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Analyzing the NFL Playoff Picture
We’re coming down the homestretch of this year’s NFL season. As we all know, the next four games are critical to every team’s playoff hopes, and this year we have some very tight races to keep track of. Here’s an analysis of the entire playoff picture.
THE AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE:
AFC East: This one is pretty simple: With two wins over the second place Jets, and a two game lead on top of that, the Patriots are locked in as the AFC East division winner and should be able to pick up one of the two first-round byes up for grabs in the conference.
The Prediction: Patriots win the division.
AFC North: This one is interesting. There are two teams tied for the division lead at 9-3: The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. However, the Ravens have the easier closing schedule, with a home game against a terrible Colts team followed by a road trip to San Diego, a home game against the woeful Browns, and a trip to Cincinnati to play the Bengals. Playing for the division and a potential first-round bye, I expect Baltimore to beat all these teams. Pittsburgh will thus be eliminated from division contention because Baltimore beat them twice this year, giving them the head to head advantage.
The Prediction: Ravens win the division.
AFC South: TJ Yates was able to lead the Texans to a huge win over Atlanta this weekend, and that should be enough to propel them to a division win. At 9-3 and with a schedule containing Carolina and Indianapolis along with another winnable game at Cincinnati, I expect them to reach 12 wins and thus eliminate Tennessee from division contention, despite Houston’s QB injuries.
The Prediction: Texans win the division.
AFC West: This is a very interesting race. The Raiders seem to have plateaued after getting hammered by a rejuvenated Dolphins team this week, and suddenly they are out of the lead for the division. With an automatic loss at Green Bay and another tough game against Detroit, Oakland has a tough road to the playoffs. However, I believe they will be able to beat Detroit and reach ten wins. Meanwhile, the team formerly known as the Denver Broncos and now known as the Denver Fighting Tebows have Chicago, New England, Buffalo, and Kansas City left on their schedule. I expect them to lose to New England but win the other three games, thus tying the Raiders at 10-6. And then we go into tiebreakers. They tied in head-to-head, each winning at each other’s stadium. They also will, according to my predictions, tie in division record, the second tiebreaker. Finally, Denver wins the third tiebreaker, record in common games, because they will have beaten the Bills and Dolphins, whom the Raiders lost to. So, finally,
The Prediction: The Fighting Tebows win the division.
The Wild Card Race:
Pittsburgh has the 5th seed all but locked up, I expect them to finish at 12-4 even if they lose to San Francisco, thus putting themselves out of the other wild card contenders’ reach.
The sixth seed is where it gets interesting. The contenders are Oakland, the Jets, Tennessee, and Cincinnati, all currently tied at 7-5. Let’s take a look at their remaining schedules:
Oakland: @Green Bay, vs. Detroit, @Kansas City, vs. San Diego: Predicted final record: 10-6, with a loss to Green Bay.
New York Jets: vs. Kansas City, @ Philadelphia, vs. New York Giants, at Miami: Predicted final record: 11-5. I’m going out on a limb here, but the Jets have played better football of late and will be able to squeak out tough wins over the Giants and the Dolphins purely based on the fact that they need it more. It’s hard to put too much stock into this prediction though, with the variable Mark Sanchez at QB for Gang Green.
Tennessee: vs. New Orleans, @Indianapolis, vs. Jacksonville, @Houston: Predicted final record: 10-6: I believe the Titans can’t keep up with the Saints high-powered offense, as good as Chris Johnson has been looking. I do believe that they will be able to beat their final three division opponents, including a Houston team that could be resting regulars.
Cincinnati: vs. Houston, @St. Louis, vs. Arizona, vs. Baltimore: Predicted final record: 9-7: I believe the Bengals will fade down the stretch after getting crushed by Pittsburgh. Houston’s powerful run game and defense will be enough to wear them down this week, and Baltimore should be playing for seeding in week 17, and would have enough firepower to beat them.
So, the Prediction: Steelers get the fifth seed and the Jets squeak in at #6. Don’t hold me to that though, anything could happen with this sixth seed.
THE NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE:
NFC East: Dallas currently sits at 7-5 and in first place in the division, however that is subject to change. Dallas still has two games left against the second place 6-6 New York Giants, which could lead to chaos in this division. However, if the Cowboys beat Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, their other two opponents, and are able to squeak out one win over the Giants out of the two games, which I believe they will, they will clinch the division at 10-6.
NFC North: If you can’t figure out who will win this division, I suggest you stop reading.
NFC South: New Orleans has a two game lead on Atlanta right now, and their offense won’t be stopped by Tennessee, Minnesota, or Carolina. They will thus reach at least 12 wins, not counting their possible win over Atlants, and clinch the division.
Prediction: New Orleans wins the division.
NFC West: The 49ers have already clinched the division, which is somewhat hilarious.
Prediction: San Francisco wins the division.
Wild Card Race:
First of all, nobody from the NFC West will be in the wild card race, with all of those teams with 7 or more losses already. The contenders for these two spots are the Giants, Lions, Bears, and Falcons. Let’s take a look at their schedules.
Giants (6-6): @Dallas, vs. Washington, @New York Jets, vs. Dallas: I believe the Giants will split the two games with the Cowboys and lose the battle of New York to the Jets, but these predictions are far from concrete. The Giants are far from out of it, despite my predicted 8-8 record.
Lions (7-5): vs. Minnesota, @Oakland, vs. San Diego, @Green Bay: The Lions have faded as the league has exposed them as a one-dimensional offensive team. I believe they will beat Minnesota at home, but I also believe they will lose at Oakland and at Green Bay, who I believe will be playing for an undefeated season. This will leave Detroit at 9-7 and on tenuous ground.
Bears (7-5): @Fighting Tebows, vs. Seattle, @Green Bay, @Minnesota: With Caleb Hanie at QB and Marion Barber at RB, I believe the Bears will lose two and possibly more games out of these four. The Fighting Tebows are on fire and Green Bay is Green Bay, and Seattle has played much better as of late, and I believe they will come in and upset what looks like a terrible Bears team, and leave them at 8-8.
Falcons (7-5): @Carolina, vs. Jacksonville, @New Orleans, vs. Tampa Bay: The Falcons have looked shaky all year, but their remaining schedule outside of New Orleans is very easy and I thus believe they will be able to reach 10 wins and clinch the fifth seed.
The Prediction: The Falcons, at 10-6, clinch the fifth seed. The Lions sneak in the playoffs as a tremendously weak sixth seed at 9-7.
First Round Byes: New England, Baltimore
Divisional Matchups: New York Jets @ Houston, Pittsburgh @ Fighting Tebows
First Round Byes: Green Bay, New Orleans
Divisional Matchups: Detroit at San Francisco, Atlanta at Dallas
Many races are still wide open and I am confident that at least one of these selections will be wrong, but it’s always good to speculate and here is a very preliminary bracket for that purpose.