Week 12 set the tone for the NFL going down the stretch, and with that week a lot of teams that may have potentially been trying to make a push failed to answer the call. Let’s go division by division ranking each team’s playoff chances and if applicable, Championship odds. Let’s start in the much weaker AFC:
- New England Patriots: As predicted the Patriots will once again go on to win the AFC East easily. The AFC East has proven to be one of the weakest divisions in all of the NFL, with all teams besides the Patriots being under .500 and with veritably no playoff chances. As for the Pats Championship odds, the Pats frittered away a huge opportunity to get past ‘Spygate’ by losing to Giants in last year’s Superbowl. The Pats were lucky just to be there, if not for the gaffe of former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff. The Patriots still have an atrocious defense which gives up points at will to even the worst of teams, so this is by no means a vintage Patriots team. Brady is still Brady, and the offense is still very potent but all signs point to another divisional playoff round exit for the Patriots.
- (Tied–No chance of making playoffs) Jets, Dolphins and Bills: Each of these teams showed potential early on of possibly doing something but soon thereafter ran out of gas. The Jets have battled controversy all year long with Tebow, but few have honed in on the fact that the Jets offense was virtually decimated with almost no talent at the receiver position and no running game of any kind. Jets were a dead team walking for quite some time. The Dolphins showed glimmers of hope and change just two weeks ago when they were 2nd in the division and seemed to be pressing ahead with Tannehill, then the game vs the Bills happened and it was clear…the Dolphins are very much still the Dolphins. Speaking of the Bills, this has been a team that has much expected out of them, they signed Fitzpatrick to a big contract, they locked in Stevie Johnson and have gotten a brilliant year from CJ Spiller, but somehow they can’t tie together wins and have gone down in predictable fashion.
- Baltimore Ravens: They’ve been one of the most consistent teams in the NFL, and are seeking to avenge a very bitter AFC Championship round loss. Everyone keeps talking about how their proverbial window is closing–and it is, but you’d never know it by the total team effort they continue to get week in and week out. The defense has of course seen better days, but with its semi decline we’ve seen the Ravens’ offense come to life with Flacco stepping up to the plate and proving he is capable of leading the team all the way. The Ravens have tied the Texans as my pick for AFC team to make the Super Bowl, as the Texans keep racking up injuries it just makes me look that much more closely at the Ravens, who will win the AFC North and very possibly the Superbowl.
- Cincinnati Bengals : I’m picking the Bengals ahead of the Steelers for two reasons: Injury and schedule. The Bengals have been rather inconsistent all season long, proving that they can play with the best and just as easily lose by the best as well, and while I view them as Wild Card candidates, I’m not expecting much from them if they do make it into playoffs.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Their window in my opinion, has closed. I think this is an old team desperately in need of some youth, and they look utterly lost without Roethlisberger. Big Ben and Coach Tomlin are the only reason why they even are considered viable contenders, but the Steelers will go away quietly and will not make a post season appearance
- Cleveland Browns: This a 3-8 team whose sole purpose to play possible spoiler to teams with actual playoff hopes.
- Houston Texans: . I’ve been tooting the Texans horn all season long, and rightly so. But, I’d remiss if I didn’t point out the fact they’ve lost a lot of their dominance because of injury. Their most crushing blow was the loss of Brian Cushing during the Monday Night game vs the Jets, in which they could’ve easily lost. The Texans defense in general has been bumped and bruised, Brooks Reed has a groin injury which is listed as serious, Bradie James is day-to-day nursing a hamstring injury, Cornerback Ben Tate has missed 4 games since he suffered his hamstring injury and is pushing to comeback to the team. The injuries are worrisome for the Texans Superbowl chances, despite the fact they’re 10-1. The past two weeks have put some doubts into my mind as they’ve gone to OT vs the horrid Jaguars and the lackluster Lions, it makes me think they’ve lost a lot of their explosiveness. We’re going to see how the Texans make out of the regular season health wise before I can peg them as my steadfast AFC favorites.
- Indianapolis Colts: They’ve impressed me the most, nothing was expected of this team who last year were…well…horrible. Andrew Luck has more than stepped up to the challenge of filling in the huge void left by Peyton Manning, and has showed just how great of a career he’s poised to have and we’re in his rookie season. The team’s rallying support of their cancer stricken coach Chuck Pagano has been nothing short of inspiring both for the fans and the team itself as they continue to surprise. They’re my Wildcard team to beat, and I think they have what it takes to make it to the second round. Yes, I’m picking the young Colts to make it to the 2nd round already… too presumptuous?
- Titans/Jaguars (no playoff chance): Both these teams have flatlined pretty early, the Jaguars were expected to do zilch but the Titans have done surprisingly poor after last season where they were neck in neck in the playoff race.
- Denver Broncos: They stand very comfortably to win the AFC West easily, and are a team with sights on the Superbowl, oh, the difference just a year makes. Peyton Manning is back to full Peyton Manning strength as they’ve made it through the toughest part of the season to emerge victorious and now have a much easier schedule which will determine their seeding come playoffs. On the Broncos best day I think they can hang in with the Pats, Texans and Ravens, but at the same time I can see them losing to any of those teams, too. I don’t have them making it to the Championship Round, but they are capable of surprising.
- Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders (no playoff chances): The Chiefs were expected to be decent, even by me, who did an entire article boasting about the Chiefs possible Superbowl chances…yeah, I apologize. The Chargers under the ‘dictatorship’ of Norv Turner and is incompetence never cease to amaze, the 4th and 29 play they had converted on them just summed up what the Chargers have become, the NFL version of the ‘3 stooges’ where clumsy mistakes and improbable play calling have gone to shoot them in their foot. The Raiders…enough said.
- NY Giants: The defending Superbowl champion Giants have been one of the most dominate teams in the league, but have struggled in their own division with a 2-2 record. The Giants have a schedule that is tailor made for their expertise–which is beating tough opponents. Even with the Redskins getting dangerously close, the Giants can still break away and take the division easily.
- Redskins: I have the Redskins pegged as my shoo-in Wild Card pick, despite the fact the competition is steep with at least 5 other teams just as much in the running for the two spots. RG3 has put up a season for the ages in his rookie year, and has already changed the mentality of the entire organization. The upcoming game against the Giants will be tremendously important in solidifying whether or not they’re true playoff contenders. Having 4 other Wild Card seeking teams lose on Sunday proved very adventitious for the Redskins and with a fairly challenging schedule remaining every week has post season implications.
- Cowboys/Eagles (No chance of making Playoffs): Now, I know the Cowboys share an identical record with the Redskins, but the way they’re losing games (and the losses are getting uglier and uglier) leaves me no reason to believe they have a shot at the post season. Jason Garrett is an utterly horrendous play caller at times, and the Cowboys always find a way to beat themselves more than the opposing team does. As for the Eagles, what can I say besides…better luck next year.
- Packers/Bears (Tie): The competition in the NFC North is ripe. The Packers and Bears are locked in a head to head race for 1st place, and even though the Bears have the better record by 1 game, I still call it a tie. The Bears have to keep Jay Cutler healthy if they plan on doing anything–the Bears without Cutler is the equivalent of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Packers’ season has been bumpy at times, and they looked completely without a clue as the Giants smacked them on Sunday night. The Packers will get into the playoffs no matter what, but when they’re there they better pray they don’t have to face the Giants again, because they’ll be blown out. I cannot recall the last time I felt that a team had another team’s number, and no fear of them like with the Giants/Packers.
- Vikings: The Vikings are another team embroiled in the Wild Card wrestling match in the NFC. They’ve now reached a lull in their season and quickly have to right the ship because more and more teams are stepping up to the plate vying for the two critical spots. I have faith in the Vikings, and admittedly overlooked them the majority of the season.
- Lions (No chance at Playoffs): Their season, which I predicted would be bad in the off season, is now over. I cautioned the Lions not to get bigheads, and of course they did. The only thing they have to show for this season is loss and more dirty play from the defense and lack of leadership from coach Schwartz. Lions are the Lions again.
- Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons will win the AFC South, this we know. Their season is not graded on what they do in the regular season though, for the Falcons it’s playoff win or bust–huge bust. The Falcons have to capitalize coming off the playoff round bye and establish dominance on their home field. Bitter memories of the Packers assault on their turf should play vividly in Matt Ryan’s mind. If the Falcons lose again in the first round then no one will take them seriously for a long, long time.
- Buccaneers: Another sexy Wild Card vying team that again, I underestimated. At 6-5 and with a daunting schedule left I actually think the Buccaneers will emerge for the final Wild Card spot and will play the Red Skins in the opening playoff round. RG3 vs Josh Freeman…book it.
- Saints/Panthers (No chance at Playoffs): The Saints killed off whatever chance they had in the 5 turnover night they had against the Falcons which resulted in a crushing loss. Let’s face it though, not much of anything was expected of them after ‘Bounty Gate’ came out, so the Saints have some major rebooting to do in the off season. Much was expect though of the Panthers and Cam Newton. The sophomore blues hit Newton hard, and the Panthers have looked dreadful all season. It’s time the front office put some more legitimate talent around Newton because I don’t think they’ll compete anytime soon.
- 49’ers: I’ve been on the 49’ers bandwagon since day one, they’ve been my Superbowl pick coming into the season. The QB controversy between Smith and Kaepernick has made me panic though, and while I won’t turn this into a lecture to Jim Harbaugh on why he’s RUINING the team, I will say this: Pick a QB for good and let it ride. That’s all. And yes, I do have them winning the Superbowl.
- Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks too, have a stake in the Wild Card race but their inconsistency raises doubts in my mind on whether they’re legit or not. At home they’re perfect with a 5-0 record, but on the road they look horrid with just one road victory all season. I’m impressed by the progression of Russell Wilson, who shows a lot of promise, and while I’m not falling down ecstatic about the Seahawks’ post season chances their future is looking up. Oh, and I won’t even touch base on the suspensions of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner…*shrug*
- Cardinals/Rams (no chance at Playoffs): The Cardinals had a bandwagon for about 4 weeks, and then they crashed and burned, that offense looks so weak it’s not even funny. The Rams are still atrocious but with Jeff Fisher they’ve improved, and they’ll continue to do so, but for now they’re still awful.