CJ and Esteban’s NFL Playoff Preview

AFC EAST

Favorite: Patriots
Contender: Bills

Historically-speaking, the most watchable and exciting division in football just got a whole lot more interesting with the pride of Western NY sitting atop the standings at the halfway point.  Who saw that coming?  When articles like this come out about the Amish Rifle, you know that America is sympathizing with the underdog.  That being said, I see it being a near toss-up between the Pats and the Bills winning the division.  Winnable games in the Jets x2 (don’t buy into the Aaron Maybin returns to Ralph Wilson hype, I’d bet that he’s the lightest linebacker in the NFL right now), Dolphins x2, tough but winnable games against the Titans and Chargers, and the hopefully Tebow-led Broncos on Christmas Eve. (Praying/Tebowing for it…see what I did there?) Depending on outcomes, this could set up one of the most anticipated games of the year: Buffalo New England II 2012 New Years Day Showdown at Gillette.  (I may not even watch that game in fear of jinxing the outcome)  The only potentially troubling games for the Pats are Kansas City (trap game?) and The Eggles.  My money is on the Patriots, but my heart lives in Fast Freddy’s sternum. [Esteban]

 

AFC North

Favorite: Winner of the Ravens/Steelers Monday Night Game
Contenders: Loser of the Ravens/Steelers Monday Night Game, Cincinnati Bengals

If the Ravens win at Heinz Field on Sunday you can break out the Old Bay and the Lake Trout, Baltimorons because the Ravens will put themselves in poll position passed the halfway point and be ready to charge down the back stretch like a 5-1 philly at Pimlico. However, if the Steeler’s salvage a season split in the series (and doesn’t Baltimore’s 35-7 drubbing on opening day seem like eons ago?) they’ll be back into the driver’s seat heading into January. The remaining schedules are essentially a wash. The teams have 5 common opponents remaining after the Sunday nighter: two apiece against Cleveland and Cincinnati, and San Francisco (Baltimore home, Pittsburgh on the road). The Steelers add a bye (they’re 1 up in the win column), a home game vs. the Rams and a trip to Arrowhead for a Monday Nighter against the Chiefs. The Ravens add trips to Seattle and San Diego and a home game against the hapless Colts. This Sunday’s game is PIVITOL.

Either way though, you’ve got to figure that the loser ends up the top Wild Card from the division, which means if Baltimore grabs the division crown Pittsburgh may get an opportunity for a third matchup in the playoffs. As Omar once said, “When you come at the king, you best not miss.”

Just because it’s a playoff column and absurd playoff scenarios are fun, I wrote this paragraph about the Bengals:

Lurking, quietly, with an inside draw at the division are the Bengals. Though Dalton and Co. probably aren’t in Baltimore or Pittsburgh’s class just yet, the remaining schedule offers a prayer: split both home-and-homes with the division rivals, take winnable games at Tennessee and St. Louis and home for Cleveland and Arizona, and maybe even scratch out a win December 11th at home against Houston, they’d set themselves up at 12-4 which could win the division outright or be worth at least a Wild Card Birth. That could set up an intriguing first-weekend-of-the-playoffs game with the Raiders in which the Bengals from now would get to play the Bengals from 5 years ago. It would be like that scene in “Billy Madison” when Norm MacDonald ponders whether he’d rather bang Jack Nicholson now or Jack Nicholson 20 years ago, except without the excitement of the pickles running down the wall. [CJ]

 

AFC South

Favorite: Houston Texans
Contender: Tennessee Titans

Is this the year the Houston Texans finally crack the playoffs? Probable. The only thing standing in their way is the Tennessee Titans, but despite a rejuvenated Matt Hasselback and Javon Ringer doing a much cheaper impersonation of Chris Johnson (and brining hope to DeLorenzo’s Fingernail fans everywhere!), things aren’t looking great for Tennessee. Both teams have been inconsistent—Tennessee beat Baltimore but lost to Jacksonville, Houston beat Pittsburgh but hasn’t beaten anyone else of note (falling to New Orleans, Oakland and Baltimore)—and the records look similar (4-3 v. 5-3). In their only head to head meeting, however, the Texans lay a 41-7 smack down on the Titties, and the remaining schedules don’t favor Tennessee either. Both squads play the Bucs, Jags, Falcons, Panthers, Bengals, Colts, and finish the season with a head to head matchup at Reliant Stadium on New Years’ day. But while the Texans get to round things out with the Browns and a bye (and, remember, they’re already up a game in the win column), the Titans add Buffalo and New Orleans. Ouch.

Also keep in mind that while both teams have held their head above water while playing without one of their best offensive weapons, the Texans get Andre Johnson back, while the Titans seemingly are stuck with Chris Johnson’s stunt double for the rest of the year. [CJ]

 

AFC West

Favorite: Kansas City Chiefs
Contenders: San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders

The AFC West is not a “good division” but it might be the most compelling. No other division is as wide open. Not only are 3 teams are tied with a 9 game season remaining (although the Chiefs hold the tie breakers), but no other division features a slate of three teams that you could easily foresee finishing 11-5 or losing the rest of their games. That’s true for all 3 squads here. The Chargers have the talent to get every ESPN analyst’s panties into a bunch, but Norv Turner seems to have an innate ability to lose games (see Rivers’ fumble). The Chiefs looked like a bacon-wrapped turd to start the season, but have to have scrambled back to contender status as quickly as Todd Haley’s beard has added griminess. And then there are the Raiders: a 4-3 team who looked like they were finally showing mojo, lost their QB to injury for the season, and then watched as their coach actually employ Bill Simmons’ “why don’t coaches treat real football like Madden” strategy as he traded for half the ’06 Bengals roster. (Apparently they weren’t available as a legacy team).  And, what’s more, the team that’s gotten the most attention in the division is the 2-6 Broncos as America’s sportswriters have had to call the doctor because their collective Tebow-ner has lasted longer than 4 hours.

All 3 contenders face the Packers, Bears, Broncos and each other. The Chiefs round out their schedule with an easy game against the ‘Phins, and tough sledding against the Pats, Steelers and Jets. The Chargers have an easy game against the Jags, then tough sledding against the Bills, Ravens and Lions. The Raiders have an easy game against Miami, a suddenly-not-so-easy game against Christian Ponder and the Vikings, and then Detroit. I guess you’d give the schedule edge to Oakland, but with McFadden nursing an injury and Carson Palmer and TJ Houshmanzadeh fresh from the nursing home, it’s tough to say they were the team they were when Jason Campbell had them clicking. I’d tentatively put KC in the drivers’ seat right now, but we’ll know a lot more after seeing how the Raiders come out after the bye week, and especially after the Raiders v. Chargers Thursday nighter on 11/10. [CJ]

AFC SuckforLuck Division

Favorite: Miami Dolphins
Contender: Indianapolis Colts

Don’t get me wrong, the Colts have put together some impressive suck this season, and the parallel with the 1997 Spurs is uncanny right down to both being the most boring franchises in all of sports, but have you seen what Tony Sparano is capable of? Did you watch that Tebow comeback? (Incidentally Tebow-ing might be the single suckiest by-product to come out of the entire Suck-tacular).  It’s truly a shame the two don’t meet for what would be a truly epic Suck Bowl of pandemic proportions. Caldwell! Sparano! Curtis Painter! Matt Moore! The National Football League! But who would announce it? Oh. Right. The MNF Crew.

Still looking at the schedules, it’s hard not to favor the ‘Phins here. Indianapolis has two eminently winnable games coming up (Nov. 13th v. Jacksonville and November 27th v. Carolina sandwiching a bye). Miami’s biggest test will probably come at home vs. Washington on November 13th, with an outside shot at the December 4th game at home vs. Oakland in the event the Carson Palmer experiment crashes and burns spectacularly. I also can’t help but notice the last week of the season features New Year’s Day Suckfest between the Colts and Jaguars. In keeping with their yearly custom, I fully expect the Colts to rest their starters. [CJ]


NFC EAST

Favorite: Giants
Contender: Eagles

NFC Shocker!  Do the G-Men have what it takes to keep up the wins? I think so.  Lets have a look:  Granted, the incoming schedule is BRUTAL.  NE, SF, PHI, NO, GB as their next five games.  But! their last four are winnable, with the exception of maaayyybee the Jets getting their shit together.  I don’t think all of their next 5 games are gonna be losses.  We know the Pats can’t play defense. (neither can the Bills, but they have better talent back there, result = NYG win based off underthrows)  Admittedly Tom is better than Fitz-chize, but I think the game could be a close one.  Likewise against the Niners and Saints.  If they come out of that gauntlet at 2-3, they could finish with 11 wins.  Easy schedule going into playoffs, coming off TONS of injuries, getting hot when it counts… remind you of a current Super Bowl defending champion?  The Eagles have to acquire more wins, but they have a softer schedule.  I just don’t ever bet on Vick in the playoffs, and I predict the Ghost of T.O. (who is actually dead, we all just have Haley Joe Osmott’s sixth sense) to hover over them should they win the division.  Imagine if the TV cameras caught Donovan McNabb in a press box? Philly fans would tear down the stadium.  Speaking of the ‘Cuse grad, lets move on to:


NFC NORTH

Favorite:  Packers
Contender: Bears

Healthy defending champs with a top 3 quarterback in a passing league? Hell yeah they are the favorite.  Though as another shocker pick I think the Bears end up contending more than the Lions.  Name any quality win the Lions are responsible. (besides beating the Bears once?) You can’t!  Tampa, Kansas City, Minnesota (by 3 points), Dallas, Denver.  All the ESPN hype around Stafford, Johnson Jr., Suh and co.  come from beating those sorry excuses of teams.  Let’s see how they fare against Chicago the second time, Green Bay twice, the Saints, Chargers, Panthers (who always seem to cover the spread, so always dangerous), and Raiders.  On the other hand, the Bears also face the Chargers and Raiders, but have nice grapefruit matchups in Denver (TEBOW) and Tavaris “Fat JaMarcus” Jackson’s pesky Seahawks at Soldier field.  I’ll wager on Chicago as a contender, but it won’t matter since Green Bay is so good. [Esteban]

NFC SOUTH

Favorite: Saints
Contender: Falcons

But how can you lose to an A.J. Feeley led winless Ram team!?!? Zero run defense apparently.  Still, their offense (Drew Breeeeeeze) is good enough to win the division.  I do believe that the Buccaneers are JUST bad enough to choke and lose it in the long run.  Freeman can make things happen, but give them a few more years of proper talent judgement, drafting, and free agency pickups to take them seriously.  The Falcons you can never take seriously, but their two game lead over Carolina and easy games against the Vikes and Jags could put them playoff contention, IF they can best their next few games against the Big Easy’s finest.  I’d analyze this division more, but to be honest I don’t really care that much about the NFC. [Esteban]

NFC West

Favorite: San Francisco 49ers
Contenders: None

I’d make a joke about Alex Smith in the playoffs, but Jim Harbaugh might fight me. [CJ]


NFC SUCK FOR LUCK

The only team that has a legitimate shot at sucking bad enough for that pick is the Washington Redskins, though they might have to trade away 2 wins for that right.  Knowing Dan Snyder, he may mortgage the team for Luck based on the discouraging play of Grossman and Beck. CJ’s note: Or they could just re-sign Jason Campbell who was producing at near Pro-Bowl levels in Oakland through the first four games.  The only game in their future I can see them winning is against the Seahawks in week 12. The hope for them is that the Dolphins and Curtis “Can’t throw, but I’m a really good” Painter squeak one or two out, but the odds don’t look good. [Esteban]

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