The absurdly premature playoff picture presents one man’s projection for the NFL playoffs, at each given week in the season — even if that week is unreasonably early.
First-Round Bye: Houston Texans
First-Round Bye: Denver Broncos
Division Champion: Baltimore Ravens
Division Champion: New England Patriots
Wild Card: Pittsburgh Steelers
Wild Card: Cincinnati Bengals
First-Round Bye: Atlanta Falcons
First-Round Bye: San Francisco 49ers
Division Champion: Chicago Bears
Division Champion: New York Giants
Wild Card: Green Bay Packers
Wild Card: Seattle Seahawks
- We’re going to start at the bottom, because I pride myself on my power from the bottom. In the AFC, the bottom is pretty nasty, though ‒ one of the Wild Card teams will be starting Charlie Batch this weekend, and the other is the third best team in a relatively weak division. The top alternative just lost by 35.
- I’ll the Bengals in and push the Colts out, despite the Bengals trailing the Colts by a game. The Bengals last two have been equal-opportunity thumpings ‒ the first one against the aristocratic Giants, and the other against the dirty serf Chiefs. Andy Dalton’s been in a groove, and Cincy’s next four are not murderous ‒ Oakland, @San Diego, Dallas, @Philadelphia.
- Why am I down on the Colts? I’m not really; in fact, I’m pretty high on them ‒ but as a pretty average team that’s overachieving, not a playoff team that’s struggling a bit. The fact is that they just played a good team for the first time since about week five, and they got their heineys paddled. It looked so easy for the Pats. I’m supposed to like that? And the Colts still have to play the Texans twice ‒ Indy fans will object, of course, but I’m calling those losses. Aside from that, the schedule is soft ‒ Buffalo, @Detroit, Tennessee, @Kansas City. But one loss from that group would put them at 9-7. Two would put them at 8-8. In the NFL, sometimes even the good teams struggle to win four games that they “should” win.
- At the top, the Ravens currently have a game over the Patriots and Broncos for the second first-round bye, but of that group, they also looked the scruffiest this weekend. That win against Pittsburgh was the least convincing win since the Soviet basketball team won the gold in ’72, and Baltimore’s got games left against the Steelers, Broncos and Giants. Meanwhile, check out Denver’s last six: @KC, Tampa Bay, @Oakland, @Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City. I’d be very surprised if they didn’t win five of those. Six seems pretty doable as well.
- The Patriots, because they are good and because they got to address a major need with the gift of Aqib Talib, deserve a mention. Two factors push them down to the lower Divisional Champion spot, though ‒ one, their schedule isn’t as agreeable as Denver’s, and should they end up in a tie with Baltimore, they’d lose that tiebreaker. I continue to believe that they are actually better than Baltimore, though.
- With just a ½ game lead, I’m going to stick with the 49ers as the two-seed in the NFC. It’s possible that I’m overreacting to a national TV game in which Colin Kaepernick, in one night, erased all memories of Joe Montana and Steve Young. Am I overstating? HELL NO. Well, yes, I am, but the 49ers looked awesome last night. Like, “Best Team in Football” awesome. Most other teams near the top of the heap struggled this week. One of them, in fact, was ground into a fine powder by these 49ers.
- That leaves Bears vs. Packers as the next question to be answered, and that’s a tougher call. Sure, they were down Jay Cutler last night, but they weren’t going to compete in that game with Cutler, Jason Campbell or mini-Ditka at quarterback. But just as I’ve come around on the Bears, the Packers have come around on everybody. Remember their 2-3 start? Yeah, neither do I. They’ve won five straight now. A lot of that’s been against softer competition, but they’ll smash their head into a nice barometer this week when they play the Giants coming off a bye.
- At any rate, I’m sticking with Chicago as the division champion. It’s a tenuous hold they’ve got on it, but the official ruling now is that they’re entitled to an off week against the Kaepernickus juggernaut.
- While the AFC basement is a struggle to find anyone worthy of entrance, in the NFC, we need to hire a bouncer to screen teams at the door. Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Seattle are all 6-4, with New Orleans and Dallas both at 5-5 and on winning streaks. If there is to be a charge mounted against Seattle, I believe it’ll come from New Orleans or Dallas.
- Minnesota and Tampa Bay both have pretty nasty schedules remaining. So do the Saints (next three are San Fran, @Atlanta and @NYG), but their three-game win streak at least provides hope. Dallas has the nicest path, with six games that are winnable, and four of them at home. But what am I going to do, count on consistency from Dallas? I’ll take my chances with Seattle.