Eagles vs. Cowboys highlights tight NFL division races

ByMultiple Contributors ESPN logo
Friday, December 8, 2023

The NFC East hasn't had a back-to-back champion since the Philadelphia Eagles won four straight from 2001 to '04, and Sunday's showdown in Dallas could go a long way in determining whether that trend will continue. The Cowboys are favored by 3.5 points against the Eagles, who enter with a one-gamedivision lead.

They're one of three division leaders with such a slim margin heading into the final five games of the regular season.

The Atlanta Falcons host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday with a one-game lead atop the NFC South.

And the Jacksonville Jaguars, who lead the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans by a game in the AFC South, have a tough road matchup against the Cleveland Browns, especially after Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence suffered a right high ankle sprain in Monday's loss to theCincinnati Bengals.

Here is a look at seven of the eight division races, with ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI)calculating chances of winning the division and the remaining strength of schedule (the lower the number, the harder the schedule). NFL Nation reporters provide reasons why the team they cover can win the division.

Since the San Francisco 49ers have a 99.2% chance of winning the NFC West, that division is not included.

Note: If teams finish the season tied atop the division, the top tiebreakers -- in order -- are: head-to-head results, division results, common opponents, conference results.

Slimmest of leads

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Chance to win division: 57.7%

Remaining strength of schedule: 29th toughest

Why they can win the division: The Falcons have a one-game lead, control of their future and, on paper, an easy remaining schedule. With games remaining against New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Carolina, Atlanta has a chance to go 6-0 in the division, and in the process hold tiebreakers over the Bucs and Saints. Its defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in nine quarters and its rushing offense (1,294 yards) is a top-10 unit.-- Michael Rothstein

New Orleans Saints

Chance to win division: 21.5%

Remaining strength of schedule: 31st toughest

Why they can win the division: The Saints' next two games are at home against the one-win Panthers and four-win Giants. The Saints have had some recent success in the red zone after struggling all season, and they could use these next two weeks to build momentum offensively. Either the Falcons or Bucs will lose Sunday (or tie), so the Saints have a chance to make a move.-- Katherine Terrell

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Chance to win division: 20.8%

Remaining strength of schedule: 24th toughest

Why they can win the division: They've been here before. At 5-7, they're in a similar spot as last season, when they were 6-6 after 12 games. The Bucs have 33 players on their roster from the team that won the division last year with an 8-9 record. That includes 17 starters. So even with so much roster turnover, a number of core players are still intact. But health is a major concern with a decimated inside linebacking corps.-- Jenna Laine

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars

Chance to win division: 74.5%

Remaining strength of schedule: 23rd toughest

Why they can win the division: The offense was starting to get rolling before quarterback Trevor Lawrence went down with a high ankle sprain. If he's not out for a significant amount of time they can get back on track offensively, and they could finish strong because their final three opponents (Tampa Bay, Carolina and Tennessee) have a combined 10 victories.-- Michael DiRocco

Houston Texans

Chance to win division: 15.2%

Remaining strength of schedule: 30th toughest

Why they can win the division: Lawrence's high ankle sprain possibly created an opening for the Texans to steal the division as they're one game back and have won four of their past five games. The Texans' remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .433.-- DJ Bien-Aime

Indianapolis Colts

Chance to win division: 10.3%

Remaining strength of schedule: 27th toughest

Why they can win the division: The Colts are at a disadvantage because of their two losses to Jacksonville. But if the Jaguars struggle down the stretch, the Colts come into play based on their 3-2 record in the AFC South, and their Week 18 game against Houston. The Colts' matchups with backup quarterbacks in the coming weeks don't hurt, either.-- Stephen Holder

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles

Chance to win division: 82.0%

Remaining strength of schedule: 28th toughest

Why they can win the division: The Eagles have the best record in football despite Sunday's setback against the San Francisco 49ers. They control their destiny, and their schedule begins to ease up after back-to-back road games at the Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks, as they close the regular season with games against the Giants and the Cardinals.-- Tim McManus

Dallas Cowboys

Chance to win division: 18.0%

Remaining strength of schedule: Third toughest

Why they can win the division: Well, they're hot. They've won four straight games. The offense is piling up points. History is on their side: No team has won the NFC East in consecutive years since the Eagles from 2001-04. But even a win this week helps only temporarily. The Eagles have such a soft close to the season that the Cowboys will need help in winning the division.-- Todd Archer

Solid favorites

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Chance to win division: 89.1%

Remaining strength of schedule: Fourth toughest

Why they can win the division: Lamar Jackson is not only the best starting quarterback at this time of the season, but he's the last elite signal-caller remaining in the division after injuries sidelined the Bengals' Joe Burrow, Browns' Deshaun Watson and Steelers' Kenny Pickett. None of these teams will get any sympathy from the Ravens and Jackson, who has suffered season-ending injuries the past two years. Jackson is an X factor late in the season, going 14-3 (.824) in regular-season games in December and January.-- Jamison Hensley

Cleveland Browns

Chance to win division: 8.3%

Remaining strength of schedule: 26th toughest

Why they can win the division: The Browns have a much easier schedule than the Ravens, and they've already split the season series. The emergence of Joe Flacco seems to have stabilized the quarterback position, and if the defense can get healthy again, it can return to its dominant ways for the stretch.-- Jake Trotter

Pittsburgh Steelers

Chance to win division: 2.4%

Remaining strength of schedule: 10th toughest

Why they can win the division: The Steelers have the benefit of being 3-1 against AFC North opponents entering the home stretch, including one win each against the Browns and Ravens. But back-to-back losses to two of the worst teams in the league -- Arizona andThursday's 21-18 loss to the Patriots-- doesn't help. The Steelers' defense has largely been able to keep the team in the thick of the race, but injuries have decimated the inside linebacker corps. Still, the Steelers have a history of taking things to the wire, thanks to the Mike Tomlin factor.-- Brooke Pryor

NFC North

Detroit Lions

Chance to win division: 89.0%

Remaining strength of schedule: 14th toughest

Why they can win the division: The Lions haven't won their division since 1993, which is the second-longest active drought in the NFL, behind the Cleveland Browns (1989), and they're hungry to break the streak with three of their final five games on the road. Offensively, they can score with the best of the best, but they have holes defensively that head coach Dan Campbell is working to address.-- Eric Woodyard

Minnesota Vikings

Chancee to win division: 6.4%

Remaining strength of schedule: 20th toughest

Why they can win the division: Let's be real. After taking a two-game losing streak into their bye, the Vikings have a really tough road to an NFC North title. They're fortunate, however, to have the team they're chasing -- the Lions -- on their schedule twice in the final three weeks. If they can enter that period of their schedule trailing the Lions by two games (or fewer), they'll be able to win the division with a series sweep-- Kevin Seifert

Green Bay Packers

Chance to win division: 4.6%

Remaining strength of schedule: 32nd toughest

Why they can win the division: If they can beat two division leaders (Detroit and Kansas City), then the rest of the schedule should seem easy. They don't play another team with a winning record. Jordan Love has found something, and the defense has been solid. Oh, and Matt LaFleur never loses in December. Never. He's 16-0 in the 12th month of the year as a head coach.-- Rob Demovsky

Little doubt

AFC East

Miami Dolphins

Chance to win division: 95.9%

Remaining strength of schedule: Seventh toughest

Why they can win the division: With a commanding three-game lead over the Bills at the start of December, the Dolphins have been possibly the most complete team in the AFC entering the final stretch of the regular season. Miami ranks third in the NFL in offensive EPA, and leads the league in defensive EPA since cornerback Jalen Ramsey returned in Week 8. The Dolphins will also play four of their final five games at home, where they've lost twice over the past two seasons.-- Marcel Louis-Jacques

Buffalo Bills

Chance to win division: 4.1%

Remaining strength of schedule: Toughest

Why they can win the division:The Bills winning the AFC East for a fourth straight season is unlikely with the team sitting three games back of the Dolphins with five to go. Buffalo has the hardest remaining strength of schedule, per ESPN Analytics, and is in a spot of almost needing to win out to have a chance at the playoffs. The Dolphins, winners of three straight, would have to take a turn to make the meeting between the teams in Week 18 have an impact in the division race.-- Alaina Getzenberg

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

Chance to win division: 95.3%

Remaining strength of schedule: 15th toughest

Why they can win the division: The Chiefs -- even after allowing 27 points in Sunday's loss to the Packers -- have a defense capable of keeping them in most games. The offense doesn't have as much firepower as in recent years, but it has proved it can be efficient when it eliminates turnovers and dropped passes. And maybe the most important reason Kansas City can win the division: The Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes. --Adam Teicher

Denver Broncos

Chance to win division: 1.4%

Remaining strength of schedule: 19th toughest

Why they can win the division: Talk about heavy lifting, Denver almost certainly has to win out to have a shot at the division title. The Broncos split with the Chiefs, who are 6-1 in AFC games with all five of their remaining matchups in-conference. The Broncos can't finish tied with the Chiefs, because of the conference-record tiebreaker. The Broncos would need a most unexpected collapse from Kansas City to win the division.-- Jeff Legwold

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