Through 12 weeks of the NFL season, no teams have punched their tickets to the playoffs. The easiest route is to win the division title, which grants at least one home game in the postseason. Of course, not all divisions are created equal. Here's a ranking of all eight NFL divisions in terms of quality of play from their four teams, from best to worst.
1. NFC West
It's not even a contest. The West is the best. Well...the NFC West, anyway.
Only in the NFC West can the San Francisco 49ers race off to the strongest start of the season, overpower opponent after opponent, become the first team this season to reach double digit wins...and not even have the division race in hand this late in the year. In fact, there's a very real chance the 9-2 Seattle Seahawks - the one team the 49ers have lost to - can still overtake San Francisco at the finish line. And while the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams have faced their struggles, they're not completely out of the playoff race either, thus making this one of the only divisions in the NFL with three playoff-contending teams after 12 weeks - though that could drop to two if the Rams suffer one more defeat.
2. AFC East
Thanks to an early-season surge by the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots' inevitable stomp to the division title doesn't seem as inevitable as in seasons past. Despite an ailing and off-his-game Tom Brady, the Patriots have cruised to a 10-1 record - though they're certainly not happy about how they've gotten there. Meanwhile, the New York Jets, now on a three-game winning streak, have suddenly remembered how to play football.
3. NFC North
In the frozen north of what they (and by "they" I mean this one Minnesota Vikings history video I own on DVD) call the "Black and Blue division", another exciting title race has unfolded. The Green Bay Packers looked to have the NFC North wrapped up last month, while Kirk Cousins' struggles had the Minnesota Vikings fighting amongst themselves. But the Packers have gone cold in two of their last three, opening the door for Minnesota to tie Green Bay for first place in the North. Despite Mitch Trubisky's struggles, the Bears aren't completely dead either, but they'll need to win out to have a chance.
4. AFC South
After 12 weeks, there's still no clear leader in the AFC South. The Houston Texans assumed the division lead by one game after beating Indianapolis last week. Behind MVP candidate Deshaun Watson, they have the strongest hope of winning the South, but they may not have the lead for long - they face New England this week. Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill (we still can't wrap our head around this) has led the Titans back into contention, but he'll have to deal with the loss of multi-talented weapon Delanie Walker for the season. The Colts are also 6-5 and face the Titans this week.
Oh, and the Jaguars. Those poor, poor Jaguars.
5. AFC North
The contrast between the division's best and worst couldn't be more staggering. At the top, the Baltimore Ravens, a team that seems to be getting more and more dominant on both sides of the ball every week. Behind them are the Steelers, still in the playoff hunt despite their dire quarterback situation, and the Browns, who are making another last-season run. Bringing up the rear, however are the Bengals, who have somehow managed to undershoot even the low expectations placed on them for this season by failing to win any of their first 11 games.
6. AFC West
This has become a two-horse race, but the second horse isn't one anyone expected at the start of the year. Kansas City looked to have the division title all to itself until a run of confusing losses to teams it should have beaten, including Indianapolis and Houston in October, left them fighting for the division title against the...Raiders?! Yes, the assumed lame-duck Raiders have given their fans a season to remember with a last-ditch playoff run, and may make things tough for the Chiefs. We'll find out this week when they play in Kansas City.
7. NFC South
This would have been higher five weeks ago, as Kyle Allen and the Panthers managed to keep pace with Sean Payton's juggernaut in New Orleans for a brief time. However, Allen's play and the Panthers' season have gone off the rails and the Saints look well on their way to yet another division title, as neither the Bucs nor Falcons have put up a fight.
As it stands, the Saints lead the Panthers by four games. This is the division closest to being already won.
8. NFC East
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. A division with some of the NFL's most storied rivalries and historically-successful teams has failed to produce a single team that looks worthy of getting past the first round of the playoffs, let alone reaching the Super Bowl. In games against teams from outside the division, the four NFC East teams have combined for a pitiful record 9-23. Not good.