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Just three games remain for each team, and the season is only getting better. Both #1 seeds took a step back, further empowering those teams chasing them. The Wildcard spots are still very much up for grabs, as are plenty of the divisions. Only four spots have been locked up so far (three of them division titles), so let’s look at what would happen if the playoffs started as of Tuesday, December 11:
The Falcons still have a 1.5-game lead for the #1 seed, but giving up 30 points in Carolina against a struggling Panthers squad to take the loss is a very difficult pill for Atlanta to swallow. The Falcons have been fending off close games all season, but it finally caught up with them. The Falcons still have everything they need to make a deep run, but the playoffs will feature several teams much better than Carolina.
Another fine performance, this time against Miami, keeps San Francisco in the #2 spot by a tie. San Francisco is a very balanced team with no extra-important superstars, which means that if Atlanta hiccups, San Francisco could be considered the next favorite in the NFC.
Chicago suffered another disappointing loss (in Minnesota), while Green Bay took care of divisional rival Detroit. Chicago is suddenly struggling, while Green Bay has plenty of firepower to make them pay dearly.
The Giants put up 52 points against the Saints, while Seattle blanked Arizona 58-0. Both teams gain huge momentum from those wins, but New York still has to fend off Dallas and Washington, both a game behind. Seattle has to beware of those two as well, in addition to a few other contenders, but Seattle is still perfect at home, and their only road game left this season is against ho-hum Buffalo. Seattle did win this road game last season as well, something I’m sure few members of either side have forgotten.
One can’t blame Houston for losing in New England, but one would also think that the result would have been closer. The Pats took a huge lead swiftly and never looked back. That loss means that New England will be #1 if the two finish tied, even if Denver finishes tied with them. The loss doesn’t harm Houston too much (except for leaving them just a game ahead of New England and Denver), but it will certainly ratchet up the pressure like Houston hasn’t felt this season.
With their convincing victory over Houston, New England is now in the driver’s seat in the race for the #1 seed, at least as far as tiebreakers go. They also proved they can beat the better teams in the league, and if they can manage to seize home-field advantage from Houston and play through the near-impenetrable fortress that is Gillette Stadium, they’ll likely be marching to the Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh lost at home to San Diego for the first time ever in the regular season, while Denver won their eighth straight. Denver is on a roll, and Pittsburgh, despite getting some players back from injury, still aren’t at 100%. Basically, if Tim Tebow can beat Pittsburgh, Peyton Manning certainly can.
The Ravens lost their second straight, a rough, OT game in Washington, while Indianapolis picked up another win, albeit a close one, against Tennessee. If Baltimore keeps struggling, rookie sensation Andrew Luck won’t have too much trouble taking down a weakened opponent.
Tags: Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, New York Giants, NFL Playoffs, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks