It's that time again. No, not time to elect the new leader of the free world. It's time for the second installment of the (hopefully) weekly premature playoff preview! This week is an exciting one in that we can finally start removing certain teams from playoff consideration: a whopping seven clubs have been deemed too suck-y to remain in postseason contention, four from the NFC.
So show your patriotism and make sure your voice is heard...after the jump.
Just like before, I took the NFC and ranked them by their likelihood of making the playoffs based on record, remaining schedule, and overall performance. Starting at the top...
1. New York Giants (7-1) (last week: 1)
The Giants are officially my "Shake Them Haters Off" team of 2008. Everybody(including me) said that they couldn't repeat, especially with the loss of their two best pass rushers, the ongoing Plaxico Burress situation, and the fact that Eli Manning is still Eli Manning (all the Eli > Peyton pieces be damned!) They're the best of the NFC and probably will be at season's end. They've got three legit running backs, a dominant offensive line, and a pass rush that just won't quit. So, go ahead G-Men...
2. Arizona Cardinals (5-3) (last week: 9)
I know what you're thinking. This is way too high for the Cardinals. But they will remain in the top 4 spots of this ranking for the rest of the season, guaranteed. So before you write anything questioning my intelligence, integrity, or ability to perform simple cognitive tasks, remember this: Arizona is in the NFC West. The rest of the three teams are tied at 2-6. Arizona is winning their division and going to the playoffs. What they do with it once they get there is for later consideration. Write it down, and take it to the bank.
3. Washington Redskins (6-3) (last week: 3)
Washington had a rough go of it in a Monday night loss against the vaunted Steelers. It also didn't help that they were the only NFC East team to lose this weekend. But, Jason Campbell still is posting a rating of 92.4, Clinton Portis is about one rushing attempt away from posting 1,000 yards, and the 'Skins are on a bye, which lets them get key players like Jason Taylor and Shawn Springs. Oh, and they still have a top-10 defense and the fifth-ranked rushing offense. Call me crazy, but while they may not overtake the Giants, they've got an inside track at the first Wild Card spot.
4. Carolina Panthers (6-2) (last week: 2)
Why is the second-best team in the NFC ranked two spots below where they ought to be? Because the NFC South is suddenly up for grabs. Tampa Bay and Atlanta are making a case to overtake the Panthers, and New Orleans is lurking in the shadows at .500. Then again, they might take this as a major lack of respect and turn it into a 12-4 season and lock up the 2-seed in the NFC. Hey, it's worked for other people.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) (last week: 5)
I was ready to write off the Bucs entirely at halftime of their game against Kansas City. Letting Kolby Smith and Jamaal Charles run roughshod over your defense is deplorable. But, Tampa managed to force overtime and got the win, keeping a firm hold on second place in their division. I'll keep them here for another week, but Tampa Bay, you are hanging on by a thread.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (5-3) (last week: 10)
Beating Seattle while Brian Westbrook registered under 100 total yards shows the versatility of this offense. Over the course of four scoring drives, Donovan McNabb had one incompletion. And who the hell is Brent Celek? Nobody knows. Even his Wikipedia article is two sentences long. Hey, if Philly can get career games out of nobodies, they're well on their way to clinching a postseason spot.
7. Atlanta Falcons (5-3) (last week: 6)
Don't get me wrong, the Falcons have been the surprise of the year. Michael Turner broke free of L.T.2's shadow, Roddy White became a relevant WR, and Matt Ryan is showing how he deserved that lucrative contract before ever playing in an NFL game. But they're stuck in a tough division behind Carolina and Tampa Bay, and the NFC East will likely monopolize the wild card berths. Look on the bright side, Atlanta. You don't suck anymore!
8. Chicago Bears (5-3) (last week: 8)
Yes, they mounted a comeback against the lowly Lions of Detroit (which I am henceforth using the French pronunciation: 'de-TWAH', because they are soft. Like the French.) The fact that they had to mount a comeback against the Lions is kinda sad. It also helps that their two biggest division threats (GB and Minny) are both 4-4 and play each other this Sunday. So why are the Bears so low on this list? Because Admiral Neckbeard has been grounded for the forseeable future, replaced by this guy:
Not good, Chicago fans, not good.
9. Green Bay Packers (4-4) (last week: 7)
Green Bay dropped what was a very winnable game against the NFL-best Tennessee Titans, and in doing so they have reinforced the fact that they have no run defense. Justin Harrell, Atari Bigby, and Al Harris coming back from injuries is an encouraging sign, but unless they can contain the ever-dangerous Adrian Peterson next week and the rookie sensation Matt Forte the week after, Green Bay's playoff hopes are all but dashed.
10. Minnesota Vikings (4-4) (last week: 12)
Minnesota handled their business against the Schaub-less Texans on Sunday, which brought them back to .500 going into a showdown with Green Bay. The Vikings' defensive line issues continue as Jared Allen is suffering from a separated shoulder. If he can't go next week and if any ruling comes down against Pat and/or Kevin Williams for the whole water pill thing, their defense will be at half strength and their playoff chances will diminish greatly. Plus, they're still coached by Brad Childress.
11. Dallas Cowboys (5-4) (last week: 4)
Why are they so very low on this list? Because they're last in the NFC East. Not only are they unlikely to overtake the Giants for the division title, they are at risk of being beaten out by Philly and Washington for both wild card spots. Seriously, I've never heard of a division this tough in my life; the Cowboys could potentially miss the playoffs entirely. And the way that the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins have played thus far, it gets more and more likely each week.
It also doesn't help that the Cowboys made a gaffe for the ages after Tony Romo got hurt. I mean, yes, any team is going to take a hit when the starting QB goes down (unless of course you're New England, c. 2001). Did they not remember how slow and bumbling Brad Johnson is? Was his noodle arm forgotten? Starting Brad Johnson makes about as much sense as the following statement from the honorable Senator from Alaska:
And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's-it's a series of tubes.
Oh, mercy. As long as I shall live, I will never get tired of dropping Ted Stevens quotes to and fro.
12. New Orleans Saints (4-4) (last week: 11)
The Saints are literally thisclose to being removed from consideration. Their only saving grace is that they're only 2 games back in the spandex-tight NFC South and Drew Brees is liable to pass for 400 yards at any given point. If Reggie Bush comes back from injury, Marques Colston returns to last season's form, and the rest of the Saints indicted in the water pill investigation avoid suspension, they have a chance at making a run in November and December. But that's an awful lot of "if's".
Officially removed from consideration due to dangerous amounts of suck: Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, Detroit.
If the playoffs started today, here's how they'd look. Any questions? Consult the tiebreaking procedures:
Division - Team [seed (last week) - ranking by record(last week)]
NFC East - New York Giants [1(1) - 1(1)]
NFC West - Arizona Cardinals [3(4) - 5(6)]
NFC North - Chicago Bears [4(3) - 6(5)]
NFC South - Carolina Panthers [2(2) - 2(2)]
Wild Card - Washington Redskins [ 5(5) - 3(3)]
Wild Card - Tampa Bay Buccaneers [6(unseeded) - 4(unranked)]