|Francona Wins Big in Return to Fenway||Connelly’s Top Ten: Rask Falls on Face||Bruins Lose 4-3 in OT as Rangers Fight to Stay Alive||For the Bulletin Board: Lundqvist’s “Lucky Bounces,” Savard’s “#ByeByeTorts”|
Just one week remains in the season. And while the AFC field is set (with the division winners’ seedings still to be determined), the NFC still has a bit to be determined. Just four spots have been claimed in the NFC, just two of those divisions. The NFC East race remains the most exciting scenario, with the teams’ lesser records in that division. As such, the Cowboys and Redskins have been flexed into the night game for a win-and-you’re-in scenario; Washington could still wind up as a Wildcard, but Chicago and Minnesota would both have to lose. There’s plenty of jostling for teams to do in an attempt to better their playoff positioning, so let’s look at what would happen if the playoffs started as of Tuesday, December 25:
Atlanta has finally wrapped up the #1 seed, and being 7-0 at home, that seed will be a big help. It didn’t work out so well for them last time, but the Falcons have won plenty of close games this season, showing admirable grit. Still, there are plenty of other contenders in the NFC, so Atlanta will need to be on the top of their game.
Green Bay has nudged ahead into a first-round bye, and is always one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Given an extra week to rest and repair, there is little they can’t do. With such a potent offense, their attack will make them an exceedingly difficult out.
After a massive win in New England, San Francisco laid an egg in Seattle. At least Seattle is unbeaten at home, if that makes the 49ers feel better. Plus, they won’t take such a loss very pleasantly. Minnesota did pull off a very impressive win over Houston, but San Francisco is another aggressive team with a hard-hitting defense that is also difficult to defeat. Sound familiar, Patriots fans?
Seattle has won four straight, Washington six. Seattle is perfect at home, but as a Wildcard team, they’ll have to be on the road. Washington took care of the Eagles, even with RG III not quite at 100%. Washington does have a much more porous defense, but with their quarterback’s multi-dimensional capabilities and home-field advantage, I see Washington knocking off this year’s “team that nobody wants to face,” as some analysts are now calling them.
Despite a rough loss to Minnesota, Houston is still in control of their own destiny. However, they’ll in all likelihood require a win in Indianapolis to lock up #1, a task far harder than it sounds. Houston still has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, but arguably their best player in Arian Foster left the Minnesota game with an irregular heartbeat. If the key player in their offense is unable to go, the Texans could very well be in trouble late in the playoffs.
The Broncos rolled over the Browns for their 10th straight win. With Peyton Manning cooking on all cylinders, the Broncos are the closest to invincible of any team in the NFL right now. That also makes them one of the favorites to represent the AFC.
The Patriots handled a challenge from Jacksonville despite a rough start. The Bengals eked out a very hard-fought and well-earned win in Pittsburgh. New England will still be looking to make a statement after said Jacksonville game and and San Francisco the week before. And it’s just about impossible to keep Tom Brady’s offense down for any appreciable length of time; Cincinnati just shouldn’t be able to keep up.
Indianapolis clinched #5 with a win in Kansas City, while Baltimore locked up their division with a thrashing of the struggling champion Giants. Indianapolis, in addition to their new abilities on the field, just got their head coach Chuck Pagano back after finishing treatment for his leukemia, so the emotional game will by far favor the Colts. With everything that the Colts have going for them and with Baltimore’s injury woes still lingering, the Colts could very well pull off a big win on the road.
|Patriots def Bengals||Colts def Ravens||49ers def Bears||Redskins def Seahawks|
|Texans def Colts||Patriots def Broncos||Falcons def Redskins||Packers def 49ers|
|Patriots def Texans||Packers def Falcons|
NFC def AFC
Patriots def Packers
Tags: Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, NFL Playoffs, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins