Every team in the NFL has played 10 games. The final BYE week has come and gone. We’re officially in the home stretch. So, it’s time to start thinking about the playoffs, for real this time.
Damn right. Let’s go with the AFC first.
Houston, Baltimore, New England, and Denver are your divisional leaders right now. All but Baltimore have a 3-game lead; Baltimore is up by 2 and they JUST beat Pittsburgh, the next-closest team in the North. I think it’s pretty safe to say, barring some unforeseen set of injuries, these four teams win their divisions.
The rest of the way, Houston is on the road 4 of 6. They play Indy twice, which should prove pivotal in the overall playoff race. They embark upon a 3-game road trip this week on Thanksgiving in Detroit. Then, they go to Tennessee and finish it with their toughest remaining game against New England. My guess? They go 1-2 in this stretch, then follow it up by going 3-0 the rest of the way to finish 13-3. They will have lost to New England, but they will still win the #1 overall seed thanks to their head-to-head win over Baltimore.
The only team of the top four to play every other team is Denver. They’ve already lost to Houston and New England, so that puts them at a pretty big disadvantage. Nevertheless, they have probably the easiest remaining schedule: two against KC, one against Cle and Oak, one at home vs. Tampa and their toughest remaining game: @ Baltimore. That Ravens game will be key. I don’t think they win that one, but I do think they finish 5-1 to end up 12-4.
Speaking of Baltimore, I think they manage to finish 5-1 as well, but I can’t rightly tell you which one they lose. They could theoretically lose ANY of their remaining games (@SD, vs. Pit, @ Wash, vs. Den, vs. Giants, @ Cin). My guess? They keep winning until week 17 and drop an unnecessary game to the Bengals (that game rendered unnecessary when Houston wins in the morning and Baltimore’s game gets moved to the afternoon).
Which leaves New England. They’re going to lose to the 49ers in Week 15 and that’s going to kill any hope they had of getting a BYE in the first round. Honestly, they might lose another game or two with that defense of theirs, and it wouldn’t shock me. Hard to read. Either they go 5-1 and get the 3-seed over Denver, or they do something considerably worse and get stuck with the 4-seed.
That brings us to the Wild Card. I see Indy blowing this bigtime. I see Cincy and Pittsburgh clawing their way to 9-10 wins and grabbing the final two spots. I see Cincy losing in the first round again and as an upset I see Pittsburgh winning to go to the next round.
Which leads to Houston and Baltimore winning handily, and Baltimore making the Super Bowl. They’ve been close for a number of years now. With New England not much of a threat, I think it’s finally time for Baltimore to shine.
In the NFC, you’ve got Atlanta and you’ve got San Francisco … and you’ve got everyone else.
Atlanta will continue to run away with their division and more than likely – thanks to San Fran’s tie against the Rams – grab the #1 overall seed.
San Francisco has it a tad tough. Four of their final six are on the road (NO, Rams, Sea, NE), with home games against Miami and Arizona. The 49ers are a tough team to read too, because they have these slip-ups at inopportune moments. The loss to Minnesota, the loss at home to the Giants, the tie at home to the Rams. But, with that defense, I think they continue to stiffen up as they did against the Bears last night. I think, as the playoffs get closer, their focus is only going to intensify further. That having been said, it wouldn’t shock me to see them fall to a #3 seed. None of those remaining road games are cakewalks by any stretch. I think they fall to the Seahawks and one other (don’t sleep on those Rams who took them to the brink). With 4 losses and the tie, I think that knocks them out of the #2 seed by a half-game.
Who gets the #2 seed? As much as it sickens me, I think it’s the Packers. They play Minnesota twice, they go on the road to play a banged-up Bears team and a banged-up Giants team (with whispers of Eli playing through some significant arm/shoulder pain), and then they have Detroit and Tennessee at home. I can EASILY see them going 5-1, ending up 12-4 and beating the 49ers by a half game.
As for the East and that #4 seed, so far the Giants have a leg up, but it’s not looking good. Their schedule: GB, @ Wash, NO, @ Atl, @ Bal, Phi. Can they win three more games? I like them against the Eagles and Saints. I hate them against the Pack, Ravens, and Falcons. That leaves that all-important road game in Washington D.C. That might be the one that pushes them over the top. If not …
Then watch out for Dallas. Four of their final six at home. Two against Washington, Philly, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans. Their other road game is in Cincy. As they split their season series with the Giants (and currently sit with 1 divisional loss to New York’s 2), all Dallas really has to do is win out against Washington and Philly. That gives them 8 wins. One more against Pittsburgh, New Orleans or Cincy is all it would take.
Gun to my head? I like Dallas. Call me crazy, but I think the Giants suffer the post-Super Bowl malaise and the Cowboys win the division in a crazy Week 17, knocking the Giants not just from the divisional lead, but out of the playoffs entirely.
I think Seattle is a lock. Health at all positions, an improving quarterback, a defense that will RAVAGE YOU, and a schedule that’s quite favorable. The Seahawks should win at both Miami and Buffalo. The Seahawks should kill the Rams and Cards at home. That puts them at 10, and 10 puts them into the playoffs any way you slice it. They probably drop that game in Chicago, but I still think the Seahawks narrowly defeat the 49ers to complete the 8-0 season at home. That makes the Seahawks 5-1 the rest of the way, 11-5 overall, and probably a 6-seed. Not bad for a rookie quarterback.
That just leaves the 7-3 Bears (trending downward with their questionmark at the quarterback position) and the 6-4 Bucs (trending upward with their high-flying offense and doing-just-enough defense). Both teams have 3 road games left. The Bears luck out by getting their toughest opponents at home. The Bucs luck out by catching the Falcons in Week 17 when they’re likely to not be trying too hard. Here are the schedules:
- Chicago Bears: Min, Sea, @ Min, GB, @ Ariz, @ Det
- Tampa Bay Bucs: Atl, @ Den, Phi, @ NO, Rams, @ Atl
Since neither team has played one another, that sets Tampa back. Since Tampa is a game behind, that’s another strike against them. The Bears are currently 4-2 in the NFC, Tampa is 3-4. Strike three, you’re out?
I know Tampa has been on a roll, but it’s been mostly against inferior opponents. I think they win at Atlanta against the Falcons’ backups, and I think they handle the Rams and Eagles to give them 9 wins. The question remains: can they beat Atlanta at home and New Orleans on the road? I think they have to win BOTH of those games, finish 5-1 (11-5 overall) and hope for some breaks.
For the Bears to get to 11-5, all they have to do is beat a slumping Vikings team twice, a Seahawks team vastly inferior away from home, and a Cardinals team with no quarterback. Yeah, the Bears looked like ass against the 49ers, but they still have a solid defense that’s going to keep them in most games. I think the Bears easily go 4-2 the rest of the way and steal that 5th seed from the Seahawks.
Where does that put us for the NFC playoffs? #6 Seattle at #3 San Francisco, a.k.a. my worst fucking nightmare. Meanwhile, the Bears get the fucking beach resort vacation that is Dallas. I like my Seahawks, but if they’re forced to play the 49ers on the road, they’re GOING to lose. As for Dallas, forget it, they’ll just be happy to make the playoffs.
That puts San Francisco in a re-match with Green Bay, only this time in Lambeau. The 49ers will systematically dismantle the Packers. And the Falcons will make quick work of the Bears for their first playoff victory in quite some time.
That pits San Fran against Atlanta, and I’m sorry, but the Falcons just aren’t in their league.
San Francisco vs. Baltimore in the Super Bowl. You heard it here first. Probably. Or not. It’s sure to be a good game, but the hype machine going into that week will make us all want to puke. I see nothing but good things from the 49ers as they win the Super Bowl in overtime, 26-23.
On to the rankings:
- San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1): Defense. Wins. Championships. ‘Nuff said. It speaks volumes about this team that you can stick in their backup QB and not miss a beat. I’m saying it now: San Francisco WILL be in the Super Bowl. (Last Week: 4)
- Atlanta Falcons (9-1): It’s a very good sign of the quality of your football team that you can play like such utter ass and still win. No team should win the game after turning the ball over 6 times, I don’t care who you’re playing. The fact that they DID win leads me to believe they’re firmly entrenched in the NFC Championship game come January. (Last Week: 2)
- Houston Texans (9-1): Had they beaten Jacksonville by 6 points, but it was something like a 12-6 final score, Houston would still be ranked first in my poll. The fact that they gave up 458 fucking yards and 37 fucking points, on the other fucking hand, means they drop to third. Why? Because they single-handedly cost me a fantasy football game by getting negative points instead of the fucking 40 they were SUPPOSED to get. It’s been that kind of a season; I won’t bore you with details, but rest assured this is purely a choice based on emotion. Fuck Houston. Fuck the Texans. Fuck the entire fucking state of Texas. (Last Week: 1)
- Green Bay Packers (7-3): Well look who’s won five in a row! Three of them on the road! Nevertheless, this team still has problems. If the Bears lose Cutler for a significant amount of time beyond this one week, I think the Pack run away with the North. If Cutler’s back to stay, however, I’d be wary of giving this winning run too much credence. (Last Week: 5)
- Baltimore Ravens (8-2): What can you say? They keep winning ugly, but the key portion of that is: they keep winning. In the AFC, with just about every team having some weakness or another, you have to like Baltimore’s chances as much as anyone. An All-Harbaugh Super Bowl? I’m already getting ready to boycott all of ESPN and sports radio for those two weeks. (Last Week: 6)
- Denver Broncos (7-3): I know as a Seahawks fan, I’ve been conditioned to loathe Denver and their Broncos; after all, John Elway and his new lifted face have pretty much zero redeeming qualities. That having been said, with Manning behind the wheel, it’s easy to like this team. Week 16: @ Baltimore. That’ll be a must-see showdown. If it’s not on regular TV, I might have to park my ass at a bar and soak it all in. (Last Week: 9)
- Chicago Bears (7-3): This drubbing against the 49ers doesn’t bode well. Even at full strength, I don’t think the Bears make much of a dent last night. Cutler’s pretty good and all, but he’s no match against a swarming, aggressive defense. Look for the Bears to fold and fold often in the playoffs … if they make it that far. (Last Week: 3)
- New England Patriots (7-3): Yeah, their offense is good, but I wouldn’t trust them as far as I can throw them on defense. They really lucked out with this cakewalk of a division though. The AFC East is the new NFC West. (Last Week: 7)
- New York Giants (6-4): They’ve got a rough go the rest of the way. And now Dallas is heating up. Has the world officially jumped off the bandwagon? Is it safe to start picking the Giants again? (Last Week: 10)
- Seattle Seahawks (6-4): So, there’s absolutely no reason for the Seahawks to lose to Miami this week. I’m not saying we should roll all over them, but we definitely shouldn’t lose. Load the box, send blitz after blitz, and see if Tannehill can beat you. When he doesn’t, you can send my defensive coordinator check directly to my home. (Last Week: 11)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4): Boy howdy do I like this team! Which sucks because I don’t think I’ve seen one minute of their gameplay this season. Still, of all the Wild Card teams, I think it’s the Bucs I fear most. We don’t get to play them, so it may come down to Conference Record. Right now they’re 3-4 and we’re 4-4. Our conference games include Chicago & San Fran; theirs includes Atlanta twice and New Orleans. Could be close, is all I’m saying. (Last Week: 13)
- Indianapolis Colts (6-4): My gut tells me that in spite of their record, this isn’t a playoff team. I keep thinking there’s going to be some huge surging mediocre team that will come along and usurp them. Of course, my gut has been known to be faulty before. (Last Week: 12)
- Cincinnati Bengals (5-5): Like the Bengals, for instance. They’ve got three games they should win easily (Oak, SD, Philly), which leaves them needing probably just one more to get to 9 wins and a 6th seed. Can they take out Baltimore in Week 17 when the Ravens will be resting all their starters? Signs point to yes. (Last Week: 16)
- New Orleans (5-5): Very impressive run to get to 5-5 after that God-awful start. It ends starting next week, though, when they play San Fran, go to Atlanta for a rematch of the Falcons’ only loss, then it’s @ the Giants, vs. Tampa, and @ Dallas. They could very well lose their next five before a meaningless week 17 win over the Panthers ends their season. Calling it right now. (Last Week: 17)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4): Ben Roethlisberger will be back, but will he be back in time? Bad loss to the Ravens is magnified given their quarterback situation, but it shouldn’t be as dire as you’d think. They still play Cleveland twice as well as San Diego and Cincy. They won’t win their division, but 9-10 wins should still be on the table. If they win the games they’re supposed to win – even if it’s as ugly as Big Ben’s big stupid ugly face – they’ll get their starting QB back for a playoff run. In this AFC, I wouldn’t count them out. (Last Week: 8)
- Minnesota Vikings (6-4): Green Bay twice, Chicago twice, @ Houston and @ St. Louis. Does this once-promising team finish 6-10? I wouldn’t doubt it. Vikings, meet fork. This fork right here. That I’m sticking in you. (Last Week: 14)
- Dallas Cowboys (5-5): The winner of this NFC East is PROBABLY going to have 9 wins. In that sense, I guess Dallas has as good a chance as any. That having been said, they won’t be making any noise come playoff time. Consider them the Dallas Librarians. (Last Week: 15)
- Detroit Lions (4-6): Man, Detroit, you can’t be frittering these games away like you did against Green Bay! That would’ve been a good one to steal, no doubt about it. (Last Week: 19)
- Washington Redskins (4-6): Three more wins gets them to 7-9, which I think they can do. If they blow my mind and go 8-8, I would take that as a HUGE victory on the season, and I’d be scared shitless of them next year. (Last Week: 20)
- San Diego Chargers (4-6): I thought they played pretty gutsy against Denver, but that offensive line is atrocious and Philip Rivers has had about a 2-season case of the yips. They need a new GM and head coach like nobody’s business. Clean house, give Rivers someone else to play for, and hope that gives him new life. He could be an elite quarterback again if he has the right pieces around him. And a running game wouldn’t kill them either. (Last Week: 21)
- St. Louis Rams (3-6-1): Four of their final six on the road. If they somehow go 3-3, I think they’d take it. Give them some good talking points going into next year. (Last Week: 22)
- Tennessee Titans (4-6): They should be licking their chops with their remaining schedule. Two against Jacksonville, one @ Indy and at home against the Jets. For a team as messed up as they are, 8-8 isn’t out of the question. Probably a bad thing, for them, considering they could use the high draft picks to bolster their defense. Then again, this is Tennessee, so that’s like throwing your draft picks in the garbage. (Last Week: 23)
- Arizona Cardinals (4-6): Good God, Whis! Atlanta gift wrapped that game for you, then offered to suck your dick for good measure! What were you thinking putting Ryan Lindley in there??? I’m sorry, but Kurt Warner won’t be running out of that tunnel for you anytime soon; you’re just going to have to pick an inferior quarterback and STICK with him! (Last Week: 24)
- Buffalo Bills (4-6): Yeah, you beat the Dolphins, BFD. (Last Week: 27)
- New York Jets (4-6): Yeah, you beat the Rams, BFD. (Last Week: 29)
- Miami Dolphins (4-6): Ryan Tannehill, meet Richard Sherman. Richard Sherman, Ryan Tannehill. (Last Week: 18)
- Oakland Raiders (3-7): Shitty, shitty, SHITTY defense. Holy crow. (Last Week: 25)
- Cleveland Browns (2–8): I don’t know what to say; they’re the Browns! (Last Week: 28)
- Carolina Panthers (2-8): Carolina at Philly this week. The winning head coach has an outside chance of keeping his job. The losing head coach is SO FIRED. (Last Week: 30)
- Philadelphia Eagles (3-7): My bet is on Andy Reid getting the ax. This is a Monday Night game. NFL owners don’t like getting embarrassed on Monday night. Reid might not make it past Tuesday. (Last Week: 26)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9): Helluva deal, them sticking it to the Texans and almost winning. Helluva deal. (Last Week: 31)
- Kansas City Chiefs (1-9): Kansas City never plays Jacksonville, so we might not ever know who is truly worse. Then again, it might not be either, as long as Philly is still a thing. (Last Week: 32)