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The pieces are starting to fall into place. Five of the eight divisions have been officially clinched. Once powerful contenders (Giants, Broncos, Steelers) and teams that once had high expectations (Titans, Falcons, Panthers) are faltering, while newcomers (Saints, Bengals) are making headlines. In the NFC, only the Giants are on the outside looking in, while in the AFC, six teams are one game out of the wildcard race at 7-7. (The Titans can still make it in after starting 0-6? What do you know?) With only two weeks left until we find out the results of SoB’s NFL Pick ‘Em, let’s look at what would happen if the playoffs started as of Tuesday, December 22:
Everyone ready? Good. HOW ‘BOUT THEM COWBOYS?!? Drew Brees is mortal after all. It was interesting for a while, but the Cowboys completed the improbable victory 24-17 over New Orleans in the Superdome. The Cowboy further solidified their chances of making the playoffs, while the Saints’ future will be determined by their performance at home next week against Tampa Bay.
The Vikings flat out fell apart 26-7 in a loss in Carolina. Brett Favre even had it out with Brad Childress over whether or not Favre should be taken out to avoid injury; Favre won. That’s one win for him at least. With a golden opportunity to surge closer to New Orleans for home field advantage, New Orleans’ magic number for that honor is now one.
The Eagles have won five straight, but Dallas beat New Orleans. Dallas won in Philly 20-16 in Week 9, and hosts the Eagles in Week 17. Flexible scheduling will probably make that the night game for playoff implications. The key word for the Cowboys, as all the television analysts were talking about, is consistency. If the Cowboys can keep up their New Orleans performance, they’ll win. If not, we’ll see.
A tough loss on an extra point with no time left leaves the Packers tied with Dallas, but still at #5. At least they got to be part of history with the first NFL game to end 37-36. The Cardinals barely managed to hold off Detroit, which hurts their momentum late in the season. If nothing else, home field advantage in the winter will help Arizona’s chances, but visiting New Orleans will be tough, as would winter in Minnesota.
The Colts, despite having locked up home field advantage, are still starting their starters and playing like they mean it, which they do. Resting their starters in previous years screwed them up in the playoffs, so this should do well to keep Manning and Co. from getting rusty with a month off.
In one of seven games to end in the last two minutes or overtime, the Chargers kicked a 52 yard field goal with three seconds left to knock of Cincinnati, lock up their division, and win their ninth straight. With this kind of power, and their propensity for knocking off Indy in January, San Diego could easily go to the Super Bowl.
The Pats have won their last two, while Denver has lost their last two. New England’s magic number to win the division is one, and Randy Moss looks to be back. Denver lost (at home) to Oakland (20-19) with 35 seconds left on an extra point. With Denver reeling, now would be the time for the Patriots to exact revenge on their home turf, where they still haven’t lost this year.
Cincinnati’s tough loss drops them down to #4, while Baltimore’s 31-7 trouncing of Chicago moves them up to #5, and within striking distance of a division title, even though Cincinnati’s magic number is one. Cincinnati may have swept Baltimore (and indeed the whole division) this season, but with another two loss / two win momentum streak, they could definitely fix that; remember the Giants/Cowboys from two years ago?
Tags: Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, NFL Playoffs, Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers