Have you been waiting for it? Do you stay up at night wondering when it's going to be published? Have you caught yourself wandering into traffic because you simply cannot stand the thought of life without it?
Well stop it. Seriously. Traffic is dangerous. Here's your NFC Premature Playoff Preview. Now go lie down before you hurt yourself.
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 (8-1) (last week: 1)
The Giants flat out brought it in their Sunday night showdown with Philadelphia. The Yardgetter (Brian Westbrook) was limited to 59 total yards for the game, and the G-Men showed off that shiny #1 run game to the tune of 218 yards on the ground. The Giants are also 2nd in the league in points scored, but they also have a top-7 ranking in all major defensive categories. Keep it up, Giants, and you just might make the playoffs.
2. Arizona Cardinals (6-3) (last week: 2)
Just like I told you last week: the Cardinals are winning the NFC West. They are currently 6-3. The other three "teams" are a combined 6-21. Talk about a big fish in a little pond.
3. Washington Redskins (6-3) (last week: 3)
The 'Skins were on a bye last week, but have two major obstacles to overcome: Clinton Portis' knee injury and a visit from the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. If Portis can't go, that means that former NFL MVP and current backup Shaun Alexander gets the start. In case you hadn't noticed, Alexander's decline has been rather spectacular, going from the best RB in football to unemployed in two short seasons. Never has a team clamored so much for Ladell Betts.
4. Carolina Panthers (7-2) (last week: 4)
While the Panthers boast the 2nd best record in the NFC, they are shadowed by division rivals Tampa Bay and Atlanta, both at 6-3. It seems that the Bucs and Falcons simply won't go away, no matter how much the people in Charlotte want them to. Their defense is enjoying a return to prominence, including the second best scoring defense in the league. Games against Detroit and Green Bay in the next three weeks, plus a showdown with Atlanta, will likely determine whether the Panthers win the division outright or are mired down in competition with the other two teams.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) (last week: 5)
Panther Shadows #1: A tough game against Minnesota after the bye week followed by a relative cakewalk over Detroit could put them in good position to challenge Carolina for the divisional title if they can take advantage of Minnesota's weaknesses. Tampa Bay has been a pleasant surprise this season, and even Cadillac Williams stands a chance at making a comeback from his devastating knee injury, which may not help against the Vikings this week but gives the Bucs more depth in the backfield.
6. Atlanta Falcons (6-3) (last week: 7)
Panther Shadows #2: The Falcons are, as Bill Simmons put it, playing with house money at this point. Matt Ryan continues to impress in his rookie campaign and it seems that the team really does have a shot at the postseason. Not bad for a team that was picked to win 3 games at best before the season started. I guess you can do a lot with lowered expectations...
7. Chicago Bears (5-4) (last week: 8)
Da Bears certainly missed Admiral Neckbeard against the Titans, but put up a great fight anyway against the NFL's only undefeated team. However, the loss pushes them back into a tie with the resurgent Minnesota Vikings for the NFC North divisional crown, and a Sunday game against Green Bay (4-5) could make it a potential 3-way tie with 6 games left to play. I move we rename the NFC North the "Wedgie Division".
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-4) (last week: 10)
If Minnesota can figure out how to make Gus Frerotte end his generous ways and teach punter Chris Kluwe and their return units how to not suck, they would be a dynamite football team. Adrian Peterson is the first back to reach 1,000 yards in the league, and the defense made Aaron Rodgers and the Packers look positively pathetic on Sunday by registering two(!) safeties. But, for now, they are merely tied for the NFC North lead with the Chicago Bears, who have already bested the Vikes once this season.
9. Dallas Cowboys (5-4) (last week: 11)
The Dallas faithful eagerly await the return of Tony Romo from his boo-boo. As well they should: take a look at Brad Johnson's passer rating over the last three weeks: 45.5, 75.6, and 27.3. Yikes. Romo will definitely spark the flagging Dallas offense, which comes just in time for a divisional matchup with 6-3 Washington. Good luck, Dallas.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) (last week: 6)
Ouch. That's all I can say after their crushing loss to the Giants on Sunday night. They had a shot at the end of the game to get into scoring position but the New York defense sniffed out the run early and forced the turnover on downs. This promped Al Michaels to bring up an interesting point: in the 2008 season, the Eagles have faced twenty 3rd-and-1 or 4th-and-1 situations. When they pass for the first down, they are 3 for 3. When they run for the first down, they are 5 for 17, which is just over a 33% success rate. Looks like Andy Reid needs to reevaluate his situational playcalling. And because he needs to, he never will.
11. Green Bay Packers (4-5) (last week: 9)
The loss to Minnesota last Sunday was devastating to the Pack's playoff chances. In a conference which contains three 6-3 teams which are not division leaders, the only way for Green Bay to make the playoffs is by winning the division title. This week's game against Chicago will give Green Bay a shot at that goal. But given the rest of the schedule, the road will be a rocky one. If I was a Packer fan (which I am), I'd be nervous. Just like this guy:
12. New Orleans Saints (4-5) (last week: 12)
If New Orleans makes an improbable run and actually makes the playoffs, they will be the darkest horse of all the dark horses. They won't even be black, they'll be a black hole. Reggie Bush is still struggling with a knee injury, and a loss to Atlanta doesn't help the Saints' case either. But they haven't been mathematically eliminated...yet.
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(3) - 3(5)]
NFC North - Chicago Bears [4(4) - 6(6)]
NFC South - Carolina Panthers [2(2) - 2(2)]
Wild Card - Tampa Bay Buccaneers [5(6) - 5(4)]Wild Card - Washington Redskins [6(5) - 4(3)]