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Some juicy division races, some dry ones

By Barry Wilner

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 10 2010 12:20 p.m. MST

Here's a quick way to get dizzy: Look for the defending division champions in the current NFL standings.

Instant vertigo.

Not one division winner from 2009 is alone on top this season. The Patriots (6-2) and Colts (5-3) are tied for first place in their sectors, and the others are either playing catch-up or are also-rans.

How teams got where they are halfway through the schedule, and where they might be headed:

NFC SOUTH

Let's start with the place where the Super Bowl champions reside. The Saints (6-3) trail Atlanta by a half-game.

New Orleans has begun to gets it offense on track, but needs running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush to get healthy. The defense has allowed the fewest points in the division.

The Falcons (6-2) have ridden the big plays of Matt Ryan throwing to Roddy White, the power running of a healthy Michael Turner, and a solid run defense to the best record in the NFC. They already have a win at New Orleans.

The Buccaneers (5-3) are on the rise, with a penchant for comeback victories behind rapidly developing QB Josh Freeman and rookie wideout Mike Williams. Their run defense is suspect, and they are raw.

Carolina is a mess under lame-duck coach John Fox.

Projected Winner: Saints.

NFC NORTH

Yes, the Bears (5-3) are in the mix, but their inability to protect QB Jay Cutler and get sacks figures to hurt down the stretch. Four wins came against last-place teams.

Green Bay (6-3) can really use this week off; no NFC team has more key injuries. If the Packers get healthy, they are Super Bowl contenders, particularly if they find a running game to complement Aaron Rodgers and his receivers.

Minnesota (3-5) leads the division in drama. It also has a relatively easy upcoming schedule, but can Brett Favre hold up? Strange question considering his record ironman streak. It's been a strange year.

Detroit (2-6) is vastly improved despite its weak record, with a young core led by 2010 draftees Ndamukong Suh and Jahvid Best.

Projected Winner: Packers.

NFC EAST

The debacle in Dallas (1-7) has taken the attention away from how well the Giants (6-2) rush the quarterback (24 sacks), run and throw. What the Giants haven't done is beat a top contender.

The Eagles (5-3) impressed in Sunday's victory over Indianapolis with a balanced offense led by the rejuvenated Michael Vick and a healthy DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy. They need more consistency on defense.

Mike Shanahan's weird benching of Donovan McNabb could lead to more problems in Washington (4-4). Could Dallas have any more problems?

Projected Winner: Giants.

NFC WEST

A potential nightmare for the NFL: a sub-.500 team winning this division.

St. Louis and Seattle are 4-4 and struggle on the road. The Rams are gutsy and top overall draft pick QB Sam Bradford has been superb despite few threats around him, except RB Steven Jackson. The Seahawks have been outscored by 51 points and are banged-up.

Arizona (3-5) can't find a quarterback or a defense. San Francisco (2-6) was the division favorite coming in, but poor coaching and communication has hurt.

Projected Winner: Seahawks.

AFC SOUTH

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