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Get your playoff teams right here
Get your playoff teams right here!
Eight weeks to go, and the playoff picture is starting to take shape. Except, of course, in the NFC Least, uh, East, where anyone has a shot, even though only Dallas owns a winning record.
When New Year’s rolls around, this is how each division will look.
The Patriots (7-2) always win it and will do so again, despite being undermanned on both sides of the ball. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are simply that good, and they’ll find a way to get four or five more wins.
If the season ended today, the Jets (5-4) would get a wild-card berth, a mammoth achievement for coach Rex Ryan, whose offense wouldn’t impress Pac-12 opponents. If New York continues its alternate wins and losses through December, that’s 8-8, very impressive for this roster, but not good enough for the postseason.
Streaky Miami (4-4) also will wind up around .500, and Buffalo (3-5) will scare some teams, but will not qualify for the 14th straight season.
Unless the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens (3-5) find an offense, particularly a running game, very soon, they are toast. Quite possibly they are anyway with Cincinnati (6-3) a better all-around team, although losing star DT Geno Atkins hurts. This week’s matchup at Baltimore will tell a lot.
Cleveland (4-5) has a solid defense and the most hope in years that a turnaround is coming despite uncertainty at quarterback.
Pittsburgh (2-6) is a shell of the contending Steelers teams, but can still be troublesome to division opponents.
An Indy romp.
The Colts (6-2) have beaten San Francisco, Seattle and Denver, and while they could have some offensive issues without Reggie Wayne, they’re the class here. Don’t be surprised if they get a first-round playoff bye.
Tennessee (4-4) has a vastly improved defense and seems to be finding its running game with Chris Johnson. It also has two games left with the Colts, but a wild card should be its target.
Houston (2-6) was a mess even before coach Gary Kubiak fell ill, and could wind up using the rest of the season to sort out a muddled roster. But it has the division’s best defensive player in J.J. Watt.
Jacksonville (0-8) is a real threat to go 0-16.
The undefeated team isn’t the favorite here.
Unless the Chiefs (9-0) sweep their two games with Denver (7-1), there will be doubters about them heading right into January. The offense is a bit pedestrian, but it doesn’t do dumb things and has the kind of running game that prospers in winter. The defense is the league’s best, a takeaway machine and intimidator.
Peyton Manning is guiding the Broncos on their record scoring pace with perhaps the best season of his brilliant career, surrounded by all kinds of talent. But the defense needs to pick it up, and coach John Fox has been sidelined by heart surgery.
Either Kansas City or Denver will win this division and have the AFC’s best record. The other could have 13 wins be a wild card.
Also-ran San Diego (4-4) is as inconsistent as anyone. So is Oakland (3-5).
The less said, the better.
Dallas (5-4) has the best talent and the most fragile makeup. Washington (3-5) believes it can repeat last season’s second-half run to the division crown. Philadelphia (4-5) is improving on defense _ how could it not? _ and has the offensive playmakers to make noise. New York (2-6) isn’t as bad as the turnover factory that lost its first six games, but has a long, rugged climb.
If Robert Griffin III stays healthy and remains on an upward path, give the East to the Redskins at 8-8.
Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone disrupts everything. The Packers (5-3) have the best depth and coaching in the division, and finally have a potent running game. But without Rodgers, they’ll need a so-so defense to step up and show it can make a difference.
Chicago (5-3) also has injury issues, and not as much depth as Green Bay. But its backup QB, Josh McCown, is solid and the Bears specialize in takeaways.
Detroit (5-3) must upgrade its defense, but the schedule is quite favorable after Sunday’s visit to Chicago. The Lions look like the division’s best bet.
Minnesota (1-7) has completely collapsed, a shame for 2012 MVP Adrian Peterson.
Despite their stumble against the Jets, the Saints (6-2) should ease to the division crown while scoring loads of points. An improved but not-yet-fearsome defense makes New Orleans well-rounded, and the Big Easy is a very tough place to play.
Carolina (5-3) has won four straight and will stay in the mix for a wild card if Cam Newton continues his strong play and the defense remains staunch.
No team is more disappointing this season than Atlanta (2-6), which struggled even before injuries ravaged the roster. Write it off as one of those seasons and move on.
Tampa Bay (0-8), like Jacksonville, has every chance of going winless.
Ah, the best race of all, between Seattle (8-1) and San Francisco (6-2).
Bitter rivals from the coaches on down, and two of the NFL’s most physical teams, it would be great to see them meet not only on Dec. 8 in Candlestick Park, but in the postseason. The Saints might have a say in that, but a Seahawks-Niners title game matchup would be, well, super.
Arizona (4-4) has quietly become competitive again and has a shot at .500. The Rams (3-6), without QB Sam Bradford, are headed for the basement.
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