NFL Contenders, Pretenders and Everything In-Between

It’s been a while since I did an NFL post, I needed to break up the monotony of the Top 5’s and I haven’t seen enough of the Oscar films to update that list (Silver Linings Playbook is awesome, BTW), I figured why not?

With just two games to go, the NFL has separated the contenders from the pretenders. I’ll give you a quick rundown here of what’s going on in the league.

PUNCHED THEIR NFL POSTSEASON TICKET
Green Bay Packers (NFC North division champion)
Atlanta Falcons (NFC South division champion)
New England Patriots (AFC East division champion)
Houston Texans (AFC South division champion)
Denver Broncos (AFC West division champion)
Baltimore Ravens (clinched playoff spot)

It’s actually pretty rare (I think…as usual I didn’t bother to do research) that five of the eight NFL division champions have been crowned with two full weeks to go. Atlanta will clinch home-field throughout the playoffs with one more win or one more Green Bay loss. Barring a collapse, San Francisco will be the next admitted into the NFC playoff bracket. The rest is muddled, with Seattle leading a pack of six teams still in the hunt. Currently, the NFC East has three 8-6 teams with the streaking Washington Redskins sitting on the inside track. One of those teams will win that division, leaving five teams playing for two wild-card spots.

The AFC is less competitive as of this writing. Baltimore is sitting one game ahead of the Steelers, and their magic number is two to clinch the division: any number of Ravens wins and Bengals (and Steelers) loses equalling two gets the birds the division (they could tie, but we won’t know who wins in that scenario until the end). The Steelers eliminate themselves from the division crown with one more loss or another Ravens win. More than likely, one of the two (Bengals/Steelers) will grab one of the wild cards, with the other slot going to the Indianapolis Colts.

MY NFL PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
I reserve the right to revise these as I see fit.

NFC
1. Atlanta – Pretty much wrapped up.
2. Green Bay – Ditto Atlanta, with little chance to catch up.
3. San Francisco – Should hold off Seattle.
4. Washington – Team is playing with 100% confidence and has the best schedule.
5. Seattle – 108 points in two weeks is nothing to sneeze at.
6. NY Giants – Eli always plays best when his back is to the wall.

Wild Card
NY Giants at San Francisco – SF ekes it out.
Seattle at Washington – Good game, but RGIII gets the better of Wilson.

Divisional
Washington at Atlanta – Matt Ryan finally comes up a winner in the playoffs.
San Francisco at Green Bay – SF wins in the tundra; GB has something missing this year.

Conference Championship
San Francisco at Atlanta – SF, but close.

AFC
1. Houston
2. Denver
3. New England
4. Baltimore
5. Indianapolis
6. Cincinnati

Wild Card
Cincinnati at New England – Big fan of the Bengals offense, but Pats are playoff performers.
Indianapolis at Baltimore – Ray Lewis’ return will lift the recently sagging birds.

Divisional
New England at Denver – Brady vs. Manning. Love it. Manning takes this one.
Baltimore at Houston – Houston’s defense is the undoing of the Ravens’ offensive problems.

Conference Championship
Denver at Houston – Houston won’t stop Manning

NFL Super Bowl
San Francisco vs. Denver – Two teams who wanted Manning. One got him. The other wins this game.

HOME IN JANUARY
Ahh…thought I was done with the NFL did you? We’ve covered the good teams, lets cover everyone else.

Arizona – Never seen a team struggle this much with the QB position. Will be looking for a new coach come January.
Buffalo – Chan Gailey would normally be on the hot seat, but have the feeling GM Buddy Nix will keep him.
Carolina – Ron Rivera likely to lose his job due to new GM.
Cleveland – Pat Shurmer should get another year; the Browns have been coming along and were bereft of talent last year. Bet he doesn’t; new ownership wants their own people.
Chicago – No playoff win probably means the end of Lovie Smith.
Detroit – Disappointing year, six straight losses down the stretch and a big, bad loss to Arizona puts Jim Schwartz on the hot seat just a year removed from the playoffs. The Ford family has shown patience in the past (Matt Millen, anyone?), I think he gets another year.
Jacksonville – Mike Mullarky is 50/50 at best despite being in his first year. Wouldn’t be surprised to hear an announcement that the team is moving to Los Angeles this offseason, either, despite the new owner’s good intentions to stay in J-ville.
Kansas City – Another team that will be one and done with its head coach; there’s nothing to build on here.
Miami – Team needs more talent.
Minnesota – Team is coming around quicker than expected, will be a contender next year.
New Orleans – The return of Sean Payton puts this team right back in the hunt.
New York Jets – New coach? New quarterback? Both are possibilities, neither certainties.
Oakland – Oakland is a hot mess. This could be the second straight year of the HC being one and done.
Philadelphia – This team will be blown up, starting with a new head coach.
Pittsburgh – No chance that Mike Tomlin hits the unemployment line, but this is a team struggling to find an identity. They have big-time offensive line issues to boot.
San Diego – New GM and new coach will be charged with making this team competitive right away. The team has the talent to be competitive, is a good draft and a couple key free agents away.
St. Louis – Jeff Fischer has made this team good in his first year. A couple more players and they’re right there.
Tampa Bay – Needs more talent; look for them to reload, not rebuild.
Tennessee – Feel like owner Bud Adams will pull the trigger on Mike Munchak; he’s been out-spoken about his dismay in the past, and going in-house last time has left the team with a bit of an identity hangover.