This division, while I’m a little biased, was probably the second best AFC division in the league this year. Los Angeles upset the Chiefs this year. But, the Chiefs holding the best coach and the best quarterback in the division helped them pull away. The Chargers and Raiders are playing for playoffs this weekend.

Now to the NFC. NFC East: Dallas (11-5), Philadelphia (9-7), Washington (6-10) and New York (4-12). For most of the season, the NFC East was Dallas and everyone else. The NFL would probably like to force Dallas to let the others win every now and then to keep this one interesting.

NFC North: Green Bay (13-3), Minnesota (7-9), Chicago (6-10), Detroit (2-13). Again, the Packers and everyone else. Minnesota tried to stay relevant but fell off toward the end.

NFC South: Tampa Bay (12-4), New Orleans (8-8), Atlanta (7-9), Carolina (5-11). The Buccaneers are dealing with some Antonio Brown drama (surprised?) and a rash of injuries. But the injuries have happened so late that it doesn’t affect the division. The Buccaneers are playing for some seeding in the playoffs, but don’t have a shot at that No. 1 seed held by Green Bay. The Saints are playing for a wild card, however.

NFC West: Los Angeles Rams (12-4), Arizona (11-5), San Francisco (9-7), Seattle (6-10). The “NFC Best,” as I like to call it, has three teams all vying for playoff seeding. The NFL loves this division.

Now that we’ve looked at the Divisions, is there a lot of parity in the NFL this year as we head into the final week of the season? Sure, a case can be made with the NFC West, AFC East and the AFC West. But in the end, you look at the Divison leaders, especially in the NFC, it’s similar to last year. Green Bay is king, Tom and the Bucs are in the playoffs and the Rams are in the mix.

In the AFC, the only new face in the playoffs this year is the Bengals (the Patriots missed last year, I know, but does that year off count?). The Chargers, Raiders or Colts all could make it but none of them are real contenders for a deep run.

This may have been the year with the most parity throughout the season, 19 teams at or above .500 heading into the final week of the season, but the cream always rises to the top.

That being said, I’ve got to say there was no true parity in the NFL. But, I’d rather have the cream of the crop in the playoffs over a bad team being blown out by a good team in the playoffs.

Nobody likes watching bad football. Trust me, I’m a Broncos fan.

John Lee is the editor of The Pampa News and can be reached at pampanewseditor@gmail.com or find him on Twitter @jcl1987.

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