With just four weeks left in the regular season it's time to talk about playoffs whether the players and coaches want to or not. Mike Tomlin won't have to worry about any playoff discussion. Whatever slim chance the Steelers had of making the postseason went out the door with their horrendous touchdown-less loss to the Browns.
There are 17 teams (8 in the NFC, 9 in the AFC) that are still alive in the playoff hunt. In the NFC you have the Saints, Vikings, Cards, Cowboys, Eagles, Packers, Giants and Falcons. In the AFC there's the Colts, Chargers, Bengals, Patriots, Broncos, Jaguars, Ravens, Jets and Dolphins. I'm eliminating any seven-loss team from the race.
As interesting as the wildcard race should be, the division races may not be as suspenseful. The Saints and Colts have already clinched their respective divisions. The Vikings, Cardinals and Bengals all have commanding leads in their divisions. We didn't think there would be much competition for the Patriots in the AFC East. But all of a sudden things have gotten very interesting with the Pats losing three of four games. The Dolphins and Jets are just one game back and both split their season series with the Pats. However the Jets are in a tougher situation with a 2-4 division record. They will lose any tiebreaker with the Pats or Fins.
No one is talking about the AFC West race. It's almost as if everyone has assumed the Chargers have wrapped the division up. They are the hottest team in football not named the Colts or Saints but the Broncos lie just one game back. Denver has played much better the past couple weeks, reestablishing their running game. This may be the deciding week with the Broncos going to Indianapolis and the Chargers going to Dallas.
The most interesting division race will be the NFC East. I am waiting for the typical Cowboys choke job in December just like everyone else. This year it might not even be considered a choke job if it happens. The Cowboys have a brutal stretch to close the season starting with this week's game against San Diego. We very well could have a three-way tie for first after tomorrow's games if Dallas and Philly lose. Of course the Eagles are facing the Giants, who actually would have the tiebreaker as of now should this happen. But a loss would put them in serious trouble and all but out of the playoffs. On that note here are my picks for Week 14.
Vikings over Bengals
I think this will be a very close game and a really intriguing matchup. The Bengals have played very well on the road, beating teams like the Ravens, Steelers and Packers. But playing in the dome will get the usually high flying Vikings offense back on track. Expect a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson because I think he and the Vikings offensive line have something to prove.
Jaguars over Dolphins
This matchup involves the two quietest teams still in playoff contention. Hello everybody don't you realize that the Jaguars are 7-5 and the 6th seed in the AFC right now? I don't even think the city of Jacksonville knows. There might be more Miami fans in this standes even though it's in Jacksonville. I like the balance the Jags have on offense. Mercedes Lewis has stepped up as a reliable target along with Mike Sims-Walker. But the key as always is to get the ball to Jones-Drew as much as possible. On the other side of the ball, I dont think Miami has the quality of receivers to burn the Jags weak secondary.
Colts over Broncos
The Broncos are almost as forgotten as the Jaguars after a 6-0 start that seemed like it occurred last season. I don't see any way a team not named the Chargers wins in Indianapolis this year. You think Peyton Manning cares that the Broncos secondary has more Pro Bowls than anyone else? He doesn't and he'll make them look like AARP members when the game is over.
Chargers over Cowboys
The team that never wins in December hosts the team that hasn't lost in the last four Decembers. I've been waiting for this Dallas defense to be exposed all season and it has continued to do a very good job. But the Chargers passing attack will finally make this secondary look bad. Antonio Gates has been a monster the past few weeks and LT is scoring TD like the good old days. Expect another tumultuous week in Big D this week.
Giants over Eagles
The Giants could actually be back in first place. It's hard to believe but I'm calling for it to happen. The Giants front four finally did something productive last week and I think they can build off of that in this game. Ultimately I think both of these teams will be in the playoffs and the Cowboys will be the ones sobbing on their couches at home in January.
That's all for now. Check out more from the Gridiron Guru next week.
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