Four weeks up, and four weeks down. We are a quarter of the way through the season, so who is playoff-bound and who is on the outside looking in? This is the NFL progress report, where I am going to breakdown and predict the division winners and wild card teams.
Starting in the NFC, I think it is more a case of who is out as opposed to who is in. There are four teams that at this point that I think we can definitely rule out of the playoffs. I can’t see Minnesota, St. Louis, Arizona, and Seattle getting to the hunt. The NFC West has been bad for years, and it is a shame on some accounts that we have to send a team from that division then there is so much other talent lurking in the other three divisions. I have San Francisco coming out of the NFC West. I just can’t picture the Rams, Cardinals or Seahawks winning that division, and it definitely won’t send a wild card team. The other team I think is already out is the Vikings – at 0-4 already in that tough NFC North it’s just not happening.
Speaking of the NFC North, let’s take a look at that division, which still has the only two undefeated teams left. Green Bay and Detroit both look to be the real deal at 4-0, but only one of them can win the division. I am sticking with the Super Bowl champs here to win that one and have home field advantage in the playoffs. I still like Detroit, but we will get to them later. I do want to point out that the first time Detroit and Green Bay play will be on Thanksgiving day – can you imagine if they are both still undefeated at that point? Sorry Mom, I’ll be eating in the living room this year. Oh yeah, and the next time they play is the last game of the season on New Year’s Day – I’ll be watching that one while nursing a massive headache, I’m sure.
The next two divisions get a little more complicated. The NFC East and South could definitely send a few teams out of their divisions. Let’s start with the East. I don’t see any team fully eliminated from the picture yet, although Philadelphia is toeing the line. The Eagles will have to win two of their next three to even have a prayer, but I am not quite ready to give them the boot. Talk to me Monday morning – I may be then. At the beginning of the season I thought Dallas would win this one, but after four weeks I don’t think that is completely accurate. So that leaves Washington and New York. New York has won three in a row after losing to Washington in week one. I think they will be in contention for the playoffs in the end, but I like the Redskins to win this division. They are fifth in the league in defense and third in points against. I think a good defense will take you a long way – so yes, I say Sexy Rexy will be playing in January.
The NFC South is another division where I can’t really eliminate anyone yet. The Carolina Panthers would obviously be a long shot to win it, but as of week four I can’t quite call it yet – crazier things have happened. I don’t think Tampa has what it takes to win the division yet, either – granted they did beat Atlanta in week three, but they have been in close ones with Minnesota and Indy – you’ve got to be better than that. So that leaves New Orleans and Atlanta. I am going with the Saints to win the NFC South. Their only loss was to Green Bay in the first game of the season, and they already have quality wins over Chicago and Houston. Until Matt Ryan can play better on the road, I just don’t like Atlanta to win this one.
Ok, so with all that being said that gives us San Francisco, Green Bay, Washington, and New Orleans as our division winners and eight teams left fighting for a shot at the two wild card spots. I think you can break down the rest of the teams like this: Carolina, Philadelphia, and Chicago are long shots to make it. I don’t think they are out of yet, but they need to win and some other teams would need to collapse. Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and Dallas are teams that could quite possibly see the post season, but they need to improve. The two front runners are New York and Detroit, and that gives us our NFC playoff picture.
The AFC, on the other hand, is a little different – the divisions are a little more top heavy. I can already eliminate five teams from the chase. Miami, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Denver can’t even sniff the playoffs. Barring a few teams, I think the rest of the AFC is pretty cut and dry.
Starting in the AFC North, I like Baltimore to come out of this one. Even if Joe Flacco plays poorly, they still have the defense that can bail them out – we saw that in the game against the Jets. As far as division winners go, I think the Ravens pretty much have a strong hold. Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh I am not quite ready to eliminate yet. Due to the fact that they still have to play each other and their NFC schedule this year is against the horrid NFC West, they could still get to the playoffs, but I can’t see any of them winning the division.
Taking it down to the AFC South, I feel like this division is a two horse race between Tennessee and Houston. Both teams are playing lights-out defense, and they also have the offensive fire power to hang with anyone. I am going to give the edge to the Titans here, but it’s a close one. The Texans have a tendency of losing it towards the end of the year. I really don’t like Gary Kubiak as a coach, and for some reason he isn’t able to inspire his team late in the season. The Texans have also caught the injury bug this year, being without Arian Foster much of the first three weeks, and now with it looking like Andre Johnson could miss some time. So look for Matt Hasselbeck to make a return to the playoffs –never thought I would say that.
The AFC West, like the AFC South, is between two teams: the Raiders and the Chargers. I have said before how much I like the Raiders this year, and even after their loss to New England I am standing by that. They are the number one running team in the NFL right now. Darren McFadden already has 468 yards on the ground and is averaging 6.2 yards a carry. The Chargers are much like their counter parts in the south, the Texans. I don’t trust Norv Turner late in the season, and they are also running into injury problems with Antonio Gates being sidelined much of the season and with Vincent Jackson banged up as well.
The East is still definitely the toughest division in the AFC. Usually the Patriots and Jets are left to fight this one out, but the emergence of Buffalo has made this one a three-headed monster. The Jets are having a bit of a down season by their standards, losing two tough ones to Oakland and Baltimore, but I see them turning it around. Buffalo has already handed the Patriots their first loss and has proven they can hang with anyone in the AFC. All that being said, I still like New England to win this one. They are leading the league in total offense are tied for second in points. I look for this continue – they don’t do much in the way of stopping anyone on defense, but when you are averaging 33.8 points per game it doesn’t really matter.
So we have New England, Oakland, Tennessee, and Baltimore winning their respective divisions, and two more teams to add. This one is much tougher than the NFC, but here’s how I have it breaking down. Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh are the long shots. I mentioned this earlier – I don’t think anyone of them are really all that good, but it’s too early for me to write any of them off yet. The other four teams all have just as good of a shot at making it. I could make an argument for any combination of Houston, San Diego, Buffalo and New York; however, I think Houston is able to avoid the collapse this year and I think Rex Ryan gets things going in New York. That’s how I see things going forward –o f course, after Sunday I could be singing a different tune.