Raiders or Pats for No. 1 seed? Lions or Packers in NFC North?


With another eventful Sunday in the books, it's go time, as we head into the final quarter of the regular season.

I spent the weekend "Schein-ing" up the crystal ball. Now let's play a game of "More likely to ...", Schein Nine style.

1) MORE LIKELY TO ... get home-field advantage in the AFC: New England or Oakland?

I was one of the first passengers on the Raider bandwagon, picking them to win the AFC West back in May. And what a ride it's been!

Derek Carr is the NFL MVP, as I've been writing and saying for weeks. Khalil Mack is the Defensive Player of the Year -- as I predicted in the preseason -- and the ultimate closer. Oakland boasts the second-best offensive line in the NFL (behind only The Great Wall of Dallas). Jack Del Rio has changed the culture. And you saw the special comeback ability from this team in the second half on Sunday vs. Buffalo -- down 24-9 halfway through the third quarter, the Raiders finished the game on a 29-0 run.

Oakland and New England are both 10-2. And the Patriots losing Rob Gronkowski is a huge blow. He's special; the rest of Tom Brady's targets are not. And the Patriots' defense since the ill-fated Jamie Collins trade has been suspect. (No, clubbing and confusing Jeff Fisher and Jared Goff doesn't mean the unit is "back.")

Still, having said all that, the answer here remains New England.

Oakland has been a revelation this season, but the Raiders still have road games against all three division foes. Playing in Kansas City on a short week this Thursday will be very tough.

The Patriots' remaining schedule is no cakewalk -- Ravens at home this week, with road trips to Denver and Miami on the horizon -- but it's more manageable than Oakland's. Oh, and New England still has Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the best coach and quarterback, respectively, in NFL history.

It will be close, but I still think the AFC goes through Foxborough. And the Patriots are on a collision course to meet the Raiders in an enticing AFC title game.

2) MORE LIKELY TO ... be named Offensive Rookie of the Year: Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott?

Dak has a special case. He's so smart and clutch and makes all the throws. The fourth-round pick (crazy!) is incredibly accurate. And did you know that his passer rating of 108.6 is six points higher than the next-closest rookie season. (RGIII posted a 102.4 mark when he won Offensive ROY in 2012.)

But it's Zeke. And he's getting the nod from me, as an Associated Press voter.

Elliott has 1,607 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns in 12 games. He is the primary reason why the Cowboys are 11-1. Zeke makes the entire team better. He takes the pressure off Dak and the Cowboys' defense. I thought this could be the case when Dallas plucked him with the fourth overall pick. But I didn't think he unequivocally would be the best running back in the league this soon.

3) MORE LIKELY TO ... snap a streak first: Dallas or San Francisco?

The Cowboys have won 11 straight, while the inept Niners have been on the losing end 11 consecutive times.

Now, in theory, if the Niners just got hammered by the lowly Bears -- which they did, losing 26-6 on Sunday -- they will never win. But the scheduling gods have the Jets and Ryan Fitzpatrick coming to town this week. I think the Niners can win that game, with the Jets on a short week, traveling across the country. And two weeks after that, the Niners get the gift of facing Jeff Fisher, in what could be a historic loss for the Rams' coach. And remember: L.A. is the only team the Niners have beaten this year.

So, the answer here is San Francisco -- the Niners have a better chance of winning before the Cowboys lose.

I'm not picking against the 'Boys, even with games coming up against the Giants, Bucs and Lions. Last Thursday's win at Minnesota proved my point that Dallas is the team to beat for the Super Bowl. It wasn't pretty for the Cowboys -- and the Vikings played great defense and rode the home crowd -- yet Dallas still won. That's not luck. That's championship fiber.

4) MORE LIKELY TO ... win the AFC North: Pittsburgh or Baltimore?

Both are 7-5, and the way the Ravens and Joe Flacco just shredded Miami was noteworthy. These two teams meet on Christmas Day in Pittsburgh. I like the Steelers to win that game and the division.

Baltimore still has a game at New England -- though contests against Philly and Cincy are quite winnable. Baltimore's defense is solid. And maybe Flacco's ready to get back on track, fresh off his best game of the year.

But Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell are all special. Ladarius Green emerging at tight end is huge for the Steelers. And Pittsburgh's remaining schedule includes the Bills, Bengals and Browns. Major advantage.

5) MORE LIKELY TO ... have three teams in playoffs: AFC West or NFC East?

If the season ended today -- NEWS FLASH: It doesn't -- the Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos, Cowboys and Giants would be playoff-bound, with Washington just outside the field.

I think Oakland, Kansas City and Denver all make it, even with the trio battling each other down the stretch. They are too good. Meanwhile, I think the NFC East gets just one wild card. Both Atlanta and Tampa are going to make it. Thus, the answer here is the AFC West.

I love Washington's upside (as I wrote here last week), but I was very disappointed with the loss in Arizona. (Jordan Reed's absence was clearly felt.)

And the Giants' trip up the ladder in competition predictably failed, as they lost in Pittsburgh. It's different facing the varsity after feasting on the freshmen.

6) MORE LIKELY TO ... lead the league in passing yards: Drew Brees or Matt Ryan?

It's Brees, who currently tops the charts with 3,913 passing yards, exactly 100 ahead of Ryan. The Saints' defense is deplorable. New Orleans is going to be trailing and Brees is going to be throwing in meaningless games, while Ryan is still right in the thick of the playoff race.

This could be a nice little subplot in Week 17, though, as these two QBs are set to face off in Atlanta. And the ineptitude of the Saints' and Falcons' pass defenses -- which ranked 30th and 32nd, respectively, at the end of Sunday -- will only add to the intrigue.

7) MORE LIKELY TO ... win the NFC North: Detroit or Green Bay?

The Lions' win in New Orleans was impressive and authoritative. But I'm going with the Packers.

After this week's cupcake home game against the Bears, the Lions must hit the road to face the Giants and Cowboys before the Week 17 showdown against the Pack in Detroit. That's a tough close to the season, to say the least -- especially for a franchise with a limited winning pedigree.

Jordy Nelson's re-emergence is gigantic for the Packers -- just in time, with Seattle coming to town.

Green Bay is flawed, but Aaron Rodgers is outstanding. Matthew Stafford's had an eye-popping year and Detroit deserves so much credit for getting to 8-4 after a 1-3 start. But I'm not counting out the Packers at all.

8) MORE LIKELY TO ... win the AFC South: Houston, Tennessee or Indianapolis?

Houston and Tennessee are currently locked at 6-6 atop the AFC South. And if the Colts can earn a road win over the Jets on "Monday Night Football," we're looking at a three-way tie for first. So who'll end up representing this underwhelming division in the postseason?

The Texans are losers of three straight. Jadeveon Clowney is hurt. And yet, I think it's Houston, by a smidge.

The schedule reads at Colts, vs. Jaguars, vs. Bengals, at Titans. It's not impossible for the Texans, as dreadful as Brock Osweiler has been, to run the table. Frankly two or three wins could do it.

I love DeMarco Murray (my pick for Comeback Player of the Year), Marcus Mariota and Tennessee's strong offensive line. But the Titans' schedule is working against them, with games against the Broncos and Chiefs on tap next.

And when it comes to Indy ... I still love me some Andrew Luck, but I just don't trust the rest of that team. At all.

9) MORE LIKELY TO ... evoke my ire: Cam Newton's wardrobe or Cam Newton's play?

The charade of "discipline" offered up by "Riverboat" "Titanic" Ron Rivera on Sunday evening was laughable. Newton was sidelined for the first series -- which ended up being only one play, as Mike Tolbert couldn't handle Derek Anderson's pass, leading to a pick -- because he broke the Panthers' dress code. Please. Would Rivera have pulled this stunt if the Panthers were in contention, as opposed to well under .500? Not a chance. Rivera routinely enables Cam -- see: the coach's reaction after Newton's petulant press conference following the Super Bowl loss -- so don't give me this faux discipline now.

No, I'm not gonna get all hot-and-bothered about Cam not wearing a tie. His play, on the other hand, has been dreadful. Have you watched the reigning MVP this season? His completion percentage (54.7), yards per attempt (7.0), touchdown-to-interception ratio (14:8) and passer rating (80.6) are all way down from last season (59.8, 7.8, 35:10, 99.4). I thought, with Kelvin Benjamin back in the fold, we were supposed to get SuperCam Plus ... Not so much. In Sunday night's 33-point loss at Seattle, Newton connected on just 14 of his 32 pass attempts, finishing with a completion percentage below 50 for the third straight week.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.



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