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Week 13 Forecast: Contenders and Pretenders in NFC

Washington Redskins linebackers Lorenzo Alexander, left, and Andre Carter sack Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivias

The NFC forecast heading into the first Sunday in December remains cloudy. Week 13 usually means a clearer idea of where teams stand in the rankings. Basically, you're either a contender or pretender at this point in the season. But out of the 16 NFC teams, 11 are within one game of first place in their division and all four divisions are still up for grabs.

The Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints (as last year's Super Bowl champs) face the toughest schedules entering the final 5 weeks of the season (they'll face opponents with a combined 31-24 record) and while the Saints are trying to get back their championship swagger, the Bears will still attract naysayers.

Certainly, with big wins over the New York Jets and New England Patriots (they face the Pats on Dec. 12 and the Jets on Dec. 26) they can win some converts.

The news is brighter for the Philadelphia Eagles (one game behind the New York Giants in the NFC East) and Atlanta Falcons (currently first in the NFC South), who will face opponents with a combined 22-33 record.

Barring a monumental collapse, the Falcons will likely sail through their two division games against the hapless Carolina Panthers (at Carolina on Dec. 12 and at home on Jan. 2), giving them an edge against New Orleans, also a game behind in the standings.

The NFC West remains the most difficult division to forecast and one can chalk that up to general mediocrity rather than contentious competition. Call it the NFC Worst.

None of the four teams have a record over .500. St. Louis and Seattle are tied for first place with a dismal 5-6 record and San Francisco trails by one game at 4-7.

The Rams face the biggest challenge with an opponents mark at 27-28 (Seattle and San Francisco share a 26-29 opponents record) and three road games. Last week marked their first road win (at Detroit) of the season. The chance of a 7-9 NFC West team winning the division is becoming increasingly likely.

Philadelphia gets the first chance for the NFC race on Thursday when they face a resurgent Houston Texans team that handed a blowout loss to Tennessee on Sunday. If they win, it only solidifies the fact that the Michael Vick Project worked brilliantly for coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

If they lose, the Texans remain in the hunt for the lead in the AFC South as both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts lost in Week 12. But that's the AFC and a completely different fish to fry.

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