Yesterday, I went through the AFC’s teams and who was likely to make it to the postseason. Today, I’ll go through the much-duller NFC. Basically, barring a major collapse by someone currently in the conference’s top six teams, those will be the teams making the tournament. No one currently out of playoff position is playing anywhere near well enough to get back into it. There are five teams with no chance at all, relegated to spoilers. Seattle plays San Francisco and Green Bay; St. Louis plays Arizona, San Francisco and Chicago; Detroit gets Arizona, Chicago and San Francisco; suddenly-competitive Tampa Bay has games against Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta twice; and Washington gets to mix it up with the AFC East trio of Dallas, Philly and the Giants as well as New Orleans. The best they can hope for is to do a little damage and build for next year.
There are three 4-6 teams who could get hot, but I don’t think any of them are going anywhere. Chicago is having problems all over the field; rushing, passing and defense. Plus, they still have games against the Vikings twice, Green Bay and Baltimore. They’ll be lucky not to lose 10 games. San Francisco could get hot, having three games against Seattle, Detroit and St. Louis that should all be wins, but they’re too inconsistent to win 2 out of 3 against Jacksonville, Arizona and Philadelphia, which is what they’ll have to do to eek in at 9-7 with some help. Carolina has the best chance, with games against the Jets, Buccaneers, collapsing Giants and Saints on the last day of the season possibly playing for nothing. Unfortunately, they also play back-to-back against New England and Minnesota and that will relegate them to an 8-8 season and on the outside looking in.
The Atlanta Falcons are sitting at 5-5 after losing a heartbreaking overtime game to the Giants last week. Still, they have four very winnable games left against the Jets, Buffalo and Tampa twice. That leaves back-to-back against the Eagles and New Orleans separating them from the playoffs. The Philly game, in particular is huge, possibly being a tiebreaker game for that last playoff spot. Unfortunately, they are having big problems defensively, Michael Turner has serious injury problems and Matt Ryan has started turning the ball over way too often. I think they lose them both and just barely miss out on the post season.
Which brings me to the Giants. Before the season, I picked them to finish last in the NFC East. Their recent 1-5 skid has them looking like the team I expected. Getting blown out by a Denver team that has been playing horriby last night is the final nail in their coffin. Still, if they can somehow right the ship and take out Dallas and Philly the next two weeks, they can still get in, closing with games against Washington, Carolina and Minnesota likely playing for nothing at that point. But they can’t stop anybody and could easily lose 3 or 4 of those games, which means no playoffs.
Now to the wild cards. Despite losing two of their best defensive players for the season, Green Bay is in good shape for some playoff action this year. They have tough games left against Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and may lose both, but with Chicago, Seattle and Arizona with a division all wrapped up in week 17, can get them to 10 wins and the playoffs. How sweet would a Green Bay-Minnesota playoff game be? It’s notoriously difficult to beat a team three times in the same season, and Viking fans should worry about a Brett Favre special 4 interception playoff loss.
The other wild card will be the Dallas Cowboys. They may lead the division right now, but they have been as inconsistent as anyone in the league (7-6 win over Washington, anyone?) They still play the desperate Giants, San Diego and New Orleans in the next three weeks, and close with the Eagles in a game that will be for the division title. And they’ll lose. If they’re not careful, this is the one team that I think has the best chance of falling apart and missing the playoffs entirely. And if they do, it’ll be Atlanta in their place.
Now for the division winners. When Dallas loses that last game, it’ll be the Philadelphia Eagles that will take the division. Other than Washington this weekend, their schedule is no gimme with Atlanta, the Giants, the 49ers, Denver and Dallas, but all those teams have serious issues and Philly is annually a great closing team. They could conceivably win out, but regardless, they will be an exceptionally difficult playoff out.
Arizona was my preseason pick to win the Superbowl. At this point, they’ve taken total control of their division, and only a long-term injury to Kurt Warner will stand between them and exceeding the 9 wins they put up last year. The toughest game remaining is Minnesota in two weeks, and have Tennessee, San Fran, Detroit, St. Louis and Green Bay left. They will win at least four of those games, maybe more, and be another very tough post season out. All the press has been about New Orleans and Minnesota thus far, but don’t discount the possibility of a repeat Philly-Arizona conference title game. It could very well happen.
The top two in the NFC are as they have been virtually all season. Minnesota still has dreams of overall home field, but they they have a tough back-to-back coming up against Arizona and Cincinnati. I think they get to 13-3 or 14-2 and that’s good enough for a bye and hope that someone else knocks off New Orleans to bring the NFC title game to Minnesota. They also play Chicago twice, Carolina and the Giants at the end in what could be a meaningless game.
I said yesterday that the Colts had a legit chance to get to 16-0. The Saints, if they can beat the Patriots this weekend, can also get to 16-0. They play Washington, Atlanta, Dallas, Tampa and Carolina in their last five. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll be able to count on Bill Belichick making another bone-head move like the fourth down call that lost the Colts game. It would be ironic, though, if two teams do get to 16-0 this year, and the Patriots were unable to stop either one. I think it’s 15-1 for the Saints, home field advantage throughout and an excellent shot at their first trip to the Superbowl. Could you imagine the hype that would go into a Superbowl between two 18-0 teams? Well, keep imagining cause it’s not going to happen.