Tuesday, December 20, 2011

If the NFL Playoffs Started Today (Week 15)

We've just been to the NFL Playoffs optometrist and the scenario is getting clearer. There were a lot of surprise losers and I've decided to eliminate a number of teams that are still mathematically alive, but have a St. Louis Cardinals-level chance of making the playoffs. If they are still alive after next week, then I'll include them. Here's how things shake out.

1. Green Bay 13-1 (CHI, DET)
2. San Francisco 11-3 (sea, stl)
3. New Orleans 11-3 (ATL, CAR)
4. Dallas 8-6 (PHI, nyg)
5. Atlanta 9-5 (no, TB)
6. Detroit 9-5 (SD, gb)
7. New York Giants 7-7 (nyj, DAL)

1. New England 11-3 (MIA, BUF)
2. Baltimore 10-4 (CLE, cin)
3. Houston 10-4 (ind, TEN)
4. Denver 8-6 (buf, KC)
5. Pittsburgh 10-4 (STL, cle)
6. New York Jets 8-6 (NYG, mia)
7. Cincinnati 8-6 (ARI, BAL)

In the AFC, the Patriots were the only of the top four teams to win and now control their own destiny. With home games against the Dolphins and Bills, who have less wins combined than New England, my guess is that the road to the Super Bowl flows through Foxboro. In the win against the Broncos, the Patriot defense looked susceptible to running attacks. Their offense, however, is in the same league as the Packers and Saints.

The Ravens, Texans, and Steelers all lost on the road. Because the Ravens swept the Steelers and beat the Texans, Baltimore will have to lose again to lose their spot. The Week 17 game against the Bengals will be a big game for both games. The Steelers have the easiest schedule, but will likely remain the five seed. The Texans have the least to play for since they are pretty settled into the three-seed, at least.

There will also be a good fight for the six-seed. The Bengals have to hope that the Ravens have nothing to play for in Week 17, which seems unlikely. If the Jets lost to Philadelphia, they are susceptible to losing to the Giants and the Dolphins who have won five of seven. Either Wild Card winner could go to Houston and win. The Texans are 5-2 on the road and home. The Denver-Pittsburgh game would also be very intriguing.

In the NFC, the Packers proved human. It was odd that the Packers lost and the Colts won in the same week. The Dolphins (and Lions) can pop their champagne. Sadly, Green Bay won't lose next week against Caleb Hanie, Kahlil Bell, and Dane Sanzenbacher, and should get the top seed through the playoffs.

I still think the Saints could move past the 49ers for the second seed. As good as San Francisco was last night, they are not a shoo-in to beat Seattle next week on the road. The Saints passed their road tests in Weeks 14 and 15. They come home for the Falcons and Panthers.

Speaking of Atlanta, the Falcons look like they have settled into the Wild Card slot next to the Lions. The intrigue in the NFC lies in the mediocre East. Dallas hosts Philadelphia before heading to New York for what looks like a playoff game. The Giants and Jets should be a pseudo-playoff game as well. I don't think Detroit matches up well with New Orleans in Round One. I'd give them a better shot in San Francisco to turn out the 49ers' lights. Atlanta and Dallas (or the Giants) would be a good game as well.

Here is the list of this week's top 20:

1. Aaron Rodgers (1)
2. Drew Brees (2)
3. Tom Brady (3)
4. Frank Gore (5)
5. Ray Rice (6)
6. Arian Foster (4)
7. Rob Gronkowski (9)
8. Michael Turner (11)
9. Tony Romo (NR)
10. Jordy Nelson (9)
11. Rashard Mendenhall (8)
11. Calvin Johnson (13)
12. Tim Tebow (17)
13. Ben Roethlisberger (10)
14. Dez Bryant (NR)
15. Jimmy Graham (15)
16. Roddy White (NR)
17. Willis McGahee (20)
18. Shonn Greene (18)
19. Matt Ryan (NR)
20. Antonio Brown (NR)

Fell out
Eli Manning
Ahmad Bradshaw
Andre Johnson
Mike Wallace

Also considered
Torrey Smith
Wes Welker
Joe Flacco
Santonio Holmes
Plaxico Burress
Julio Jones
Marques Colston
Pierre Thomas
Jake Ballard
Miles Austin
Laurent Robinson
Felix Jones