Week five is typically way too early to start discussion the playoff race, but I'm starting to come to the conclusion that 2011 is different. Each week we are seeing the normal parity of the NFL turn into a battle of the haves and the have nots. Right now most the divisions have a clear front runner or have broken down into a two team race. Sure there are a few exceptions like the AFC North or NFC East where no one team wants to pull away or the AFC South where most of the teams are allergic to winning, but for the most part it's now pretty clear who are the contenders who are going to looking at middling seasons at best.
So yes Jim Mora, it's time to talk playoffs. Namely, who are the six teams that are really shaping up to be the early contenders to have a post season. The other interesting part is going to be who among those teams are the ones look like a real challenge to the Packers.
I'm working under the assumption that it's going to take a minimum of 10-6 to make in this year. Typically that's the magic number where a team starts to fight for a wild card spot and or wrap up a weak division. As a result I have a heavy bias against teams that have three losses already because there is not much room for error when it's not half way through the season and the team has lost half the games they can really lose. As a result I'm going to break this down into three catagories: the Contenders (the teams I really see as having a shot at the playoffs), the Down but not out (the teams that are on thin ice but may be able to turn things around), and the Dead Men Walking (stick a fork in these teams they are pretty much done).
1. The Packers. No surprise here but for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the defense the Packers really are looking like the most complete team in football right now. It's still one week at a time, but getting that Lion situation under control will probably mean winning the division and focusing on getting homefield advantage through the playoffs.
2. The Lions. They are the real deal unfortunately. They are tied for the best record in football and have about eight net points on the Packers so are slightly higher on the Packers on the rankings. The next two weeks will tell if they can keep this up till Thanksgiving.
3. The Saints. Man am I happy that we beat this team week one. The Saints are the second best team in the conference in my opinion (you'll get your chance to prove me wrong Lion fan), and maybe the second best team in football.
4. The 49ers. If this team doesn't win the west I'll be shocked. This week against the Lions will tell just how good these Niners are.
6. The Buccaneers. Overrated? Maybe, especially after a terrible loss this past week in SF, but then again who else is going to take that last wild card spot? Dallas? Chicago? Atlanta? Really?
Down But Not Out
1. The Cowboys. Anything can happen in the NFC East and this team has talent. If Romo can be smart in situational football (big if but roll with me) then this team could go on a tear.
2. The Bears. I'm not quite ready to throw dirt on the Bears yet. I'm not sure why after sucking the life out of MNF's last decent game for a while, but they might be able to make some noise yet and squeek in.
3. The Seahawks. If they can hang around and steal some wins.....AND the 49ers collapse, then I don't see anyone else winning the NFC West.
4. The Eagles. They are on life support, but if they can turn it around the talent and explosion is there to make it to ten wins, or who knows maybe the East can be won with nine wins that wouldn't surprise me either.
Dead Men Walking.
So which of these teams can roll with the Packers? The Saints definitely, we saw that week 1. The Lions and the Niners are interesting in their own regards and this match up this week should answer more questions about each team. Apart from that I don't see many true challengers coming out of the NFC for the Packers.