- Associated Press - Monday, December 2, 2013

Three-quarters of the way to the NFL playoffs, the Texans and Falcons have taken charge _ of the chase for the top overall draft pick.

A year ago, they both were 11-1 and thinking Super Bowl.

For anyone who believes pro football is predictable, citing the presence of the Patriots and the absence of the Bills in the postseason each year, a look at the 2012 standings through 12 games is enlightening.

So let’s look.

AFC EAST

The Patriots (9-3) have the same record as in `12, and just as much command of the division. They’re aiming higher: home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If they win out and Denver slips, they’ll get it, even with a banged-up team and more weaknesses than usual.

Just as in last December, Miami, the Jets and Buffalo don’t have winning records. The Bills will miss the playoffs for a 14th straight season, almost unimaginable in league where year-to-year turnover in the standings is the norm.

AFC NORTH

The Ravens (6-6) were 9-3 and two games up, but about to hit a slump they obviously overcame to win the division and, eventually, the Super Bowl. Cincinnati was tied with Pittsburgh, two games in arrears, but now the Bengals are 8-4 and with a shot at a first-round bye if they can sweep their final four games. The Steelers are 5-7 and struggling to stay relevant, something they couldn’t do down the stretch in 2012.

Cleveland is 4-8 again. With QB issues again.

AFC SOUTH

Here’s where things get a bit absurd. The Texans were 11-1, had clinched a playoff berth and were headed for the AFC’s best record. Then they got routed at New England, won only once more and wound up in the wild-card round.

They can only wish for a similar position now. Instead, the Texans (2-10) have dropped a franchise-record 10 straight games, saw their coach suffer a mini-stroke at halftime of a loss and lost star running back Arian Foster to a back injury.

Indianapolis, 8-4 again, has a three-game lead over Tennessee (5-7), which has actually improved by one win from last year. The Colts can clinch the division this weekend.

Jacksonville (3-9) lost its first eight games this year. It was 2-10 last year in Mike Mularkey’s lone season as coach.

Story Continues →