It’s about that time of the year when the NFL playoffs really start to take shape. This year’s picture is fuzzier than in the past, but in the NFC there are 9 teams that have separated themselves from the pack and will be fighting for 6 spots down to the final week. The Redskins of course are not one of those teams remaining in the hunt, and don’t deserve to be, but there are some other teams still fighting that also may not deserve to be in the picture.
At the bottom of the pack record-wise are the Seattle Seahawks (6-6) and St. Louis Rams (6-6) vying for the prestigious title of NFC west champion, a home playoff game, and hopefully a trouncing by a much better wild card team. Yes it is true, these two teams that had a combined record of 6-26 last year and could very well finish at or below .500 by season’s end have the chance to play a first round playoff game at home. The Seahawks still have to play games both at home against the Falcons and at the Buccaneers, whereas the Rams face tough challenges against a good Chiefs team and at the Saints. Each team also plays division foe San Francisco and they face off against each other in the final game of the season.
Prediction: Everything points to this one coming down to the last week, both teams at 7-8 or worse (with possible wins over San Francisco) and the winner heading into a home playoff game at 8-8. The Rams crushed the Seahawks in St. Louis 20-3 in week 4, look for Seattle to return the favor at home (where they are 4-2, as opposed to a 2-4 road record for the Rams) in week 17 and we can all look forward to a first round playoff game at Qwest field.
The rest of the NFC after the jump…
The beast (more like a cuddly puppy nowadays) has become a two team race between the Eagles and the Giants, both sitting at 8-4, with the Eagles on top due to a better division record and head to head win. That could easily change as the Eagles have to play the Giants one more time and the resurgent Cowboys twice, whereas the Giants play us again, which you can pencil in as a W. Both teams play the Vikings in the next three weeks, and the Giants also have to play the Packers. It’s important to keep in mind that the Eagles with Michael Vick are a force, and are 6-2 (one loss when the Redskins sent him out of the game early so really 6-1) when he starts and the Giants have fumbled playoff hopes away down the stretch in recent years.
Prediction: I see the Eagles splitting with the Cowboys and beating Vikings. The Giants should win games against the Skins and Vikings, but lose to the Packers and the division will come down to the game between the two clubs. The result could very well spell a disappointing non-playoff 10-6 season for the loser given the strength of the Wild Card competition. I see the Eagles coming away on top in that match-up, taking the division, and representing the NFC East heading into mid January.
Probably the strongest division in the NFC with three teams all vying for spots. I think it is safe to say the Atlanta Falcons (10-2) finish up the season against a very soft schedule (@Carolina, @Seattle, New Orleans, and Carolina) and could wind up heading into the playoffs without another loss. The Saints (9-3) and Buccaneers (7-5) are both in the hunt for the division still but face tougher roads ahead. The Saints play St. Louis and Tampa at home, but have tough road games at the Falcons and Ravens. The Buccaneers looked good in a losing effort against the Falcons this past week and finish up starting at FedEx this Sunday, followed by games at home against Seattle and Detroit, before going on the road to New Orleans.
Prediction: I think the Falcons run away with their easy schedule and finish up at 14-2, with home field throughout the NFC playoffs. New Orleans finishes out at 2-2, losing both road games, including a tough game at Baltimore, but gets some key players (mainly Pierre Thomas) back from injury and back up to speed along the way. The Buccaneers finish out 3-1, losing to the Saints on a road but handling the rest of their schedule with relative ease and ending their 2010 comeback campaign at 10-6.
Another race that may come down to the final week is the race for the NFC North between the Chicago Bears (9-3) and the Green Bay Packers (8-4), and both have rough schedules coming up. The Bears might have the toughest schedule left of teams fighting for playoff spots with home games against a really good looking New England team (did you see that game last night?) next week and against the apparently really lucky/over-hyped Jets team in three weeks. They also have to go on the road to play division rival Minnesota and finish the season out at Green Bay. The Packers don’t have an easy schedule either, playing Detroit and New England on the road, then back to back home games against the Giants and Bears.
Prediction: I see the bears finishing 2-2, with wins against the overrated Jets and Vikings, ending the season at 11-5. I see the Packers finishing 3-1, losing only to New England down the stretch and also ending the season at 11-5. If it plays out like that, both teams would have 5-1 division records and the season series would be split at 1 game apiece. In this scenario the Packers would advance as division champs due to a superior record against NFC foes.
The last two Wild Card spots come down to 4 teams, with the Rams/Seahawks loser falling out of the race. The two remaining spots will come down to the Bears, Saints, Packers, and Giants, with two 10-6 teams missing out on the playoffs, and unfortunately the 8-8 or worse NFC west winner taking their place. Fans of the two of these teams will be sorely disappointed at season’s end. It doesn’t seem fair but it is the way things are set up, the way they have been, and the way they always will be.
If it plays out like described above the matchups would look like the graphic below, but there are lots of chances for the picture to change. 6 of the 9 teams vying for spots play each other in the final game of the season so a lot rests on what happens the final Sunday of the season. All the divisions and both Wild Card spots are up for grabs, it’s that time of the year, are you ready for some Football?
Test out your own playoff predictions here.
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