It's that time of year again. The time where seasons are defined and playoff races really heat up. So what better way to enjoy it than peruse through a no-longer-premature playoff preview?
At this point in the season, four of the eight divisions in the NFL have their winner pretty much decided. Two of those divisions have teams that are far and away the best in the conference (NFC East and AFC South), and the other two have teams that are far and away the least sucky in the division (NFC West and AFC West). Because these four assumed division champions are sitting on the throne simply waiting to be crowned, I'm simply going to exempt them from these standings. Because, really, do I need to further explore Tennessee's stifling defense or how bad the rest of the AFC West teams are compared to Denver? Me and my overarching laziness say no.
That all said, the following teams have been determined to be locks for the playoffs and therefore will not be ranked for the remainder of the regular season: the New York Giants (11-1), Tennessee Titans (11-1), Denver Broncos (7-5), and Arizona Cardinals (7-5). Congratulations on making the playoffs, fellas. We'll tear into you and your idiot recievers, running back's disregard for relationships, complete lack of defense, and quarterback's oldness...after week 17.
Now that we have that out of the way, onto the rest of the teams fighting for playoff spots. First off, here's the rest of the NFC, ranked by their likelihood of making the playoffs based on record, remaining schedule, and overall performance. Starting at the top (of what's left)...
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3) (last week: 4)
It's Tampa Bay vs. Carolina on Monday Night Football. It's totally worth listening to Tony Kornheiser make a fool of himself. Remember when he dropped this gem on us?
I took high-school Spanish, and that either means ‘nobody is going to touch him’ or ‘could you pick up my dry cleaning in the morning.
At least he still has the Penguin Dance.
2. Carolina Panthers (9-3) (last week: 3)
I'm still mad at them for beating Green Bay, but they have the ability to win the NFC South despite a tough field. But I have a gut feeling that Tampa is going to win next Monday, which is why I have Carolina below them. Even if they do lose, they still have an advantage at getting one of the two wild card berths.
3. Dallas Cowboys (8-4) (last week: 6)
Dallas started out the season as everyone's chic pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Then Tony Romo got hurt, Brad Johnson filled in, T.O. acted like a jerk, and they were considered risky picks to even make the playoffs. Romo's return sparked a return to competence in Dallas, as they're tied with Atlanta (the current holder of the second wild card spot) at 8-4. Unless they can catch New York (which they can't, because no one can), Dallas is just one Atlanta slip-up away from getting into the postseason.
4. Atlanta Falcons (8-4) (last week: 7)
Michael Turner had his revenge game against his former employers last week as Atlanta handled the suddenly disasterous San Diego Chargers. Matt Ryan continues to impress; I think at one point on Sunday I totally forgot that he was a rookie. This week, they get a trip to the Big Easy before a major showdown with current NFC South leading Tampa Bay next week, followed by a trip up to Minnesota. After the whole Michael Vick thing and the 4-12 season that followed, I'm pulling for Atlanta to continue it's resurgence and make the playoffs.
5. Minnesota Vikings (7-5) (last week: 9)
The new leaders in the NFC Wedgie division promptly had any celebrations cut short by the news of the Williamses suspension. While they were able to get the courts involve and temporarily freeze the NFL's ruling (which allows them to play), the courts are eventually going to come to a decision, and that decision might leave Minnesota without the heart of its run defense. This upcoming week, Minnesota plays the lowly Lions at home, who they only barely beat back in week 6. Three points about this game:
- The Lions are 0-12 and are desperately trying to avoid a winless season.
- The last time the Lions were 0-12 going into a game at Minnesota, this happened.
- Daunte Culpepper wasn't thrilled about how his tenure in Minnesota ended, and he has Kevin Jones and Calvin Johnson to work with.
I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'...
6. Chicago Bears (6-6) (last week: 8)
They are who we thought they were: mediocre. Kyle Orton threw three killer picks in Chicago's goose-egg of a game against Minnesota that all but tied the division. However, if they can get their act together and take advantage of Minnesota's possible loss of their two defensive stars, Da Bears have a shot at retaking the NFC North. But they'll have to make sure they take care of business against Green Bay in week 16, or risk losing out on a playoff spot because of divisional record.
7. Washington Redskins (7-5) (last week: 5)
Washington is a good team that is cursed by playing in a tough division. It also doesn't help that the uber-strong NFC South stands to send three teams to the postseason, keeping anyone else from earning a berth. Clinton Portis is a bit banged up, too, but Washington needs a lot to happen to have a shot at playing beyond week 17.
8. Green Bay Packers (5-7) (last week: 11)
It is gut check time for Green Bay. They need to have three things happen to have the slightest chance at forcing a tie in the division, winning the tiebreaker and the NFC North title, thus making the postseason:
- Go 2-0 in their next two games against Houston, Jacksonville, and Detroit.
- Beat Chicago in week 16.
- Finish off the year by beating Detroit, finish at 9-7, have Chicago finish at no better than 9-7 (Green Bay would have a 5-1 divisional record to Chicago's 3-3) and have Minnesota suffer a complete implosion to finish at no better than 9-7 (Green Bay's 5-1 divisional record would beat Minnesota's likely 4-2 divisional record).
Now, it's certainly possible for this to be the outcome. But it would take a huge meltdown by both Chicago and Minnesota to even open the door for the Packers. Namely, something like this:
Hey, it could happen...again.
Locks for the postseason: New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals
Officially removed from consideration due to dangerous amounts of suck: New Orleans, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, Detroit.
If the playoffs started today, here's how the NFC looks. 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 [4(4) - 6(6)]
NFC North - Minnesota Vikings [3(unranked) - 5(unranked)]
NFC South - Tampa Bay Buccaneers [2(2) - 2(2)]
Wild Card - Carolina Panthers [5(5) - 3(3)]Wild Card - Atlanta Falcons [6(unranked) - 4(unranked)]
Now, we go onto the American Football Conference. Here's the rest of the AFC, ranked by their likelihood of making the playoffs based on record, remaining schedule, and overall performance. Starting at the top (of what's left)...
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3) (last week: 3)
Whooo, they put a hurtin' on New England last week. Although their upcoming three-game stretch involves a visit from Dallas, then trips to Baltimore and Tennessee. If it were any other team, I'd predict them to go 0-3 on that stretch. But Pittsburgh's defense is just so nasty, the only game they could lose is against Tennessee (who has a defense with similar levels of nastiness). Keep an eye on these guys going into the playoffs, because if they can get through this upcoming stretch, they will have some momentum for the playoffs.
2. New York Jets (8-4) (last week: 2)
I have one remark to make about the Jets' loss to Denver at home last week:
In all seriousness, I was up at the Meadowlands on Sunday, and the weather was b-a-d-BAD. But I'm sure they'll feel better after looking at their schedule and seeing games against San Francisco, Buffalo, and Seattle coming up. This team could easily go 12-4 and give Pittsburgh a run at the first-round bye.
3. Indianapolis Colts (8-4) (last week: 5)
Their next three games are against Cincinnati, Detroit, and Jacksonville. Their last game is against Tennessee, who will probably rest some (if not most) of their starters. Don't be surprised if the Colts end up 12-4 at season's end. Plus, Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning.
4. New England Patriots (7-5) (last week: 6)
The Pats responded to my comparison of mashed potatoes by getting creamed by Pittsburgh. But they get Seattle and Oakland coming up in the next two weeks, and they somehow have the 9th-ranked rushing offense in the league with 130.5 yards per game. How did that happen? Look for the Patriots to make a late-season push to get to 11-5 and a wild card berth.
5. Baltimore Ravens (8-4) (last week: 7)
I have Joe Flacco on my fantasy team, and I just started putting him in my lineup a few weeks ago. Talk about timely roster moves; the guy has simply been rock-solid the last few weeks. Unfortunately, I'll probably have to bench him against Washington, Pittsburgh, and Dallas. Like I said last week, the Ravens are a good team, but I simply don't see them finishing any better than 9-7, which won't be good enough for the playoffs this year.
6. Miami Dolphins (7-5) (last week: 9)
Miami has performed valiantly this season, and the playoffs are still a feasible outcome for them, as their next three opponents are Buffalo, San Francisco, and Kansas City. Can they really turn a 1-15 season into a 10-6 season? Bill Parcells must know something we don't. Which I suppose is obvious, considering he's a football genius and we...aren't.
7. Buffalo Bills (6-6) (last week: 8)
They need to win against Miami next week, or Buffalo will be done quicker than you can say "wide right".
Locks for the postseason: Tennessee Titans, Denver Broncos
Officially removed from consideration due to dangerous amounts of suck: Oakland, Kansas City, Cincinnatti, Houston, Cleveland, Jacksonville, San Diego.
If the playoffs started today, here's how the AFC looks. Any questions? Consult the tiebreaking procedures:
Division - Team [seed (last week) - ranking by record(last week)]
AFC East - New York Jets [3(3) - 3(3)]
AFC West - Denver Broncos [4(4) - 6(6)]
AFC North - Pittsburgh Steelers [2(2) - 2(2)]
AFC South - Tennessee Titans [1(1) - 1(1)]
Wild Card - Indianapolis Colts [5(unranked) - 4(unranked)]
Wild Card - Baltimore Ravens [6(5) - 5(4)]